If living in the Brandywine region is an intentional lifestyle known for its many cultural experiences, then is it reasonable to pose the esthetic question: does a delicate art form that shares with us such timeless elegance since the time of the French King Louis XIV in Versailles have a place in the many public squares of our communities? The question is intriguing. Why don’t we experience ballet, specifically classical ballet, gently blended into the daily life of people and places in our Hunt Country? The intuitive response is, of course, that such a fragile and beautiful art form belongs solely in the protective world of a theatre and yet that is simply not true.
We tend to think in the traditional mode that classical ballet is an elite art form for a particular audience but in fact it belongs to our common shared humanity. It should be easily experienced and enjoyed by all, especially in what is known as the public square. For example, the business district of Media as a county seat is part of the cultural mosaic of the Brandywine. It enjoys a delightful blend of art galleries, superb theatres, poetry readings, and musicians but so far no ballet. Suddenly their esthetic paradigm shifted.
In the foggy morning hours, classical ballet entered their public square for the first time when dancers from the Academy of International Ballet (AIB) in Media made it happen with effortless excellence. About 10 a.m. tutus and tiaras descended upon the town of Media and it was much like a ballet performance: The town was suddenly transformed from being a sleeping forest to an awakening Sleeping Beauty as toe shoes, for the first time, touched the pavements of their public square. Within minutes the overcast morning was transformed as passersby experienced the visual beauty, precise poses, gorgeous costumes and the artistic flow of ballet dancers in motion on their sidewalks and streets.
With engaging smiles and artistic energy, the dancers began their visit by gathering in front of the Grecian pillars of the County Court House to form intertwining symmetric patterns, and what seemed to be an endless display of classical poses. Extending arms and legs with elegant ease, each dancer asserted their unique personality within the tapestry and the traditions of classical ballet. With unspoken movements they united in each shared pose yet asserted their individuality in their togetherness. With each movement and each classical pose their heads turned, arms were gracefully raised as if responding to the music of wistful chords and their footwork showed a supple exceptional quality of smoothness.
Slowly drivers focused on traffic, busy pedestrians and others came upon the colorful performance. They paused and stopped to view a spontaneous cultural experience unfold around them. Many applauded and took photos. Motorists parked their cars to watch. I marveled at how classically trained ballet dancers could transform the moments of a monotonous morning and quickly engage so many busy strangers who clearly had a desire for a cultural experience and for the art of ballet. What made their visit truly unique was the visual three-dimensionality of the moment. In a theater the audience members are seated and must look straight ahead. In the open air and sidewalks of Media, passersby were offered a multi-dimensional ballet experience. They could walk around the dancers to see the performance from many angles.
Organizing the dancers for the visit was Denis Gronostayskiy and Anastasia Babayeva, artistic directors of the Media based AIB who said, “Classical ballet dancers in colorful costumes visiting commercial areas of large cities such as NYC, London, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen and my previous home town of Moscow is in fact quite common. It just never happened before in my new home, the Brandywine, and it is a pleasure to make the visit and share the experience.” He added, “It is a wonderful experience for the dancers to visit a public square in a business district. It shows the public and it reminds the ballet dancers that ballet is so ephemeral. It is an intentional submission to impermanence, an art form that requires so much from its performers in exchange for a few years of brilliance on the stage. It is the absolute devotion to unparalleled beauty. It requires years of training and absolute self-confidence to be a professional. With today’s visit to a public square, our dancers once again bring passion, drive, allegiance and a belief in ballet as an art form for all and the comforting assurance that the Brandywine is their receptive home. Whether on stage, in the studio or here in the public eye, I want my dancers to sense that after years of training they can open a little emotional door in their soul during a performance and peek into heaven. By bringing them to the streets of the Brandywine, I am also a part of their magic.”
I asked Gronostayskiy how difficult it is to teach and continue the art of classical ballet when popular culture and even modern dance receives more attention. “For the most part modern dance has all of the humanity and warmth of being in an astrophysics class or working on a new algorithm for a hedge fund company. It is uphill work to ensure the appreciation of and survivability of the classical repertoire. The reason is, I believe, we live in a digitally driven culture whose attention span is, many times, as short as the viewers of Sesame Street. Classical ballet, on the other hand, is not digital. It is part of being human. It is focused on an aspect of reality all human beings can relate to and that is human relationships with all of its emotional volatility, spontaneity, fascination and self-discovery. Classical ballet is culture and culture is work, not just passive consumption,” said Gronostayskiy.
Watching the art form unfold for the public as dancers perform for and respond to their spontaneous audience was a unique cultural experience for all. I now understand how fortunate we are to be in the Brandywine region where art can flourish and where we can reconnect ourselves to our humanity.
A well-known volunteer presence in the Delaware County arts community, Bill Conville is heavily involved with the Delaware County Symphony and contributes extensively to The Academy of International Ballet and International Ballet Classique.