"When Margot Fonteyn was on stage, you couldn't tear your eyes away from her. That can't be taught."
All you young balletomanes out there will recognise the above quote from the film 'Center Stage', which I have admittedly watched far too many times for my own good. Along with the video of Fonteyn performing the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty which I've posted below, it serves well as a precursor to the point I will make in this post, which is that YouTube has helped to create an obsession with technical perfection, while de-emphasising the importance of artistry in ballet.
There are many technically brilliant dancers in the world right now. It doesn't take long to find YouTube videos of unbelievable extensions and 10-in-a-row perfect pirouettes. My personal favourite is a video of Royal Ballet star Alina Cojocaru holding the attitude balance from Aurora's Rose Adagio for eons. It's absolutely mind-blowing. Fonteyn's same balances pale in comparison to Cojocaru's.
At this point, if you haven't watched the video below, please do so. Fonteyn doesn't have insanely flexible feet; they're rather average, in fact. Her arabesque doesn't even hit a clean 90 degree angle to her supporting leg. Her penché is nowhere near 180 degrees, and these days, 180 seems to be the bare minimum for a penché. Notice, then, her brilliant smile that genuinely captures the youthful innocence and joy of a 16 year old Aurora. Watch the energy that her arms possess with every single movement. See the vigour and certainty with which she ends each of her pirouettes. On top of all this, her wrists are never too fluffy and her head movements are never cheesily over-exaggerated. Fonteyn is truly a breathtaking performer.
The performance is what ballet is all about. Yes, we practise our technique relentlessly each day in class, but as dancers, we are ultimately actors and storytellers. Even when performing works like Balanchine's plotless ballets, we are expressing emotion, and we show our audience what ballet dancing really means to us. That's what makes a performance captivating, and special.
Back to the subject of YouTube: I'm sure younger readers know what "trollin'" is. 'Trolls' are the losers who have nothing better to do than publish disparaging comments about other users' YouTube videos. Well, in case you don't already know, dancers are the most heartless, soulless trolls ever!! Here are a couple of comments from videos I have recently watched:
"there is an ideal body type for dance. Thin, lean, delicate limbs, flat chested. It makes it easier for the male to lift and carry you. No one wants to lift an elephant."
"make sure you're getting over your box when you echappe. "
"bad!!! shit so bad!!!!!"
That last one was awesome, right? Anyway, for some reason dancers the world over love to post videos of themselves practising, but they really adore criticising each other. This massive, hardcore, anonymous, collective critique session has resulted in only the most virtuosic videos being deemed acceptable. If Margot Fonteyn was a young girl who had uploaded this video of herself from, say, a recital at her dance school, she probably would have been relentlessly cyber-bullied by dancer trolls until she decided to quit ballet altogether. This would be a travesty in my books.
If virtuosity is all that is appreciated about ballet, then why would anyone attend a performance when they can watch a perfect pirouette or developpé in a 30-second clip online? I will not go as far as hypothesising that YouTube is at the root of falling ballet ticket sales, but perhaps the ballet world's obsession with virtuosity is why ballet is no longer appealing to outsiders. Perfection is not something anyone in an audience can relate to. Constantly worrying about technical perfection detracts from the humanity of a performance. And though we may be dancers, we are also human.