The other day, I was invited to lecture at a training for IT-company managers about what the criteria and main requirements for a ballerina’s performance are. It was as strange as it sounds, but it was only then when I’d first thought, “Really, what is professionalism in case of ballet and what can be confused for it?” And here I am now, telling you about this.
Ballet isn’t a sport. Therefore, the loudness of the post-performance applause, which we usually perceive as success level indicator, cannot be applied as an objective measure. Nowadays, commercial dance projects grow fast thanks to investments and connections and can afford to have numerous audiences while staying noticeably unprofessional technique-wise. These audiences would keep enjoying their complimentary tickets and praise the show online, thus helping the interest towards such low-quality products grow immensely.
However, ballerina’s principal goal is to deliver aesthetic and emotional pleasure to the viewers. She steps on the stage engaging in a delicate exchange of her energy for the pleasure and the overall reaction of the audience. Even critique can give her motivation to grow bigger, although some of it may be unfairly harsh.
Ballet dancers must possess exceptional uniqueness. It is their performance that can make people want to see them in different roles, which means those people would want to come back again. A ballet dancer’s magnificence does not depend on how strong or agile they are as much as it depends on how they ignite the audience. Still, people do come to see ballet seeking aesthetics in the first place. And those people could not care less about what kind of injuries performers have, so skill and lightness are essential too.
I believe that however great the technique is, it is definitely not the only aspect of professional ballet. Skill is obviously valuable, but in order to balance and perfect it, a dancer must find a way to integrate their innermost and outermost and make their skill an inseparable part of their character, to the point the viewer would not be able to imagine them apart. Such approach would be especially prominent in no-fabula plays.
Here’s a list of my personal basic criteria for estimating a good ballet dancer:
- Graceful and appealing performance
- Ability to put the audience in the right mood
- Aesthetically pleasing lines
- Good technique (jumps, turns etc.)
- Positive audience reception (Note that each culture shows it differently: Italian audience would cheer with prolonged shouts, while Japanese people tend to be much calmer but never miss the chance to stay after the show to express their gratitude to the performers personally, and Germans express their delight by stomping their feet)
The dancers often tend to neglect the opinions of common people, which is truly a pity, because someone who isn’t used to seeing dancing daily might help a performer by noticing something they’d missed right in front of them. Praise is undeniably delightful, but critique is an artist’s privilege which signifies their importance and chance to grow bigger. No one is perfect, all of us are just special in our own ways, and these ways have enough room for improvement. Therefore, a performer’s level of professionalism depends on their intelligence and ability to turn their drawbacks into benefits.
A good dancer is capable of making people sob just with one soft move of his hand or a finger tremolo – I experienced it myself last year when I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov in “Brodsky / Baryshnikov”. Thanks to this one move, performed in a dance sequence for Brodsky’s “Butterfly”, I discovered that the art of movement can be easy and reckless while being wise and sensitive, peeking into your very soul, at the same time.