Saturday, November 3, 2012

of oomph, passion and love - Ballet.

When you watch a ballet, you understand what ‘breathtaking’ means. It means that the air leaves your lungs, and does not return, because your body is too busy assimilating the enormity of its experience.


Ballet is an art in weightlessness. The dancer is a feather on stage, lifting her weight off the floor even before she has landed. Her body is unbelievably flexible. She can turn it, unturn it, twist it, bend it, lift it, throw it, collapse it – all with the same ease of a smooth hosepipe. You might have seen countless ballet pictures, but none of them, no matter how well taken, can ever make you travel the distance between the photo and the act. It is only when your jaw drops, when your hands rise in applause but halt midway, because you can’t afford to disturb what the eyes are absorbing, that you realise what ballet is.



I was expecting a great show when i went to watch the Russian "Bolshoi" Ballet and Marinsky and Mikhailovsky Theatres, as part of festival of Russian culture in India on November 1. Siri Fort Auditorium was bursting at its seams. Plonked in the 5th row from front, i was lucky to have a close look at the dancers. What i saw was more humbling and awe-inspiring than great. Ballets tell stories. When i sat down to watch the show, i actually sat upon the little leaflet mentioning the ten different compositions of the show. Later, when i went through it after the show, i knew i could have done just as well without it.

The show started with a group dance. Ballerinas, some of them standing well over 6 feet, thin and muscular, entered the stage in brisk little steps, walking on the tip of their toes. Their costumes, head-gear and fluid movements gave them the appearance of dainty angels. It’s another matter that behind that grace and smoothness, there was an extreme muscular balance these dancers possessed, a strength that must have come after relentless discipline and merciless practice. Seeming effortless, but far from easy.



The dancers, men and women, had a special talent at balance. They could spin and spin and spin, until claps thundered like rain and gradually died down, but they kept spinning. Sometimes alone, sometimes in sync, and sometimes, with the man helping the woman spin faster by turning her waist like ‘lattoo’! Besides costumes such as slacks and skirts (some free flowing, some disc-shaped), some women dancers wore what looked like a long evening gown. I kept fearing that they might get tangled, might topple over it. The fear was unfound. They were too exact to fall to such imperfections.



Ballet is a validation how art can travel seamlessly through ages, changing with the times, yet retaining its original charm. What i saw in the show that day went beyond my imagination of ballet. All that is smooth, soft and fluid is not ballet alone. There were compositions with aggression, with energy, with love, lust and passion, which could outdo any the modern dance forms in so-called ‘stunts’. The pirouettes reminded me of kathak. The flights of contemporary dance. The floor movements of hip-hop. The man-woman sequences of tango and salsa. It smelt of all dances. It pervaded all definitions.



A happy couple doing a sweet dance on a bright spring day (yes, they had background to match each theme). A woman meeting her lover in the moonlight. A couple dancing a recital on coquetry. A ballroom dance which turns from soft, to passionate, to nearly fierce. An amorous dance bathed in love of meeting and soaked in blood of desertion. A swan’s slow, agonising and bit-by-bit death. Ballet is for every mood. For the entire spectrum of human emotions. And beyond that.

PS - pictures have been taken by Siddharth Prahladan.