first position

vanity fair 3 / ARTHUR ELGORT
Arthur Elgort for Vanity Fair September 2006

On Sunday, I caught the matinee performance of “Don Quixote” by the Mariinsky Ballet (formerly called the Kirov) from St Petersburg, and I’m still feeling exhilarated by the experience. I enjoy watching ballet, especially classical ballet, for the sheer theatrical grandeur (costumes! sets!) and of course, for the grace and rigor of ballet itself. But watching it for the first time in a long time on Sunday reminded me that I had forgotten the sheer athleticism of ballet.

Like many middle-class Asian kids, my parents signed me up for all kinds of classes to “enrich” me as a child – violin, art, and ballet. I like violin and art enough but lacked the discipline to make up for a lack of aptitude, so it was ballet I stuck to for seven years, graceless as I was. I certainly wasn’t any good, but I liked the challenge of having to blend grace and beauty with power and strength. I was a sporty kid but ballet taught me discipline and precision. It taught me to face a crowd and perform without being crippled by shyness, it was an excellent foundation for the various sports I later participated in. The class was entirely populated by girls, and it was there I learnt how to navigate the treacherous waters of female friendship – how to make friends, how to deal with enemies, understanding the rules of clique-dom and facing off bitchery – essential skills for adolescence. Quite an educational seven years.

“Don Quixote” brought back fond memories, even as it provided me with some of the best three hours I’ve ever spent with anything. The costumes were gorgeous, the sets were lavish, the choreography a classic repertoire one never tires of, the orchestra a perfect partner. And the dancers themselves were pure joy to watch - not perfect but there were enough breathtaking moments to carry the whole performance through.

I thought of the elegant layers ballerinas don in practice today – the muted palette, the soft silhouettes, the comfortable materials. I paid tribute in the tiniest of ways, wearing a blush pink top the exact hue of the ballet slippers I donned as child – a little detail only I know.

Here's a few more images from the lovely Arthur Elgort shoot of the Vaganova Ballet in St Petersburg for Vanity Fair. I still have this issue, and will try and snap some good pictures of the whole feature.

vanity fair 2 / ARTHUR ELGORT
vanity fair 1 / ARTHUR ELGORT

And I found a terrific Flickr set in the course of looking for pictures for this post, check it out here.
EDIT: Here are more pictures, as mentioned -

Imagen 6

Pictures from here and here


Anonymous said…
I love ballet and have my five-year-old daughter signed up for it. I'm glad to hear that your experience taking ballet as a child helped you in so many other areas as that is my hope and the reason why I spend the time and money on her ballet classes. I never took ballet but was introduced to it through a friend who took it all the way through high school. I went to many ballet performances with her and then stopped going for many years.

I started going to performances again after I had my two children (and after getting my daughter into classes) and I had forgotten how enjoyable it is! The first show that brought me "back" to it was Onegin, and I left that performances so thoroughly overjoyed, feeling as through my soul had been soothed by the art of it.

I think that in today's modern society, unfortunately, ballet is an art form that isn't fully appreciated as it once was. But it really is a perfect combination of art, dance/movement, athletics and music that really does feed ones soul.

I'm planning to attend a performance of Romeo and Juliet that my local ballet theatre (Toronto) is putting on this fall and I will take my daughter with me. I hope to foster a love of ballet, art and dance in her that she will hopefully carry with her through life.

Sorry about the long post! You touched on a topic that I am very passionate about!

Catherine said…
that's great you enjoyed the ballet! i'd love to go to see one. i wish my parents pushed me to do ballet when i was younger. i think it's one of the things i regret the most for not doing..
Joy said…
I really love what ballerinas wear to practice. Not just because of the popularity of Black Swan or anything, it's just that they are soft pretty pastel neutrals in stretchy comfortable fabrics. You can't go wrong with that IMO! I've always wanted to learn ballet but my asian parents actually didn't want me to (I ended up learning horseback riding, swimming and tennis instead.) I love how overeager all Asian parents are but I actually love and appreciate them in the end for all their effort. Stranger tiger cub I am (or we all are).
lin said…
Helen: Don't apologise for long comments, I always enjoy hearing the stories of others. I think ballet was definitely a good experience for me, especially since I took it without the expectations of it becoming a serious pursuit. I liked it so much my younger sister begged to be allowed to take lessons.

I'm looking forward to catching more productions myself, and I hope you and your daughter have a good times when you bring her to watch ballets! The first ballet I watched was a rather amateurish production of The Nutcracker Prince, but I loved it all the same. My mother often rented videos of ballets for me to watch too.

Catherine: There's always classes for adults! I've heard of people taking them and it seems like a pretty interesting experience!

Joy: Horseback riding and tennis doesn't sound like too shabby a deal :) I;ve always wanted to take proper lessons and am trying to find an instructor and some friends to take it with actually.

As a child I wasn't keen on spending my free time practising but on hindsight I feel pretty privileged and I think I came out better for it!
miss sophie said…
it must have been so exciting and inspiring to watch that performance after your own experiences in your childhood! i wish i had participated in something similar when i was younger; i'm still rather baffled by various forms of social bitchery, ha!
lin said…
miss sophie: Ballet plus 10 years in an all-girls school taught me well!
Lindsay K said…
The Mariinsky Ballet is fantastic. I'm glad you had a great time. Thank you for posting this. I just saw ABT's “Don Quixote” not too long ago- so good. I'm always up for a trip to the ballet. I kept that issue of Vanity Fair, because it was so beautiful and inspirational.

I'm glad you enjoyed dance. Dance and gymnastics are two things that defined my childhood and I'm so thankful to have had that. It teaches you so much about honing your craft, grace, agility, and girl drama. I always find that other dancers have a self discipline unlike others. If you can navigate that world you are ready to take on mean girls anywhere.

When it comes to style-I love greys, blush hues, a neckline that exposes collarbones, a high bun... and I can't think that it comes from years and years of that being my uniform:)
son said…
i love going to the ballet. dance in general moves me like very little else does. i think its is quite underappreciated because you have to have tried it to realise just how hard it is - the physical strength needed, and then the grace to make it look effortless and fluid.

interesting point about bitchy girls - i went to a co-ed school and sometimes wondered if it was better on the other side. apparently not! sadly the phenomenon doesnt seem to diminish with age either.
Lapin de Lune said…
Beautiful images.
I missed out on so many of the 'standard' early feminine pursuits thanks to having been a rather determined tomboy (which my parents oddly encouraged!) - I preferred to ride horses like a cowboy, or build makeshift huts out of hay bales and canvas, or shimmy my way up trees;) But as I grew older, I realised what I had missed out on, and even took up ballet for fun in my mid twenties.
The violin was always something of a romantic concept, to me. My musical talent never progressed beyond early piano lessons and learning Beethoven's 5th on tinny high school casio's, haha!

And all girl schools: another curiously romantic yet terrifying concept to me, having never attended one myself. I instantly imagined "Picnic at Hanging Rock', but I dare say this image is a far cry from the realm thing.
lin said…
Lindsay K: Now that you've mentioned it, I do see echoes of dance behind your style :)

son: I agree that having tried dance made me realise the work behind looking effortless.

And yes, some women never leave behind their unkind, adolescent selves :)

lapin de lune: I think taking ballet lessons made me realise that even though it has a "feminine" image, and my mum certainly made me take it for force a little grace and elegance into onto my clumsy, undignified self, there's a lot of athleticism involved. Dance made me a better athlete, and ironically, a better tomboy, haha.

How did you find the lessons?

And life in a girls' school - not that romantic, haha. But I sometimes think it's good to spend your formative years in an all-female environment - you form a strong sense of identity without feeling defined by your gender. Not that that's impossible in a co-ed school...
Anonymous said…
Ten years in a convent school and I am still not an expert in female friendships.

This Nov, we are having a XX year reunion!
lin said…
justeileen: That should be interesting. I spent 10 years in a convent sch as well (CHIJ) :)

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