I never really knew what to do with ballet until I came across the Royal Ballet and Opera House’s youtube channel. I had seen the Nutcracker twice…and a rendition of Hansel and Gretel that had quite possibly the worst soundtrack of any live theatre performance I had ever witnessed. (It was a badly recorded opera…in English.) Beyond that, having no dance background of which to speak, I never pursued it when there were so many other artistic events to attend.
I think this video has changed that.
I have not read the story it was adapted from but I am fascinated with the premise. A girl, whose father is a postman and her mother a raven. Her struggle to make an identity for herself when she knows inherently that she cannot fully connect with either half of her. The terrible path she is drawn down in an effort to feel like herself in her own body. This, is my version of Swan Lake.
And as great as the book sounds…I think this ballet would be even better. One of those rare moments when the adaptation is able to outshine the original. I can’t say for certain but I do have some evidence.
At 6:30 in the video (and please watch the whole thing) the dancers are meant to give the illusion of wings and then, following their embrace, the raven girl is whisked backwards. It really does seem like she’s flying. We know ravens cannot write. They can speak, but not in a way that is easily captured in a printed text.* To tell this story without movement would be to remove so much of the bird. The girl could just as well be a child of divorced parents and not this fascinating hybrid. Movement, brings the bird in.
So despite the two versions of the Nutcracker, and the bad opera with good dancing, I never understood what was really being brought when dance was involved. Now I can see it’s more than the story, the costumes or the technique; it’s a translation for things that speak with their bodies. It’s fascinating and I’m looking forward to watching my next ballet with this understanding. Especially as Nutcracker season is just around the corner…
*on the subject of literary ravens, I feel I must mention at least one First Nations writer. Go read Eden Robinson’s “Monkey Beach.” Her ravens will Edgar Allen Poe you.