In an explosion of hipness that also happens to be a genuinely beautiful artistic collaboration, director Spike Jonze films (with his phone?) Yo-Yo Ma and L.A. dancer Lil Buck performing "The Swan" by Camille Saint-SaŽns, and then posts it to the blog of super-cool boutique empire Opening Ceremony. This is definitely a case of substance over style: Ma and Buck make an amazing combination.
On YouTube, Jonze writes:
The other day, I was lucky enough to be at an event to bring the arts back into schools and got to see an amazing collaboration between Yo-Yo Ma and a young dancer in LA, Lil Buck. Someone who knows Yo-Yo Ma had seen Lil Buck on YouTube and put them together. The dancing is Lil Buck's own creation and unlike anything I've seen. Hope you enjoy. -- Spike Jonze.
"The Swan" is one movement among many from Saint-SaŽns' "Carnival of the Animals." Written for solo cello and piano, it draws on the ancient idea of a "swan song": the ancient Greeks and Romans thought that the mute swan, after a lifetime of silence, sings one beautiful song as it prepares for death. The great ballerina Anna Pavlova's signature dance, "The Dying Swan," was choreographed with Michel Fokine, and drew not just on Saint-SaŽns and the idea of a swan song, but also on Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "The Dying Swan." Incredibly, you can watch a film of Pavlova performing "The Dying Swan," from way back in 1907 -- it's on YouTube!
Pavlova even had a pet swan, Jack. She died, at 49, holding her costume from "The Dying Swan"; her last words were, "Play the last measure very softly." Following ballet tradition, the next day's show went on as scheduled, with a spotlight drifting around the stage where she would have danced during "The Dying Swan."
Anna Pavlova with Jack.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.