Dancing with swans: Luc Petton

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– stills taken from a trailer for SWAN, conceived by Luc Petton and choreographed by him together with Marilén Iglesias-Breuker.

After choreographing numerous works around flight, Luc Petton decided eight years ago to work with real birds. An amateur ornithologist, he used a natural process developed in the 1950s by the Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz called imprinting to establish a relationship between humans and the birds.

“Birds, and especially anatidae — like ducks — will develop an attachment to the first beings they come across in their earliest days of life,” explained Michel Saint Jalme, the director of the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. “Normally there’s an attachment to the mother, but if we take the eggs and incubate them artificially, they will bond to the first person they come in contact with, and the attachment can be very strong.”

Throughout the summer of 2010 six professional female dancers took turns spending weeks in the barn with the birds. They talked to them, fed them, rolled around the ground with them, while the swans nipped their ears and noses, climbed on their backs and left a road map of scratch marks when they slipped off.

– text taken from an article by Amy Serafin in The New York Times, published 1 June 2012. There’s also an interesting short behind-the-scenes documentary by Michael Kurcfeld discussing the imprinting process: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/arts/dance/choreography-with-real-swans.html?_r=0

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I am so moved by this work, I wish I could travel to Brittany next week to watch the performance. It reminds me of a ballet I saw in Barcelona a few years ago, where a live peacock with interacting with the dancers. The peacock seemed so well trained, I wondered whether they took him on tour with them. Or did they train with new birds in every country? I also wonder what will happen to Luc Petton’s swans after the ballet stops touring? Will the dancers continue their relationships with the birds?

And here is an archival film of Anna Pavlova performing The Dying Swan, a ballet choreographed for her by Mikhail Fokine in 1905 to Camille Saint-Saens’s cello solo Le Cynge from Le Carnaval des Animaux.

Pavlova was originally inspired by watching swans in public parks and reading Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name. She loved animals and later kept swans  in the garden of her North London home, so she could emulate their movements. Here she is famously photographed with her favourite, Jack.


Finally, the annual Royal Swan Upping takes place on the River Thames next month. I remember watching a video of my friend’s girlfriend many years ago, wearing a swan costume and dancing in the river as men in boats captured and counted the swans. I have been intrigued by the ritual ever since. Details here: http://www.royalswan.co.uk



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