time to change the way we view music and the arts

Blood is Not Thicker Than Pointe Shoes

Sorry for the slightly delayed wait in new material. You could say I needed a small resting period and I’m recharged, ready to go. That happens from time to time, even with things we’re enthusiastic about or devoted to; breaks are necessary and realism has to play somewhat of a role or eventually you burn yourself out and by the time you realize what’s transpired, that thing you so loved doing has gotten away from you.

Let’s be straightforward here. I am not a dancer. I am familiar with ballet to a light extent, having studied it as a child and having analyzed it in school, but nothing remotely close to the degree of a well seasoned professional. However, that’s not to say I couldn’t relate or have understandable reactive feelings when I read over an article from The guardian.co.uk, wherein one of the principal ballerinas of the Royal Opera House based, Royal Ballet, does a nicely candid interview with guardian staff writer Stephen Moss.

Principal ballerina Tamara Rojo, who hails from Spain, has been holding down the top spot with the royal company for 11 years now. Rojo attained her ever increasing success in the UK despite the fact that she admits “[having] spoke[n] no English when [she] first got to Scotland.” (according to the article, she initially danced with the Scottish Ballet at age 20.) What made her interview so compelling to read was how she weighed her feelings in on the subjects at hand. Rojo heavily dislikes seeing videos of herself dancing “because in [her] mind [she] is a million times batter than [she is].” Yet when asked about her feelings toward the upcoming endeavor to have the ballet perform for the first time ever at at the O2 Arena in London, “in front of 10,000 people” who may have never set foot in the opera house, the almost dance-like back and forth nature of how she answers questions and the the answers themselves is artfully coincidental.

“We’re constantly trying to expand our audiences and reach people that have never thought they would love ballet, and this is a great opportunity. It’s a chance to change perceptions, which is difficult when you are at the Opera House. People think it’s an old-fashioned art form, but if you take the art form away from that frame and put it somewhere else people might come with an open mind.”

A largely added prospect resulting from use of the O2 is that the audience will be watching via large screens in some parts of the venue. The idea of unorthodox outreach is far more of the positive focal point though, than if Rojo is forced to watch herself on a screen. Blissful and voluntary ignorance I suppose, though the subject of learning and competition is breached as well and isn’t seeing yourself in action one of the most honestly effective ways to self-evaluate? (My conducting professor, Dr. Dennis Johnston, would make us record our final conducting assessments on video and the class would critique your movements. It had its uncomfortably obvious moments…)

There’s no denial from me that the playful debate over various stereotypical aspects of the Black Swan is what caught the majority of my attention. This topic has come and gone in numerous waves over the past six months in every form of analysis, from filming technique to offense over extreme portrayals to broken down explanation of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis’s year long training regiments for the roles they played.

Moss politely questioned almost every major supposed faux-paus of ballerina characterization acted out by Portman and Rojo contradicted almost every element – “disturbed ballerina, ultra-competitive rivals, pushy mother, monstrous artistic director…” Though at times it’s hard to stick with her affirmations of opposition when she can appear to also contradict herself. That aside for a moment, first and foremost, Rojo did affirm what has been echoed before by professional dancers regarding Portman, which is that “It’s an insult to pretend that someone can become a prima ballerina in 12 months. It is unachievable. It’s almost to try and say what you do doesn’t have merit because anyone can do it in a few months.”

The headlining point of the article, which states a lack of perceived masochism, is the biggest part of my personal relation and curiosity and I am greatly satisfied with how Rojo explains the existing sides of dancers’ takes on inevitable pain from hammering away at their art form; particularly when posed with the idea that perhaps “film makers – and the rest of us too -need to believe ballerinas put dancing before living[.]”

“…if anyone makes you work like that, walk away because that’s not the way to success…[however] It is a romantic view and I understand it. It is nice from the outside to think that this is what happens, rather than that we are practical, down-to-earth, organised people.”

As I have made abundantly clear on this blogging platform, improvement and excelling and success were my word mantras for learning the violin growing up. For those of you that don’t know me personally, I haven’t yet disclosed how I put myself out of commission for an entire academic year in my undergrad from applied study because my sheer intensity and quantity of practice had driven my shoulder to virtual immobility. The worst of it was when it hurt so severely to move my arm that I couldn’t even raise it enough to turn on a room light switch and that doing so required the kind of effort you might equate to picking up a large barbell you know is too heavy for you to maybe pick up more than once, while possibly risking dropping it on your foot. The end result was surgery to repair an overly stretched tendon in my shoulder socket and the recovery time was what did me in for the year.

I was devastated when told that driving myself even close to that point again would permanently ruin my ability to play. Prior to that point though, which was similarly mentioned by Rojo as, (though with a focus more on breaking into professional arenas,) “The first time you might get injured, twist an ankle, you’re maybe 12 years old, and from that time on you’re very much aware that you might never make it.” I was so focused on nailing every note, memorizing every direction and really feeling the fruits of my labor, so to speak, that it’s not farce to say callouses, tired wrists and the cliche, occasional bleeding fingers, were things I took to represent the nature of what occurs when one is just keeping on task until you get things right. And getting things right meant progression and mastery.

Since my brush with movement loss, caution and moderation and breaks are very much real and serious concepts to me. Getting a rush because you somehow plowed through an eight hour marathon in a practice room while stopping only momentarily to eat trail mix, carrots, drink water and use the restroom might make you feel high and mighty and powerful and connected to your art, but no one is going to be able to admire you if you have to sit off stage because you drove yourself into the ground preparing for that pivotal performance.

“To concentrate constantly on the fact that we’re in pain is wrong. There are injuries, like for any athlete, because we lead the lives of athletes in our daily routine, but that is not why we do it. We’re not masochists. We don’t enjoy the pain. It’s not some kind of religious ritual. You do not and should not think you have to suffer for the art.”

What’s interesting in the case of Rojo’s view of moderating pain in dancing is the fact that while she preaches the above, Tamara Rojo is also actively “…avoiding the operation she needs on her knee because it would stop her dancing for six months.”

…So I think we chalk this topic up to an established clear reality that will inevitably become fogged from bouts of romance over arts, which can’t really be preyed upon because something so personal and ambiguous as romance stems from the typically subjective and personal arts themselves.

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