Sometimes I need a break from all this politics (like right now!), and one of the things I turn to is dance. Most often ballet. Specifically, certain dancers of my youth, who now, to my joy, are readily available for the watching on YouTube.
I’ve written about Maya Plisetskaya many times before. One of my all-time favorites, she was distinguished in her heyday by her tremendous vitality, an enormous springy jump, great strength, flexible arms, sexiness, joy, drama, and a fluidity of movement that seemed remarkably free, despite her long confinement to the USSR by Soviets who were afraid she would defect if they allowed her to leave.
The lady is now well into her eighties and she looks marvelous. Here’s a videotape from a few years ago; I believe Plisetskaya was then a bright young thing of 74. She is rehearsing a French dancer named Marie-Agnes Gillot, who was about 24 years old at the time.
I am transfixed by Plisetskaya’s high heels, among other things. I’m significantly younger than she, but I’d have trouble even standing in them for more than a few minutes, and here she’s practically dancing in them. As I watched the video, despite Gillot’s approaching the prime of her dance life and technique, my eyes were riveted on Plisetskaya instead.
This is how major dance roles are generally transmitted, by a sort of spirit transfer. The older dancer tries to infuse the younger with the sense of the thing as it was first taught to her, adding all she’s learned about the subtleties of dance in the interim. Such teaching doesn’t always really take, except in bits and pieces; dance has changed too much.
You can see that Gillot’s technique is exponentially more spectacular than Plisetskaya’s ever was: in particular her huge extensions, the arched articulation of her feet, and the secure plumb line of her turns. But to my taste, Plisetskaya is above and beyond her in everything else that makes for dancing. Even here, when she had lost the ability to dance on the stage, so much remains (be patient; she doesn’t really get going till about midway through the clip).
[NOTE: I'm aware the Gillot is learning the role and not dancing full-out. But Plisetskaya certainly isn't dancing full-out either; she can't.
For those of you unfamiliar with the variation they are rehearsing, it is part of the third act of Swan Lake: the role of Odile, an evil temptress come to impersonate the heroine and make the Prince forget his vows to his true love. You will note that, towards the end of the tape, Plisetskaya mimes a whole series of moments: where Odile laughs in manic triumph at her success when she gets the Prince to swear falsely (around 4:42), and then in turn some of the reactions of the assembled court, including his swooning mother.]