Ballet, Black Swan, Bristol, Bristol Hippodrome, camp, Daren Aronofsky, Epigram, Epigram Arts, EpigramArts, Hippodrome, Matthew Bourne, Notes on Camp, Russian State Ballet of Siberia, Siberia, Susan Sontag, Swan Lake
Christmas may already seem like a slightly unfortunate dream to many, but at the Bristol Hippodrome the festival staples of Swan Lake and the Nutcracker are scheduled in and ready to remind audiences that spring is still some time off. In a week that traditionally lays claim to being both the annual high point of divorce applications and the annual low point in financial health, a little Tchaikovsky might be exactly the right kind of soul food you need.
Susan Sontag once said that ‘the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: or artifice and exaggeration.’ Some would argue that all ballet is inherently camp and, indeed, this might be why some unanimously avoid ever attending one. However, not all ballets are camp in equal measure and the Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s performance of Swan Lake was in its own category when it came to costumes of a borderline pantomime appearance and a stage set that was almost post-modern in its unashamed desire to resemble nothing more than a set: something fake.
Defining something as ‘camp’ does not, of course, have to be a negative thing and there were times, especially with the continual parade of candy coloured costumes in the court scenes, when I quite embraced it. Yes, the Siberian ballet appeared to already have their heads in Thursday night’s performance of the Nutcracker rather than the tragedy of Swan Lake, but the unabashed use of garish colour in a world splattered with The White Company and tasteful beige was quite endearing.
What was both puzzling and, by the close, irritating, was how some of the best (and most camp parts) of the original score by Tchaikovsky had been either pared down, the flutes in particular sounded muted instead of like the sound equivalent to fudge – dancing precariously on the border between delicious and awful – or simply rearranged.
First impressions of the performance were that, unlike Matthew Bourne’s all-male production or Daren Aronofsky’s Black Swan filmic offering, this would be a deeply traditional and straightforward production. Having seen several subversions of the original in recent years, this would be welcome as it is always worth being reminded how far something like Bourne’s production has migrated from the traditional.
However, as became clear in Act II, this performance did perhaps the most subversive thing of all: it rearranged Tchaikovsky’s score. This meant that, following the playing of the Scene Finale – possibly the best part of the score – the music then backtracked to the piece with which the Swan Queen makes her debut. Losing the marvelous crescendo that marks the ending of the story – an ending which traditionally is carefully built throughout the entire closing act – eliminated the most authentically camp and subsequently brilliant parts of the ballet.
If the Siberian ballet company were in search of ‘not with a bang, but with a whimper’ headlines they certainly put on a stalwart performance, but one assumes that isn’t the case. Leaving the theatre without the emotional jitters which usually accompany this ballet, was disappointing especially as, if there’s one thing the Siberian Ballet could do, it was the kind of overblown sentiment needed to produce a great finale.
Maybe the sweetie costumes and campness will succeed to a higher degree with the Nutcracker on Thursday.