Sunday, May 11, 2008

Classical Ballet and Dads: Are they dead?

Today our family went to Prokofiev's Cinderella. I am fearlessly going to accept the branding as philistine here, because the ballet was a two hour production that can best be described as 'insipid' or, accurately, 'soulless'. But where does the fault lie for this? The sets where creatively designed (à la Nutcracker and Little Red Riding Hood), the costumes were near-perfect in conveying the ethereal beauty of the fairy god-mother and the earthy beauty of Cinderella, the acting suffered slightly from heavy-handedness in the stereotypical (supporting) parts, but otherwise shined for the principles. The technicality of the dancers was a delight to behold (albeit the ensemble pieces were ever-so-slightly discombobulated, making me wish to shout out the tempo ... I didn't). It wasn't, as far as I can tell, the artistic director, Septime Webre, either, for he has an intimate connection with the audience, with children, and has a lively way of educating and exciting people to the forms of ballet.

No, my assessment is the problem transcends all of these issues, and points out the show-stopper: classical ballet, as a narrative form, is dead -- its very essence is outmoded -- it talks to a different age using moribund means. I argue that there is no longer a connect between the modern audience and the classical narrative form of ballet -- it screams its message (which reduce to simply advancing the plot) but the dancers, restricted by this form, are struck dumb and so can only pantomime their message to an indifferent audience.

A case in point was today's performance -- the performers mouthed words of rage or signs of love or hate, but not one sound issued from their mouths. It was if Septime seemed to know that the classical form could not communicate, in itself, the emotion or the situation adequately, so he required the performers to mouth clear and obvious words to help the audience over a tricky or inexplicable point in the ballet. This happened with alarming regularity throughout the ballet.

I argue that classical ballet is dead. Prove me wrong: argue the timeless, or timely, things that classical ballet gives us, and argue how the form of classical ballet is the medium that transmits that essence to the audience. And when I say 'transmit' I mean in a way that engages the senses and the mind and the imagination of the participants. In today's audience, the man snoring to my left, and the lady sharing chips with her daughter to my right, are strong evidence to the contrary of any lofty ideals you put forward. But, please, bring the fight to my doorstep.

On the same note.

On our way to the parking garage to the theatre, our family shared the elevator with four other families. There was only one man in the elevator. That would be myself. So, I made the joke "there seems to be only one person with a Y-chromosome here", which nobody, excepting myself, found funny. It was funny. But it wasn't. This is Saturday. Where are the Dads? Okay, so I just argued that classical ballet is dead, so going to such a production is a complete waste of time, yes?


Dads, by your not going, you have given your daughters a message: "This is what male persons are" and "I have more important things to do [work, drinking, watching baseball, video games, gambling, pick your hobby] than to spend two hours of a Saturday afternoon with you." Note I did not say "men", because "men" implies "responsibility" and "spine", I said "male person". Your example is poisonous, because your lack of care for your daughters is what your daughters will grow to expect in their view of the male person. This will inform their choices in how they behave toward other people and how they will expect other people to behave toward them. This is how they will eventually choose their lifetime partner, and so this example perpetuates.

This country has suffered too many decades of men ceding their manhood onto the altar of indifference or cowardliness. And women, God bless them, have stood in the gap and picked up the slack. I'm sure those Moms would've preferred to be reading, or having a conversation with friends or being themselves by themselves, just as you chose to do, Dads, for those two hours, but they were there with their daughters, as they always will be, because they must.

Fortunately, these last few years have seen a reclamation -- men are reasserting their manliness -- which includes everything a pater familias must be: the provider, the protector, the example, the shield, the sword, and the comforter. A man is both steel and velvet. So, I cannot abide the thought that we are backsliding into limpidness again so quickly. This is not about you or me. You cannot be an example if you are not present. Your wives need you, your daughters need you, and your sons need you. Men, stand up, be counted, and be there.

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