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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Ballet Blogging: Don't Muddy the Waters


You have to click here to see today's Sunday Ballet Blogging (embedding has been "disabled"), but you should definitely go ahead and click. Even if you don't like ballet, you should see this short video. Really.

My usual practice is to not comment about Sunday Ballet Blogging. Watching dance, like dance itself, is a mostly physical experience and I'm not sure that, for most people, discussion really helps.

Dance, especially ballet, in my humble experience, is a bit like poetry. Some people have decided that they don't like it, that they don't get it, that it isn't relevant to their experience, and that they aren't going to waste their time on it. And, like poetry, what I've found is that education about forms of poetry, rhyme schemes, influences -- as much as people trying to comment on and describe dance moves, the history of ballet, lighting, historical influences -- not only doesn't help but is, in fact, what has turned a lot of people off. (It's too much like trying to figure out whether you'd like a wine by reading that it has "fruity, citrus undertones with a hint of oak and tobacco." Can I try a sample? Because that discussion doesn't do anything for me and could almost make me think that wine is boring. When it certainly isn't. It's not that the discussion isn't helpful for people who are really, really into wine and "get" the vocabulary. But it's unlikely to turn anyone into an oenophile, at least until after they've learned to like different wines enough (by tasting them) to want to learn a way to describe them.) Too many of us had high school teachers who wanted to teach us iambic pentameter and the structure of a sonnet long before we'd ever found poems that literally moved us to a different place, that got into our gut, that changed our lives. Too many of us spent a damp-wool, overheated Sunday afternoon with our aunt in a smelly theatre watching some badly-done and stilted ballet and wrote that off (although the banana split afterwards at Giffords was almost worth the wait) as boring, bourgeois stuff that didn't have anything to do with our own attempts to live in our bodies, cope with love, have sex, express ancient truths. And until we do or see some dance that moves us, reading a discussion about it isn't going to help.

And I completely get that. One thing I've never figured out how to get interested in is sports. To me, sports are what kept my dad on the couch, yelling at us to shut up, every Saturday and Sunday. It's all about capitalism and Patriarchy. It's bad tribalism and a prostitution of what were once genuine community experiences. (Plus, not to mention, the maths.) If there is anything that will almost instantly put a polite, interested look on my face -- while sending my mind off to that space where I'm thinking, "And then, after I stop at the dry cleaners, I need to pick up milk and curry powder and potting soil, and then I need to be sure to pull the recycling out to the curb and maybe if I move that last section of the legal argument up to the front and then play off that in the following sections . . . " Yes, how about those Nats? -- it's sports. (And I've sat through a lot of business lunches w/ that look on my face.) And the more that some of the people I love most, Son and some dear friends, try to educate me about sports, to get me to spend, say, an Autumn learning enough about sports to have some appreciation, the more I think that I'd rather go home and read poetry.

I tried once, I did, to make myself get into tennis. I took tennis for two semesters in college to fulfill a PE requirement and I sucked less at it than at most other sports, and I figured it would be a good thing for me to to "be into" at least one sport. So I read the sports page every day for an entire year about tennis, bought some videos, read some books, went to some professional matches (in the July heat in DC. OK, not brilliant.) Epic fail. Although I do like the clothing.

All of which is a long way of saying that I do grok how some people just don't get, for example, ballet and why talking about ballet is just a good way to send them to that place where they're making lists about drycleaning and recycling.

What does, once in a while, entrance me is watching some (almost balletic) great tennis or seeing fencers work in a way that looks to me like poetry, like the kind of verbal back-and-forth that makes my Gemini Ascending soul feel all the way alive. And what I imagine/hope may entrance some of my readers is reading a really good poem that just transports them or watching some dance that in-a-moment solidifies for them what they, themselves have felt, or wanted to feel, in their own bodies.

But today's ballet, especially with its spoken poem in both English and (?) some Arabic tongue, about why it is important to be careful not to muddy the waters, just seemed to call to me to comment on it. We are muddying all of Gaia's waters, even the oceans, without which almost no life will survive on this lovely planet. Gaia, who is doing Her own ballet around the Sun, within the Milky Way, across the stage of the Universe. And this ballet, with its spoken and embodied explanation of why muddying the waters harms, for example, the Sufi who wants to wet hir dried bread in the river, is, I think, an important ballet for our time.

There's a great use of props (mostly gauze and wind) in this ballet. Ballet has long used fabric to invoke Water, Air, the way that Spirit enfolds and expands all of our bodies. Watch, for example, what Alvin Ailey does with gauze in Revelations. See, especially, what happens at about 6:30, when the gauze stops being about a hot Wind and becomes all about the cooling, invigorating Waters of Spirit. Are those flags about Air or Water, Wind or Rain? What is the relationship between the two? Is that umbrella about avoiding Fire/South/Sun or about avoiding Water/West/Emotion? And why does it show up to help the audience at both the beginning and the end?

When G/Son's about 3 years older, the 1st ballet that I'm going to take him to see is Revelations (not, Sweet Mother, the Nutcracker, which is, indeed, a passing ballet, but not the right way to enchant a Pisces grandson, nor, IMHO, most children, with the possibilities of dance), because I think that it's so accessible, archetype/Element-infused, and emotionally-rich. Son, DiL, and I once saw a performance of it at the Kennedy Center at the end of which a little girl from DC, maybe 6 or 7, ran to the front of the stage to give flowers to the performers who had so embodied so many archetypes. The lead dancer gracefully bent down to take them, telling the little girl that she mattered. That moment can still reduce/elevate me to tears, all these years later.

DiL and I once went to a ballet danced to My Sweet Lord by George Harrison, where the pastel costumes (among many other things) were a huge part of the dance. I've searched in vain for a YouTube of that performance, but it still provides sustenance for me at my altar. I've seen the Kirov when they 1st returned to America, Nuryev, and several transcendent ballets. The ballet set to Harrison may, in fact, be the one most likely to show up at my altar, in my dreams, when I am sitting zazen at a tributary in West Virginia.

And that's why I think that ballet and dance matter. They matter because they are a way of expressing important truths (the white swan and the black swan must be one, otherwise, women experience death and suffering and men wander around confused; there is something magic about the Winter Solstice and the gifts that we give our children at that time; Appalachia matters to the American story; we shouldn't muddy our waters; harvests and hunting parties all present real dangers) with out own bodies. Sans doute, ballet dancers' bodies are worked and, in Patriarchy, tortured into forms that can express our tortured society. And yet, and yet.

Several of my dear friends are student of belly dance, which, unlike ballet, welcomes women of various body types. I was recently talking w/ my brilliant friend E. about her experience backstage before a major DC belly dance performance -- women in various stages of dishabille, makeup all over, women doing each others' hair, women moving backstage to the music playing for the women onstage, the deep feeling of community.

The story that Patriarchy tells us, that we tell ourselves under the enchantment of forgetfullness worked by Patriarchy, is that women all compete with each others. We're terrified to get naked in front of each other; to pull off our Spanx, our push-up wire bras, our designer purses and shoes. And, yet, what E. finds in the belly dance community and what I've found in every skyclad ritual that I've ever done, is a huge relief and sense of community among women when we finally decide to take off our wrapping, to expose our masectomied, stretch-marked, beautiful female bodies to each other. It creates almost instant boding; it unites us; it makes us free.

And I see that in today's Ballet Blogging, in the women working together to show how Water reveals us while even Wind (supposedly the medium of communication) keeps us separate. I see, in short, enough in this brief ballet to keep me thinking for weeks and weeks.

And that's what good ballet, poetry, sport does for us.

What does it for you?

Picture found here.

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