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