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      Feathered — White and Black
    Feathered friends

    "Feathered — White and Black" is Valerie Norman and VanDance's reworking of the "Swan Lake" fable in which our feathered friends bob between images of good girls and bad girls.


    From Petipa to Michael Bourne, "Swan Lake" has been reincarnated in myriad productions that never fail to enchant with breathtaking beauty and tragic loss. The original ballet presents two opposing swan characters, Odette and Odile, who incarnate good and evil respectively and who also happen to be danced by the same ballerina. In her first full evening-length presentation, Valerie Norman does not attempt to recreate the famous tale, but uses the Odette/Odile synthesis as a vehicle to explore the idea of female dualism. Delightfully entertaining, "Feathered" gets a little jumbled along the way but ultimately satisfies.

    Choreography by: Valerie Norman.
    Dancers: Gabriella Barnstone, Hannah Emmerich, Christina May, Tamara Riewe and Valerie Norman.

    Related links: Official site
    Before the house lights extinguish, the dancers take the stage in silence, stretching out their graceful swan-selves in the murky anonymity of pre-show shadows. Tchaikovsky's famous score then rolls in like a wave sweeping the dancers into a unison swan brigade. Gabriella Barnstone, Hannah Emmerich, Christina May, Tamara Riewe and Ms. Norman combine their ballet prowess to form an ethereal chorus of delicate arabesques and wafting porte-de-bras. White draped fabric and strategically placed feathers by designer Oana Botez-Ban add stylish flair while simultaneously acknowledging the classic purity of the swans. Although satisfyingly proper, this swan prance we know so well is doomed. Tchaikovsky's score is soon overcome by an eerie synthesized drone and the frolicking swans disintegrate into unsteady, floor-bound writhing.

    In the original "Swan Lake," the swans are actually women who have been cursed by an evil magician to remain as swans until a man falls in love with Odette with all his heart and breaks the spell. Without much effort from the swans, Prince Sigfried comes along, promptly falls for Odette and vows to save her. In "Feathered," the swans take charge and transform into coy showgirls, demurely entreating admiration. Out come the feathered fans and frisky attitudes. Pirouettes and bourres become spinning fan formations a la Busby Berkeley. Odette, played beautifully by Gabriella Barnstone, is initially dismayed when the swans decide to further breakout and go to a local disco. Her unexplained disapproval is short-lived, however, and later abandoned altogether when she throws herself full swan-swing onto the disco floor. Ms. Norman boldly embellishes her snowy swans with spinning lights and sex appeal. No longer so pure, the swans disco 'til dawn in active pursuit of the love that will save them. A love, I should mention, that never comes.

      "It's really about power for me, and how power becomes our nemesis."
      — Valerie Norman
    In Act Two, we meet Odile, black, luxurious, striking. She arrives with a full entourage of call girls bedecked in black lace and fishnets. Unabashedly seductive, the black swans slink and slide around Odile showing her off like the next big prize on "The Price Is Right." Odile is sexy, confident and in control until she wrestles a chair (read: lover) and gets a bit trampled. "It's really about power for me," said Ms. Norman in conversation after the show, "and how power becomes our nemesis."

    Sex, cigarettes and violence culminate in a flamboyant finish. Without quite understanding her logic, we watch Odile stab the others and then herself in a desperate act. Later, we understand that Odile has found another way to break the magician's spell, a curse that has become a greater metaphor for female oppression. The dancers emerge, stripped of both feathers and fishnets. Neither black nor white, they advance nakedly forward to discover their true selves.

    Though at times mysterious, Ms. Norman's story arc is filled with potential. Comedic and fun, she weaves a quirky fabric of myth and social commentary. Ms. Norman cracks apart elements of an age-old classic and reassembles them with wit and absurdity. The resulting entity might not be fully functional, but it is definitely fascinating to behold.

    JANUARY 13, 2003

    Reader comments on Feathered — White and Black:

  • Feathered in Black and White   from Will Wynn, Jan 24, 2003

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