My Swan Experience

The annual Grahamstown National Arts Festival is over. I hope the event delivered on its promise and offered an “amazing” experience to all patrons of the arts. Personally, I remained amazed at all times. Mostly at the good quality and variety on offer; but on few occasions, by the ‘no value for money’ type of performances, which paled in comparison to what one would expect!

Now that the festival fun has ended, it is time to move on with life as we know it :-(. Before I proceed with mine, I would love to share with you my swan experience. I watched the Swan Lake for the first time ever and I thoroughly enjoyed it! A few days later, I watched Three is a Crowd, a contemporary dance performance with a piece on the swan. This piece, similar to the ballet performance, was beautiful and graceful.

However, despite this seemingly satisfying experience, I was left with this nagging question: what makes a swan a fascinating creature? Upon reflection, I realised that through my pursuit of (Western) cultural capital, I had somehow learnt to see (and perhaps define) a swan as a seriously wonderful and numinous creature. As a result, it was easy to be wowed by the performances without connecting emotionally to what was being expressed through dance. In fact, I think as soon as I saw the white tutus, my mind was in autopilot and this simply made my swan experience a mind over heart experience. In some ways I guess this was expected. I grew up not knowing anything about the swan; I grew up knowing a peacock as the only graceful and beautiful bird.

Growing up, I continuously heard “pikoko e khaba ka masiba”, an expression that alludes to the beauty and grace of the peacock as imbued by its feathers. For this reason, as a young girl all I ever wanted was to be decorated like a peacock so that I could walk with my head held high. Here I am talking about that gentle and confident walk better described in Sesotho as “ho tebuka o ba o khethela leoto sebaka”. Basically, in this walk, one appears as though they are gracefully contemplating placement of each foot before moving. It is like they are communicating a sense of worthiness that is symbolic of love in its purest forms. So you can’t but help to see beauty permeating from the walker just as you see beauty of the peacock.


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