After spending four days last week performing my duties as chaperone to the senior band students of my kids' high school on their intensive trip to Calgary, Alberta, I have spent part of every day of this week allowing myself some recovery time. Yesterday afternoon I decided to relax by watching a DVD I had taken out of the library two weeks ago and which was due the day before yesterday. The DVD was a 2010 production of the Provokiev ballet, Cinderella, performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. I enjoyed it and agreed with the critic quoted on the back: "As a ballet, this performance of Cinderella was good. As theatre, it was great!" The costumes and stage sets were fantastic, and the characters often comical and extremely dramatic. My son took the DVD back to the library for me immediately after I had finished watching it -so I wouldn't accumulate any more fines - and I can't remember the names of the dancers. Cinderella herself was danced by someone who could present the character with all the grace and sweetness we can imagine Cinderella to own. The prince was danced by a tall, male, heroic looking figure, and while I appreciated his performance I heard my mind saying Well, he's good, but he's no Baryshnikov.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is my favourite male dancer of all time. He is a lot of people's favourite male dancer of all time. After watching Cinderella, I spent a few minutes on Youtube watching videos of Baryshnikov, which only confirmed by long-held belief in his unparalled gift. I don't follow ballet much now. It is not because I don't want to, it's just that I really do not have the opportunity to do so. Perhaps there are some male dancers out there who are every bit as good as Baryshnikov, and perhaps one day when I have both the time and money I will see them perform. An elderly lady I knew on Vancouver Island held season's tickets to the ballet in Vancouver and would go over to the Mainland to see every performance. She would tell me about the performance she was going to see, and I would sigh and think how I would like to spend my old age doing just that.
I once bought a large poster of Baryshnikov and pinned it up with the other dance pictures on my bedroom wall. Those posters represented a lot of dreams for me at the time. I used to lie in bed at night and pray, "Please make me a dancer. Please make me a dancer. Please can I be a dancer?" I was with a small studio at the time. My Granny had died and left me and my siblings a little money, and I used mine to pay for dance lessons at a small studio which was a fifteen minute drive from my home. I had taken lessons when I was six, and again, with another excellent teacher who had come from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet when I was ten and eleven. I loved her and her teaching style (as did my mom who encouraged her to stay in our town), but she struggled to make a living and left after a year or two for the city. It was not until I was fifteen that I decided to take lessons again, and although I had the right attitude for dance and plenty of musicality I did not have the years of steady technical training that the other girls had, and I had to work very hard to catch up. The experience was good for me, and the other girls were surprisingly welcoming and encouraging. I had a wonderful four years with the company. I thoroughly enjoyed rehearsing for shows, and was chosen to play Snow White in our production of the same name - 'for your expressive face, Rebecca,' said the head teacher/choreographer. Even though our company embraced jazz and modern dance, my first love was ballet and I immersed myself in its world. I read books about ballet, saw films about dance, watched televised ballets, particularly with the National Ballet of Canada, bought pictures of dance, painted pictures of dancers, received ballet themed gifts, etc. A friend and I went to the States for a night to see the Pacific Northwest Ballets' Nutcracker (Ultimately I was disappointed - the calibre of dance was not anywhere near what I'd seen on TV).
I remember during my last year with the studio I asked for a meeting with the director and main teacher, Lynette. I wanted her honest opinion: did she think I had what it took to become a dancer professionally? I had thoughts of auditioning for a university dance program. I had taken a couple of intensive summer programs with other teachers and had felt encouraged by them. Lynette was kind. She began to point out all the areas in the dance world I could study: dance history, dance theory, dance administration...everything but dancing itself. "You're an intellectual, Rebecca. There is so much you could do." I was too much of an optomist to allow myself to be crushed entirely, but of course I was terribly disappointed. I didn't want to be an intellectual. I wanted to be a dancer so badly, it ached. I did audition for that university dance program and did not get accepted. I was called into a room with several other dancers who were all told we showed promise but needed some more training before we could join the full time program. Perhaps, looking back, I should have stuck with it, pushed forward, but I was beginning to realize that perhaps I just didn't have what it would take.
Sometimes, things don't work out the way we want them to, no matter how much we will them to. That's the seeming cruelty of life, and often, timing is everything. I remember when I worked for a dance company for a short time in Vancouver when I was first married. A wonderful flamenco dancer who had taught me during a week-long intensive course a couple of years before, came into the office. He gave me a hug and invited me to come dance with his company downtown. 'You are good!' he said. I could have cried, I felt so validated. However, I had also just found out I was pregnant and new dreams were beginning to flutter in my soul. Over the years other things came into my life and gave me joy. I became a runner, which gives me a bit of that sense of flight dancers have. I practise yoga, which gives me the strength and stretch I used to enjoy at the studio barre. I began to write, which allows me an outlet for my creative expression. I had children, which meant more to me than anything. Still, when I watch a ballerina, I can feel every move they make. In a sense I dance with them in my heart and in my mind.
And Baryshnikov? Well, he is beyond a dancer. He is a bird in flight, a lion in strength, and a unicorn in unusual grace. At least he is in the videos which captured him in his prime, and in films like The Turning Point and White Nights. He is older now of course. Aren't we all? I understand that now he is a generous and gifted teacher.
Here he is, the great Misha in his younger days. I chose this video to show what an amazing dancer, actor and athlete he is. So inspiring.
I am adding another video featuring Canada's extraordinary Evelyn Hart and Rex Harrington. I once spotted Evelyn on the streets of Winnipeg when I was visiting my sister. She was just a teeny tiny thing.
I am behind in both my posting and my reading of posts. I promise to catch up soon. Wishing everyone a Happy St. Patty's Day tomorrow, and a Happy St. Joseph's Day on Monday - he's the patron saint of Canada, eh?