The Dying Swan - Ras Nijinsky in drag as Pavlova.

I am late to the dance and only now catching up on the very spirited discussion that ensued in the homeland in response to Peter Minshall's Carnival King presentation - "The Dying Swan - Ras Nijinsky in drag as Pavlova."

Jhawhan Thomas dances "the Dying Swan | Uploaded by Jovanixcell

Anna Pavlova dances "The Dying Swan" | Uploaded by Jan Vincent

Interview with the creator, Peter Minshall.
Video Source

I have read only two articles carefully [here and there] by Newsday's Andre Bagoo and scanned a few others but I intend to use Janine Mendes Franco's review at Global Voices - "A Dying Swan Resurrects Faith in the Creativity of Trinidad & Tobago Carnival,"  as my guide to further reading.

In the interest of full disclosure I will begin by saying that when I first saw the video, my response was Pavlovian [pardon the pun]. I admit with no apology that I have become conditioned to associating wonder and beauty with Peter Minshall's work, so a part of me was bound to like what I was seeing just because it was Minshall's. Apart from that, this is what I got out of it. I saw the obvious association with Ana Pavlova's rendition of The Dying Swan. I thought that Minshall was playing around with the meeting of cultures, the usual stuff of Trinbagonian nightmares or sweet dreams, depending on your perspective, the drag queen thing I thought was exploring alterity and change/struggle with the status quo at both the personal and societal levels, Visually I loved the use of the form of the Moko Jumbie and the artist's genius in thinking to shape the usually unadorned points into the feet of a ballerina en pointe. There was a beautiful simplicity to the costume and the colour which served to make it stand out in sharp contrast to what is usually offered.

However, not for one minute did I accept the association of this swan with death, and if I had to, I would have agreed only to a death that was more like a temporary and positive transitioning to some advancement. Yes, a sustained discomfort was conveyed by the faltering, precariousness of the baby steps. One one level the unsteadiness could have been suggesting not only an internal struggle but a struggle to negotiate unfamiliar or unsettled terrain. This impression of discomfort associated with walking triggered other associations, not just with the ancient and now outlawed oppressive Chinese practice of foot binding, but with the suffering of the little mermaid from the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Whenever we are called to leave behind our lives as we have known them, we should expect to be hurt to some degree.   In drag, in transition, en pointe, we are often left teetering on the receiving end of pain. 

In The Little Mermaid, the witch explains to the mermaid that in choosing to separate herself from her kind, and from convention, in order to follow her unorthodox love for a human being, she would be opening herself to a world of agony. 
"I will prepare a draught for you, with which you must swim to land tomorrow before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you.”

In the end, those who behold will continue to invest some of their own selves into the process of creation. Dis 'mas cyah done. This is the gift that will keep on giving and accepting. I want to thank Peter Minshall especially for facilitating that collaboration, for putting the seed of a vision out there, stepping back and saying to us, "Add yourselves and stir." He has given us once again a place to dream from. 

Craftsmen, do you remember a time when your hands took pleasure in being occupied? A time when you actually made things for the joy of bending and folding and cutting and shaping? Then one day you began walking into arts and craft stores and the making of all the little things had been subcontracted to hands in far away places and you were expected to use your hands now only for purchasing, for buying the mass produced items conveniently awaiting you in their packets? Well, perhaps the same thing has happened everywhere in almost every aspect of our lives, pre-packaged education, food, communities, careers, marriages, politics, spirituality..... Carnivals? 

Then Ras Nijinsky in drag as Pavlova comes tottering, unprecedented and unwritten across the tabula rasa of the stage, tabula rasa white, tabula rasa gender, tabula rasa death or life, tabula rasa baggage of the worst [or most intriguing] kind - undefined, unresolved, chimeric...the beholder is left to choose, the beholder is trusted to see, the beholder is expected to participate. Ours is the privilege of ownership. Who would not be ecstatic? And when I began to read what others had seen, things my limited mind had not even imagined, I felt like I was witnessing a promise of recreation, I was hearing the voices of survivors, the revivers emerging with wonder and gratitude from under the collapse of all the pre-packaged debris of enervating glut.

So many of our spirits have been steadily and mercilessly bent under the weight of our experience of this world in which we live. Many of us are trying to be positive but find ourselves questioning our refusal to surrender to the choreographed insanity. Are we really in touch with reality when we speak of a kinder, more authentic, more organic way or are we just mouthing a half-remembered dream inherited from a long line of equally stubborn or delusional ancestors who doggedly passed on to us what had been passed on to them - the concealed smoldering embers of a fire which they themselves had never witnessed being lit?

Light the fire. We need more voices willing to affirm that this is still our life. This was always our world and this must always remain our 'mas.

Thanks to all Moko Jumbies everywhere, dreamed up by the genuis of our ancestors in the distant past to the present day dedicated students and experts in my homeland. Thanks also to Stephanie Kanhai's "The Virgin Queen. Everything is everything.  

Masked Ceremonial Dogon Dancers

Sangha, Dogon Country, Mali.

Photo by Gavin Hellier

Never Forget the Ancestors.

Uploaded by laurynhillvevo

By Lauryn Hill

Everything is everything
What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually.

I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth
Who won't accept deception instead of what is truth
It seems we lose the game before we even start to play
Who made these rules? We're so confused, easily led astray

Let me tell ya that
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
After winter, must come spring
Everything is everything.

Our philosophy
Possibly speak tongues
Beat drum, Abyssinian, street Baptist
Rap this in fine linen
From the beginning
My practice extending across the atlas
I begat this

Flippin' in the ghetto on a dirty mattress
You can't match this rapper / actress
More powerful than two Cleopatras
Bomb graffiti on the tomb of Nefertiti
MCs ain't ready to take it to the Serengeti
My rhymes is heavy like the mind of Sister Betty
L. Boogie spars with stars and constellations
Then came down for a little conversation
Adjacent to the king, fear no human being
Roll with cherubims to Nassau Coliseum
Now hear this mixture
Where hip hop meets scripture
Develop a negative into a positive picture.

Now, everything is everything
What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually.

Sometimes it seems we'll touch that dream
But things come slow or not at all
And the ones on top, won't make it stop
So convinced that they might fall
Let's love ourselves and we can't fail
To make a better situation
Tomorrow, our seeds will grow
All we need is dedication.

Let me tell ya that,
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually.
Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!