Another ballet book?
Not exactly. A Companion, a book to accompany you when you go to see ballet or when you want to know something, find a name, a date, a work; it is a book to read and a book to consult, not on everything in ballet, not a complete book, not even a complete history. A book with essays that revisit aspects of this beloved and detested art form, a book that is needed as much as ballet is needed. Yes, “needed”, as we need our bodies. Ballet shows us what the trained human body can do to make flesh become art. Ballet, the art of the body, puts our physical presence into form, into fantasy and into a deeper reality. “Needed” because in the nineteenth century ballet became a uniquely feminine enterprise, and to an extent it has retained this aspect in the twenty-first century. The great ballerina floats before us, telling us something about ourselves, our genders, our fears, hopes and, above all, prejudices. The artificiality and conventions of ballet protect our nervous sensibilities but also indirectly assault them.
Ballet is part of our history and our heritage and if we deny our past we will not comprehend the present nor grasp the future. Either in life or in dance. Ballet has a history, which reflects and refracts the social order in which it arises. A courtly society demands an art form in which the king can dance and his court revolve around him. A revolutionary society proclaims its ideals in dance; a conservative one does the same. Ballet, adored and reviled often for similar reasons, belongs to our contemporary cultural landscape as much as any other performance art. Ballet tells us about ourselves and the world we inhabit; it holds up a mirror and projects wishes and desires; it expresses our ideals and mocks our vanities; it demolishes certainties and tests limits; it creates values and sets standards; it invents the past as much as the future.