Idan Cohen, Israel-based choreographer, throws light on his production of “Swan Lake”, to be presented in Delhi this coming Monday.

Think “Swan Lake” and on your mind's stage rolls out 19th Century Romanticism tucked into elegant tutus, poised ballet moves and ruddy cheeked dancers in top knots, in step with the legendary music that has the power to sweep us off our feet.

Well, this coming Monday, think “Swan Lake” in Delhi and you will be in for a surprise. Bringing his version of the legendary ballet of Tchaikovsky to the Delhi audience, the young choreographer from Israel, Idan Cohen will not have much that is considered conventional in this context on his stage. Even the music will not be in full. Coated with a contemporary touch, his is half the length of the original, the nucleus resting on “our understanding and relation to our body.” The result is, however, a fascinating garland of forms, human and animalistic, etched on life and living in today's times, conjured by three dancers.

Stimulating that it is, Cohen's “Swan Lake”, after premièring at the Silesian Dance Theatre in Bytom, Poland, last year, got invited to Germany and recently to the U.S. besides being staged in theatres across Israel.

After the Delhi performance, the production will travel to Kolkata. And in November, the 32-year-old Cohen says, “We are scheduled to tour Europe.”

Taking out time from his busy schedule, Cohen takes a few questions on the production and his style of work. Excerpts from an email interview:

On thinking up new moves for a classic like “Swan Lake”

It was pure pleasure. “Swan Lake” represents one of the most well known images of romance and beauty of the 19th Century Romantic ballets, and I found it fascinating to give my vision and perspective of the music and the plot.

I relate to those images with the highest levels of respect and love, and as a huge source of reference and inspiration, but not as to a “holy” legacy that can't be touched or addressed. To create it, I worked so that every gesture and movement has a meaning and symbolism that relates to this wonderful ballet's legacy, music, plot and history.

It deals a lot with our understanding and our relation to our body, in which we spend our entire lives, watching its transformation and changes. This subject is both relevant to the story of the ballet where transformations between animal and human are occurring constantly, and to our life inside our bodies which keep changing constantly.

The body for me is the biggest inspirational source for creating movement, so part by part the puzzle came together to build a bridge, or a movement language that would connect between the classical legacy of this ballet, and my contemporary interpretation of it.

On taking just half its music

The music in the original score is constructed with a lot of repetitions, and is open to orchestration changes when being played live. I took the significant parts and motives of it, and kept them as they are. The original is almost three hours long and my production is a little more than an hour.

On change of costume

One of my biggest sources of inspiration in creating this piece, and a very conscious decision was to metaphorically “strip” “Swan Lake” of its classical fancy garments. Dancers are always expected to look beautiful, in perfect shape, proportion and aesthetics. When you come to think of it, we all fall into that trap, expecting ourselves to live up to these standards. The idea behind creating this piece was to show ourselves as we are when we wake up in the morning and look at ourselves in the mirror, without trying to hide our so-called flaws, with all its “gloominess”.

“Swan Lake” is about life, love and death and those are subjects that are full of happiness and joy, but also pain and sadness. I address these subjects as well. My piece is full of flaws, and to my eyes, flaws make us unique, and beautiful.

On his ‘real' choreography

I want my choreography to be sincere to the way I see and understand the world and the forces that makes me move inside it. It is true the dancers in my pieces tend to wear ordinary clothes and use everyday gestures but there is always an abstract element that holds a resemblance to the gentle, underground currents of the soul...a motion that is both wild and roaring and at the same time almost silent. For me, this form of art and dance is an abstract form, but my pieces still tend to tell a story, and I try to tell that story in the most real, sincere and up to date way.

On his upcoming production

In a month I am premiering a new piece in Israel in collaboration with a company called Maria Kong. Called “Brazil”, I describe it as a personal journey that weaves between liberated sensuality and cultural realism. It is constructed to Brazilian music, and is a very sensuous piece. After that, I would be travelling to Poland to create a new piece for the Silesian Dance Theatre.

In future, I would love to come back to India and create a choreography based on its culture, heritage and people.

(Idan Cohen and Company's “Swan Lake” premieres at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, September 20, 7.30 p.m., as part of Interface 2010, and will be presented at Kolkata's G.D. Birla Sabhanagar, September 23, 6.30 p.m.)


Questions and colours March 28, 2013