Von Krahli Teatri „Luikede järv“ kui mälumasin: esteetiline absoluut ja sotsiaalne kontekst / Von Krahl Theatre’s “Swan Lake” as a Memory Machine: Aesthetic Absolute and Social Context


  • Riina Oruaas Tartu University




„Swan Lake“, Von Krahl Theatre, Peeter Jalakas, Alexander Pepelyayev, memory, dreams, absurdity


This paper analyses the interrelation between video projections and stage action and the meanings created via these relations in Von Krahl Theatre’s production of „Swan Lake“ (2003, directors Peeter Jalakas and Alexander Pepelyayev). „Swan Lake“ at Von Krahl Theatre was a post-modern interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s ballet that deconstructed myths of Soviet society. In the conceptual introduction to the performance, the directors dedicated the production to the theme of absolute beauty and aesthetic ideal, and claimed the synthesis of aesthetic and social contexts to be of utmost importance. The performance analysis in this article reveals the ambivalence of the aesthetic absolute and position of the ballet „Swan Lake“ as an icon. The context of this production was layered through the social and political, as well as artistic processes that influenced the reception of the performance. The social and aesthetic context is analysed based on Mieke Bal’s concept of framing, which is more dynamic and open than understanding context as something fixed. The analysis of screens and the stage action is based on the theoretical models of intermediality in performing arts. 

The central section of this paper is focused on analysing the stage action and the relationship between the stage action and video projections as techniques of dissonance. This work by Jalakas and Pepelyaev was a multimedia dance performance where video clips of the ballets „Swan Lake“ and „The Dying Swan“ alternated with footages of Soviet heavy industry, war apparatus, athletes, etc. The various oppositions and parallels between the stage action and screen footage made the political meaning of the performance visible. The paper also analyses the narrative structure, the cast of characters and scenography. There was a certain hierarchy in the cast (actors versus dancers) and character structure (politicians, Black and White Swan, and the corps de ballet) which was rather weakly based on the dramatis personae of the ballet „Swan Lake“. The stage action can be described using the metaphors of machinery or game; its relationship to the screen adds the metaphor of a dream world. The movement of the dancers remained mechanical although the choreography was postmodern and more playful than that of a ballet. The crisis of totalitarian order can be seen in the changes taking place in the middle of the performance where the rigid structure of characters became decomposed and the movement became more dynamic. The video projections are examined according to three models of intermediality: hierarchical, inter-relational and hybrid (Lavender 2010). The hierarchical model (one media dominating the others) appeared in certain situations only. The most frequent model of the relationship between stage action and screens was the inter-relational. This model is structured by the gaps and (opening up of) spaces and „fissures“ in the performance, here appearing through parallelisms of the screen images and stage and at given moments of intersection. The least represented model was the hybrid model, i.e. the one where figures of different media were merged; it existed only in a hybrid reality created by computer animation. 

On a social level, the performance represented a totalitarian, closed system that lacked any opportunity for a positive exit. Aesthetically, the production can be compared to theatre of the absurd, which is also characterized by a representation of a certain state of being and a feeling of inescapability. The result of juxtaposing post-modern dance and videos was a complex co-existence of several choreographic languages and body techniques. The main relationship between the stage and the screens in the situation of the totalitarian society in this production was dissonance and the production can be summed up as a performative memory machine. 


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