A New Swan Song

A New Swan Song

Anja Behrend and Stephan Bourgond in LAC (After Swan Lake) (photo by Alice Blangero)

With its rows of dancers in white tutus and throbbing Tchaikovsky music, Swan Lake is our most iconic of classical ballets—"the archetype," says Jean-Christophe Maillot, choreographer/director of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo,  which is performing its production of it at City Center at the end of this week. But LAC (After Swan Lake), as Maillot's version is called is, well, a bird of a different feather. It's still set to Tchaikovsky's romantically soaring score (regrettably, a taped version)—but this is not your mother's Swan Lake. In fact, it's not even the hero prince's mother's Swan Lake:  Instead of being a widowed mom, she's married to a king—who gives their son, Siegried, considerable grief. 

But that's the least of it. Boasting completely new choreography by Maillot, the ballet has a different story, and modern sets and costumes: When the White Swan morphs from bird into woman, she doesn't just pantomime—feathers literally fall off her body, revealing her hands (the key feature that makes her human, the choregrapher feels). The White Swan and the Black Swan are played by two different dancers (not one, as per tradition) and they represent two different sorts of love objects, Maillot explains: One the perfectly pure ideal of a child, the other a more realistic, and sexual, vision of an adult. 

It's an edgy, Freudian interpretation, one that has had the purists buzzing ever since it premiered three years ago. But Maillot, who thinks often about attracting new audiences to ballet—not just performing to the converted, so to speak—likes "the idea that people come to the theater with an expectation, and then you take them somewhere different."  While he's not out to shock for shock's sake, traditionalists "will still be horrified" at LAC, he allows. "But sometimes, you have to move tradition forward a little bit."

» LAC (After Swan Lake), New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St., 212.581.1212, Mar. 14-16