An arabesque. Google images
This is likely to be my last post of 2018 and I thought that, in keeping with the festive season's tradition of immersing oneself in dance through a range of televised shows (as well as live performances of the eternal Nutcracker), I should write about a couple of those dance programmes broadcast throughout December. I will not discuss however the amazing 'Swan Lake' performance by the Royal Ballet , choreographed by Liam Scarlett, shown on 25th December, nor the equally breathtaking An American in Paris, The musical choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and starring former ABT principal dancer Robert Fairchild, also broadcast on Christmas Day. They deserve a different post.
Darcey Bussell, former star of the Royal Ballet is now the BBC's favourite commentator of anything that relates to dance, thus she appears as interviewer and presenter in all these programmes. She introduced us to dance in its purest therapeutic form in a documentary aired on December 2nd on BBC2 and still available on BBC iPlayer. We were told how dance as a structured activity can help people with mental issues, people with Parkinson's disease, older people now retired who use it to keep well and alert and feel part of a community ( such as the RAD Silver Swans), and older people with dementia. "I cannot live without dance" said Miss Bussell as she took us on this exploratory journey into dance as therapy. "When I retired I was still able to dance well and this is why I decided to quit" she said [at age 38 in 2007] adding that she missed dancing almost immediately after her last performance, missed the routine and the company. Eventually she found ways of dancing again without it becoming an obsession, as it had been with ballet. (I will always remember her great performance in The Prince of the Pagodas, which marked her debut).
Silver Swans Factsheet RAD
However Miss Bussell still inhabits a dance universe and has become a household name even more so now that she is not a ballerina, through participating as judge in programmes such as Strictly and through her regular TV appearances. One of her daughters is all set to continue in her mother's footsteps, as indeed she revealed in conversation with Danish ballet star Peter Schaufuss in another dance programme, which was all about the male ballet dancer. This was shown on 26th December and it was quite a treat. Interviews with several male ballet stars were interspersed with footage of greats such as Nureyev, Baryshnikov and more recent ones such as Carlos Acosta and Irek Mukhamedov, the latter two having been Bussell's partners when she danced for the Royal.
I love watching male ballet dancers, I am enthralled by their artistry and athleticism. Whenever a boy takes up ballet you can be assured that there is talent and motivation, more than in the case of girls, who are often enrolled in ballet classes by their mothers and tend to be taken in by the accoutrements - many will drop ballet within a few of years of starting classes. But boys are different. The stigma attached to male ballet dancers has gone and many boys will now regard dancing as 'normal', however it still takes some guts for a boy to say he wants to do ballet, if no one in his family has been involved in dance.
I was intrigued by the documentaries as they presented two different sides of dance. I fully relate to the idea of dancing at any age and I appreciate the power dance has to bring people together, socially, providing enjoyment and even giving people some confidence - the benefits of taking up dance at any age as an activity are now proven. I also relate to the idea of ballet growing as an art form and forcefully reinstating the presence of a male dancer as more than a virtuoso, as a true artist , not to be overshadowed by ballerinas, which for a long time had been the norm. I also loved the part of the documentary where in conversation with Royal Ballet resident contemporary choreographer Wayne McGregor, Darcey Bussell hints at a new 'ballet body' for men, with movements performed by both male and female bodies, something that adds flexibility to male dancers' bodies, in the way only female dancers displayed it until recent times.
Wayne McGregor. Photo: Anne Deniau
Strangely both programmes managed to gloss over an aspect of ballet in particular which to me is essential and which is what makes me love it. The discipline of ballet is what draws me to it. I love the fact that you can change your body by working on details, learning to integrate an elegant way of moving with tremendous strength. I love watching a ballet performance but I love watching ballet dancers in class or rehearsing in the studio even more, because it reveals the effort and sweat that goes into refining a ballet performance. I love the way ballet teaches you to fine tune your body and turn it into an instrument of expression and the way it also teaches you about your own limitations and how to overcome them, preserving your uniqueness. It's the eternal quest for perfection - which can never be achieved - which you find in every art form. But ballet offers you an opportunity to tailor perfection to your own body. In an article by Vanity Fair staff writer Laura Jacobs which appeared in Pointe magazine in April 2015, the critic Matthew Gurewitsch is quoted as saying “Whereas high C is high C, an arabesque is the arabesque of a particular body. So a 'perfect,' Platonic arabesque may not even exist." But the perfect arabesque for your body does exist and is something you can strive to achieve.
I will pick this up again in a different post, as it allows the conversation to be broadened. As Laura Jacobs says quoting ballerina Heather Watts "“Perfection is a moving target: Each day you begin anew, trying for a higher bar every time you go out on stage." Food for thought. You can substitute on stage' with every time you go to class. or indeed apply it to other areas of your life.
And on this note I end, wishing you all a very happy , prosperous and perfect 2019.