SXSW Review: Swan Leak: A Silent Clown Ballet, March 14, The Creek and the Cave

Photo by Luke Adams

How does one even begin to describe Swan Leak?

Well, I suppose the SXSW programme as well as the marquee outside of The Creek and the Cave already had the basic description covered ahead of time, billing the performance as “A Silent Clown Ballet.” But that barely even begins to cover the scope of what the audience experienced on Tuesday.

I think the guy sitting behind me said it best when, as the lights went up, he turned to his friend and simply said, “What did we just watch?” Indeed, what did we all just watch?

While I too didn’t know quite what to expect from Swan Leak, I at least had some inkling of what I might see going into this, as I had seen one of the performers in this ballet, Christina Catherine Martinez, as part of Nick Thune’s Sunday night Riffs and Riff Raffs showcase, wherein each of the comedians/performers incorporated a musical element into their sets.

On that evening, Martinez put on quite a unique show, one that involved some audience participation as well as some … memorable moments involving shrimp and pizza (the phrase “a fresh slice of Hoboken pie” will forevermore be a part of my lexicon). After that show, I too had my “what did I just see?” moment, but I’m not going to lie, it did leave me intrigued to see exactly what Martinez would have in store for her other appearance at SXSW. And what Martinez and her partner Natalie Palamides had in store ended up being one of the most memorable moments of my many years of attending SXSW.

Performing (mostly) silently and accompanied by a musician on piano and kazoo (and probably a few other things), Martinez and Palamides made the entire venue, and in fact the entire audience, a part of their performance. And what a performance it was – to borrow a phrase from Bill Hader’s Stefon, this show had everything – uncomfortable crowd participation, copious amounts of fake bodily fluids, raw fish … yes, fish. I happened to look down at one point and all of the sudden, each woman was holding a fish. Why? Well, why not? And yes, it did indeed make this a performance which incorporated all the senses.

I won’t go into too much detail on the specifics as I’m not sure whether Palamides and Martinez ever plan to do any more productions of Swan Leak or if this is a one off. I do so to avoid revealing any spoilers, yes, but also because I’m not sure mere words could even do Swan Leak justice. So I’ll just wrap things up by saying that much like Martinez’s Sunday night appearance at Riffs and Riff Raffs, this one will definitely go down in the books as one of my more memorable SouthBy moments. Bizarre, raunchy, and grotesque, sure, but most definitely quite memorable.

And in answer to the aforementioned question, what did we just watch? Swan fucking Leak, that’s what.

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest