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.
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.