The “Good” Ballet

I went to the ballet with a friend who has seen significantly less theatre than I have. As we were lazily browsing our programs, he turned to me and said, “Now, you’ll have to tell me if this is any good or not, because I don’t really know much about ballet.”

Suddenly I was struck silent. Who am I to tell someone what is “good” ballet? Can’t we allow ballet to speak for herself?

When I was just a dawdling school girl, I took ballet classes. I knew my arabesque from my glissade and could pirouette with the best of them, but this didn’t give me any license to turn and say what made a ballet piece beautiful or good.

A truly “good” piece of art  (dance, monologue, or painting) doesn’t need a critic to come along and declare it good. The art can stand on it’s own. This is what makes art so powerful; we can all come together to appreciate a piece because it shows us something beautiful or true about the world and the people in it. The art speaks directly to us individually, and then we all say collectively that it is good.

In the moment, I mumbled an answer about knowing it’s goodness by the movements being aesthetically pleasing, but I later realized it didn’t matter what I said to him. He would soon come to know what “good” ballet is truly like. We witnessed some remarkable dancing that evening. While I was moved to tears, I could hear him sighing with contentment when a group of ballerinas swept us away into their world with their balancés and pas de bourrées.

He knew, and I knew, and everyone in that theatre knew that we had just seen a “good ballet,” yet no one had to tell us so.

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Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo on December 9th, 2016, performing in The Nutcracker at The Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Heather says:

    This is fascinating. I was expecting this one to be longer! Where do you think differing opinions come from about art? What about amateurs who think (wrongly?) that lesser art is “good” and who perhaps miss the complexities that make something else “better”? Do you think the goodness of art is objective (out there to be discovered) or can it be relative to the person’s experience, both with art and otherwise? Sorry for all the questions, this was too interesting for such a short post 😉

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    1. Oh Heather, it’s probably not very long because it is such a difficult topic to tackle. I didn’t even realize what conversation I was heading into when I started writing it. But all of your questions are great. Maybe this will be an idea I can return to later and try to say some more about.

      What do you think? I think I used to be in the camp of thinking that art was subjective and we all experienced it in a different way. I think after a classical education, I lean more to the side of thinking that there are some objective principles of good art and those can be mixed with personal experiences. For instance, I may know that a piece of classical art is beautiful because of the subject, skill, and composition, yet there is still a part of me that doesn’t see it as beautiful. I like parts of it, and understand the beauty of it, but it doesn’t leave me with a totally awestruck experience of beauty.
      Maybe we think certain “bad” pieces of art are good because we haven’t experienced enough good art. Maybe we need to be exposed to good art to judge other pieces? Or maybe we can see bits and pieces of good art in the bad art. We can see where it is reaching to be good.

      Did any of that make sense?

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