There's a misconception that ballet is a static art form, stuck in the restricted movement and rarefied air of its origins in the 15th century French court. While the traditions of classical ballet are perpetuated in the passing on of technique and choreography from one dancer to another through the centuries, ballet has also evolved - and continues to do so - into an ever-expanding reflection of our people and times.
"The Dying Swan," a 4-minute ballet conceived by Mikhail Fokine in 1905, was originated by ballerina Anna Pavlova, who traveled the world performing the piece - over 4,000 times in her lifetime. Although the piece feels very traditional to viewers today - and perhaps even a bit old-fashioned (and lumbering, sloppy, overly dramatic?) - "it was 'revolutionary' then, and illustrated admirably the transition between the old and the new, for here I make use of the technique of the old dance and the traditional costume, and a highly developed technique is necessary, but the purpose of the dance is not to display that technique but to create the symbol of the everlasting struggle in this life and all that is mortal... it appeals not merely to the eye but to the emotions and the imagination." (Fokine to Arnold Haskell, author of Balletomania)
Sixty years later, Russian prima ballerina Natalia Makarova brought ballet - and "The Dying Swan" - to new heights of precision and athleticism, while maintaining the heart-wrenching beauty of the movement. Notice the painfully thin body aesthetic, an almost other-wordly visage.
And another sixty years later, dancer Lil Buck is breathing new life into "The Dying Swan" on the world stage.
Without arguing that ballet is headed the way of baseball caps and sneakers, it is possible in Lil Buck to witness the ever-evolving aesthetic of dance. The beauty of ballet is that it simultaneously preserves its classical history and expands to encompass the diverse technical and cultural influences of our people and times.
Thank you know ballet? Think again.
Marin Rose, Artistic Chair, Board of Trustees