Ballet has given us visions of limitless human potential and a sense of grace as profound as anything we have ever thought, felt or believed. But all too often, it now commandeers a disproportionate amount of money and attention in the dance world and returns only an increasingly self-satisfied triviality.
Thinking of dancers as beautiful children might seem harmless enough, but in ballet it's part of a system that denies young people any real choices in their lives. The best foreign training processes and company structures develop distinctive artists through career-long mentoring relationships. Ours, however, too often turn out obedient classical athletes by imposing rules about where to be, what to do, how much to eat, whom to believe in and when self-esteem is deserved or not. It's even worse for the ballet women who starve themselves to match a skeletal ideal and then stop menstruating for the length of their careers. Talk about arrested development.
For the audience, this system produces something well worth hating: dancers forever young (because there's always someone new to replace them when they age) who don't really know themselves but have learned how to move skillfully and energetically while thinking critically about how they're doing — not what. It may be a minority opinion, but a life lived by someone else's counts is the ultimate unexamined existence, and it gives an audience nothing when set to music.
Although I agree that sometimes ballet is guilty of all the things he hates, I also feel like through it's discipline and training, I have felt the most alive. There is nothing like that instant when your warm and trained body does something amazing and surprising. It is like that moment at the top of a leap when you hang in the air for a split second that feels eternal. Or that feeling that every cell is breathing, moving, and alive.
I don't know how to reconcile all that yet.