The Miracle of Ballet and Life

When I was nearly 3 my grandma took me to see a professional ballet performance – Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker” – and my life was changed forever. This morning I woke up thinking about what a magical and miraculous thing a professional ballet performance is, perhaps because art has remained near and dear to my heart and Logan City’s art festival, Summerfest, kicks off tomorrow. Perhaps because ballet is STILL impacting my life nearly every day, even 18+ years after I retired from performing professionally myself. I’m as passionate as ever about sharing the gift of this art form with the world, so in that spirit, consider this:

Every dancer on a stage in a professional performance represents nearly 2 decades of hard work and dedication or more. If the average performance has 20 dancers (many have more), that’s 400 years of commitment. Take those same 20 dancers and put whatever ballet you are watching together over a rehearsal period which spans a few weeks. Perhaps the ballet takes another 20 hours to teach and rehearse (many take more): that is 400 (for the easy math) man hours of work. These are generously conservative figures. Older classical ballets were designed to be spectacles. They have larger casts, and bigger productions – expanding my meager 400 man hours to 800 easily – and have been handed down to the present over a span of centuries: eight hundred man hours over 200 years!

Me, performing in Ballet West’s production of “Swan Lake”

And I’ve yet to mention the artistic staff rehearsing (with more than 4 decades each of expertise to share), the musicians who play for rehearsal, an entire orchestra whose every member has likely put in several decades as well to achieve their perfection of the performance moment, the production team (costume designers, seamstresses, lighting and set designers, stage crew, etc.) whose skill elevates the production from marvelous to magical – ALL these absolute artists bringing their passion and dedication and expertise together to share one MOMENT, to create something for an audience that essentially vanishes away (never to be experienced again in its full glory) the minute the final bows are taken and the curtain closes. 

No wonder ballet leaves us in awe: it is as miraculous as life itself. For we, existing in this very moment, are a product of the perfection of creation, bodies hurtling through space at just the right velocity and distance from the sun to sustain life; of natural selection over millions of years; born of love, raised in dedication; blessed by the ingenuity, knowledge, and expertise of millions that have gone before; bringing us to this moment, to drink it in through our senses before it vanishes away, fading into the shadows of a choppy, grainy memory.

Great art, like life itself, is a gift. We may never fully comprehend all that made it possible, but when we get a glimpse of something so near divinity itself, we truly are changed, forever. Ballet performances end, after all that work, with a bow – a symbol expressing humility and gratitude. Considering the magnitude of the gift – of ballet, of art, of life – how could it be any other way?