“Plié, chassé, jeté all day.” That is what is written on a lot of ballet clothing and accessories and I’m certain is the mantra for most if not all ballet dancers. Plié-Bent or bending. A bending of the knee or knees. Chassé- Chased. A step in which one foot literally chases the other out of its positon. Jeté-Thrown. A jump from one leg to the other in which the working leg is brushed into the air and appears to be thrown. I’ve taken these definitions from my copy of “Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet” by Gail Grant. That’s right. My copy. I love ballet and if my life had gone in a different direction, I would have been a dancer. Instead I am a balletomane-a ballet enthusiast but I am more than that. I also volunteer at the Pacific Northwest Ballet here in Seattle. And wow are we lucky to have that company of great dancers here. Our company is on the list of the top ten ballet companies in the world. On that same list is the New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and the Dance Theater of Harlem. We are in some pretty august company.
My interest in ballet goes way back. I first became aware of it in my early twenties. I was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Houston Ballet came to town. If I recall correctly, they were performing Swan Lake. After the performance, I signed up for a ballet class taught by the MDT (Minnesota Dance Theater). I lasted three days. By the end of the third day, every joint and muscle from my belly button to my toes hurt and we hadn’t even made it to the barre exercises. We were still doing floor work. My neighbor still laughs when she recalls seeing me walk from my car to my house after class. Ouch!
Dancers are incredible athletes. In fact, Albert Einstein said, “Dancers are the athletes of god.” Being a ballet dancer is not just physical as any of them will tell you. It’s mental also. Here are just a few words that come to my mind when I think of participants in this amazing and regal art form. Discipline, focus, musicality, commitment, artistry, excellence, physicality, passion, endurance, balance, forbearance, precision and theatricality. George Balanchine is one of the great dancers and choreographers of all time and he said, “I don’t want dancers who want to dance, I want dancers who have to dance.” A movie that really illustrates that is “Billy Elliot”.
Most people are familiar with “The Nutcracker” and ours is stunning. “Cendrillion” (“Cinderella”) just closed but there are great performances yet to come you shouldn’t miss. Check out their website for the complete list. I’m so lucky. As a volunteer I get to see all of them. Not sure how others feel, but after a performance I carry that experience in to my life for the next several days. I even find that I walk differently. I’m more aware of my posture and my surroundings. In short, life just seems more..beautiful. But I’ve also found that I can’t wait between shows for the next performance so daily I watch ballet Youtube. Gosh, am I a balletomane or what? Plus, if there are any ballet competitions nearby such as in Bellevue in January, I’ll try and attend those. Recently, I visited San Francisco for the ballet “Coppelia”. I was surprised and pleased to see that our sets and costumes were used in their production. Our company has performed around the world and is headed back to Europe soon.
We’re only mid-way through this ballet season. Don’t worry that you don’t understand the difference between a jeté and a plié. The experience isn’t about your brain. It’s about your soul.
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