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Swan Lake

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

With a company of 12 African dancers, the South African choreographer Dada Masilo revisits one of the great classics of Western dance, “Le Lac des cygnes” (Swan Lake). She adapts its music – joining the ranks of René Avenant, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich and Camille Saint-Saëns –its tutus and its pointes, which she “South Africanises”, giving them a new lease of life. She deals in particular with the issues of sex and gender, and that of the homophobia in a country devastated by AIDS.

“Because she cannot shy away from treating the socio-political questions which trouble her country (the taboo of homosexuality, the devastation caused by AIDS, subtly evoked in the last tableau), because she found the balance of the traditional trio “frankly tedious”, Dada Masilo tells, with humour, another story.” [1] Thus, in her reinterpretation of “Swan Lake”, Dada Masilo “evokes the destiny of a young man, of a black Siegfried whose entire entourage pushes to marry a young woman in a feathery white tutu” until he meets a young man, “a modern version of the black swan” who “encourages him to earn his freedom, to follow his instincts in spite of the social pressures to which he is exposed.” [2]

Created in July 2010 as part of the National Arts Festival (Grahamstown) with the dancers of the Dance Factory in Newton (Johannesburg), the piece won the immediate acclaim of both critics and public. In France, the piece was presented at the Lyon Dance Biennale in September 2012 and then at the Musée du quai Branly in October 2012. In 2013, as part of the France-South Africa Seasons, it played at the Théâtre du Rond-Point in September 2013 and toured throughout France (Nantes, Bordeaux…).

[1] Emmanuelle Bouchez, “Swan Lake”, Télérama n°3275, 20 October 2012
 [2] R. de Gubernatis, “”Swan Lake” de Dada Masilo: exotique, “black” et “gay”” (“”Swan Lake” by Dada Masilo: exotic, “black” and “gay””), 8 September 2013, Le Nouvel Observateur.

Programme extract

“I can't do that!” shouts the prince, as he is forced to marry. Cinched at the waist in white tutus, the dancers turn their backs and shake their buttocks. Naked feet, ebony torsos, this lake's 'snow-white' swans come from South Africa. Men and women alike, they are fearless, transcending the taboos of homosexuality, AIDS and forced marriages. Wearing the frothy tutus of classical dancers, they embody the myth of Swan Lake, but cross the torment of Tchaikovsky's ballet with the rhythm of Mediterranean ululations and Zulu percussion. The plot remains almost unchanged. Two birds clash. One is a symbol of purity, Odette, who transforms into a white swan during the day. The other, Odile, is an evil animal, a terrifying black swan with a masculine appeal. The handsome prince Siegfried, forced to marry Odette, the immaculate beauty, to satisfy his family, is torn. He becomes fascinated by the black swan, an irresistible male." 

Théâtre du Rond-Point (Paris) programme for “Swan Lake”, 10 September - 6 October 2013 (text originally in French translated in English)

Press quotes

`… there is always one production at the festival that has everyone talking and fighting for tickets. This year it was Dada Masilo's Swan Lake (assisted by Boysie Dikobe who dazzled as Odile en pointe). This, her third whack at deconstructing and (South) Africanising the Western classics, is the most cohesively experimental and rigorously intelligent - musically and choreographically. Her take on the hallowed ballet, in which she dances Odette, starts off with comic gusto and gyrating pelvises swishing tutus to Tchaikovsky, then gradually descends into all too familiar tragedy on an Aids-ravaged continent. Flooded with pathos and compassion, Masilo's agonisingly beautiful Swan Lake is an African homophobe's worst nightmare and a dance lover's delight.’ 

Adrienne Sichel, The Star, 13 July 2010

“Because this is exactly what Dada Masilo wanted to do when, barely a teenager, she promised herself that she would stage her very own “Swan Lake”. A story that everyone can experience, on and offstage. She then chooses to forget the codes specific to ballet, which she sometimes considers "excluding". Excluding on several levels: as a teenager in South Africa, she understood that she would never be a ballerina because of the colour of her skin. All her work therefore concentrates on the possibilities of fusion between traditional African dance, ballet and contemporary dance: “My shows allow me to discover how far this fusion can go. And what seemed to me really attractive and amusing, was to see how well Tchaikovsky and African music could come together." 

There is also a fusion between dance and theatre in this piece, which mixes word with gesture. Irony, self-deprecation and sometimes a touch of naivety in a work which is reminiscent of Pina Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal, a source of inspiration acknowledged and used by Dada Masilo. It's no coincidence then, that she is planning her own version of the “Rite of Spring”, with Stravinsky's music given an African 'makeover'.”

Émilie Chaudet, Arte Live Web, 5/11/2012 (article originally in French translated in English)

“Already a hit in her short career […], her Swan Lake (2010) electrifies Tchaikovsky with ululations and classical ballet with a large injection of rolling hips. The choreographer also shakes things up when it comes to gender: in a very beautiful pas de deux, the prince chooses a swan of the same sex as him.”

Rosita Boisseau, "La danse du feu de Dada Masilo", M le magazine du Monde, 6 September 2013 (article originally in French translated in English)

Updating: September 2013

Masilo, Dada

Born in 1986 in Soweto, a Johannesburg township, Dada Masilo trained primarily at the Dance Factory in Newton, the cultural district of Johannesburg, as well as at the National School of Art (Johannesburg) and at the Jazzart Dance Theater, Cape Town. In 2005, she began two years of training at PARTS (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker in Brussels, where she discovered, among other things, the works of Trisha Brown and Pina Bausch, and created “The World, My Butt and other big round things”.

Back in South Africa, she created “Love and other four letter words” in 2008, a meditation on the AIDS pandemic, and began her work of reinterpreting traditional ballets (“Romeo and Juliette” in 2008, “Carmen” in 2009), whose codes she adopts and then distorts, by mixing aesthetics with humour. In 2011, she was awarded the Standard Bank Young Award, one of the South-African most famous dance prizes, while the South African daily newspaper The Star recognised her work “The Bitter end of Rosemary” by listing it as one of the hundred greatest successes of the year: in this work she investigates the character of Ophelia, from “Hamlet”, by giving the character's madness great vulnerability. This solo was Masilo's first piece to be performed in France, at the Anticodes Festival in Brest in March and at the Fragile Danse Festival at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in November 2011. Invited to the Lyon Dance Biennial in 2012, she performed “Swan Lake”, which was also widely performed in France in 2013 and 2014.

On the programme at all the festivals in South Africa, in particular the famous Dance Umbrella festival, Dada Masilo's shows also toured Tanzania, Mali, Mexico, Israel, and Europe (Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, France… ) and met with both critical and public acclaim. 

She has collaborated with many famous names on the South African arts scene. In 2013, for example, she collaborated on “Refuse the hour” with the visual artist and director William Kentridge, commissioned and danced “In creation” with the choreographer Gregory Maqoma as part of the Sujet à vif in Avignon, and “Deep night” with P. J. Sabbagha and his collective The Forgotten Angle. She also trains young dancers and regularly hosts workshops in the United States.

Since returning late 2006, she has taught for Dance Factory Youth.

In 2012 Masilo undertook a residency at Denison University, Granville, Ohio, where at the Swasey Chapel, she performed a programme of solos from her repertoire.

Source: Dada Masilo

Birraux, Jean-Marc

Jean-Marc  Birraux has been a director since 1995 for M6, Mezzo, France3, Paris Première, France2, Arte Live Web or even Arte.

Swan Lake

Choreography : Dada Masilo d'après Le Lac des cygnes de Piotr Ilitch Tchaïkovski

Interpretation : Kinsgley Beukes, Nicola Haskins, Shereen Mathebula, Songezo Mcilizeli, Ipeleng Merafe, Llewellyn Mnguni, Khaya Ndlovu, Lesego Ngwato, Thabani Ntuli, Nonofo Olekeng, Thami Tshabalala, Carlynn Williams, Xola Willie, Tshepo Zasekhaya

Additionnal music : Piotr Ilitch Tchaïkovski René Avenant Arvo Pärt Steve Reich Camille Saint-Saëns

Lights : Suzette Le Sueur

Costumes : Dada Masilo, Suzette Le Sueur - Réalisation costumes Ann Bailes Kirsten Bailes - Réalisation chapeaux Karabo Legoabe

Other collaborations : Maître de ballet Mark Hawkins

Duration : 60 minutes

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