My friend, John McCrite, invited me to the Ahmanson Theater to a performance at of Swan Lake, re-choreographed and staged by Matthew Bourne in 1995. The original ballet with music by Tchaikovsky, premiered by the Bolshoi Company in 1877, is one of the most popular ballets ever created. Whether or not we go on to perform it professionally, every ballet student learns and practices the choreography as part of his or her training. As a result, these intricate dances and variations are always alive in our heads.
When John and I took our seats, I was a little bit dubious. How could anyone redo a beloved classic like Swan Lake, replacing the traditional female swans with sensuous male counterparts? Not only had Mr. Bourne used men instead of women swans. He had also retold the entire story. How could that ever work? I wondered.
When the curtain opened, it took only a minute for my doubts to dissipate. As I watched the story unfold and offer up a brand new version of something that was so old and treasured, I was completely riveted to the grace and beauty of this redone version. The dancers were brilliant, the sets lovely, and the relationship between the lead swam and the prince was intimate and powerful. I was moved and wowed by what I was seeing, and I wondered how much courage it had required to take a traditional creation, turn it on its ear and redo it and present it in an entirely different format. Where had this man found the self-confidence to create something brand new out of something that had been established for over one hundred years?
This kind of vision and belief in oneself and one’s ability is rare. What brand of creative mind did such a thing? What allowed him to take something set in stone and turn it into a new and powerful experience. When I researched the beginnings of Swan Lake, I read that despite its initial failure, it is now one of the most popular of all ballets. Even back then, when it was first created, people were uncomfortable with something new. The same thing occurred, even more dramatically, when composer Igor Stravinsky wrote the score to A Rite of Spring in 1913. During the initial performance, people were appalled by a strange sound they had never heard before, and rumor has it that the police were called and half the audience stood up, shouted and walked out.
The point here it that creating something new is often met with upset and rage. People tend to judge things and people that are different and have a hard time accepting or appreciating them. But we can’t let those kinds of reactions stop us from creating. It may take time for others to recognize what we’ve done when it’s different, but what if Matthew Bourne had allowed himself to be discouraged? I would have missed a breathtaking performance that is still with me many days later. In fact, I saw two performances superimposed upon each other since the original Swan Lake is permanently etched in my mind. I saw something else that no one else saw. And I loved it all.
Do you believe in your own creativity? Do you allow yourself to do things that are new and different?