Thursday, April 15, 2010

Idan Cohen-Swan Lake

Center for Performance Research – Brooklyn, New York
April 8, 2010

Swan Lake in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - mismatch or marriage? Establishment dance in a land of ironic T-shirts, asymmetrical bangs, giant horn-rimmed glasses and sleeve tattoos? Pairing these two entities does seem a bit strange. Swan Lake is about as conventional as you can get in dance, and the Williamsburg District is anything but conventional. Thankfully, the title of a piece is not necessarily definitive of the work. Such is the case with Idan Cohen's Swan Lake, presented last week at The Center for Performance Research. The dance may be set to Tchaikovsky's score; but the story is only a jumping off point; the title contextual. Cohen's avant-garde, experimental examination of this classic is perfect for a setting that breeds mod coolness. Through his interdisciplinary analysis, Idan Cohen has created a piece that punctuates the dualistic elements of Swan Lake (good/evil, love/betrayal, life/death, human/animal), while uncovering the deeper underlying theme of manipulation. It is this discovery that is the work's most significant accomplishment.

Manipulation plagues the story of Swan Lake. Throughout the entire ballet, the character interactions relay this rampant virus. We see the evil Von Rothbart as the king of duplicity whose forceful hold on Odette and Prince Siegfried is unyielding. In addition, there are others whose actions are insidious, notably the Prince's mother and in some instances, even Benno (although, perhaps unconsciously). This same theme (manipulation) appears in Cohen's Swan Lake, though its manifestation is unexpected. His Swan Lake had a kinesthetic, archaeological rigor, the result of his intense research into this historic tale. He chipped away at the peripheral nonsense, and produced an honest comment on what manipulation means in the body and to the soul.

The harp variation in Act I spoke to the dichotomy between what the body can accomplish with dance and the demands that dance makes on the body. In this section, the solo dancer maneuvered and arranged her limbs into various poses. At times, her attempts to adjust her body were deliberate but calm, while at others, she was bullying and forcing her anatomy into extreme positions with a fury of coercion and force. This visceral example of manipulation speaks to the relationship between dance and the body. Years of studying ballet (and most other dance forms) does not automatically afford you with kinesthetic knowledge; in fact there is often a lack of attention to anatomy and body mechanics. Dancers are constantly told to lift this, tighten that and turn out without the necessary information about the muscles that they must access. Some muscle groups are not even where you think they are (turn out muscles being the perfect example). A clearer understanding of kinesiology means everything in dance; it can change even common exercises, like grand battement. Grand battement is a thrown kick; the accent occurring at the highest point followed be a controlled return to 5th or 1st position. This textbook description is only part of it. If you understand that the trajectory of the leg is an arc, your engagement of that movement changes dramatically. With this added insight, the 'out' becomes just as important as the 'up' or the 'down'. Sadly, this crucial guidance is not always provided, even by advanced teachers. Dance does not have to be a manipulation of the body, but when kinesiology and body mechanics are missing from the equation, it can feel that way. This Swan Lake did not attempt to provide solutions or answers to this problem; instead it simply brought this important issue to the table for discussion.

This juxtaposition of old and new made Idan Cohen's Swan Lake perfect for Williamsburg. This enclave of “hipsterdom” stylizes in the now, yet with a clear reverence and celebration of what has come before. Cohen's Swan Lake was on the same page; his was not an adaptation or even a re-make of the classical Swan Lake. Instead, the important messages and lessons from the old were taken through a transformation into something new and applicable for today.

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