restricted access 7. Lebedinoe Ozero by Any Other Name
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/. LEBEDINOE OZERO by Any Other Name American Ballet Theatre production of Swan Lake, /'/icw by \1ira. I 1 3 8 H ETHER it is called Lebedinoe Ozero or Lac des Cygnes or Svanes0en or Lago dei C\gm or Schwanensee or Swan Lake, it is with us and seems likely to stay around for some time to come. It is here but it is never the same; no two performances are ever exactly alike and some practically challenge our powers of recognition. Yet we seem to have this idea of a work by which we measure any particular performance as a good or bad realization or—possibly—not as a true realization at all but rather a betrayal of the real Swan Lake. We have seen that ideas about dance, about what constitutes its values and its attractions, what should be praised and what denounced , have evolved over the centuries. Since the 1895 premiere of the Ivanov-Petipa Swan Lake our ideas have been altered by events that have affected every aspect of our world, and naturally they have changed the course of dance. Even within the sphere of ballet we have seen a tremendous acceleration of technical advances. Not only have the classical steps been stretched and multiplied, but the vocabulary has been enriched (or vulgarized, depending on one's point of view) with additions from such freer movement fields as "modern dance" and jazz. We have seen a shift—though not a universally accepted one—from an emphasis on ballet as a vehicle for a star performer to ballet as the creative work of a great choreographer. We have witnessed expansions in the scope of acceptable subjects, from the princely hero of Sleeping Beauty to those guys-next-door sailors of Robbins's Fancy Free; from the playful romance of La Fille Mai Gardee to the psychodrama of Tudor's Undertow; from the involved plots of the nineteenth century to the plotless works of Balanchine. The audience has changed as well, and it tends to have trouble with dance works that do not mirror the values of a society like its own. Arlene Croce has discussed works that no longer excite us because "their aesthetic is dead . . . the life of the period that 139 w 140 / Next Week, Swan Lake produced them has receded and they're insulated from the way we think and move today." Yet their status may not be fixed, for another decade, equipped with still another set of values, may find the same work pleasantly accessible. This does not, however, mean that they will view it with the eyes of the original audience. The attitude is bound to differ; nostalgia is frequently involved, as is benign amusement. The work may succeed with this audience , but not for the same reasons that it succeeded in its own time. Jerrold Levinson urges that we at least attempt to recapture the experience of the original audience, suggesting that the appropriate frame of mind for hearing period music might be engendered with the aid of some relevant information and a bit of imagination. In theory this could certainly be applied to dance, though it would take some doing. Dance audiences tend to ignore program notes, though as a matter of fact they would learn very little from what is generally provided for them. A valiant effort was made in England by Peter Brinson's Ballet for All company, which presented historical repertory in a lecture-demonstration format, but no such wide-ranging project has been attempted in America. The recently burgeoning interest in reviving dances from the past has seldom been accompanied by the provision of adequate information for the audience, though some magazine articles along with radio and television interviews have allowed directors like Robert Jeffrey to describe the background of historical works in their current repertories. But using information supplied for the occasion, while it will certainly help us to understand what happens on the stage and to some extent to appreciateit, cannot guarantee a duplication of the original experience. Yes, we may recapture some of it—and this is a marvelous step forward—but we are forever denied the experience of the original effect, if only because the first audience perceived the work naturally, with knowledge and feelings shared Lebedinoc Ozero / 141 by all their contemporaries, who lived in the same society and were attuned to the same manner of perceiving. Perhaps the modern spectator is somewhat like the visitor from a foreign country; he...