Friday, 21 October 2016

On ballet

This fascinating piece tells us a lot about the life of one ballerina/ex-ballerina and a little about the lives of others.

This struck me as true: "We know of no other occupation that requires such extensive training, that is held in such esteem as a contribution to culture, and that pays so little." And yet, as a dilettante balletomane, I am sure that that is somehow part of the strange, glamorous, fairytale, magical appeal of the whole affair.

There is a reason why the things that everyone knows about ballet dancers are that they are very fit and strong (stronger than footballers, you may have heard) and that their feet bleed. Knowledge of the hard-as-nails labour below all that sugar-plum-fairy-pink-tutu-silliness on the surface is an essential flavour of the experience: one sits there knowing that vast resources - the opera houses! the hand-painted scenery! the hand-sewn costumes! the hours of practice! the muscles! people's whole lives! - have been built and expended to create something effervescent and ephemeral, something fleeting and light. All that weight is designed to create the illusion of something essentially weightless - and the more the real weight, the more impressive the illusion is. It just wouldn't be the same experience for the audience if it could be done without practice by naturally talented individuals, like rolling your tongue. And who would watch robots doing ballet?

I also suspect it wouldn't be quite the same if ballet dancers were all as rich and famous as footballers.

I am not happy to notice that feeling in myself. I really do wish they were all as rich and famous as footballers. At the very least, it would be nice if they were well-paid professionals with happy bourgeois home lives - 2.4 children and a back garden - and healthy appetites, rather than living in poky garrets on a diet of cigarettes and $5 a week. May they all have the afterlives of Darcey Bussell! But introspection tells me that one of the reasons the audience cares about the ballet, one of the reasons that, for all its silliness, it matters, is because of the sacrifices made by the dancers.

I know, I know. It's the other way around, isn't it? I should say that it is because it matters that people make the sacrifices. But in the case of ballet at least, is that right? Can't something which itself of beauty and value be given additional value - be sanctified, almost - by the sacrifices involved in its creation?

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