It Was Good — Two
"Beauty Transfigured" / "The Work of Our Hands"
Chapter No. 2 & 7
Beauty is one of my favourite words -- it has been for quite some time. Why is this so? Well, because it is pleasing to me, not just by definition but by context, by association, by the way in which the word ( and it's tenses ) wonderfully pours out of one's mouth. Beautiful: stop and say it to yourself. For me, the word 'beautiful' has a type of rhythm to it in which you can't help but recognize is beautiful in and of itself. Beauty is also fascinating because everyone has a different definition of this rather simple yet complex simple word. And that last notion ( complexity in simplicity ) is another reason why I am drawn to it. Although many argue that beauty is associated only with what meets the eye, my experience & definition of beauty is much more in depth. That's why, although I love the word, I am cautious to say it often ... but when I do it's because I truly mean it.
Just like the word 'good' from our previous chapter, 'beauty' can mean a multitude of things. It can be used to describe a standard, a sexual preference, the result of something in it's truest form, a rose, the colour white, a glass of water glistening in the sun, wrinkled hands, a piece of art, the human body. Our immediate response to the word tends to be that of an association with a certain "standard", but beauty should ( and bears more weight ) when used as the response to something that is already truthful & good: " The paradox then, is that once we find something that is 'beautiful' it is hard to not then compare other aspects of our lives to what we have associated beauty with. And as artists, we are called to reflect God's truth through beauty: "to seek and pursue redemptive beauty is therefore not merely a luxury pastime but a call to artists to become agents of restoration and reconciliation" ( pg. 49 ).
I am absolutely entranced with ballet. And where I could spend hours upon hours talking about why I find it intriguing, or how Black Swan is my ultimate favourite movie ( if you haven't seen it I highly recommend you do so right this second ), or how the score to each of Tchaikovsky's three ballet's take me to another metaphysical world, I will spare you the lengthly novel. Instead, I want to pose the question of "is ballet beautiful"? It's been a question I have been processing though for quite some time, and has recently resurfaced due to the fact that Swan Lake is coming to Portland in February (!!!). I find great beauty in ballet because 1) the level of mastery that goes into perfecting every single detail, 2) the fact that music, performance, costume, technique, and venue all play important parts into making a ballet come to life, and 3) ballet represents how there is indeed beauty found in pain.
For me, ballet is a metaphor to how I view beauty in my day to day. First, I am immediately taken by the aesthetics of ballet, but when you dive in deeper you see all the blood ( yes, blood ) sweat, and tears that goes into each and every move, making it all the more beautiful. I am a huge believer in perfomance -- I find rawness to be extremely intriguing as well, but when you are transported out of that rawness, to another level of human capacity, that's what I find to be most beautiful. Where some may view ballet as hiding pain, I see it more as a product by which pain has pushed to become potential. It's an end result of pain, and it's beautiful symbol.
It's no secret that ballet is one of the most physically & emotionally taxing forms of art. Why go thorough all of the pain? Well, I believe there is a spiritual aspect to it. The way the compositions and movement take you to a place of deep emotion, allowing your body to transcend, that is redemptive. My research on this topic of beauty and form lead me to the work of Benjamin Millepied -- non-coincidently the husband of Natalie Portman who stars in Black Swan, as well as the choreographer for the film. He created a series of ballet shorts just over a year ago for the Opéra national de Paris. In ballet, audiences tend to come either for the company as a whole, or for a particular ballet, or to see the new interpretation of an artistic director ... but what I appreciated about the videos below are the fact that they focus on the individual dancer. Each video serves as a mini interview of sorts, with the subject talking about their personal connection with the art form. There are 18 in total ( which I encourage everyone to view ) but I included seven as a preview. I would also love to hear your thoughts on how these videos make you feel about ballet.
Alright, just for fun I thought I'd just touch on Black Swan for just a bit. Back when I was a freshmen I actually wrote a nine page paper on the film, and it's parallels with the life of a traditional ballet dancer. Every single aspect of the film, from the art direction, to the colour palette, to the stressful audio, to the 'shaky cam', to the fact that it was shot in film, all alludes to the psychological nuances one experiences when training in a ballet company. As mentioned before, although the art form is 'beautiful' on the outside, it's immensely hard work, but that makes it even more beautiful in my eyes. The film addresses two issues that our text poses: "in our broken world, beauty can be used as a means for flourishing or as an instrument of oppression" ( pg. 45 ). Black Swan sheds light on how horrifying the life of a ballerina can be, but at the same time showcasing a journey of transcendence. It's beautifully chilling, and wonderfully eerie.
In ballet, there's a certain 'transformation' that happens on stage, which I find to be extremely relatable in my personal experience. I recently started going on runs while listening to Tchaikovsky, allowing myself to get completely lost in the music. I will oftentimes stretch my arms out like I'm dancing in order to feel the emotion the music so evidently produces — it's quite liberating. Another aspect of ballet that I resonate with is the strive for perfection. This striving for perfection is contradictory to our Christian belief, because we know that no one is perfect, yet there's constant struggle to want to be. Black Swan, at it's core, is about the struggles of perfection, and how 'letting go' causes transcendence far more than being wrapped up in getting everything correct. I included three clips below for your viewing pleasure **warning** don't watch the last clip if you have yet to see the movie, it will spoil everything and the film is too precious to be spoiled.
FOR THE READER
So, where I believe ballet to be an extremely beautiful art form — not just in aesthetics but in almost every aspect — I am quite curious to hear your thoughts. Do you think ballet is beautiful? Do you think ballet can be constituted as a "spiritual experience"? Do you think that ballet can be used for the glory of God? I would encourage you to watch the videos above and think back to your previous interactions with the art form. Excited to hear your responses!