This blog’s nice Quest: “Psst, you!, come, you will love Dance!”

Dance was the first great passion in my life, but even when I was part of our Dance community, little information about what was going on “there, where it matters” reached us – if at all, with great delay. We were just too far away, and Communication Age had not yet begun. I was lucky, I had teachers that were ex-dancers that had gone abroad and eventually came back with solid knowledge and great technical skill, but this happened so seldom, less than once in a decade! All I knew by then was pure classical (the most contained, severe English style!) and Martha Graham.  When I gave up dancing, I kept the greatest possible distance between me and all that concerned Ballet, by my own choice – a kind of Dance “coma”…

I awakened to a “new” world, a world I had not been aware existed.

I was searching YouTube for classical Music works  that had never graced the shelves of my city’s stores, when I linked to a piece that was just score to a ballet. BALLET! I realized, for the first time, that I could now see ballets, performances, dancers I had only heard about before – and was suddenly overcome by an urgent longing for Dance. I started with Martha Graham, and went on on suggested links, Paul Taylor, Pina Bausch, Twyla Tharp…  Awesome! I remember clearly my amazement,  as I realized all that had happened during the time I had been “away”.

Eventually I clicked on Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello” staged by San Francisco Ballet, Desmond Richardson and Yuan Yuan Tan as principals. I was mesmerized! So beautiful this blend of classical and contemporary, so different from all I had known, the richer choreography, the amazing male roles – these men were REALLY dancing!  And choreography and dancers were all so deeply expressive! I watched it three times in a row before I could go on.

I went on to Othello’s PDD danced by Marcelo Gomes and Alessandra Ferri. WOW…! Until that moment, all I knew about him was that he is a Brazilian ballet dancer who succeded abroad.  I searched more.

Wow!… WOW!…

Two more days with my eyes glued to the screen, and I knew ALL about him and Alessandra I could get on the web: clips, interviews, pictures, reviews. Marcelo Gomes led me next to the Kings of the Dance.

I clicked on Labyrinth of Solitude.

Ivan Vasiliev in Labyrinth of Solirude - chr. Patrick De Bana - Photographer: Nikolay Krusser
Ivan Vasiliev in Labyrinth of Solirude – chr. Patrick De Bana – Photographer: Nikolay Krusser

I had never seen anything so beautiful and heartbreaking before. It was so overwhelming I  stopped  all I was doing , and went for a walk to think about what I had seen. My life had suffered a division: there is a before and an after Labyrinth.

THIS much meaning, feeling, power could be conveyed through Dance!! I knew, back from my days, that for those who dance, it can be a deep sensorial and emotional  experience, but I had been also sadly aware that this experience was not extended to our audience! A Ballet evening was just a sophisticated event that  people with cultured tastes felt obliged to attend, but the moment the curtains closed, they started talking about where to have dinner,   the stock market…  – had that evening existed or not, nothing was changed.

But THIS! this was something else. Labyrinth had blowed me off my feet! Not as a dancer, but as audience. And not in a theatre, seated in the dark, magic flowing from a lighted stage, but at home, my pets fooling around me, phone ringing, – on a 14″ notebook with awful sound quality…

It became my favourite work, and a sort of standard. I like everything about Labyrinth. The theme; the music (Vitali, strange composer, who created this one sweeping, emotional score 150 years ahead of his time…); the way it is danced by Vasiliev, believable and intense;  the absence of settings and costume;  De Bana’s expressive choreography, and how he blended all of it into something that was more than the sum of parts.

After gathering  my wits back, I searched further (my ethernal gratitude to YouTube’s inventor!), and started to identify  which choreographers and dancers had been – and are now – responsible for this new (for me) richness.  I knew several by name or a rare photo, but had never SEEN the real dancing, believe it or not!  My personal  “hall of fame”  became a mix of active and retired professionals, even some  long passed away – problem is, they jumped into my life all at once, it took me some time to correctly locate them in space and time – they were all very “here and now”  in my mind  – they still are, and I like it that way.

I fell deeply in love with Dance again, more than before. I saw, at last, Dance becoming an Art like her sisters. THIS was what Dance should be, anyone could appreciate, could  love it now, men and women, young and old, expert or not. Anyone should be given the opportunity to experience its power, everyone should be exposed to its magic: I had a Quest!

My other projects (I always have too many, anyway) became less important, as my knowledge and awareness grew steadily. I’m fortunate that I can now, as never before in a too busy life, open my door and let Dance and Music come in and make themselves really comfortable in me. (only problem is, I suffer from fits of goose-bumps at an alarming rate nowadays).

The Quest means no hard work at all:  I use it as an excuse to write about beauty and art gifted people create for us – giving Dance some thought while I write – not as an expert, but as the grateful receiving end, and then throw it in the wind/web, hoping it makes a difference, even the tiniest one, in bringing Dance closer to a wider audience. The other task is to win people around me over… making  them some pleasure,  too,  when I succeed.  Is that nice or what?

About Kings, Battles and Muses

Kings in battle

The second King is down: Guillaume Cote is also injured! ACL, the excrucianting cruciating ligament tear that needs 6 to 12 months rehabilitation, that is maybe also Vasiliev’s problem. Or has the Russian newspaper cruciated, I mean, crossed over Kings x Injuries?

It is lucky that Medicine can nowadays stitch dancers whole again, everytime they tear themselves apart! Or at least most of the times…

Accidents happen. If your mind is your tool, almost none. If your tool is emotion, sometimes. If your tool is your body, frequently. I can accept that, it comes with the trade.
What I cannot accept is when you, with open eyes, bring the tool of your trade (that sounded a little weird) to the verge of collapse. There are always signs, made by Nature to help avoid the worst, PAAIIINNN!!!! being it’s favourite.

That so much choose to ignore pain, to suffer before and even more after collapsing – I cannot grasp: it simply does not find a way into my rationality. It sounds to me too much as a kind of offering, of sacrifice, of flesh-mortification, seen somehow as worthy and positive and needed to earn a dubious reward.

“The body is a sacred garment”, said Martha Graham. She certainly did not mean it in the martyrdom sense above. To me her words evoke the flowing garments of ancient Greece, and their reverence for the beauty of human body, especially when moving. Music and dancing were present in any celebration, then, and were joyous celebrations themselves – they even devised goddesses to symbolize them.

Terpsichore means The Joy of Dancing. How can pain, deliberate pain, be part of joy, except in a self-mortifying or sacrificial sense?

We all know perfectly well that physical conditioning requires certain amounts of pain. Small amounts it should be, if things are made the right way, and not continuously. I believe that’s ok, if it happens while you’re having joy IN your activity ITSELF, but becomes perverse if the pain is great, or accepted not because of the pleasure you get out straight out of work. The pain you accept, the suffering you impose on your body because of OTHER kinds of reward is something I cannot understand.

Terpsichore abandoned

If you are climbing a steep mountain, and push against your limits so you can reach the next safe rock niche, where you then sit down to recover and enjoy the breathtaking view, is anything more perfect? But if you keep pushing and pushing, just to excel yourself, or test your ultimate body limits, or be the first to reach the peak – and end up hanging down a cliff, breathless and trembling all over, your life in danger, too much bruised and full of cramps to go on, does that make any sense? Not to me! You are not enjoying your body, you are abusing it.

Other physical activities, ranging from Sports to Arts may offer less dramatic examples, but that senselessness applies to all. You see, when Vasiliev was injured, I associated it with another event, in the Olympic Games of 1984 – when marathonist Gabriele Andersen ended her race as a crumpled, cramped, semi-parallyzed, vacillating little heap of pain, she was collapsing, and came very close to death that day.

I believe I was (am?) the only person in the world that didn’t WOW her feat: for me it was even more unacceptable than IV’s injury. In my troubled eyes the whole thing was just twisted, so perverse that I was done with Sports, and never again watched a single Sports competition again. The link between the two facts was precisely my indignation!
Why I do feel that way? Maybe because one of the first books I ever read in my life was about Ancient Greece, and it hooked me for life to their values and aesthethic, or maybe because I belong to the make-love-not-war generation, that was all for colours, nature, music, dancing, and a fierce defense of body’s freedom.

Anyway, I love the human body as much as I love trees or rivers or birds. Lack of respect to any of them, specially if it is done because of competition, profit, fame, or any initiative that uses but does not reward THEM, makes me mad – to me all are sacred, in the pagan Greek sense, and in Martha Graham’s sense too, I bet.

I cannot because…

Guillaume Cotê had a stress fracture and an Acchiles tendon problem while rehearsing Nijinsky, but just kept working. Marcelo Gomes already made two major surgeries – in an interview after the first one he mentions 23 performances in a single month, and 12 different roles in a single season (all the rehearsals!).
I know, I KNOW, there are all kinds of motivation to push your body beyond reason: you must think of your career, you love to dance, you must provide for your family, you love to dance, you cannot let down so many people and things that depend on you, you love to dance…


Now Cote is out during months…

Finding “rational” reasons to explain a dangerous behaviour does not lessen the risk involved, nor does it prevent a bad outcome.
Currently active dancers expect to continue their performing careers well into their forties. However, dancers whose active careers are now over remember that, although they thought they could continue until their late thirties, on average they actually stopped dancing professionally in their early to mid-thirties.
This quote is in a report called “Making Changes, Facilitating the Transition of Dancers to Post-Performance Careers“, the result of a research on dancers, both active and retired, in 11 countries. Dancers retire earlier, and earlier, nowadays, and a lot because of injuries. Do you know how many?  “Twenty-nine percent of surveyed former dancers in Australia, 33 percent of former dancers in Switzerland, 35 percent of former dancers in the U.S. report that the health effects of injuries caused them to stop dancing.


My point is, if you deal with your body (as all Nature) in a respectful way, you will run fewer risks, you will lengthen its useful life, you will have more joy when dancig, and you may still excel in your trade. Maybe you will never reach more than 182,546 degrees in your split, or that last half inch in your jump, but when you leap you will fly beautiful, happy and safe as a bird, and will keep flying for a long time…

The disquieting Muse

Terpsichore is loosing ground, her gracefulness and joy of dancing are almost out of sight, giving way to Chirico’s Disquieting Muse – oh, THIS one fits our times: hard, empty of joy, lifeless, but so impressive!!

The joy IN dancing is a continuous, fresh spring of emotional and physical energy. The mere promise of a reward that is OUTSIDE dance in any way (to the dancer himself, to the audience, to an Ideal, to his future) turns dance into a heavy chore, a hard duty where all the energy has to come OUT of your muscles and brain, it is depleting.

These are hard, cold, demanding times: the lack of real vitality is disguised with lots of sparkles in all spheres of life, on the stage even more so. It may seem that you must shine the more brighter to conquer excellence, work opportunities, success, pleasure, retirement. An audience with eyes already wearied by way too much glitter ‘outside’, seems also to demand even more on the stage.

In fact, what we all crave for, not just the audience, is a way to reattach to real life, to the “big questions”, to deep emotion – only we are, most the time, unaware this is our real yearning. Art can do that, through its magic, deep, all-encompassing, carry-you-away magic, but it certainly is not to be found where there are only sparkles.

And what next?

Imagine a Ballet evening in the future, where all dancers are very young, but with serious eyes already. Imagine all of them dancing because of a lot of different reasons, except the one, the single one that makes sense. Imagine all of them performing impossible feats: 270 degrees extensions, jumps like olympic athletes, turns that defy the laws of physics, bends and twist that make them look as disjointed dolls of a cruel child, lifts so complicated you wonder they don’t end up in knot.

This IS the future, not even a distant one, given the rate at which the relative value of physical excellence is increasing – and because it is just the logical development of overrating Form in Ballet (it fits our times like a glove). Imagine physical excellence is so common now, we in the audience are no more easily impressed, the dancers have to excel themselves – and one another – all the time, pushing hard against their bodies’ limits. They are all so terribly young, because all dancers finish their professional lives early, after a series of successful surgeries, until the one that isn’t.

Deeply worried about the physical  accomplishments, they have no time and energy to act, or even to learn to act properly, or to create rapport with the audience – their artistry has not matured yet – all they can do is flash a big, fake smile once in a while. Chirico’s muse would be rubbing her hands (had she any).

There is a clear danger here: that young great dancers – current and future Kings and Queens, on whom the spotlights shine the brighter – are lured down this road, and become engaged in unnecessary, senseless battles . I hope they recognize the crossroads when they come to them and choose Terpsichore’s ways instead.