There are some aspects of ballet that I just don't get. Princesses, Fairys, Sylphides - the entire fairy tale cast. Don't get me wrong, I love to watch ballerinas dance the Auroras, Paquitas or Sugar Plums - but why do grown-up women still have to pretend to be antiquated princesses? Tradition, of course. Respect for the art of ballet. The choreography, the music, the artistry. And let us not forget popular demand. Classical ballet may be considered an elitist art by many, but mostly it's escapist entertainment. As the ballerina is lifted above her prince, our spirits are lifted right along. For a brief moment, disbeliefs are suspended and we delight in the beauty of it all. Ballet is entertainment, but it also feeds our soul. The artist may come in the disguise of an ornamented tutu, but she holds the power to touch us. So I do get it, after all.
Okay, it's "just" ballet. We are not making a political or anti-feminist statement when we take ballet class. Au contraire, ballet makes you stronger. To create the illusion of flight without effort, you need a whole lot of muscle and stamina. The pretty ballerina on stage is not just a real woman off stage, she is Superwoman! Hey, why are there no ballets about that? It's about time to have a ballerina with superpowers, instead of supernatural wilis and swanmaids. Vampire-slaying Buffy, anyone? Just a thought..
Yesterday our teacher gave us steps to do from the ballet Paquita, I believe it is known as the first variation. My first reaction: what is up with those arms?? Is the character pretending to create something out of thin air, or is she some sad mental case? It looks lovely in an odd way, but what is the story behind it? And how can I possibly get away with the same? And why do I even care - should I not just try to copy the moves and get on with it? But I do care, albeit too much. That variation is so much out of my comfort zone, I feel like a butcher called in to do a patisseur's job.
The video shows what I'm talking about. I wish I could have found more versions to choose from, but the arms are pretty much the same our teacher gave us (she has danced in Paquita). The "folding arms" start at 01:30, right after the "yawn, just waking up -port de bras". There is also another bit that we have practiced: the "plucking and throwing sequins off my tutu" (00:45 - 00:50). That last part - it's just too pretty for my liking. The other technical stuff is not so impossible. Not that I can do any of it, at least not in center. We have been practicing the pointe balloné - balloné - balloné - developpé (00:30 - 00:34) at the barre, but in my case without the climactic high extension part. The echappé onto arabesqué is under preparation as a traveling sous-sous. Attitude pirouettes on pointe have not been introduced yet, but I once got lucky trying one on my own. The tombé en dedans pirouette with arms en couronne has been done in another class, sort of. But forget anything that comes in mutiple numbers.
It is a real challenge, both physical and mental. Me - I would much prefer to dance something neo-classical or anything contemporary. More earthy, or even edgy. In our other pointe-class we have been practicing a modern piece that is inspired by Forsythe´s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated - and I just love it! It's an exhausting choreography, but exhilerating. You get to break a lot of The Rules, hips forward and such, but it's still gorgeous to look at. Well, at least our teacher is. ;)
Then again, I am a student of ballet. And the classics are part of that curriculum. I should count myself lucky that I even have the opportunity to learn these variations! But how can I get past the feeling ridiculous part? How does one unearth all that Princess Power?