Beryl Grey and Gillian Lynne acknowledge that today's performers are technically impressive, but it's a trend they don't care for. Grey feels that contemporary ballet is too much like "a circus" and both she and Lynne argue that gains in physical expertise are being made at the expense of emotional depth and dramatic expression: ballet as empty acrobatics, ballet as extreme physical sport.
Mackrell goes on to suggest that the two Grande Dames of ballet are following the ‘natural order’ of one generation criticising the work of the generation that follows. Maybe this is true, but I know that for many years I’ve felt the same. So much contemporary dance and ballet leaves me cold. As far as contemporary dance goes, it’s often the fault of the choreography, but in relation classical ballet, I’d still rather watch Margot Fonteyn, even on film, than Sylvie Guillem – for all Guillem’s beauty and astounding technical brilliance. Although perfection pleases my mind, it becomes tiring to the eye, and the heart. Is it that musicality and theatricality, maybe even subtlety of dynamic, become eclipsed by the acrobatic? I don’t know. But there's no going back, and I wonder how much further the technique can be pushed before ballet really does resemble a circus, and what cold wonders the dancers and choreographers of tomorrow will produce?
Despite being an advocate for excellent teaching, and life-long training in all the arts, perfection unsettles me. I was working in Japan some years ago and was taken to see a puppet performance by a Master Puppeteer. I understand how many years it takes to create such a Master, how revered he is, and how children and adults in training spend hours every day over each tiny action – a training that’s repetitive, rigorous and impressive beyond anything we know in the West. So I expected great things. It was truly amazing – like magic – but within a short time I felt so oppressed I couldn’t wait to get out of the theatre. By the end, some hours later, it had done my head in! So many many years of effort, resulting in a flawless portrayal of emptiness in the guise of a simple folk tale.
Conversely, one of the loveliest moments I’ve ever experienced, was over twenty years ago, after a rehearsal of Ruckblick, by Amici Dance Theatre. I was gathering my things together to leave, when I caught sight of a young woman with Down’s syndrome dancing with another woman. Her face was open and radiant, her graceful movement embodied joy, and the flow of communication between her and her partner seemed to fill the room. In a second all notions I’d ever had about beauty were turned upside down. She, a woman who the world might see as flawed, was beautiful, enchanting beyond words. It was as if I was really seeing – through the eyes, to the heart – for the first time in my life. I walked out into the sunshine, and sat in the churchyard on Brompton Road, unable to rush through the city for my train home, deeply shaken, and profoundly happy.