the dance well

Falling into dance with the touch

The Dance Well is where I post articles on dance now--What is happening here, there, and everywhere. Dance performances, dancers and dance science. Stay tuned for some new articles sooon!!

Old dancers don't die; And they don't fade away!

 San Francisco Ballet's Tina LeBlanc, and her Farewell Performance, May 9th 2009

A Performance of three duets: Tchaikovsky pas de deux, by Balanchine, Funny Valentine by Lar Lubovitch, and Adagio from Sonata by Helgi Tomassen. Last was Blanchine’s Theme and Variations, rousing finale for Pas de Deux and Corps de Ballet with music by Tchaikovsky.

We were part of a ceremony that night, to mark the final performance of SFB’s principal dancer Tina LeBlanc. She was poised on the peak of her 27 year career, 17 with SFB. She still could play the part of the sylph in her white unitard with sparkles. But her remarkably trained physique also bore the curves of childbearing, of life as a wife and mother. It was these curves that made each shape, filling the phrase and combined with a lush musicality allowing her to languish, playing “within” the music.  “I always felt the music was coming out of me.” Her own words rang true tonight, as she seemed to be the music and the orchestra was merely playing along with her. There were no edges, or seams. She enveloped us in her enchanted moment.

In between duets the curtain came down with a screen and we watched a video documentary of her career. We saw her first ballet school, a converted horse stable, in her hometown of Pennsylvania. From here she graduated and went on to dance with the Joffrey Ballet for 10 years.  We went back with her to the first time she performed Balanchine’s Sonata, complete with the notoriously difficult pointe work. She spoke in depth of Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, with its off kilter lifts and balances. The choreography was perilous and seemingly unrepeatable “It meant so much to us, that all three of us “Ballerina Mommies” did this piece together. It was so hard. No one thought we could. But we did.” The clip showed the three principals backstage in their saucer-like primary colored tutus, with their toddlers nestled beneath Dr Seuss-like umbrellas.

Then they danced a lovely duet: Adagio from Sonata, by Helgi Tomassen. We were thrust into a present freshly fired by visions of her past. It seemed she was dancing her whole life for us. Again. As the evening wore on, you could see her leaning a little in the pirouettes as he spun her three, four or more times. She was like a single tulip in a vase leaning over. His hands rather than propping her upright, let her torso curve, almost swoon. In the finale, an elaborate bells and whistles crescendo of Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, you could see her struggle a little to get over the top of her pointe. I know she was tired, but I thought maybe she was holding onto the music, taking it with her, slow-tipping to the pointe to make it last a little longer.

I admired her bravery, her willingness to dance toward risk. These were hard pieces. She had to know her days of “simply” dancing them were over, and she would have to struggle for the technique. But she shined with something more than perfection. What came out was her passion, even love. She loved these pieces and she wanted to dance them one last time. Here was the rare gift of a dancer courageous enough to stand balanced, poised, but slightly leaning toward the shadows. She was not falling. Her body was yielding. She gave us a soothing, lulled beauty, as she edged away. Her arabesque extended past her own limbs, transporting her and us into another place.

There was no mention of her recent knee injury and the painfully long rehabilitation. But sometimes injury can bestow a lingering gift. Rehabilitation makes you remember what you were. And if you can live through this you earn something like your body back again. At a certain age, recovery is not “just as it was before.” You have to search for something else. You have to dig and cultivate other quality. I read in her dancing a rounded out attention, a decision to use her body as a cradle for the positions. They lived within her and they seemed to spill out of her, cascading spreading wide. She did not have to make them, she had become them. And then she danced them.

We saw her body at its extreme. Not what we think of as “extreme:” the showy, killer-on the-edge-of-death-place. This is the dancer extreme, what I remember as the place beyond physical exertion. This is where there is nothing left, and the bones give way to history. Your history, what you sense, what you feel when you are dancing. What you carry within comes out of your skin. Your muscles yield a song that is yours alone. That you make out of thin air at that moment. You risk, and reach for what is beyond you. And if you’re lucky, you become something else, and your sensation carries to the audience. She became the dance as she spread herself and surrounded us. Perhaps in her almost thirty year career this was the most breathtaking moment her body and soul had yet made.

As she took her bows, the men knelt one by one at her feet. It was stage chivalry but there was more. She was really a woman they admired and loved through each performance. They had their time on stage, and it meant something special to each of them. This was what she called her “ballet family.” They adored her in their own way. One was overt in his lavishly sweeping arm and his desperate plunge to his knee kissing her hand. Another, the gallant young Parisian, who in the video said with a toothy grin that when Tina found out she was to be partnered with him and how very young he was, she said,  “Oh no, I don’t think I can do that.” But she did. He wistfully, for one so young, acknowledged how much he had learned from her. The men all spoke of how she made a world for them. How she led them. Almost as if they had no choice. As if they were compelled to meet her, together, dancing. For them it was not just bright techniques bouncing off each other. It was a wider tide they were rocking within.

In a very honest clip she said, “I suppose there are times when I feel guilty. When I know I shortchanged my boys. When I know they wanted to go to the park. I was just so tired; I said let’s just stay home. But then I think, I have this passion. The dance. I think I am a better person for them because I followed it.” 

That may be true, but I think she is a better person for herself and for us. Because she followed the passion she was born to build and become. People who watch the dance find it easiest to see the physical commitment, what it takes to perform. What you have to punish to reveal.  What you have to discipline to lighten. But for Tina there was also her “physical family” and she shared this great gift with us: the body of an artist and a mother. Neither of which can really be held, but magically she made it visible, real, yet fleeting, like her dancing.

Then, I wasn’t ready. The curtain came down. The performance was over. The stage was filled with dancers, family, teachers, and musicians.  There Tina stood, seemingly without longing for the past, or desires for the future. No ideas about what was owed her. No compensation for what she gave, for what she gave up. I watched her letting go of all the shapes that make a dancer’s life. She bowed and mouthed, "I will miss you.” Inside the delicate caverns of her torso perhaps another form announced itself. But only she could know.

return to main page here: 

Postscript to this piece:

Tina Le Blanc is now a teacher at the San Francisco Ballet School. Read her thoughts on integrating her unique talents and passing them on to the next generation. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

we love comments--leave them here--with your name (no url needed)