January 16, 2011

Yup'ik Swan Lake

Ballet merges with Yup'ik dance to give 'Swan Lake' an Alaska twist

By Mike DunhamA new "Alaska" version of "Swan Lake" will debut Friday and Saturday in the Discovery Theatre. Alaska Dance Theatre's "Qug'yuq" (the Yup'ik word for swan) retells the story of a girl sinisterly transformed into a bird and the frantic love she shares with a human who is unaware of the magic conjured up to keep them apart.

This time, however, the swan and her swain come from a Yup'ik village. Their nemesis, intent on keeping the girl for himself, is no one less than the powerful trickster, Raven. The usual balletic pirouettes and plies are augmented by Yup'ik Eskimo drumming and dance.

"We wanted to introduce a story ballet, but we knew we didn't want to restage 'Swan Lake,' " said Codie Costello, the executive director of Alaska Dance Theatre. "But reading through it again, we began to think about how we could merge it with Alaska Native stories."

The thread of humans transforming to animals and vice versa, for instance, is a recurring feature in both European fairy tales and Native lore.
Comment:  For more on Native dance, see Fasthorse Wins NEA Grant and Indigenous Dance Residency.

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