If I could photoshop, the perfect image would be Donald Trump in a tutu, although I’m sure he has worn a kilt before a-la James in La Sylphide?. I’m sure there are times that society has felt more fractious and feelings that the chasm of doom is about to open up but maybe it is the expectation that we should have sorted the world out and better with more connectedness and resources the we have at our disposal. The Royal Ballet, itself, owes its’ existence to the heroics of war-time dancers who were tireless in entertaining the troops around the country during World War Two. In those dark days, the Royal Ballet was established as it brought light to the darkness and brought ballet to those who wouldn’t have ordinarily have thought it was for those of a perceived social class. This was a time of tumultuous change in society but ballet survived mass political upheaval by rising to its strengths, dancers who are incredibly hard-working and driven by talent, at the very heart. Ballet has survived significant revolutions in France and Russia because it was seen as a cultural jewel and largely because dancers are so hard-working and adaptable. Calls for ballet to politicise or modernise are not new and it is perhaps because I was born into a politically-torn Northern Ireland and witnessed first-hand what political divisiveness can lead to and how public debate of politics can be dangerous. Social Media has prompted somewhat of a renewed interest in politics, I don’t think it is a coincidence that views are becoming more polarised at the same time as social media has become prominent. On a recent Ted Talk, one of the contributors noted that people would even like to choose their children’s partners to reflect their own political values. The job of the arts, for me, is to inform and enlighten but in a style that takes us out of the ordinary, to be just that little bit out of reach but at the same time, understandable in a way that fires the neurons, marvelling at the wonder of seeing something that not all human beings seem possible of doing. I hate to think that we would lose that wonder as we get stuck in the quagmire of daily life, that what we see on stage is so applicable that it no longer feels special or different. A lot of spend large amounts of time stuck to desks in poorly lit and ventilated offices working for others for little monetary or psychological reward and when looking for where to allocate that hard-earned cash, it is to take us out of ourselves into other worlds where life is not mundane but beautiful and where fouettes are reeled off like taking a gentle walk and women are lifted to the heights while looking like they weigh nothing more than a feather and do nothing to get themselves there. On stage, ballet fulfils the head and the heart, the eye and the soul, this is precious, dancers are the ones that give us this and the greatest do it because they love it and this is what shines through.
Our admiration for dancers never ceases, who can go from the most classical of works to bang-up-to-date modern to theatrical works, this is where the past and the future of ballet has always lain, talent and that means dancer-led. We engage with and buy into dancers, who obviously, as individuals in society and will decide how to use their own profile and we can buy into that or choose to not engage with any off-stage profiles, to break the magic and keep firmly ballet. We engage because who wants something that is ordinary or just within reach, that is mass entertainment? Which makes me question why do I love ballet? I did not seek out ballet because it was going to illumine the current political situation, I would go to a newspaper or other sources for that, I was captured by a mix of the beauty but also the simplicity, ballet is at the same time, complex and without device, elaborate sets and costume but it mainly comes down to human endurance and little bits of canvas. The technology goes into improving a dancers’ dancing life and health. It is this juxtaposition of simplicity and artfulness that makes ballet the constantly absorbing art-form that it is and then add on top of this, the layers of complexity of orchestral music, immaculate costumes and a large cast either in patterns and groups or individually. To overly politicise or modernise ballet is to lose the essence of why it is and continues to sell a vast number of seats, the grandiose nature of the art-form. Ballet has connected me with people who I share very little common political ground but we do share the love of ballet. As human beings, there is definitely more that unites us than divides us and they have enlightened me, especially giving me a group to chat about ballet in a passionate way and to pass round ballet magazines and books and recommendations for videos and nights out. My life would be a lot less rich if our political sensibilities, which have largely been formed due to the influences of our surroundings, would be allowed to come between us.
Arts should bring people together, not divide them, they should cause us to think or wonder but not anaesthetise, should be arrayed in splendour and soul, not grim and arduous, however, I think there is room for an amount of this in challenging material but do I want to see this all the time?. No, I want escapism from drudgery, I want to be bathed in a warm, golden glow or to learn of a real character from any time period that inspires or informs, especially in the light of recent events. Pathos works well in ballet but it needs to be tempered with light, although a little gloom done through the medium of beautiful dancing and connection, can be emotionally cathartic. Arts are that bastion of lifting us above the dross of ordinary life. We may not always want to admit it for a short time, we get to go back to a time when Princes and Princesses can fall in love instantly and evil is extinguished in a puff of smoke or by truly falling in love with the person your heart desires or being reunited after death in a world for the beautiful, true and glamorous? Most ballet companies do offer progressive programming but such as the recent Crystal Pite, Flight Pattern, dealing with a very human theme, although one that has dogged humanity from the beginning of time. Tamara Rojo is moving on English National Ballet to new heights and is doing wondrous stuff with classical and modern, making London the dance capital of the world and not just the cultural capital. Even she has been criticised in not going far enough but this is the juxtaposition right there, quite often, audiences know what they like and by and large, that is classical ballet. Dance writers are in the industry and it easy to sometimes want to change the thing that you spend all your time with but probably your average member of the audience does not read a review but puts their hand in their pocket because of a particular leading dancer or group of dancers. In their hard-fought-for leisure time, generally you want to see something that will ultimately bring you pleasure, leaving the theatre uplifted and in the full knowledge that have been party to phenomenal acts of human skill and beauty.