Has dance fever hit the planet, or has it simply spread outward from my cave? In NYC’s big houses, December saw Mark Morris Dance Group’s well-built Hard Nut, Balanchine’s gold standard Nutcracker at New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s winter season, and, most significantly, American Ballet Theatre’s new Nutcracker by Alexei Ratmansky. The latter three closed on Jan 2, like a tsunami receding, only to give ground to the sprawling Association of Performing Arts Presenters, which attempts to match venues with dance and other creators. And on a broader scope, there are the numerous dance shows on network TV, the ubiquitous regurgitation of a critic accusing dancers of hitting the sweets, and of course, Black Swan craziness—Natalie Portman’s intensive training for the role, fueled in gossip blogs by her impending nuptials/parenthood with choreographer and on-screen partner Benjamin Millepied. Deep breath, cough out feathers.
That said, there does seem to be some moral lesson to be gleaned from this fascination with dance. A profession in dance of any kind is necessarily a calling, something not to be undertaken unless you’re willing to make sacrifices on every level. It’s done for love—because you have no choice. Ballet is the most extreme genre, requiring you do all kinds of unnatural things to your body to best interpret (or rebel against) its codified language and line. (ABT’s David Hallberg/Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes/Veronika Part, two of The Nutcracker’s lead pairs, are pretty much the collective mortal confluence of every perfect ballet thing. Other stuff to love about this Nut include the addition of a kitchen scene, a mischievous mouse, realistically bratty kids, and sassy bees.)
Not to get too Rand-ian, but during this recession hangover, a timely lesson of dance mania is the realization that true artistry is achieved through hard work and total dedication. On the sparklefest that is Dancing with the Stars, athletically accomplished people, including football players and gymnasts, are pushed to tears by the physical demands. Clichés abound, but they ring true: there are no shortcuts, you have to trust yourself and your partner, a performance has to transcend mere technique. And if your work is not technical or formally based, you better have some solid concepts and dramatic or poetic flair. With few exceptions in dance, there is little potential for material gain. The reward is the art—at that, ephemeral—which may be how our culture is remembered a century hence.