Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Groove Book Report - Swan Lake - by Anne Spudvilas - $32.99

A magnificent visual retelling of the classic ballet story from a much-loved, award-winning illustrator.

'Anne Spudvilas is one of Australia's most talented visual artists. Her illustrations are full of emotion and beauty. Anne's Swan Lake is simply enchanting and sublime!' Li Cunxin, author of Mao's Last Dancer and Artistic Director, Queensland Ballet

The iconic ballet Swan Lake, the tragic love story of a princess transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer, has been revered for more than a century. In this atmospheric adaptation, Anne Spudvilas reimagines the classic tale of passion, betrayal and heartbreak in the dramatic riverscape of the Murray-Darling.

My girls, all three, love Ballet - at least the idea of it.  The older two have both been to professional productions and both were mesmerised as the by the figures twirled and glided across the stage.  The music, the costumes and the wonderful sense of occasion.  Say what you will about Ballet but you can't deny the spectacle of a show done well.

Author and illustrator, Anne Spudvilas grew up, just like my daughters, entranced by Ballet.  As a young girl she read Stories of the Ballets by Gladys Davidson, especially the story of Swan Lake as retold in the ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  So it is no surprise that Spudvias' illustrations as so magical, dark, haunting and beautiful.  For anyone reading you can't help getting something of a physical reaction and a little bit of a shiver running up your spine.

She presents her book like the show, in acts.  With a short narrative of each key scene on one page followed by a series of double page spreads which tell the story in dramatic illustrations.  There are actually more illustrations than words.  Pictures tell the story.  Her bold pastels are sweeping, vibrant.  Sometimes her work borders on the harsh, linear style of comic book heroes like Howard Chaykin, famous for Batman, Nick Fury, Black Kiss and American Flagg.  Her use of the colour black centres and almost dominates each image - it gives every picture an 'edgy' feel.

In Act 1 we meet the Prince and the Swan Queen who fall in love. The Swan Queen tells the Prince of the Sorcerer's curse, that she can only be in her human form between midnight and dawn. The Prince promises that at the upcoming ball he will choose her as his bride.

The retelling of the heartbreaking story in Act 2 is very moving. On the night of the ball the prince is bewitched by the Sorcerer's daughter, who is disguised as the Swan Queen and announces her as his bride. The Swan Queen sees the Princes' betrayal from the window and beats on it with her wings. Heartbroken she runs away to the lake.

In Act 3 the Prince realises his mistake.  Like all classic fairy tales he overcomes the evil Sorcerer and breaks the curse but cannot undo his promise of marriage. The story ending is the classic romantic tragedy.

The darkness used on the endpapers create a haunting mood and because illustrations are mostly black and white with pops of colour you feel sucked in the book.  Blood red is associated with the evil Sorcerer and his daughter, representing danger, passion and desire and it juxtaposes nicely with the white purity of the 'good' characters.

This is a powerful book.  My daughters were all moved by it in different ways.  My youngest found it 'scary'.  At 6 years, she needed the reassurance of bright, vibrant colours.  My 8 year old is a heavy reader and understood the moodiness of this work.  My 15 year old, who is a very keen dancer, was obsessed with the body lines and the posture of the performers.  She could see these as sketches from real scenes from the stage.

If you like this one, then also seek out her other two - Old Pig and Our Village In the Sky.

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