The content of “At the Ballet” will feature regular postings as I read George Balanchine and Francis Mason’s “101 Stories of the Great Ballets” and view and examine each ballet, one a time and in alphabetical order, as in the book.
As a lifelong, though amateur, ballerina I recently rediscovered my fascination with classical dance when I read Jennifer Homans’ new book, the first of its kind: “Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet.” Such an undertaking – a history of a tradition so diverse and long in the making – might have proven overly academic. I found it, however, infinitely readable and beautifully written. I learned much about ballet – its origins in the French courts of the sixteenth century and its divergent progression throughout the world until its widely accepted contemporary heyday in Balanchine’s twentieth century New York. Having now completed the book, I am practically salivating to learn more. I picked up a neglected paperback from my shelf: Balanchine and Mason’s “101 Stories of the Great Ballets.” Hence, the idea for this blog, for which I will read the book one ballet at a time (in alphabetical order, per the book) and view each ballet (live or on tape, as availability permits). I’ll post my thoughts about each to this blog and will hope for readers’ comments, which I’m sure will greatly augment my learning throughout this process.
Since the age of four when I began ballet training, I have never truly stopped dancing. Only for brief intervals have a taken a few month’s hiatus, usually in order to give myself a chance to miss and crave it, and then to rediscover the joy of it. In fact, I begged to start at the age of two. How I could have known at such as age what “ballet” was, I’m not sure. My mother worried that starting so young, I might burn out quickly. She held out for two years but today I’m thirty and still don’t know who I am when I’m not dancing regularly.
Despite that relentless passion for ballet, though, I never followed the latest dance world developments or idolized the latest prima ballerina. I attended performances when I could and enjoyed them. My primary interest, though, was in dancing rather than studying the works of others. As I said, I was – and remain – an amateur.
“Apollo’s Angels” opened my mind to exploring more deeply the music, choreographers and dancers of the great ballets – and, most importantly, the ballets themselves. I hope you’ll join me on this journey and participate in it with me!
I also strive to develop a firmer opinion regarding the future of ballet. Homans concludes in her epilogue that ballet has seen its prime and is most likely in a permanent decline. She hopes she’s wrong about this and so do I. I tend to believe that ballet will survive, though in evolved forms we can’t yet anticipate and might not understand if we live long enough to witness them. In studying the great ballets of the past, I hope to better understand those of the present (Christopher Wheeldon’s work has so far taken my breath away) and form a better-founded stance regarding its future.