‘Swan Lake’ Anything but Ill-Fated

Ellen Brandt produced plays on Broadway, including "Brief Lives" in 1974, and was an executive producer at the Westwood Playhouse. She writes on theater

I returned home yesterday, still wrapped in a euphoric frame of feeling from my second viewing of Matthew Bourne’s magnificent Swan Lake, to be greeted by your headline: “ ‘Swan Lake’: An Ill-Fated Flight” (Calendar, June 1). The only thing ill-fated here is Stephen Farber’s blinkered, heterophobic views, other than perhaps The Times giving it credence by printing it.

Must everything nowadays be 100% politically correct or stand the chance of being analyzed to wrong conclusions?

When Israel did not permit Wagner’s music to be played because of the composer’s supposed anti-Semitic leanings, the responsible parties sank to Hitler’s abominable level. This policy was dictated by orthodox politicians and despised by the musicians of the Israel Philharmonic. Earlier in Germany, Mendelsohn’s music was not only forbidden to be heard in public, the Nazis attempted to eradicate all traces of his and other Jewish composers and artists. Farber’s skewed opinion smacks of similar narrow-mindedness.

It is a civic shame that our great (as in size), rich (as in wealthy) city is so small (as in mind-set) and poor (as in cultural tastes) that we do not have a Los Angeles Ballet Company. Thank God we finally have an opera company and hopefully, some day, the money will be pulled like teeth from major corporations who are earning billions from doing business here to complete the Disney Concert Hall. We must be grateful to be able to boast a successful Music Center and multiple world-class museums. So when once in a decade we are lucky enough to host the American premiere of a ballet event of the magnitude of Bourne’s “Swan Lake,” right away someone has to term it “ill-fated.”


I have the distinct impression that Farber, who talks about “the tragic myth,” fails to comprehend its core. Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” is about a mortal who falls in love with a swan. A union between man and beast, human and animal is against the dictates of God and nature and therefore a punishable sin. The punishment is death. That’s it. Period. End of myth. Whether the swan is male or female is incidental and shouldn’t matter to heterosexuals any more than to gay men. As long as the choreography is exciting, the concept thrilling, the costumes fantastic, the scenery simple and clever and majestic all at the same time and the dancing sublime, what more can anyone ask?

Furthermore, Farber does not seem to be overly familiar with the Odette/Odile plot. Otherwise he could not blunder so blatantly by writing: “a black-leather-clad interloper reminds him of his fantasy lover.” The black swan doesn’t remind the Prince! The Prince believes it is one and the same swan. He doesn’t come to recognize that the black swan is the evil magician’s creation, actually his daughter, until it’s too late and their fates are sealed. Other misconceptions in Farber’s unfortunate dissection of this brilliant piece would only belabor the point.

At both performances I attended, being thrilled by the artistry of Adam Cooper, William Kemp, Ben Wright and an incomparable company of dancers, the capacity audiences stood and cheered and applauded and absolutely did not want to leave that Ahmanson Theatre. Bourne’s choreography is the most creative and imaginative seen in many years. He has reinvented a wonderful traditional ballet in modern terms and peopled it with contemporary characters. He has done brilliantly what Peter Sellars, Julie Taymor et al have unsuccessfully attempted to do for opera for years!

I vividly recall the tingling excitement, the shiver of emotion the first time I watched Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev dance “Swan Lake.” Well, this heterosexual, an old but seasoned woman, puts this production up there right next to it. In my opinion, Farber is on a level with the one couple who sat in front of me yesterday. They left during intermission because they were offended by the homosexual sensuality and innuendoes. I feel as sorry for them as I do for Farber.