This blog originally accompanied my Swan-spiration collection. I'm reposting an extended version of that text for tutu Tuesday.
I'm listening to Tchaikovsky's magnificent score as I upload and catalogue this collection. Swan Lake was the first of the three great Tchaikovsky full-length ballet classics that I went to watch. And while it had its critics when it premiered in Moscow in 1877, as an audience member in Cape Town in 1986, I was spellbound.
^ Odette/Odile (oil on canvas board)
Visually, I remember falling in love with that distinctive crescent white swan headpiece and the willowy swan arms and then being seduced by the angularity and sharpness of Odile. I was absolutely captivated from the prologue to the finale.
For ballet historians:
The production I grew up on in Cape Town was the Attilio Labis production (which I believe was based on that of Vladimir Bourmeister) that became part of the Capab/Cape Town City Ballet repertoire in 1971. My mother saw Fonteyn and Labis perform in the 1973 production and remember paging through her souvenir programme in awe.
Wonderfully, my mother owned a set of LPs with the score and I used to dance my recollections of the full length ballet in our living room after school. (I still dance in my living room and it's much easier now that I'm not worrying about scratching a record if I land too heavily.)
I think I will always try and explore my reactions to this magical ballet in paint. These paintings express how a totally enthralled nine-year-old imagined she would dance Odette/Odile combined with my grown-up fascination with the evocative power of paint, gestural marks and texture.
^ On the lake (oil on canvas)
I generally avoid working from photographs when I paint dancers – give or take a few selfies when I need a reference (especially for the shoulders and hands which I find the most challenging paint – partly because my artist mannequin doesn't have shoulders or articulated digits) and photographs supplied by clients for commissions. My ballerinas are rarely intended to be anatomically or choreographically correct. I want to reimagine and evoke the feeling and atmosphere of movement, music, light and storytelling.
Luckily, I paint better when I work from sketches or a mix of imagination, intuition and music. I'm often complimented on the sense of movement in my creations and I'm convinced it's there because I'm painting how the movement feels to me rather than relying on photographs. But I'm sure there are traces of every production I've watched plus echoes of every newspaper cutting and ballet book our balletomane family collected over the years.
I hope that collectively these paintings pay homage to this wonderful ballet and the many productions and performances I have enjoyed watching over the years. The paintings in this collection were not painted as a series but I think it's interesting to present them as a set. Together, they give away hints of my favourite moments and reveal the evolution of my exploration with painted gestures and textures. Some of my favourites are those in which I've explored layering feathers or replicating the sense of rippling water and movement. I've certainly become bolder with my use of texture in recent years.
Currently, the Swan Lake inspired paintings on my website are all those with a single ballerina figure or corps de ballet scenes. If you browse my @blue_ballet_art instagram profile, you'll also see lots more creations inspired by the iconic Dance of the little swans and the occasional pas de deux (I'll add some of these to my website next year).
My @ballettoons collection is a bit more varied, with more pas de deux, Siegfried and Von Rothbart toons alongside the black and white swans (although at this time of year, you'll need to scroll past lots of festive Hedgies to find them).
While I'm dipping into Swan Lake nostalgia, here's an interesting fact for you. I was privileged to be able to review the Cape Town City Ballet production of Swan Lake performed at the South African National Arts Festival in the early noughties. During those years, I was a dance critic and production editor for Cue – the arts festival daily newspaper. I loved writing dance reviews (I'd studied them assiduously for years as a young balletomane who scrapbooked ballet newspaper cuttings). I imagine that I would write reviews very differently now but, looking back, being a dance critic was certainly one of my favourite jobs.
Happy tutu Tuesday!