When I was a little girl one of my favorite movies was “The Red Shoes.” I actually wore out the tape from watching it so many times. My favorite line was when Artistic Director Boris Lermontov–with his hair slicked back, smoking a cigarette and wearing a gorgeously tailored suit–asks the budding ballerina Victoria Page, “Why do you dance?” and she responds, “Why do you want to live?” Taken off-guard, he stammers, “Well I don’t know exactly why, but I must.” She then replies, “That’s my answer too.” Of course, Miss Page is then tragically torn between her love for ballet and her love of a man, and unable to choose, she throws herself off a balcony to her death. This story may seem melodramatic, but it captivated me as a young girl.
This past week, as I sat in the theater watching the dress rehearsals for Fokine’s Petrouchka, I was once again reminded of the glory of the old theater. The ornate costumes, hand-painted sets and scrims, dramatic makeup and the odd, eccentric story of the production caused a stirring of nostalgia. This was created at a time when the ballet was full of drama, when Picasso and Matisse painted the sets. It’s fun to see the Opera House stage so transformed. There are supers crowding the stage and during the street scene there are 102 people onstage. The production is full of all kinds of colorful characters: gypsies, coachmen, street dancers, nursemaids and of course, the dolls: Petrouchka, the Ballerina, and the Moor.
Nowadays, the focus of many new works is the dancing. Balanchine stripped away the sets and costumes, revolutionizing the dance world with his plotless ballets. On this same program, we are dancing in the middle, somewhat elevated by William Forsythe who has been heavily influenced by Balanchine. He took the Balanchine ideal even further by removing the wings of the stage and the theatrical lighting. The dancers only wear leotards and tights, and are dancing in highly stylized, rhythmic patterns. The focus is on the bodies, the movement, and the technical feats of the dancers. There is no story to tell or emotions to convey, only dancing.
Though, I love dancing these new, technically challenging works by great choreographers, I must admit that I have a romantic feeling about the old works, and the idea of what ballet used to be (the glamorous makeup and the highly dramatic stories). Even the patrons would show-up dressed to impress: women in their gloves and stoles, fans with opera glasses in hand; men smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and slicked hair–all for an evening at the ballet.
Anyhow, I invite you all to come to the wonderfully diverse Program 4. It is such a fun journey to see where we came from and where we are going. And, if you feel like it, why not pull out your evening gowns and tuxedos? What a glamorous life we live at the ballet!