Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Night at the Ballet

If only Death were truly like this.

Swan-like, imperious, graceful as a ballerina dressed in the purest of white, lithe as a fawn, light as a leaping ghost who scorns the bonds of the earth's gravity.

Poised. Balanced on the tips of her toes, in the quivering of moments. Exact as a compass, as the point of a needle pinning beauty to the ground. One leg rising slowly into the air like the hand of some infinitely delicate clock. The tension of her fluidity, the violence of her stillness.

If only Death were this pirrouetting angel, this blessed dervish, spinning the room with her frenzy. If only Death were this desperate, fluttering bird, dancing us all into extinction.

Went to a performance by the Russian National Ballet tonight - a ballet called Giselle. Good stuff, even though the music was somewhat trite, and the story was the usual romantic grotesque [1]. Much of the dancing, especially in the second half, was exquisite though, and all in all it was a sublime evening.

But the story. Giselle is this young and very beautiful country maid who falls in love with this young villager who is actually a Duke (or Prince or something) in disguise [2]. When her other lover, a forester, unmasks this Prince and his true fiancee comes forward to claim him, the jilted Giselle grows distraught and kills herself. So far so good.

It's in the second act that things start to get really bizarre. The scene is now the grave of Giselle in the forest. Giselle's two lovers come to visit her grave and are confronted by spirits of jilted women called the Wilis, who basically surround any man they meet and dance him to death. The forester - the guy who unmasked the lying Prince and has been faithful to Giselle all along is killed, but the Prince survives, helped by the still loving Giselle to last out till dawn when the Wilis let him go. Giselle then returns to her grave (freed from the power of the Wilis, apparently) and the Prince is left sorrowing and alone.

Two things about the story struck me as really interesting. First, the way in which this story (and others like it - remember Rigoletto) punishes all the good, innocent people and save the one guy in the whole scenario who was a two-timing scoundrel - suggesting that salvation, in the end, is not about whether you're good or bad, but only about whether you have the blood of nobility in you. Neat. The second thing, of course, is the sheer genius of having a flock of ballerinas dance a man to his death. What a way to go. Hitchcock would have been proud.


[1] This is why, on the whole, I like abstract dance more - at least that way you don't get the feeling that someone is bending a story over backwards just so they can come up with a bunch of things the characters can dance to.

[2] What's the deal with all these princes chasing after fair country maids anyway? It's such a cliche.

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rumplestiltskin said...

its truly amazing how you bring vivid images to mind with your skilful writing.the first three parahs were lovely.
with your love for art,theatre and music i feel you will be more at home in europe.
coming to the story in the is for art's sake is'nt it....enjoy it...

Aishwarya said...

I saw Giselle when I was about eight. I barely remember the story, but I do remember the graveyard scene. It's really rather silly, plotwise, but on of the most beautiful, powerful pieces of dance I've ever seen.

I ROCK!!!!! said...

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Anonymous said...

listened you saying 'the poetry'. honoured to have heard your voice. missed you at akanksha when you came.
if only death would be as beautiful as you would still be short of perfection...death is more beautiful than words can ever beautiful as love...

Cheshire Cat said...

Good stuff, though I didn't think the paradox worked.

And how are the good, innocent people punished? Giselle is re-united with her lover in heaven, the prince is left "sorrowing and alone". Poetic justice, no? Of course, this presupposes a romantic notion of death, where death leads to the eternal, and a noble death is accounted superior to a good life.

dazedandconfused said...

Vintage falstaff, as usual! On the topic of death have you seen this blog?

Falstaff said...

rumple: thanks. And yes, Europe is the place. I keep telling the faculty in my Department that. But they don't seem to want to move to Prague, somehow.

Aishwarya: Ya, it's glorious, isn't it? It's wonderful how all these little ballerinas flitting about in their tutus and on their tippy-toes manage to seem so menacing.

Anon: Errr..thanks. Just so we're clear - you're not dead, are you? Not that I mind, just that if you are I would love to see what Sitemeter shows as your IP address.

Cat: True, though if you want to be technical about it, I don't think she can get into heaven because she's a suicide. Anyway, haven't you heard - there's no heaven - there's only reincarnation. Dr. Weiss says so (see next post)

d&c: thanks. Intriguing link

Anonymous said...

...ip address from the sitemeter..strange guy..ask me..i will provide you with it myself...its all a matrix right..not everything you see is a clear reflection of what the truth is or might i always say...u right pretty well..aint using better adjectives ledt you go on cloud 9 which apparently you wont still...

Anonymous said...

a minor correction

MK said...

"Exact as a compass, as the point of a needle pinning beauty to the ground..
If only Death were this desperate, fluttering bird, dancing us all into extinction.."

Pretty exquisite..Went death still at some of those..Violently so-you jostled me into a pre-noon high(rare)..

Co-incidentally, last evening, saw a couple of German shorts in which death took earthly forms(what other?)- one in which HE is polite,wry, "ruggedly" handsome, fiftyish and with cap and shoes..( he licks an icecream cone and taps his feet while waiting for someone to say her goodbyes..a tad pretentious.)and the other where IT comes along a vast beautiful green country-side in a cheery blue bus with misted windows..picture-book perfect.(loved this)

That aside, the prince chasing country maid scenario is (socio)logically sound..women, even the thinking liberated types(shame-faced I am, you cant see..), preferring to mate into higher money and/or status and/or intellect. Apparent exceptions-like Lady Chatterly and her gardener,who it turns out reads Spinoza(?) or Ammu and her Velutha(a Paravan), who incidentally,has the sensibilites of an artist! Such a cop-out!!

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