In my small ballet community there exists a wonderful variety of people, mostly women, from every imaginable background and age group. There are professional ballet dancers, professional modern dancers, young dancers-in-training, athletes, older women, and many retired dancers who just can’t imagine life without the quasi-religious ceremony of barre exercises and Chopin.
I have known for several years in this lovely little closed world a beautiful young woman named Briana Bosch.
Briana dances professionally for a local company called Ballet Ariel. She also teaches dance and does guest performances with other companies.
At the moment she is rehearsing for one of the greatest ballet roles ever created, Giselle.
Although the performance is many months from now, and Briana still has Nutcracker season to weather, her training and study are already well underway.
On the evening Briana performs this magnificent and exquisitely challenging role, it will be her intention to appear to effortlessly inhabit the very essence of the character. To the audience, she will be Giselle, and ideally it will seem as though she always has been: the space between Briana the dancer and Giselle the haunted Wili will disappear, and only the creation will remain.
Most people are unaware that dancers must train like athletes and live and think as monastic artists; it is one of the oddities and ironies of ballet, along with many other forms of art, that this concealment of preparation is intentional. If one sees the “work,” it’s not working.
Briana, like all of us, must take on the modern mantle of many differing, sometimes conflicting roles: wife, teacher, friend, family member, artist. She also, I think rather amazingly, has a master’s degree, and it’s not in the performing arts.
This is one of the countless reasons I love the discipline of ballet: on the face of it, one sees pure unity, symmetry, openness; the concord between body, music, and movement seem both satisfyingly inevitable and divinely realized. Beneath it all, where the mechanisms lie, is sinew, ache, ligaments stretched, feet fatigued and deformed. The most interesting part.
It matters not at all if one has never danced: we are each familiar with the mask and what is hidden beneath it. All too often, it’s pain of one sort or another. The artifice of art is what celebrates, refines, and gestures toward the tension between authenticity and the futility of it ever really being true, or permanent. As the sublime filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino tells us in the final moment of his film “The Great Beauty,” referring to the unfolding of existence and time:
“It’s all a trick.” (“e tutto un trucco”.)
And so, too, is the grand, glorious, and impossible art of ballet. Though no one will be thinking of that the night Briana becomes Giselle.