Recollections of an audience member: Breaking Pointe

I’m currently neck-deep in the impossible process of trying to decide what I want to do with my major. I realize that this probably oppressively repetitive theme in this blog of mine (which I can’t wholeheartedly apologize for because it also happens to be an oppressively repetitive theme in my mind), but I can finally say without blinking that English, in all of its beautiful forms, is my ultimate passion. That’s progress, I think. I’ve ultimately ruled out fashion as the song of my soul. I mean, don’t get me wrong, clothes will forever be an important part of who I am. My daily costumes are the closest I can get to walking into a room of strangers as Barbara Stanwyck not getting married in Christmas in Connecticut, Barbara Streisand wrecking havoc in equal parts on San Francisco and Ryan O’Neal in What’s Up Doc?, or Grace Kelly saying tomahtoes to Bing Crosby in High Society, or Rosalind Russell shouting “Live!” in Auntie Mame, or thousands of other remarkable women slinking through their remarkable lives on and off the silver screen.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick describes his dependence on alcohol as “The click I get in my head when I’ve had enough of this stuff to make me peaceful” (Williams I.33.702-705). “The click.” We all have one. Something in our lives that we can count on to briefly organize our brains into something sensible. Fashion might make me feel beautiful, fabulous, confident, and ready to conquer anything, but this blog is my click. For better or for worse, I have to let it guide me. 

So today as I sat sifting anxiously through all of the word documents in my position for the perfect writing samples to include in an application for a summer internship at a magazine that could let me decide what I want to do with my life (for now), I felt overwhelmed. I had no idea if I should be putting so much time into something that was so uncertain (writing)… So far away (Arkansas)… So grown up (work)… Just when I gave up the search for credible material and began wandering through all of my old high school assignments to divert myself with some welcome nostalgia from a simpler (or at least already completed) time of life, I stumbled upon a narrative from an assignment that I never would have considered including in a portfolio. It was just some summary of a performance that I had to do for a Dance class that I took as a gym credit in high school. It hadn’t been written for a rubric. It wasn’t graded with any sort of grammatical or literary parameters. It was just supposed to be a comparison between what we did in class and what the “real” dancers did in our school’s dance show. But… as I read through it… I felt the click. 

I didn’t know it when I wrote it, but I think that this was the first time some small, quiet, buried, passionate part of my brain admitted that it wanted to be a writer:

“Breaking Pointe”

The dance begins with five ballerinas standing with such poise at the barre that it seems more possible that they were stolen from a Degas painting or a study in daguerreotype than performing live on stage. The peaceful dusk-blue tones of the lights draw the delicacy of dancers’ costumes and the bleak blackness of stage into one lavish palette. The girls’ elegant buns and aquamarine costumes conform beautifully to the ideal image of a ballerina and heighten the eerily pristine mood on stage. As the first notes of the piano music penetrate the auditorium, the three-dimensional photograph is infected with life, and the girls begin moving with the resolute precision that puts ballerinas in the realm of statues and angels. The simple urgency of the piano’s melody seems chosen to echo the feelings of the dancers in the piece as their movements become more and more deliberate until finally one of the dancers stirs off of the barre and swells into her own expressive solo. Now, the mood shifts from one of conformity into one of compelling self-expression.

The introduction of the solo allows the individual dancer to choose movements that best display her strength and beauty as an artist. Though the other dancers provide a moving backdrop, she is undeniably the center of attention. Her movements are less constrained and seem to be almost improvisational in comparison to the unison steps the girls execute in the back. With each solo the insistence of the movement develops until finally all of the dancers are pulled away from the bar and into the open space of the stage where they are able to carve living patterns into previously empty air with their movements. The muted dynamics that were applied at the bar surge into full-body lines that encompass all of the previously unused space in the stage. The eyes of audience members are entranced by the images the dancers sketch with their movements.

In the next moment, the dancers are suddenly in unison for the first time, and the power of their movement is made clearer. The best elements of the solo pieces are taken and used in the solo section just as we use in our own dance class when trying to form interesting choreography. The soft marriage of abstract modern movement with graceful discipline of ballet dignifies this dance. Not only did it stand out amongst the other dances in the program because of its daring to expand the limits of basic choreography but because its message goes beyond the world of dance. It speaks to anyone who has ever felt the need to distinguish themselves from the monotony of their lives. As an audience member I felt an overwhelming ache to join the dancers on stage because their movements seemed like they answered my own need for reinvigoration.

It was a bittersweet moment as the dancers took their last moments of individual expression before returning to the barre. They looked so beautiful performing their exercises, yet I knew what they were capable of expressing and it was difficult to see them return back to their confined movements. Still… I felt a passionate satisfaction about what I had seen. The dance was exquisite. The way the dancers lingered in their movements took advantage of the unique capabilities that dance has as an art form. The choreography was brilliant and was executed equally well. This dance, so wordless, so brief and simple, was a remarkable representation of the search to find oneself.

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