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Fucking With Ballet

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In our new piece, Swan Lake II: Dark Waters we set out to interrogate ballet, as both a coded physical language and as a set of cultural ideas and values. Here are some observations, musings and thoughts questions about ballet that emerged throughout our journey in making this piece:

1.

I value ballet as a practice, as a technique in the studio to build strength, balance, and coordination. The technique informs and enables movement that can be useful in performance, but I don’t think that means we have to put it on stage. I question if ballet is an interesting choreographic language. It is fairly limited and we already attach so much meaning to these familiar moves when we see them.

2.

Ballet as a movement language has so much legacy and is so clearly either right or wrong. It is done badly or it is done well. It turns out it is very difficult to fuck with. You either do ballet, or you try to change it slightly and it just looks like so much contemporary dance that we have already seen time and time again. Or you try and change it a lot and all of a sudden you are not actually doing ballet. Ballet doesn’t want to be fucked with.

We ended up talking about the values of ballet, its ideals, the roles it wants us to play and its relationship to the audience. What it gives to its spectator and how it is viewed. We discussed ideas of gender roles, virtuosity, directing the gaze, expression, beauty and the politics of aesthetics. We tried to subvert these things, but sometimes got caught in strong tidal currents of ballet’s history and aesthetic values.

3.

Ballet is so much in the past. It was hard at first to think of ballet, or even dance, that exists in the present. How can I dance a piece that has been meticulously choreographed and shaped in a studio, without an audience, become present in front of an audience. How does the audience affect the work? Where is there space in the work for the audience? What is the ballet’s relationship to the audience?

4.

I am suspicious of virtuosity. It is so much a part of ballet that an audience expects it: tricks, jumps, spins, everything in multiples, or very fast or very slow, or perfectly balanced. The dancer says, ‘I have studied this technique. Look at all the moves I have learned and look how well I can do them all.’ I want to resist this and find something more meaningful then a display of skill. I just don’t know what a double seau de basque means. I think failure is often more interesting, then perfection. On this ballet and I don’t agree.

5.

I know ballet, I know it very well, and I know it enough to know that I can get away with doing only so much before people will start to realise that I am actually not as good as they might have thought. I never wanted to be in a ballet company, but I wont pretend that is the only reason why I never ended up in one.

I never wanted to be a ballet dancer. Actually when I started dancing I had no desires to even be a dancer. I wanted to be an actor and dance was a way of training my body and exploring my physical potential. Now I don’t think of ballet, or even dance, I think of theatre. And ballet has given me physical capabilities that I can draw on when creating theatre. I don’t feel obliged to do it (ballet) right, or in a way that it is noticeable as an influence. I have no allegiance to ballet. It is not sacred.

In ballet school the teachers knew which of us would be going for a career in classical ballet, or something else. If we were ever lazy in our ballet class they would push us to strive for better classical technique and say ‘look, I’m not trying to turn you into Siegfried’. In Swan Lake II: Dark Waters I am playing my own version of Siegfried. Though I do wonder if my tutors would approve…

By Jordan Lennie, with Joseph Mercier

Swan Lake II: Dark Waters which will be showing at The Chelsea Theatre 24 & 25 November at 8pm

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