It Takes A Village: Our Review of ‘Swan Song’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - September 29, 2023
It Takes A Village: Our Review of ‘Swan Song’

Mounting something beautiful can be the equivalent of going to war…

In theatres now, Swan Song is a testament to the power of arts and the creative spirit that runs in the veins of so many unappreciated artists and artisans working at all levels to mount a production of something that is even more amazing then most of us ever appreciate.

SWAN SONG immerses viewers inside one of the world’s leading ballet companies as it mounts a legacy-defining new production of Swan Lake, directed by ballet icon Karen Kain on the eve of her retirement. The verité-driven feature documentary closely follows Kain and a group of young dancers drawn from the National Ballet of Canada’s ranks, weaving Swan Lake’s dramatic creation process with intimate scenes from the subjects’ personal lives as they push toward one of the most significant opening nights in their company’s history.

What director Chelsea McMullan has done here is actually nothing short of remarkable.

Swan Song pays homage to the creative drive that is necessary to mount a production of this nature but also stays true to all the level of artisans who throw themselves into the process of making this come to life at an emotional level that most people outside of any sort of creative endeavour would find to be certifiably insane.

It’s rare to see something that illustrates how most creative efforts are always ones that rely on collaboration.  While it’s nice that the film allows us time with Karen Kain in the build up to the mounting of this production of Swan Lake; it’s also incredibly appropriate that she is not the focus.

Keeping true to the verité style in which they tackled this film there’s something to be said for keeping their camera’s on and staying out of the way of the myriad of moving parts that happen in production like this.  We truly got a sense that they immersed themselves into the lives of their subjects to the point that we actually felt the rigours of it all.  Not just physically but emotionally as well because we are allowed into their collective psyches to get a sense of the effort it takes to be a part of something like this.

The use of this style allows us as an audience to appreciate the scope and how epic a production like this truly is.

While films of this ilk in the past of shown the ambition and drive for success that these high level performers have to have, where Swan Song manages to distinguish itself is in the physicality of it all.  Not just in the power and the beauty that these performers convey through movement but in the raw realities that you have to work your ass off at this level not just to thrive but actually survive as well.  That not only comes from dedication and hard work, but from pure unadulterated love.

Swan Song manages it place itself in the upper pantheon of films surrounding the performing arts and specifically the ballet.  Not just through any kind of technical appreciation or artistry, but through the sheer blood, sweat and tears it took for these people to come together and mount a production of Swan Lake in the first place.  We think of the ballet as beautiful and even dainty at times, but make no mistake, to really commit yourself to this art form (or any really) you’ve got to have that different gear that makes you a badass.  This film honors the badassery in ballet and committing yourself to the arts, and we just love it.

Swan Song is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox now and rolling out in theatres across the country in the coming weeks.

Plus enjoy our interview with director Chelsea McMullan and co-writer/producer Sean O’Neill about the making of the film.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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