Ballet transposed

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

New York City Ballet’s Lauren Lovette and Justin Peck, photographed by Henry Leutwyler.

I spend a little time looking at paintings and sculptures by Degas. Ballet dancers. I draw a quick first conclusion, that photography is a more suitable medium in which to capture ballet, if it must be transposed. From movement, a static frame. Degas’s dancers strike me as amateur… Perhaps these are amateurs, painted, practising, there.  They are of course — lesson takers, or, caught between scenes, with their friends. Slouching. Elbows bent unbecomingly. Untidy. These things being of course what make the paintings interesting: that this object of perfection, the ballet dancer, might be caught offside, unprepared and human, in sloth or at ease; imperfect.

Ballet Dancers in The Wings (1900), Degas

Ballet Dancers in The Wings (1900), Degas

Ballet Rehearsal (1873), Degas

Ballet Rehearsal (1873), Degas

The 21st century, technology-slickened perfectionist in me, maybe, responds negatively to the lack of polish. Their lines, the curves of the dancers are not curved and not beautiful enough; the stretches not great enough and then, the compositions in their entirety: overly complex … not as beautiful as their counterparts in photograph. I feel, underlying this, that there might be something sad in my initial reaction and that I must commit a sort of heresy in expressing the opinion.

As I write this and take pause to consider, as I look again at the paintings, more carefully, I grow to appreciate them more. Their gentleness and colour. Their dancers and their scenarios. The great room of the ballet rehearsal. The truth is that I gave Leutwyler’s photograph just one appraisal, admired it and copied it here. I love the photograph not for the artistry but for the dancers photographed. Her arm, reaching up with its slight bend at the elbow, so beautiful. Their hands. Their muscles. Their pose, together and the tilt of her head and neck. They are quite perfectly beautiful, and I love their image for that.

Voila la difference.


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