The original Italian word “ballerina” just means “female dancer,” but it has become encrusted with layers of mysticism — primarily through the idolization accorded in Russia to ballet’s divas since the 19th century. But to be American is to be ornery, direct, unaffected. Is it possible to be American and this exotic dance vision of transcendence? Can a ballerina represent local or national characteristics in her dancing?
The questions pile up. Does the 21st century even need ballerinas? America is one of many Western societies where women fight for equality in the workplace and can no longer expect men to stand when they enter a room; same-sex marriages are now institutionalized. Ballet had a beginning; it may have an end. In particular, the practice of dancing on point may one day seem as bizarre as the bygone Chinese practicing of binding women’s feet. Do we still need an art form whose stage worlds are almost solely heterosexual and whose principal women are shown not as workers but as divinities?
I ask these questions; I don’t rush to answer them. The future of the form is to be determined not by critics but by choreographers, artistic directors and, not least, by dancers, working together. The answers they are currently providing show us a complex situation for ballet and its women.
From the must-read article All-American Goddesses: U.S. Ballerinas Redefine an Art, but What About History? by Alastair Macaulay in The New York Times. Important food for thought as the art form evolves.