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The Dying Swan of the Brandywine, Esmiana Jani


Every fall, hundreds of eager parents in the Brandywine enroll their young children in ballets schools hoping that their child will fall in love with this art form and succeed in the world of classical ballet.

For one student, that success happened, and the Brandywine region takes credit for grooming and nurturing a new classical ballerina. Ms. Esmiana Jani has appeared in the Nation’s capital and on the international ballet stage.

The decision to enter the world of classical ballet as a professional career is a soul-searching choice. The process is similar to those who wish to attend medical school. The years of training and commitment means your life will never be the same. However, in exchange, you get to spend your life doing what you enjoy. Rather than pursuing medicine and “doing daily rounds” as an attending physician at an acute care hospital, Jani signed with the internationally recognized the Washington Ballet Company in Washington, D.C., and is dancing with joy and exuberance on many stages including the Kennedy Center.

Recently Jani returned to our area to perform The Dying Swan by the French composer Camille Saint Saens. It is one of ballet’s most challenging roles.

The curtain rises and a hush hovers over the audience as the cello begins the ballet. A slow and gentle melodic message sets the emotional tone. The piano joins the cello with tender utterances as if to confirm the fate of the swan. Together, the cello and the piano gently offer the mood to accompany the ballerina in one of classical ballet’s most demanding solo roles. The musical message is beautiful, but one of heart-breaking melancholy, resignation, and sadness.

To dance The Dying Swan, one must flawlessly weave together her many years of technical training and artistic insight using a singular focus. For the dancer, not only is it a visual and a visceral moment, but also a quintessentially ethereal moment. The first step is to intentionally move into a beautiful esthetic Heaven. Through her flowing movements and delicate motion she must not only transcend her own personality but also life itself. She must transform herself from a ballerina on stage to a beautiful swan facing her own mortality.

Jani is about to perform what many in classical ballet consider the most challenging and sought-after role. For so many dancers in the world of classical ballet the opportunity to perform The Dying Swan is to experience one of the Holy Grails of ballet repertoire.

As the audience responds to the music, Jani slowly and gently enters from stage left, displaying effortless elegance. With the aristocratic softness of a lone swan abandoned by life, she slowly moves from the wings of the stage with toe shoes gently, undulating and arms moving with the fluid flexibility of a swan.

From her first movement she establishes her role as a doomed swan who shares with us both her unspoken innocence and her generosity of soul. There is simply no way for any member of the audience to avoid being emotionally involved in her character’s story.

Jani projected a radiance and weightlessness in her movement. Her lines were long and exquisite, gestures fluid and delicately poised. Her stage manner was authoritative, yet gracious. Indeed, she brings an incandescent glow and an exquisite physique to this performance. At times, due to her feathery style of movement, it seemed she was gliding or floating in the air. With unspoken confidence, she offers herself to the audience with a trust that is moving as it is irresistible.

The audience is riveted in breathless silence as she communicates this tragic message with all the spiritual angst and despair that flows from her many years of training in the Russian tradition.

We now have a new dancer who is not only schooled in the finest traditions of the Bolshoi Ballet, but can intuitively connect with her audience. Such ballet dancers are rare.

After the performance Jani answered questions, offered insights into her life as a ballerina, and shared her ideas about the world of classical ballet.

“I was born in Albania and did my first recital at age 4,”said Jani. “I continued with ballet lessons at age five in Greece. Three years later my family moved to the Brandywine region. My path to the professional ballet stage took many years. I began dancing with the Academy of International Ballet (AIB) and Performing Arts in 2001 in Media, Pa. at age 8 and I have studied ballet in the traditions of the Bolshoi for the past 10 years there under Anastasia Babayeva and Denis Gronostayskiy, both graduates of the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow. At 14 I became a member of International Ballet Classique, AIB’s pre-professional training company where I continuously performed throughout our region before beginning my professional career in our Nation’s capital.”

When I asked if ballet is an insular art form, Jani said, “Ballet should be shared. It is no longer a luxury article, but a universal possession of mankind. Over the past 10 years I have been taught in the Vaganova ballet method which is used at the Bolshoi.” So, is ballet insular? No! Is it beautiful? Yes. It is ravishingly beautiful.”

Jani continues, “These traditions and techniques I learned as a student are priceless. You see, tradition is the beautiful thing that one cannot write down on a piece of paper. One cannot learn, capture, or do ballet from a book only from a teacher. The teacher molds the student the way Michelangelo makes a perfect statue come to life. It is my sense that Russian Ballet is unique because it brings a certain tenderness lacking in other ballet traditions. Indeed, I would argue that the Bolshoi traditions and techniques are not only the past they are our future if the fragile art of classical ballet is to continue.”

When asked if she was happy in the world of ballet, Jani said, “Many people ask me if I am happy as a professional ballerina. I want you to know that my answer is sincere and truthful. You see ballet is a poem of which each movement is a word. Living this poem allows me a life of fulfillment. In the United States, I believe, most people would choose a different career if they could start over again. The desire for fulfilling work that provides a deep sense of purpose that reflects my values, passions, and personality for me is found in ballet. It allows me to dream and pursue meaning in my life. All human beings engage in exploring their sense of self. There are many paths to the journey to finding oneself. The options are many and too often the paths chosen are injurious to the person or society. Training and performing in classical ballet, I think, is the most civilized path.”

For a ballet dancer, it is much more than a question of loving what they do. “Please remember, if you ask a ballet dancer if they love ballet the answer is that the word love is inadequate to express their relationship to ballet. It is a love and something more. Ballet lovingly devours a dancer,” Jani said.

“You asked if fear is ever part of a performance. No. Fear only happens during rehearsals where there is always access to the mirror to criticize and correct your movement. But onstage during a performance there is no mirror and there is no time for fear. You simply surrender to the art.”

She adds that for her the definition of ballet “is the lifetime worship of perfection.”

But ballet does have its fun side; Jani said with much bubbling laughter, “As a ballet dancer we feel ourselves to be no longer weighed down by earthly things. We imaginatively participate in an ecstatic repudiation of the force of gravity. Few people get the opportunity to defy the law of gravity and enjoy it. Yet somehow your word ‘fun’ does not describe for me the feeling of performing ballet. I prefer the word bliss.”

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