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Danseur Ignoble: Now That’s Showbiz

Did Brienne’s class today, and I made it All. The. Way. Through!

(Though I skipped a couple of reps of petit allegro.)

She has a really fun CD of class music called “West End to Broadway” (hence, in part, the title of this post), including some nice, slow pieces for torture fondu and barre adagio. 

Barre is improving.  

If you’re a horse person, you know that thing where if you don’t ride or school your horse for a while, sometimes the horse in question acts a bit silly when you put him back to work? That’s kind of where my body is.

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I'm back! Mostly!

It does things I didn’t really ask for, then I correct it, and it’s all, “Oh, you mean those turnout muscles!   Okay.   No worries!”

However, it’s doing less of that now than it was last week.  My successive approximations are closer to the goal state.   So, Yay!

Speaking of successive approximations, at center and across the floor, we had nice combos today, and I did the traveling ones, if not worth prefect execution, at least with a lot of elan. 

Now, if I could just stop putting in failles where there aren’t any and leaving them out where there are (and adding an extra saute arabesque here or pique turn there)…

But that’s more of my body being a silly horse.  At least it’s a silly horse that’s got some style?

Which brings me to the other reason for this title: one of the things my classmates kept mentioning was the struggle to remember the combinations (some of which were fairly complex).  

The cool part is that you wouldn’t have known it, for the most part: everyone focused on performing and enjoying themselves, and most of us looked pretty good.  (I’ve determined that if you turn the wrong way on the rear point of a triangle, it actually looks pretty cool anyway, so I don’t even worry about that anymore ;)).

I’m back to a point at which I don’t freeze if I blank on the combo halfway through; instead, I improvise.  It’s a skill I learned as a musician: nobody knows you screwed up if you don’t let them know.

Of course, in class (okay, and sometimes in big corps numbers), that’s not entirely true, but what you practice in class is ultimately what you will do on stage — and, of course, mistakes do happen during performances, even to professionals.   Like we lowly danseurs and danseuses ignobles, they have to learn to make it look good.

And that, too, is showbiz.

(Come to think of it, looking like you meant to do that is an important life skill in general — ask any cat!)

So that’s it for today.  The final combination in today’s class went so well (You guys, I threw in a cabriole just for kicks!   I’m back!) that I finished up feeling jubilant, ebullient, even bubbly.

Now, home to do computery work.

Danseur Ignoble: Regaining Lightness

I am still ruminating on Saturday’s class, even though I am planning on getting off my butt and going to Monday evening class in a little while.

I mentioned doing flying chassees and sautes at the end of class. What I didn’t mention was the feeling of those chassees and sautes: light, airy, bounding, nimble, mobile. Bouyant. Even when I glanced at myself in the mirror (and in spite of the fact that I was obediently doing them hands-on-hips, since it was Cultural Pass day and we had a bunch of completely new dancers in class and I didn’t want to confuse anyone), they looked fluid and graceful and light.

You know.

Like dancing.

A lot of that came from the moment at which I suddenly realized, “Oh, hey, I can do this again!” I felt free.

I’ve been struggling, lately, with feeling like my dancing is heavy, leaden — like I’m making it happen instead of letting it happen.

On Saturday, I somehow miraculously was able to let those passes across the floor happen, and so they happened beautifully.

So there’s a reminder: you can’t regain lightness by forcing it. You can’t capture lightness by grabbing it with your hands and dragging it down. Instead, you have to let yourself spring into its air.

I once heard someone say that the hardest part of flying is letting go of the ground. I think that’s probably true in ballet: dancing is a limited form of flight, and the hardest part is achieving ballon (okay, and grace, expression, musicality, ligature, and aplomb).

The rest is just technique (Ha! Record this as the day that I used the phrase “just technique,” would you?)

The thing is, without ballon (and all those other, less-effable things), technique itself is inert. We do not pack the house to watch people do dance steps — we pack the house to watch dancers dance.

If someone flubs the technique a little, but carries it off and makes it look good, most of us will never now (the exception, of course, being those of us who know that variation, or that specific dance, by heart).

If someone executes perfect technique but lacks grace, ballon, and expression, watching loses some of its savor.

If you want an exceptional example that’s not ballet-specific, watch the womens’ artistic gymnastics floor exercises from the London Olympics back in 2012. The Americans brought some stellar technique to the floor, but the Russians — whose training places much more emphasis on the importance of dance — looked a thousand times better.

Why? The Americans simply moved from trick to trick; their dance elements looked like afterthoughts. The Russians combined the whole shebang into coherent choreography; their linking movements (for which they receive almost no points) were as important to them as the individual technical fireworks that scored the points.

In short, and in ballet terms, the Russian gymnasts had élan; the Americans didn’t. The Americans had great technique — an American won, because gymnastics is not ballet — but the Russians were simply captivating.

So. Yeah. This actually wasn’t supposed to be a screed about the relative importance of technique and expression, or what have you, but there it is. As someone who enjoys precision, it’s something I need to revisit from time to time.

Precision is important, but it isn’t the soul of ballet.

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