You may have to be of a certain age, or have grown up in a certain region of the country, to be familiar with “I’ll swan” as a pious euphemism for “I’ll swear,” used mainly as a colorful interjection. When I was a boy, I most often heard it when my grandmother saw or heard something surprising, and she’d say “Well, I’ll swan …”
I thought of that last night as I watched the Russian National Ballet perform Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at the Givens Performing Arts Center at UNC Pembroke. It was my first exposure to a full evening of classical ballet (no, not even The Nutcracker), though I’ve seen more modern ballet in musicals like West Side Story.
My first impression is that the men really should have worn some more clothes because their molded-to-the-flesh tights revealed way too much information … but what do I know about ballet? On the one hand, all the prancing and posing seemed really affected to a southern boy, but then again, I had to admire their athleticism: ballet dancers have to be seriously fit, and not just to fit into their tights.
I had failed to Google the plot before attending, but fortunately my date knew the story. Otherwise, I’d never have known how Prince Siegfried was threatened by Von Rotbert, the evil sorcerer (though his outfit and makeup made it clear that he was a really bad guy). And, I needed a little help understanding that the horizontal skirts with ruffled underwear indicated that the women were really swans … at least part of the time, when they weren’t bewitched princesses who sent the prince (mind and body) into a spin.
I confess that I don’t always “get” art, whether it’s ballet or classical music or an eclectic sculpture that looks nothing like its title.
But like other mysteries in life, I think there’s value in trying. Exploring new ways of seeing or stretching beyond my comfort zone of realistic paintings and catchy musical lyrics is worth the effort … even when my most intelligent response is “Well I’ll swan …”
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.