In Pursuit of Perfection

Ashley Bouder, Principal dancer of New York City Ballet, is known for her dynamic and daring performances; yes, she sometimes falls, but she’s happy to accept those as a by-product of taking risks. She said in a recent interview that ballet isn’t about achieving perfection and that the excitement of live theatre lies in the fact that things may go wrong, which is acceptable if a dancer is going all out: I’m inclined to agree with Ms. Bouder.

The training of classical ballet technique is the pursuit of perfection; always reaching for the ideal – pushing for a little more turn-out, a higher extension, that extra pirouette. We all know the reason the discipline has lasted so long is because once perfection is neared it moves that bit further away, which is why dancers and teachers return day after day to the studio in the hope that they might be the one that gets there. A simple extrapolation of this idea is that of the perfect performance.

Pristine execution is what dancers strive for. Companies like L’Opera National de Paris are known for this; and it is their most common criticism. To make something too perfect, removing its every flaw, is to eradicate its human-ness. A dancer doing 5 pirouettes, with aplomb, is a thing of distant beauty; a dancer going for 5 pirouettes, veering slightly off-balance and pulling it back to finish triumphantly, is exciting and engaging. So many times teachers tell dancers that ballet is about concealing the effort, but an audience can’t be expected to appreciate something which looks like its being tossed out with nonchalant ease.

When you are drawn to a performer, it is because you see their intention; you sense their intense commitment to the moment and you become party to their efforts. When you are involved like this, you root for the dancer – if they fall because they get carried away in the moment, you love them even more. Those dancers that are known for their charisma are never the ones that are concerned with perfection.

It is easy to become blinkered trying to get to that unreachable goal, but if you don’t give yourself wholeheartedly to the journey, it’s all in vain. So, Ms. Bouder, if you’re reading this, long may you give yourself to the moment – you may not stay upright, but you’ll still have our hearts.

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