The Caged Bird

Dance is the only art form that speaks of prayer and blasphemy in the same language.

Before time started ticking in atomic clocks and ancient animal debris fueled our hunger for travel and luxury, humans lifted their hands to the skies in ancient dance, a song to the gods, asking for good fortune, rain, a good harvest, a healthy child. Dance was the song, the medium of the prayer. It was the language of community, a public supplication to the god that breathed wind and rain and roamed the sky.

But time has changed and we have changed, as an organism, a culture, a mind. Nature has turned into steel and concrete canyons, thousands of reflecting eyes in which we see our fragmentation. The world has shrunk, but we’ve drifted apart, faster than the continents. We see each other not in the flesh, but in thousands of bits traveling through space in arteries of light. I am no longer eyes, body and touch, but an endless stream of updates, texts and instgrammed moments. I don’t know the side effects of this particular addiction yet. In time, we shall all know.

Somewhere along this endless stream chronicled as history, came along the French and the king in his mirrored hall, and harnessed dance, caught it, placed it in a cage with rules and obligations.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

writes Maya Angelou. She is not writing about dance, but the mind supplies the narrative even when it is uncalled for. I think of ballet as the caged bird, an ancient artform reborn with rules.

Somewhere along the road we began to think in dichotomies, in borders drawn on water: night and day, black and white, woman and man. Shimmering borders that seem absolute. Thus came also the arts of the mind: painting, literature, music and poetry and the art of the body: dance.

I was recently at a ballet recital. It was one of the “nude” ballets, that modern choreographers are fond of putting together and presenting to eager audiences. A man and a woman, in minimalist leotards, on a stage together. Bodies entwining. I am intrigued and ashamed. I feel that intimacy is violated in the dusky lights of the stage even though this is a performance. At the end I clap, with everyone else. The loud noise shatters the moment I want to savor, the moment when the danseur gently touched the hand of the ballerina, brushed her body. There is something that appeals to the very ancient part of my brain in that touch, in the close contact of hands and torso.

After the performance, I discuss something mundanely existential with a platonic friend. We dip into the dance performance of the evening. “That touch was…” I leave the sentence hanging between us. “ Carnal”, he says. The trill of the r hangs like an unpleasant expletive. As an afterthought, he hovers the bottle over my glass. “More?” “Sure”. Chiraz, when poured slowly, has an oddly seductive quality, the bruised grape blood flickering in the dim room. Carnal. Dance for years was among the persecuted art forms, forbidden, because it inspired lust and carnality. A blasphemy.

Somewhere, far below in the glass canyon between the two buildings, an ambulance wails. Someone is bleeding on a gurney beneath fluorescent lights. The body is so frail in these moments, when it hovers on the brink of death or on the brink of touch.

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humbled and grateful

thank you, thank you, thank you

I am extremely, extremely humbled. Three of my readers (legalballerina, ceciliamaria and The Traveling Dancer) have nominated me for the Liebster Award.

Here are the rules (short and sweet eh? and shamelessly copied from legalballerina)

Here are the rules for accepting the award:
1.Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog.
2.List 11 random facts about yourself.
3.Answer the 11 questions given to you.
4.Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate.
5.Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or less followers to nominate and include links to their blogs.
6.Go to each bloggers page and let them know you have nominated them.

11 Random Facts

1. I just finished college and feel really empty and up in the air

2. I’ve been inside an MRI machine and thought it was super cool

3. I really like computers and programming

4. (embarrassed to admit) I read and write fanfiction more than is healthy

5. I’m obsessed with everything Victorian

6. I kind of have a dancecrush on Roberto Bolle (come on, don’t tell me you haven’t had one too!)

7. I woke up at 5 am today. Jetlag…

8. I refuse to wear leotards unless they’re black.

9. La Bayadere was the first live ballet I saw

10. I used to be addicted to Oreos

11. Peppermint soy latte is my favorite Starbucks beverage

Now onto the questions

legalballerina:

(1) Favorite movie

The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Source Code or … (hard to pick just one)
(2) Describe your most embarrassing moment

I’d rather not. It’s not for the squeamish.
(3) What is your DREAM pet (be creative people!)

A cyborg horse that can output Starbucks lattes
(4) If you could choose another occupation (and not worry about school or brains or yadda yadda yadda), what would you be?

Athlete (professional triathlete) or ballet dancer
(5) Name the super power you have. (Yes, you have a super power. Think….)

An ability to connect my brain to the internet
(6) If you could look like anyone, who would it be????

ouch… tough one… there are so many people I want to look like
(7) Name your favorite (current or past) Boy Band. (The men I nominated has to answer this question too!)

Take that (nope, not One Direction, people)
(8) Favorite color and what does it remind you of?

Blue, reminds me of innocence, spinsterhood (blue-stockings, anyone?), purity, a nice summer day, winter and all that
(9) Would you ever shave your head for a good cause?

Yes. I’d shave it even for a bad cause. Unfortunately, I’m still close enough to my mother not to push that envelope, but perhaps one day
(10) How many jacket do you own?

Five I think. Too many.
(11) Clear your mind….Now tell me what is the first word that pops into your mind.

Ice cream

ceciliamaria:

 (1) Who/What inspires you the most to follow you dreams?

The knowledge that time is finite.

(2) Are you a tea drinker or a coffee drinker?

I used to be a tea drinker all the way, but then Starbucks happened and yeah. Once you go down the latte road it’s a long hike back. But I think I’m slowly getting back to my steamy evening Earl Grey’s.

(3)  When you are all alone and dancing from your heart, what style describes said dance?

A faux ballet in which a beautiful prince courts a beautiful princess.

(4)  What is your favorite meal of the day?

Breakfast.

(5)  Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?

Han Solo.

(6) When you need to retreat from the world, where do you go?

Into the deep silence of the library, the forest or the pages of an intriguing book.

(7)  Fresh water lake or salty ocean?

Lakes!

(8)  What is your favorite flower and why?

Heal-all because of the Robert Frost poem.

(9) If you were to go to the opera, would it be forced or by choice?

Can you get me a ticket? When can I go? Nessun Dorma has reduced me to tears on multiple occasions, though I’ve never seen it live.

(10)  If you could choose, would you prefer to play a musical instrument or dance?

Tough one. I do love the piano. I also love ballet. I don’t know how to choose.

(11)  What was the last book you read?

I’m almost done with Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

The Traveling Dancer:

(1) What is your best recommendation for new bloggers?

Wow. I still consider myself to a be a newbie. But I’ve been writing  for a few years, so I guess I can throw my two-cents into the pot. I think the best advice writers have ever received comes from Nike (think  running shoes and sports gear, not Classics). Their best-known slogan in “Just do it”, and that’s exactly what you should do as a new writer. Just keep writing and blogging and wait for your unique voice to emerge.

(2) If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?

At this moment, I feel like the answer is New York City. The beat of the big city, and all that. But I feel like this changes day to day. I love collecting places with beautiful sounding names like Cold Spring Harbor and imagine myself living there.

(3) What types of posts and blogs do you tend to comment on the most?

Random philosophical musings, lyrical essays with a flair. Hard to say. Depends on the writing and style really.

(4) Favorite youtube dance clip?

Ouch, tough one. One is definitely Nuages by Jiri Kylian (I first saw this on PointeTilYouDrop).

(5)Would you give up your day job to dance?

I don’t even have a day job and the way the economy is faltering and the rate which colleges are churning out graduates, I don’t expect I’ll have a paid day job anytime soon. But yes, given the hypothetical job, I would give it up to dance.

(6) What is your favorite dance studio?

I visited Steps only once, but I loved it! Going back to the dream of living in NYC…

(7) Do you like being corrected in class/what type of corrections work best for you?

Hands on corrections work the best. Also the rather nebulous corrections that have to do with artistry and dancing.

(8) Favorite book? Favorite quote?

So many. Anything by Haruki Murakami I guess, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was particularly beautiful, in all its literary bizareness.  And the short stories of Jose Louis Borges.

(9) Best snack between class?

Don’t usually snack between ballet class, but now that we’re talking about snacks, I have to mention a bad habit I picked up while studying for finals in the library: endless snacking on Oreos. Works miracles on the waistline…

(10)What’s your favorite leotard? (brand, style, color)

Leotards are the last in line on a student budget. Brand: anything from the sales basket. Style: must have long sleeves. Color: black. Doesn’t make you look any thinner, but I like telling myself it does.

(11) Best advice you wish would have known when you were younger?

Sometimes listening to your mother is not in your best interest. Okay, maybe that was harsh. But yeah, I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time walking on the paths that other people have trampled and too little on my own.

Nominees

 

Dave Tries Ballet

Leotards and the Buns in Them

Ballerina in My Head

Corner of Confessions

Interpreting En Pointe

Grown-Ups at the Barre

The Music and the Mirror

Knit Two Pointe Two

Rori roars

Short and to the Pointe

Questions for the Lovely Nominees

(1) Who is your favorite actor/actress

(2) What is the one place where you feel at peace?

(3) What is your favorite poem/novel/work of fiction?

(4) Who was your first ballet/dancer crush

(5) What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

(6) If you could be anyone from the X-Men comics, who would you be?

(7)  What do you look for in blog posts? What is a good blog post?

(8) Batman or Iron Man?

(9) Who is your favorite singer/ song artist?

(10) If you could choreograph a ballet, what would it be about?

(11) What made you happy today?

silver and exact

What bothers me is that I cannot see myself. Not in the way I see others. I cannot, to paraphrase Atticus Finch, walk in another man’s shoes, see the world how he sees it, feel the wind falling on his face, the sun shine on his arms, experience his joy and excitement. As a child, I used to look into people’s eyes. The polite thing to do, my mother said. I used to gaze into my mother’s hazel ones (so different from my washed out blue), but all I saw was my own face reflected in the retina. When I first heard the age-old adage, the eyes are the mirror of the soul, I always thought it meant that the eyes are the mirrors of the soul of the person we are looking at. Growing up I understood that the eyes of the other person are the mirror to our own soul.

So I stopped looking into eyes of others. Because in them, yet another mirror.

College was a kaleidoscope of human mirrors: professors, fellow students, boyfriends. Too many ways to see oneself, and one night, overwhelmed, alone and homesick, I, clutching a pair of worn out ballet slippers, went into the ballet studio. The lights had been dimmed. I lay on the cold Marley floor and mentally traced the patterns on the ceiling. In the mirror, I could find myself. I stood up and put on my slippers. Looking was easier than I thought.  In the mirror, I saw myself or perhaps a version of myself, someone who could only exist in this space and in this moment.  I prepared in fourth, good, old-school Vaganova fourth, and turned my half-formed pirouettes, until I was only a blur on the silver surface.

Dancing is a way of being blindfolded. Because when moving, when dancing, when pirouetting, looking at oneself from any angle is impossible. Perhaps that is what bothers me about dancing, and about ballet. The external mirrors that become the ultimate judge and executor, dealing sentences in harsh silvery light.

Some cultures believe that a mirror captures the soul. The eye of the little god, wrote Sylvia Plath. Once again the eye and the mirror are synchronized. Eyes are like mirrors. My mother’s eyes and my own acne-marked teenaged face rising from the black liquid iris. I have surely looked into the eye of this god for countless hours in the confined space that is the ballet studio. I have seen the reflection of other women and men, dancers whom I thought were superior to me. I wondered if what I saw in their reflection was what they saw of themselves. We were looking at the same image but from different worlds. “We see things not as they are, but as we are,” wrote Anais Nin, those tired heavy words tumbling into the world through her journals.

My mind and body have shared an uneasy space for many years. For those I refused to look into the mirror, for fear of finally knowing that this is how I am going to appear for the rest of my life. This is my body, the shape that I will live in. The only shape that I will live in. Ballet forced the confrontation of the two antagonists. The body that bluntly refuses the societal standards. The mind that aspires to conform to them. Even my numerous attempts to reduce the body to a starving saint of fashion have done little to melt away the mutinous mountains of fat. I feel their burning weight in the mirror of the ballet studio. It all  comes down to looking and seeing.

But dancing, in its purest, truest, brightest form (whatever that may be) is being blindfolded, oblivious to the shape, and open to the flow, for lack of a better word. I hold onto those moments like a child trying to hold a fistful of sand. I go back and back, back to the studio, back to the pain, and sweat and blood and tears, like a moth burning in the lamp on a warm summer night. Every step, every turn, a reclaiming of space. Am I body or a mind? Does it matter?

ABT Spring Gala 2013

Image

Tatiana’s red dress (for source please click on image). Image by Gene Schiavone.

As I stand in my hotel shower, and try to rinse the cold night (New York City spring? Hah, what spring?) from my bones, I can only think about Tatiana’s red dress. As the opening number of the gala, it remains in my mind vivid and clear, an afterimage burned into the retina of memory.

The ABT Spring 2013 gala was a smorgasbord of ballet variations and full length works, a preview of ABT’s season at Lincoln Center. With performances ranging from cozy well-worn renditions of Petipa and Ashton classics to sizzling new fireworks by Ratmansky and Gomes, the 2 hour performance had was a kaleidoscope of ballet across the ages.

The gala begins with a plunge into the salons of the rich and wealthy in Imperial Russia. Yes, that era of illicit backroom romances, swirling gowns, and over the top manners (think Anna Karenina). The golden curtains part to reveal a gauze overlay of Pushkin’s poetry and behind it an sparkling chandelier-lit ballroom.

Tatiana (the beautiful and captivating Diana Vishneva) dances with Prince Gremkin (James Whiteside). The music is soft Tshaikovsky, a pale pink romantic flare that captivates the sentimental heart. Tatiana is shy and fragile and  Visheneva has to restrain her vivacious stage presence (see her performance in Ratmansky’s Don Quixote) to capture Tatiana’s character. I am utterly captivated by the whole visual feast: the chandeliers, the corps dancers, the loving embrace with which Vishneva and Whiteside paint the stage.

The second number is called Cortege, a piece choreographed by Raymond Lukens and performed by the students of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. About a dozen, young dancers-in-training flood the stage in pure white and light blue costumes. The choreography has a barre-like aftertaste, and for a moment, it feels like being a spectator in a company class: pure and technically perfect sissones and port de bras, as if under the vigilant eye of the ballet mistress. Although rather emotionless, the choreography achieves its purpose: to showcase the purity of line and technique, the grace of the developing danseur/danseuse. The shyness of their still fledgling artistic persona is truly endearing, and their humility admirable. One of the young ballerinas slips and falls during a particularly fast-paced phrase, but recovers herself with grace. Bravo!

As the piece comes to an end and the dancers receive applause from the audience, I cannot but think back to the title of the work, “Cortege”, a retinue, a procession. Is this a depiction of the dancer’s life? An endless procession from one stage to another (pun intended) guided by the pursuit of perfection…

After the young dancers depart, the power duo of ABT: Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo take command with a boisterous pas de deux and coda from   “Le Corsaire”. The duo Reyes/Cornejo, who I saw performing “Giselle” last May is at home beneath the dimmed chandeliers of the Lincoln Center.  Reyes is spot on, radiant and elegant, and technically flawless.  She completes the coda and the 32 fouettees with a smile, a tour de force performance that earns both astounded ‘oohs’ and well earned applause from the audience. Cornejo, not to be outdone, also earns bouts of applause from the audience for his daring jumps.

Two new works premiere at the gala. One of them is the new Ratmansky, “Symphony #9”, which completes the Shostakovich trilogy. I admit, I have not seen the other pieces set to Shostakovich, but there is a feeling of old and comfortable, that sinking softness that comes when you slip on an old sweater. Watching Ratmansky is like picking up a favorite author and falling into the familiar lines, word choices and style. There are choreographically humorous moments, grouping of dancers into small groups, the usage of unexpected elements (an assemble of 3 male dancers and a fourth one who jumps into their arms) and a lot of borrowed elements from contemporary dance.The costumes are a loud cacophony of prints and patterns, completely out of the world of the traditional tutu and tights.  There is floor work, flexed feet, terrifying moments of silence, a strong presence of body language, all elements that Ratmansky has presented before, for example in “Jeu de Cartes”, the work commissioned by the Pennsylvania Ballet.

The true emotional gem of the evening is  Marcelo Gomes’ debut as a choreographer. His piece, “Apotheose” is set to the second movement of Beethovens’s 7th Symphony , a long-time favorite of mine. The grandeur suggested by the title(from the Greek, apotheosis, “to make divine” ) is a juxtaposition to the asceticism of the stage and the two nearly nude dancers, Kent and Bolle. Gomes’ choreography is an exercise in emotion, written with a flourish for the melancholy romantic. The stage is bare, except for Bolle, and Kent, tenderly enveloped in each others arms, lying on the floor. What follows is a romance, no doubt. But between whom? A man and a woman. God and man? Love and death?The dance hardly provides any commentary on itself, the only thing the audience is given is Bolle’s towering sinewy silhouette and Kent’s fragile fairylike one. Although the work is devoid of any geometric or rhythmic cleverness, its plainness and poignancy make it memorable.

The evening concludes with excerpts from  “the Sleeping Beauty”, the hunt scene from Ashton’s “Sylvia” and Balanchine’s majestic “Symphony in C”.  Hallberg and Seo’s rendition of the Petipa classic is glittering, technically impeccably, but devoid of anything spectacular. Ashton’s “Sylvia”, on the other hand, is a more interesting and rare creature. The balletic lineage of the work dates to the Paris Opera Ballet of the late 19th century, and the libretto even further into the warps of time to the 16th century play “Aminta” by Torquato Tasso, which depicts “shepherds and nymphs“. Ashton’s version is neatly wrapped in neoclassic symbolism and features the talent of Gillian Murphy. The corps de ballet is dressed in flowing tulle gowns and roman warrior helmets. Each one is carrying a little hunting bow. The martial theme of the ballet places a spotlight on Murphy’s powerful, athletic body that embraces the choreography and presents pure, passionate and beautiful dancing.

The gala ends with  “Symphony in C”, a celebration of symmetry, rhythm and juxtaposition with appearances by Paloma Herrera, Daniil Simkin, Cory Stearns and other talented dancers.  The choreography is a perfect painting of Bizet’s music and completes the evening like a satisfying dessert.

Updates

My sincerest apologies to everyone who follows this blog (thank you, you keep me writing even when things get tough). I have been very very un-dilligent (the spell-checker tells me that’s not a word) about answering comments and posting. I’ve finished my degree program and summer is coming up, so all of that is about to change.

I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by legalballerina (Like snark? like ballet? like snark+ballet, then head over to her blog). Thank you, thank you, thank you! I will be posting details later this week once I get to a place with a steady Wi-Fi and some peace to write.

Also, a very dear person in my life (who knows about my obsession with ballet) got me tickets to see ABT’s Spring Gala. I have a lot to say about the performances and will hopefully be posting a review soon.

Stay safe and keep dancing!

a dancer, more than any other human being

There is always an end in the distant future. It is almost 11pm. Classes are over, exams have been finished papers written. A thunderstorm is raging outside and I am trapped in the library , soaked completely wet and too scared to walk back to my dorm.

 

I haven’t written, danced or lived much during the past few months except for the routine things of classes, homework, dinner and lunch, a TV flick caught here or there. The truth is, all I have wanted to do is cocoon myself from the world. Endings, death, goodbyes, loss have all been present and at times I have felt at a loss. Loss of what to do or what to turn to. Dance, the ever healing presence of music and moving bodies, became a burden. So I stopped, slowed down, let time run around me like a river washing over.

Martha Graham once remarked,

”A dancer, more than any other human being,

dies two deaths:

the first, the physical when the powerfully trained body

will no longer respond as you would wish.

After all, I choreographed for myself.

I never choreographed what I could not do.

I changed steps in Medea and other ballets to

accommodate the change.

But I knew. And it haunted me.

I only wanted to dance.”

source

Her words have often been with me during this spring. I imagined the burden of knowing that one day the body will no longer be a fine tuned instrument. I imagined the coming of that realisation, that end.

I also imagined a world beyond my obsession with ballet. The mirrors that reflect all that beauty also reflect all of that which is vile and undesirable, both in the body and in the mind. I have sought escape from that.

I have been away from ballet for nearly two months. I have looked at my pink satin slippers lying on the floor, week after week untouched. I have put on weight again, so that black leotard will have to stay hidden.

And yet in one of the insomniac moments, I pine to live in the moment’s dream, extend myself if you will beyond the everyday, breathe and exhale the music.

Because moments are not everlasting.