A couple of weeks ago, I read a sarcastic piece by Sampath G in The Hindu about his experiences of watching Swan Lake — the ballet by Tchaikovsky. His point mainly seemed that the audience was pretentious because it was mostly what the media dubs as the Lutyens who were at the show in Delhi. His was also a criticism that the bourgeois product, that western classical music is, was being consumed mindlessly by the aspiring bourgeois.
While I wanted to remain unaffected after reading this piece, I realized it had upset me a bit. Why? Because I was going to see Swan Lake in Germany. I had planned an elaborate trip from Copenhagen to Leipzig and was super excited as it was also one of the most intimate pieces of music that I knew anything about. See my piece on my obsession about Tchaikovsky to see why.
This being the premise, I was wondering if I was also one of those pretentious pricks that Sampath has scorn for.
I don’t think so, and I hope not!
My connection to Tchaikovsky’s music has been at a different level. When I started listening to his works, I barely had any semblance of what western classical music was. But through his works I have broadened my musical perceptions. Wanting to see Swan Lake in Europe was also a pragmatic choice because it is next to impossible to find any good venues in India, as far as I know. Why miss out an opportunity to see it in the best venue if possible?
So, I ended up going to the ballet in a 325 year old Opera in the city where Bach is resting. Leipzig is so aware and proudly conscious of its connections to classical music that my ad-hoc decision to go there to see the performance turned out to be icing on the cake.
There’s abundant erudite discourse on the musical aspects of the ballet itself, which I am unqualified to add to. So here’s a piece that I fully endorse and mostly understand. That being said, to see a full orchestra perform the more than 120 minutes of Tchaikovsky was a dream come true. The main motif, which is the soul of this composition, can appear in my head any time and to see it come to life was the most beautiful thing. The grandeur of this composition is only accentuated, as it should be, by an able orchestra.
From one unknown to another.
The ballet, the visual aspect of it, was mind-blowing. As I only have a reference of the Russian rendering of it which i assume was true to the original vision from 1870, I could appreciate the modern interpretation of this one.
The moves at the overture already established that this ballet was not going to be filled with fluid moves that one expects from a ballet, but would be interspersed with break moves. It was odd at first, but the production of it was sufficiently modern to not seem discordant.
The main theme of Swan Lake begins in the second act, and I remember sitting there in awe, with gooseflesh. The visuals at that very instant transcended to becoming a true spectacle. It was a massive stage and the dancers were moving gracefully in their swan-like costumes on waves that were projected on the floor of the scene. As the theme progressed, the background of the scene started acquiring a fluid quality, as it waves were also moving along the walls. And it turned out that the backdrop was as alive as the entire scene because a giant mirror, as large as the scene, was being tilted from above to capture the dancers and it stopped at an angle where you could also see the conductor from the orchestra floor. While the dancers were running from one corner to the other, the mirror captured them and added a surreal dimension to the entire scene. It was one of the most perplexingly gorgeous sights that I have ever had to behold!
The ballet was also breaking ground in other regards like transforming the story between a princess and two female swans, while the witch was a male. I’m not sure if this is a common interpretation these days, but it was a neat touch.
I could write more about the dancers, the orchestra and the ambience, but what still moves me most is the genius of Tchaikovsky. His soulful music. I am glad to have witnessed this spectacle and coming to terms that my fears of Sampath’s piece were unfounded.