The Arizona Republic: “‘Swan’ a Gift of Beauty”

The Arizona Republic: “‘Swan’ a Gift of Beauty”

The Arizona Republic, by Richard Nilsen

The world often is unbearably ugly. About 2.5 million people have been killed in the Congo since 2004, as a result of civil and tribal warfare. There was ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia and death squads in South America.

To say nothing of low-grade ugliness all around us daily: Have you looked at the state of our commercial architecture on Indian School or Camelback roads?

Yet, despite that, or maybe because of that, human beings seem to feel the deep-gut need for beauty. Even the Congolese woman whose children have been slaughtered wears clothes made in bright colors, or looks up and notices a mackerel sky.

As a species, we go through intense effort and pains to create that counterweight beauty. We grind hard stones into pigment, and have done so for 30,000 years. We assemble 17,000 parts to make a piano. We spend decades practicing and working, beating our bodies to create the perfect entrechat.

(One definition of a ballerina is “a beautiful woman with ugly feet.”) And we take the pain and suffering of evil and make it into an owl, and turn love and betrayal into swans, and put them onstage as a fairy tale for urban adults with music by Tchaikovsky. And when it is done by such people as Natalia Magnicaballi and Astrit Zejnati, it is ineffably beautiful.

Ballet Arizona is presenting all three of Tchaikovsky’s iconic ballets this season, starting with “Swan Lake.” Everything from the chorus of cygnets and their intricate footwork to the solo violin of Phoenix Symphony concertmaster Steve Moeckel contributes to the success. “Swan Lake” may seem like a cliche: It is the ur-ballet, the one parodists choose to make fun of, the one audiences sometimes avoid out of ennui – been there, done that. Yet, somehow, it retains the power to move us emotionally.

Perhaps it is that, beneath the fairy tale, lies the transmutation of the raw ugliness of life: betrayal, loss and death, the unexplained evil, the friction between what we are required to do by duty and what we want to do by heart. As all great art, its metaphorical core is the real experience of our lives.

Perhaps it is the curious way the dancing in imitation of swans, with arms flapping and feet tapping the cackle of a herd of anatids that reconnects us with the world of nature that ultimately provides most of the material for beauty in our lives. No matter, Ballet Arizona’s “Swan Lake” is a gift.

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