Annika Tudeer’s Annika Does Swanlake
By Jay Mar Albaos
Growing up in a small town in the Southern part of the Philippines, I had very limited opportunities to watch classical theater performances and operas. Despite the heavy influence of western art, literature, and performances, my background and approaches are more inclined towards our ethnic tradition, which was strongly promoted especially during my undergraduate degree.
It was then a privilege for me to witness a classical theater performance by dancer and choreographer Annika Tudeer, an alumnus of Helsinki University with an MA in Literature and a founder of a performance company named Oblivia. Waves of excitement filled me when I learned that she will be performing Swan Lake, a very popular theater piece I revere because of the interesting story, exceptional choreography, and intricate movement. And when the familiar orchestra started playing, I knew then that the long and confusing walk from Turku center to the performance venue was worth it.
But Tudeer’s interpretation shattered the classical ballet performance I was expecting – different narrative with limited movements in a half-filled space and techno music. She was also wearing what seemed like rehearsal clothes. I felt cheated, no, robbed, in what I thought was a more dramatic take of this popular piece.
Her satire was remarkable. The artist was fully aware of the different techniques which made Swan Lake a very successful theater production: complex choreography, discipline in ballet, theatrical stagecraft and the orchestra’s arrangement. These make the Swan Lake so good to be true. These same constrained and predictable structures motivated her in her interpretation. It was a critical approach on Swan Lake not to destroy it but a brave act to reveal invisible traces using autobiographical notes to make her point.
In her performance, Tudeer used gender lens to investigate Swan Lake focusing on Siegfried and the evil, winged magician, Rothbart. The connection between the two somehow led to her theory on the construction of desire in the piece, of the autoerotic and homoerotic desire. These are not directly seen onstage because they exist on the void created on it. This void, as described by Tudeer, is what she calls night world or “forest”. In the ‘forest’, Siegfried looks for the swan he loves. But in the same forest, the homoerotic connection between Siegfried and Rothar is established. Gender collapses in the night world as characters interact in the middle of the ‘forest’.
She also questioned the capacity of the prince to love even at the age of his becoming. Is this really a story of love in the coming of age or is this a theatrical awe for the display of desire? This was one of the questions posed by Tudeer as she fills the stage with her presence: a woman not in her best stance as dancer (due to her age) trying to deconstruct the ballet of ballets in theoretical and practical platforms, making it vulnerable to being consumed in different perspectives. For me, her presentation was more of an academic performance than a theater spectacle. It was a lecture, a performative presentation of her thesis that she had written for her studies years ago. This is a refreshing form for me as an artist and performer.
Coming from a culture far from the classical and the ballet, I only know the Swan Lake as a stage and dance spectacle which was choreographed and was primed as beautiful and bedazzling in all its aesthetic and orchestral value. But Tudeer reaffirmed my belief that performance does not die and it recreates itself in another form and discourse. As for Tudeer’s Swan Lake, deconstruction, critical scrutiny and gender positions created a new language where a classic can converse to bigger audiences and be appreciated in another perspective.
My heart skipped another beat. The walk was definitely worth it. I won’t mind taking the same road only to be enthralled by the same thought-provoking performance.