The Revenant: Andre Bagoo on Peter Minshall’s “The Dying Swan”


Andre Bagoo (for Trinidad and Tobago Newsday) reviews Peter Minshall’s mas “The Dying Swan: Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavlova,” one of the carnival acts performed last Thursday. He writes: “Resurrection is a classic theme in art and, therefore, Carnival, and so it is in Peter Minshall’s ‘The Dying Swan.’” Here are excerpts of the review:

The mas, with the subtitle ‘Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Pavlova’, crossed the Savannah stage on Thursday night. Even if a few people had an initially derisive reaction to seeing a man in a dress, their laughter soon transformed to rousing applause. The ugly duckling becomes a swan.

[. . .] Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake from 1875 towers over the centuries like a wave, its currents absorbing something from each generation (its interpretations have been heavily influenced by Pavlova’s dance).

But Minshall and masquerader, Jha-whan Thomas, give us a swan like no other. This mas fuses two seemingly disparate things: European art and Diaspora art, showing how they are one. Minshall has taken the Moko Jumbie (which leaped across the Atlantic from the West coast of Africa to the Caribbean) and turned it into a ballet dancer.

The Jumbie’s long stilt has been transformed. Instead of leaving it bare (like a pirate’s wooden leg) or trying to hide it in profuse fabric, white stockings are painted onto it. Add a toe, a heel and the suggestion of a calf. The overall result is a ballet dancer en pointe. With one fell swoop, mas is brought to new heights.

On Thursday, Thomas floated from the dark areas of the stage as though emerging from water.  And then, under the spotlight, he staggered, taking his tiny, tiptoe ballerina steps. It is not that the swan will die or has died. It is the present participle. The swan is dying yes, as opposed to dead. Baudelaire’s line, describing an animal “gnawed by one craving”, comes alive.

[. . .] The real star is the dance. The movement of one body, through space and time, to pan music and Camille Saint-Saens’s ‘The Swan’. [. . .]

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