by JOY VICTOR of Victor School of Performing Arts
How many miles of tulle does it take to make 32 tutus? It was in the costume fabrication warehouse hired by American Ballet Theatre in the garment district of Manhattan that my appreciation for the genius of dressing the best dancers in the world exploded. It was the preparation for the 1980 premiere of the ballet La Bayadere, the first time the full production was performed outside the Soviet Union.
The New York public mobbed its gala performance at Lincoln Center with sold out status. Natalia Makarova, who pulled off a spectacular defection from the Kirov Ballet in Russia and whose exotic glamour captivated the world, set that production on us dancers of the company from her steel-trap memory of performing the three hour ballet in a Soviet society closed off to the world.
Watching the seamstresses bending over their work on many rows of long canvas wrapped tables made me feel I was in an haute couture house in Paris. Many new costumes were tailored on each one of us, our names inscribed in the lining, with the precision of the highest knowledge for fit and design. The final touch on the costume-set for eighty dancers, worth tens of thousands of dollars, was the tedious application of tiny seed and bugle beads which caught the light like real jewels. This is part of the set of memories I brought to Bend when I opened Victor School of Performing Arts.
The experience dancing among the elect of America’s official ballet company set the standard of perfection that has driven me in my teaching, choreography and performance creation through the years. I’ve seen young lives profoundly changed from the inside out starting with the rudimentary ABC’s of ballet technique theory, to blossoming artists well aware of their powers of expression, inspiration and physical prowess.
The greatest thrill is to see confidence shine out in a flash discovery, a clearing of past insecurities like a muddied window suddenly clean. This is a development I have seen in my dedicated dancers this past year, as if mountain climbers suddenly stepped above the tree line, above the clouds to take in unexpected vistas. It is the paramount experience of any ballet teacher, to see the effect of the purity of raw dance instilled into the very soul of the student.
Ballet has its own special verve to connect the dancer deeply with the whole history of the most beautiful sounds geniuses of the last three centuries of musical composition could conceive. No one can touch this powerhouse of human creativity and come away unchanged when they have internalized every nuance of each note, each half-count expressed through movement.
There’s a chunk of ancient wisdom preserved in the Bible’s Ecclesiastes, verse 9:10: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. This has been a motto that has inspired me from childhood and it matches the iconic statement of Yoda from the first Star Wars movie: Do. Or Do Not. There Is No Try.
Success in professional dance requires this bedrock foundation of gritty focus. It’s a lesson we all need. When my students have faced a hurdle of difficulty in new steps they are scared of, I hear so often: I can’t. But it happens again and again that not only is the statement proven untrue, but wondrously false. It is one shining facet of the life-lessons ballet dancers in training learn.
Our spring performances here in Bend have always included international dances. It used to be in recent years that there was a fascination for lessons in international dance. It was a trend for people to join in large community classes to dance the Israeli Hora, Greek, Russian, Irish and various national expressions of movement. Sadly, this interest has waned. What better way to understand a culture than to see what they find are the most glorious postures to express happiness?
It’s fascinating that the identity of every nationality takes its form in an iconic dance style. Hopefully these world treasures will be preserved for future generations. Our spring performance this year includes a Tarentella from Italy, Flamenco from Spain, a Geisha dance of Japan and a Mongolian dance ( as in Atila the Hun ).
For a dancer to take on the character of the flow of these movement styles is an education on its own, an enlightening experience. The discipline of moving the body according to rules laid down by our artistic ancestors (for ballet dancers it is the French Court of the 1700s and for folk dancers it is the national identity of ancientethnic traditions, opens up a portal not just in the body but the soul, for a wider aperture of spiritual and secular vision.