the dying swan defies conventions
by Aurora Herrera, ttff blogger
“I didn’t know what to expect. I heard that it was a man dressed as a ballerina on a Moko Jumbie…mind boggles.” – Christopher Laird on Minshall’s Dying Swan
The Dying Swan is a world renowned ballet solo choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905 to the masterpiece of Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des animaux as a pièce d’occasion for the brilliant prima ballerina Anna Pavlova.
After ten years, internationally acclaimed mas artist, Peter Minshall, reinterprets Fokine’s classic ballet for a Moko Jumbie king. The king dresses in drag, appearing as the beloved Pavlova.
The director Christopher Laird has filmed every Minshall band “since the invention of the video tape.”
“That would have ben around Carnival of the Sea (1979) and then when Minshall stopped, I stopped,” he said.
The accomplished Laird who has produced over 300 documentaries, dramas and other video productions with Banyan Limited, garnering a score of national, regional and international awards, related his recruitment to the project at the Q & A session, post-screening.
“Minshall rang me up one day and said “I’m bringing a king this year.” I said “Oh!” He said, “Yes, will you come and document the performance?” I said, “Yea, ok, when is it?” He said, “Tonight.”
“So I found myself in the savannah at five o’clock in the afternoon and we were there for seven hours and I documented what I could,” he said. “At that moment it was just documenting, just an archiving of a performance. I think when I started editing it, getting it into some shape that my wife looked at it and said, “you have a film!”
Laird however insists that he sees the piece “more as a document than a documentary and probably more of an archive that a film.”
Whether the piece is a document or archive or documentary or film, Minshall definitely makes a statement with his work.
“Minshall has done a number of things with this piece,” Laird commented. “One thing is that he has defied the entrance to the King and Queen competition. Here you have a man, dressed as a woman, playing a king. If you had a woman dressed as a man, would they have been let into the Queen competition? I think [Minshall] has defined it now: the entrance to the King or Queen competition is defined by the player rather than the costume.”
The audience concurred, one member expressing his admiration of Minshall’s ability to capture contemporary issues as well as the audience’s imagination and curiosity.
“I think in terms of Minshall’s ability to capture the moment where in terms of a Carnival King in drag is against the background of a young woman being denied entrance to a night club for not dressing as a woman…is amazing.”
The audience member when on to say, “…I just wonder at the time as Trinidad is talking about gender issues, here is a woman not getting [into a club] in drag and here is a King being received in drag. This is the only costume that filled the savannah stands.”
Laird commented further saying that “You heard from the audience the screams and the applause. On the final night it was the only costume that got a standing ovation. Minshall said, “I was wondering about my people and they got it,” which was very encouraging.”
Last year I had the privilege to cover Laird’s piece Paradise Lost which featured Minshall’s work. It was indeed my blissful undoing. I had never felt that way about mas before.
As I sat I the theatre taking in this new work of Laird and Minshall, I was once again moved to tears. The beauty of Le Carnaval des animaux with a tendril of pan to replace the flute, heralding the memory of the beauty of Pavlova’s grace and simultaneously witnessing its connection to my own culture through the effervescence of Ras Nijinsky’s performance was exactly what Fokine described:
“…the dance could and should satisfy not only the eye, but through the medium of the eye should penetrate the soul.”
You can catch another screening of The Dying Swan on the following dates:
Sat 24 Sept, 3.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Tue 27 Sept, 8.30pm, MovieTowne Tobago