Memory of Swan Lake
Once a year, the Bolshoi or Kiev Ballet company came from the Soviet Union to the civic center in Nagano City and performed Swan Lake. Some years it was excerpts from different ballets, but Swan Lake was always part of the evening’s program. My parents took me to the show all through my elementary school years. This was the only exposure to theater I had in Nagano, a small town surrounded by mountains, during my childhood. Each year, as soon as the curtain went up in what must have been a pretty shabby performance space, I thought, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The magnificent half-human half-bird beings inhabited the stage, encircled mysteriously by colored lights. I have no memory of my parents or sister being there. I remember the packed hall, every seat taken, but people seemed to be elsewhere, not physically around me. I might as well have been sitting alone in the theater, watching a personal performance by magical beings.
Many decades later, in 2002—my first summer together with my yet-to-be-husband—Lincoln Center Festival was presenting two shows I was interested in—Swan Lake performed by the Kiev Ballet and Pacific Overtures, a production from Japan. I felt obligated to choose Pacific Overtures—it was much talked about as the production with which the Japanese artists reclaimed the history of the Black Ship’s arrival through their interpretation.
I wasn’t impressed by the performance in Pacific Overtures. During the intermission, we went outside to the second floor balcony at Avery Fisher Hall—right next to us was the Metropolitan Opera House, where Swan Lake was happening. It was a balmy night. I regretted not being over there with Odette and Prince Siegfried. Do they resemble what I remember? Through the Met windows, I looked at the Swan Lake audience who were ending their intermission, soon to witness the love suicide dance. My love took my arm to lead me back to Pacific Overtures—his hand felt warm on my body, which was still cold from the air conditioning during the first act.
Chiori Miyagawa is a NYC-based playwright. A collection of seven of her plays, Thousand Years Waiting and Other Plays is available from Seagull Books; and another collection of five plays, America Dreaming and Other Plays, is available from NoPassport Press. She is a resident playwright of New Dramatists. chiorimiyagawa.com