Have you ever been on stage during a ballet? I never have, but I felt like I was while watching a virtual production of The Nutcracker, performed by the New Ballet of Silicon Valley.
I have only seen The Nutcracker performed live a few times in my life and each time, it was an over-the-top magical experience that began with the excitement of getting dressed up in my best clothes.
We would drive to the City, see the grandeur of the Opera House with all of the marble and high ceilings, and listen to the rush of fellow patrons hurrying to find their seats with beautifully printed programs in hand. There would be a hush as the house lights dimmed, the orchestra would hit the first notes of that famous overture and we would settle in with our first deep breath of the afternoon, in anticipation of the wonder that was about to unfold before us.
The curtains would open to reveal magnificent sets and beautiful costumes. The dancers were amazing with their pliés, jetés, arabesques and pas de chats. We were drawn into the story and the world of fantasy amidst the swirl of colors, fabrics and characters.
But what if you take away much of that? What if you are only seeing the sets in one dimension and instead of being immersed in hearing, and sometimes feeling, each note played in real-time by a live musician, the sounds are coming through your computer speakers?
What is left?
A spotlight on the actual dancers.
Yes, the choreography is still there, and the moves are performed by costumed artists, but what is different is that you get a chance to focus on the beauty and wonder of the human form, with the combination of both fluidity and stability that is required to acquire those reaches, to notice the lines that go from finger tip all the way to the tip of the pointe shoe. To actually be able to see the muscles of the dancers as they are working to hold a pose just-so.
When I was growing up, two of my best friends were in ballet. They would be down at the local studio four to five afternoons a week after school. I desperately wanted to join in on classes but my dad didn’t see any real world application for me in taking ballet, so I would sit and watch, and soak up as much as I could from the sidelines.
Sometimes I would wander from where my friends were training into the rehearsal spaces that were reserved for the adult dancers. I was enthralled watching the strength, concentration and discipline that I knew only came from years of practice. To watch the couples move together as one, which solely came from the trust that they put into each other to be where they were supposed to be at the exact moment that they were expected to be there. If those precise movements didn’t occur at just the right time, one of the dancers might end up flat out on the floor. And that might mean an injury that could potentially sideline one or both of them.
Being so close to the dancers in the small rehearsal space, with all of them in their tights and leotards, or snug fitting white tee-shirts for some of the men, I could see every muscle move as it contracted, held and relaxed; see every bead of sweat.
I saw how they would work a section of the piece and even individual moves over and over and over again, until it was, to them, and most especially to the director, 'just right'. It was work. These were true athletes; dedicated to art, rather than sport.
Take some time during the pandemic to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with the beauty that is ballet. While we are not able to go to actual spaces, take advantage of a virtual experience.
The New Ballet is presenting two streaming performances this spring; one in April and one in May. Tickets are pay-what-you-can. For more information, click here.