Dancers are the messengers of the gods. Martha Graham

The heroine in the book I’m writing now is a ballet teacher but she used to be a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre (although I may have to change the company depending on licensing issues). She’s different from many of my heroines so far, not as outwardly emotional and expressive but in a lot of ways, she emotes through her body when she dances.

As I was thinking about her, about who she’d be in relation to who Brody is (and I wrote him in Laid Bare so I knew him much more as I began to write the proposal). I wanted her not to be his opposite, but with core things very much like his, but outwardly different. Her mode of expression also through art but what or how? And then I thought about ballet and dancing. I love ballet. Like, really, really, really love ballet.

When I was ten, a woman my mother worked with had a son who danced with the Royal Australian Ballet and he came to visit her in Los Angeles and with him, came tickets to a gala at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach for the American Ballet Theatre. This was huge and a moment in my life I’ll never forget (I still have the program tucked into a book Lois – our friend – gave me for my birthday a few days before that.) A gala is often a chance to see bits from the season so it has several acts, each with different styles and it’s wildly exciting for people who love ballet. And even better, it’s a great excuse to get dressed up. We had these amazing seats because of our friend’s son and that night I knew I’d love ballet forever. I wanted to be Cynthia Gregory when I watched her dance the Grand Pas Classique with Fernando Bujones (both of them such amazing, amazing dancers).

That night, I don’t think I can really put into words how it changed my life. I was this kid who watched ballet on PBS. We didn’t hob nob, we couldn’t afford lessons or anything. I’d never seen it live and even later in my life I hadn’t seen anything that could touch it until I was an adult. Something inside me was set free by the beauty I saw that night. By the way the dancers moved and carried themselves. It’s one of the most beautiful things imaginable to see ballet live.

This is the Grand Pas Classique with music by Auber – I looked for Bujones clips because I love how he looks when he dances but the only one I found was of poor quality. This one features Sylvie Guillem, who is one of the finest ballet dancers ever. It’s worth a watch because she doesn’t allow her dancing to be filmed these days.

This is very a very classic, very beautiful piece. Look at the balance required, the timing, the strength and poise. It’s one of my favorite pieces when done by a good company because it’s lovely to look at. It had embedding disabled but the link works. When you watch closer to the end and see her freaking balance during her turns, it’s amazing. She’s flawless, like a thing of magic and air.

That night we saw The River as the closing piece – this is Cynthia Gregory above performing part of the River (with music by Duke Ellington and choreography by Alvin Ailey)

Anyway, I’ve been watching a lot of youtube, thinking about Elise, about what she’d look like, how she’d carry herself and so I thought I’d just share a bit of that, and a bit of me, with you all.

7 comments to “Dancers are the messengers of the gods. Martha Graham”

  1. Colleen
    January 23rd, 2009 at 8:22 am · Link

    The roomie told me about this entry – your site used to be blocked by our filters at work – not any more –

    Anywhoodle – from the age of 4 until I was 15 and destroyed my knee I lived and breathed ballet. My feet are all screwed up from hours and hours in toeshoes. But I loved every single second that I could dance and even now I’ll go to adult classes every now and then (though no longer on pointe!). I had dreams of moving to New York or Paris and dancing with a big company (aside from the whole knee issue I look back and realize I wasn’t nearly good enough).

    Though I’m sure you’re already aware of them, Dance Magazne and Pointe Magazine are great! Also, there’s a wonderful essay from Newsweek last year written by a straight male ballet dancer (he was one of the leads in the movie Center Stage from a few years back) about being a male dancer and even though it’s your heroine who’s the dancer it’s still a great article. If you’re interested I can send you the link.

    I am just so excited for this book now 🙂

  2. Christine
    January 23rd, 2009 at 9:28 am · Link

    There is something so beautiful about ballet I remember the first time I saw the Nutcracker. How it transported me away.

  3. azteclady
    January 23rd, 2009 at 10:17 am · Link

    Thank you, Lauren, those are so beautiful!

    Isn’t it amazing how something so early in life can shape our souls forever?

  4. limecello
    January 23rd, 2009 at 11:43 am · Link

    Gorgeous. What a lovely post, Lauren. And I’m really excited about the heroine in your book. I think every little girl dreams about being a dancer at some point.

  5. Karin
    January 23rd, 2009 at 4:38 pm · Link

    Those are some fantastic clips. My only experience with ballet has been the performance of Swan Lake I saw while I was in St. Petersburg, Russia, last August. It was beautiful.

  6. Lori
    January 23rd, 2009 at 10:36 pm · Link

    Fabulous! I adore the ballet, too. And I think a heroine who’s a dancer will be amazing. They have such a grace about them.

    Side note: I heard today that the Sacramento Ballet is closing for the season now – several months early. They have no money. It’s such a shame. I adore the ballet (not that I’m in Sacramento, but still…), and I mourn every time I hear about a company closing its doors. It’s like we’ve lost another little piece of culture and beauty, isn’t it?

  7. Dayanna
    January 24th, 2009 at 6:47 pm · Link

    It should really not surprise me anymore how much i enjoy your posts, but then i read a piece like this and am lost again. I think this book is going to be fantastic. You truly understand the beauty in the art of ballet and will be able to portray the characters in a way anyone can relate to.
    I have not been to a ballet performance in about two years but now i want to go see one. Oh boy you are lethal…hehe