What is it about ballet that speaks so to the romantic soul of the watcher? For me, I think it is many things – the catharticism of the music, the grace and fluidity of the physical form, the perfection of the movement, the strict structure within which beauty emerges, the connection between the dancers, the feeling that transfers from the body of the dancer to the body of the watcher, the way one is drawn into the story… and such stories!
Like many little girls, I took ballet classes and dreamed of one day pirouetting majestically en pointe on the stage. But of course it is a very few who go on to become ballerinas, and the rest of us must be content to watch and appreciate the craft. But I do think that I carry elements of what I loved about ballet in me as I write – ballet is such sheer romance that the sentiment comes forth in a romance novel.
Through the years thinkers and writers have honoured the role of dance. Einstein said, ‘Dancers are athletes of God.’ Nietzsche said, ‘I would believe only in a god that knows how to dance.’ Voltaire said, ‘Let us read and let us dance – two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.’ Beckett said, ‘Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.’ And the great choreographer and dancer Martha Graham said, ‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul.’
Ballet is performed all year, of course, but there is something magical about a winter ballet. This winter The Royal Opera House is staging Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet – the crème de la crème of romantic narrative (there is something about ballet that makes one use French phrases). But my personal favorite is Swan Lake. The classic tale of love and of good versus evil and the music, the costumes and the moonlit setting add up to a captivating and affective show. And perhaps it is the little girl in me also who feels the pull, for what budding ballerina has not dreamed of dancing as Odette?
But what I most love about going to see Swan Lake performed is seeing what ending the choreographer has devised – romantic or tragic? The traditional ending, danced since 1895, is that the lovers, Odette and Siegfried, die – Odette commits suicide and Siegfried is unable to live without her and follows suit. The final scene is of the pair ascending to heaven. But recent interpretations of the ballet have experimented with different endings, from the pair united in human form, to Odette trapped as a swan and Siegfried left alone or Siegfried killed in a battle with Rothbart, the antagonist of the piece, and Odette left to grieve. Of course, I am always drawn to a happy ending, and I much prefer interpretations in which the lovers are united at the end – even if their union is in heaven.