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Yo-Yo Ma and Lil Buck Perform "The Swan"

Posted by Josh Rothman  April 18, 2011 08:31 AM

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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-Saëns, 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-Saëns' "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-Saëns 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.
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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

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.


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