As I leaned on the barre in ballet class and I joked to my neighbour, that when you can select your body off the shelf, I’m going for a ‘Marianela Nunez’, although likely to be way out of my price range! This led my ballet compatriot informing me that there is actually research being done at the moment to transplant bodies for robotic bodies but with head and brain intact. We conversed for a while about the feelings of inappropriateness of this and what makes us human, is it our body, our brain or the sum of our parts or our consciousness alone? Thinking about this, I realised that the reason I love ballet so much and immerse myself, is that, ballet, by and large is a triumph of will over this bag of bones, attached by muscles and tendons and connected by a supply of food and oxygen through the blood, controlled by chemicals and electricity. What you see is never ever and nor should it be, what you get and it is this delving under the flesh and bone of a human being that makes the arts something that we strive to be part of and to choose to devote savings and free-time towards. The human body is at the heart and soul of ballet and is free of device in that the language is created by positioning of the body and interaction with other dancers on the stage. A ballet dancer gets to be on that stage through a lot of sheer hard work, determination and a body that lends itself to the rigours of elite dance and artistry. Of course, there is no suggestion that ballet is about to replace it’s dancers with robotic hybrids but has challenged me to think about what keeps grounded in humanity, connected by so much more than molecules and why we seek out experiences like going to the theatre and why we hope that our children, grandchildren or friends teach their children the joy of dance and the arts as it is so important to our society, communities and the essence of being human.
Oh, sometimes, if only we were like machines or computers that could be re-programmed or even switched off! Life is a rich tapestry of interactions, human experience is so immense and the body holds memories and experiences of its’ own. In our electronic-driven age, we are being told that the reality, more and more, is to view our bodies as purely mechanical. Ballet, and other forms of dance or artistry, tell us differently, dancers may look ethereal but the real magical element – it is all grounded from the dirt of the earth – very human blood, sweat and tears with the only the few being talented enough and strong enough to make it to the pinnacle. Those of us living through the maelstrom that is the twenty-first century, it will not have gone unnoticed that is has been dubbed the post-truth generation with lots of contemporary debate centred around fakery. We have never had better information or more access, although, conversely, this can lead to obfuscation as facts get lost in the slew of social media and devices and ways to receive, self-awareness or self-censoring seems to be at an all-time low. It is comforting to know, that the essentials of ballet cannot be faked, sometimes there might be a bit of ‘being in the right place at the right time’, to rise to the top but this can only be done with supreme technique, stage presence and musicality. Ballet is an aesthetic art-form and dancers pretend to be characters, a lot of the time, that you will never see in any world, never mind the modern world but the reason we can embrace these worlds, is that ballet technique holds so much truth and authenticity as the professional dancer cannot fake the hard work and long hours that must go in to the beautiful swan or handsome prince, on stage. Another very current debate is how aesthetically driven this media-saturated generation have become. As an Adult Ballet dancer, one of my main issues is not having started early with ballet and therefore, having it in my body and the muscle memory, so have to work very hard, just to look a little better than a 4-year-old. Admittedly, I am not a professional dancer and do not have the learned emotional responses or the long years of study but having some experience of the work in a ballet body, my experience as an audience-member and advocate, has given me so much more insight and respect and joy, when watching performances. It has also given me a deeper understanding, that it is an emotional experience, and emotions, when properly directed, turn a mechanical act into an act of artistry and beauty. We love ballet so much as the sum of all its’ parts, give us this emotional high-ground.
Talent is to the forefront and there are no shortcuts from the hard work and resilience, dancers must dig very deep into their bodies and souls to pull out a performance that will live in the memory, for years to come. The really exciting thing about talent, is that it can’t be purchased off the shelf. The twentieth anniversary of the reign of Marianela Nunez as Principal at the Royal Ballet and as one of the greatest ballet dancers in the history of the art-form, would not be quite so exciting if we could go into a shop and buy it off the shelf or print it out on a 3-D printer! World Ballet Day and Insights are such a success as we see ballet in its rawest form, seeing the dancer’s body being made in the studio and at the barre. Technique is an essential element but so are musicality, acting and being someone that audiences want to engage with on stage. A love and a heart for ballet cannot be faked, it cannot be programmed into a robot and thrown on stage. Maybe you can but I for one, hope that this is not our future and that ballet never tries to shortcut that route of training intensely, with rigorous discipline and skilled in technique and then the human spirit is let loose and can dominate and push through when the going gets tough, resilience is an ever-decreasing commodity and needs to be nurtured for the sake of humanity. We should never lose our humanity or what have we left? How can we connect – fake it, buy it, make it? This is not a future I want to live in, so we should cherish and treasure ballet for how it shines a light on our humanity and we makes the world a better place.