A Pairing of Classical and Modern ‘SwanS’

As part of the second annual UC Irvine Dance Film Festival, guest artist Veronica Tennant guided an audience on Oct. 21 through a showing of the dance film she conceived and directed, ‘A Pairing of SwanS.’ The DVD, which features numerous enlightening and educational resources, is a poetic homage to legendary dancer Anna Pavlova. Although both a classical and a modern dance interpretation are included on the DVD, Tennant remarked that, ”A Pairing of SwanS’ is the most classical film I have done.’
The film, which juxtaposes classical choreography, music and camera styles in ‘The Dying Swan’ with those of more modern techniques in ‘The Swan Sees His Reflection,’ aims to provide an intimate experience, despite the viewer not actually witnessing the performance in person.
‘I welcome the audience in,’ Tennant commented. When she transitioned to the directing phase of her career, ‘it was with the camera that I wanted to dance.’
The classical performance on the DVD was ‘The Dying Swan,’ originally choreographed by Michel Fokine accompanied by the music of Camille Saint-Saens. It was danced by Evelyn Hart with harpist Judy Loman and cellists Shauna Rolston and Amanda Forsyth in the two pieces. Tennant described the performance of this classic piece as ‘poetically simple’ and ‘exquisitely beautiful.’
As a child, renowned ballerina Hart read books about the legendary Pavlova’s excellence and title as the first ‘immortal swan.’ Hart was excited to have the opportunity to perform ‘The Dying Swan’ and more closely identify with her childhood dancing idol. The legendary pairing of Saint-Saens’ music with ‘The Dying Swan’ had special significance for the cellists, as well, one of whom noted that her entire career was worth pursuing just to be on stage playing cello in ‘The Dying Swan.’
Unlike most dance films, however, the musicians performed during every take. Although this allowed for a more symbiotic relationship between dance and music, it also lengthened the time each dance needed to be filmed, as the musicians and dancers were not always perfectly in sync. This factor, combined with the difficult editing process of deciding which camera shots to use at various points during the dance, contributed to a six-and-a-half week visual editing period for a fourteen minute film.
‘The Swan Sees His Reflection’ was choreographed by Matjash Mrozewski and danced by Rex Harrington with a contemporary musical reflection of Saint-Saens’ ‘Swan,’ by Malcolm Forsyth. This musical composition was originally meant for piano, but was rearranged for harpist Loman.
A fascinating relationship exists between ‘The Dying Swan’ and ‘Reflection.’ The modern choreography within ‘Reflection’ sometimes resembles ‘The Dying Swan,’ but has a distinctly modern feel, and is performed by a man. Both performances also occasionally share similar camera angles and filming techniques, such as beginning each piece with a camera zooming in from directly above the dancer.
Whereas ‘The Dying Swan’ was filmed at a vintage theater (the Winter Garden Theater in Toronto, Canada), ‘Reflection’ was filmed in a modern atmosphere with exposed brick walls.
Both swan performances, though, communicate the theme of a swan at its absolute pinnacle near the end of its life.
‘The idea of the ‘Swan Song’ [has] a poignancy because … both Evelyn and Rex were in their last song in their careers and lives,’ Tennant said.
About the emotional end of ‘The Dying Swan,’ Hart explained that ‘we are seeing the moment of realization between life and death.’
This realization is effectively communicated through Hart’s classical performance as well as Harrington’s contemporary portrayal of the swan. One of the more unique features of the DVD is a collection of nine different takes of Hart performing the last efforts of the swan pictured at the same time. When viewing this collection of takes, one can better understand how incredibly difficult it must have been to edit this piece, with each take possessing a different emotional character.
After the screening of the film, Tennant explored the many special features of the DVD, which include the film narrated with input from the dancers and musicians, artist and historical biographies and even a pop-up video presentation of the film.
Krystal Matsuyama, a second-year dance major, was in the audience for the screening. Although she felt the tour of the DVD after the screening to be longer than necessary, overall, she ‘thought it was amazing