How do you take one of the most iconic routines in the classical ballet canon and make it your own? Italian choreographer Philippe Kratz embraced that challenge during the ‘Swans never die project’, turning Anna Pavlova’s 1905 work, Dying Swan, into a contemporary piece for two male dancers.
Little remains of the original but we still find arms held aloft, mimicking a swan’s neck and feet swiftly side-stepping across the stage (contemporary dance’s equivalent of Pavlova’s quick-fire pas de bourrée suivi).
At first, each man operates alone, but the opportunity to be ‘seen’ by another being, both physically and emotionally, brings out something new in each of them.
Dancers Antonio Tafuni and Nagga Baldina compel the eye throughout, rising to each intricate challenge Kratz sets them – and there are many. No transition from A to B takes a pedestrian route, each move is irregular and leaves us wanting more of this clever, highly watchable duet.
Philippe Kratz takes us to the water for Open Drift – a homage to The Dying Swan that transforms the iconic ballet solo into a contemporary duet. Lighting and Borderline Order’s evocative music plunge us into the blue as the dancers move gracefully around the stage – their flat-footed swivelling as light and fluid as the pointe work of Anna Pavlova, the ballerina who inspired it.
Like crumpled Vitruvian men, they grab at the air and roll with the waves; lurching, tumbling like water. Separately they struggle, lashing out at themselves and their surroundings but together they are transformed – reconfiguring themselves as a fishing team, a sailboat, a two-headed faun that reveals itself slowly and spectacularly in silhouette.
This re-imagining may never reach the legendary status of the original but it brings a focused intensity that’s magnetic to watch – like a swan navigating a powerful current, it knows when to struggle and when to surrender.
A stage is drenched in deep blue light while whistling sounds echo loudly, pulling the audience into the depths of the ocean. Between slight flickers of light, two creatures are revealed. It’s not clear what they are: they travel sideways like anthropomorphic crabs, swiftly hovering over the sea floor. Many times, they tumble onto their backs with their legs floating up like algae. With their matching fluorescent legs and matte brown torsos, these eerie sea animals are two of a kind; we are witnessing their first encounter.
Though Open Drift is only 20 minutes long, Philippe Kratz’s composition plunges us into the many trials and discoveries of these two animals’ chance contact. In a ballet of push and pull imposed by the current, they successively study, mimic, support and challenge each other. They oscillate from contemplation and deep connection to raw bestial energy, drawing us into a suspended fantasy under the sea.
As soon as his hand reaches out to the other dancer, the duet is set in motion and becomes an encounter. A classic tale of mutual discovery unfolds in movements harnessed by a technical and athletic ease that is simply impressive.
Halfway through we see piercing arm movements and squatted, bending postures as if both men are preparing for the diving board. But if they’re taking a deep plunge, they’re caught in mid air, floating in a prolonged instant between departure and arrival.
And that’s both an integral part of their aesthetic satisfaction as it is unfortunate. It captivates like the first chapter of a book that makes you desperately want to read on, except there’s nothing there. Can brevity arouse too much curiosity? Produced originally as part of a series of Dying Swan-inspired performances, their artistic output simply calls for more — preferably of them — without an open end.