Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

A Swan Lake,
Alexander Ekman Creating the Impossible!

LONDON: Thinking outside the box is what Alexander Ekman does best. On April 26 he makes his choreographic debut on the main stage at the Norwegian Opera House. When invited he said, ‘yes, I will come if I can do something crazy.’

Into production week and Ekman admits, ‘it’s a huge project but that’s what people want to see. I am constantly trying to surprise the audience. We show them the impossible and that’s inspiring.’

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

Discussions started in 2012 when Ekman was making Resin for the second stage. The idea was mooted that he should create a major work for the House. ‘Then I walked into the auditorium. I saw all this wood and had such a strong feeling of nature; I imagined the stage covered with water’. Searching for a concept, his train of thought went from water to ballet before arriving at its natural conclusion in Swan Lake.

The work is in three acts. The first, ‘A Play’, looks back to the original, and not very successful, creation in 1877 and involves actors and dancers. The second, ‘A Lake’ is Ekman’s contemporary version of the ballet set in water, followed by a short third act, ‘A Future’. There is nothing of the story as we know it, there is no Siegfried, no Rothbart but the battle between good and evil remains in Odette and Odile, the white and the black swan. Ekman describes it as ‘more like a mirror of life.’

The watery scene in act two is where the company had to learn to dance on water. ‘It’s been a crazy process. You could almost call it slideography. It’s a whole new way of moving. You have to control and hold your muscles in a way that is different than when you run around. On Friday afternoons I couldn’t even walk sometimes because I was so sore in new places’.

‘It has been so much fun to make this work. I started trying out the water in a 3m x 3m pool and worked up to the big studio and a 16m x 16m lake. We learnt a lot in the process of finding out how to do it and the dancers were sliding around and calling out “Hey, this is so cool!” Then one fell, two days later another went down. It was the moment when I thought we would have to cancel because there was so much falling in the creation process’.

‘I had to sit down with the dancers and talk, to remind them to be responsible and take care of their bodies. I became very strict – “no more goofing around, we have to treat this with respect”. The outcome is that we are wearing cycle helmets.’ It was a steep learning curve in leadership skills for Ekman. ‘I felt really responsible every time someone fell and it was impossible to create when there was blood in the studio. It was a challenge also to bring back the excitement and move from fear back to creation. But we coped and I’m proud of my management skills for this.’

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

Now swans have large flat feet and dancers spin on the tips of their toes – has Ekman been able to square the circle?  ‘Yes, and you will actually see ballerinas dancing on pointe in the water! It is so beautiful. We needed to invent a new shoe that actually has sandpaper on the bottom because that was the only way we could run without sliding. We put a little bit on the pointes, but we had to use Gaynor Minden pointe shoes because they are made with more plastic material.’

A new score, for full orchestra, has been written by Mikael Karlsson, a long-time collaborator. ‘He has done a fantastic job, we work so well together and he also helps with the concept.’ enthused Ekman, ‘In Act 1 you hear some of the Tchaikovsky themes but the second act is all new and it’s a very emotional score. We had a run through the other day and we all started crying. We also have amazing new costumes by Henrik Vibskov’.

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

Opera Houses can be intimidating places, I wondered if there had been any resistance to so many new ideas. Ekman gave an emphatic, 'No! This house is so special, here everyone thinks creatively. It’s a new house and there is a feeling that everything is possible and that generates the kind of energy you need. The only question was “How do we solve this?”’

Director, Ingrid Lorentzen loved the idea. ‘She has been great, so spontaneous and such energy. Norway is an extremely rich country and the Opera House has amazing resources so I’m like the kid in the candy store!’

‘But it’s a risky production in all aspects. One drop of water in the orchestra pit and the musicians stop playing. If water drips through the floor we have to close the theatre. People say to me, "but hasn’t it been done before?" It seems such a great idea and it sort of makes sense. So we just want to make it work and we’ve had so much fun doing it. This is also a very special project for me: my first Swan Lake. It’s a special moment in my career.'

And a final question, ‘Do I need to bring a raincoat?’ I was told not to worry!

Maggie Foyer
20 April, 2014

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

Alexander Ekman: A Swan Lake. Rehearsal Photo: Erik Berg

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