I don’t know her name. She was about 12; maybe 13? No more than 14. But already the shape of her legs testified to several years of careful, attentive practice. It was a local school talent show, and in a moment I was transported back in time to a studio in Hartford, Connecticut. As an undergraduate music student I earned some spending money as a rehearsal pianist for classes at the Hartford Ballet Company; and later, I would play for the company rehearsals. It was here that I developed first an awareness, then an appreciation, and finally a sense of awe for the ballet. It was an extraordinary experience that was extremely sensuous in a non-sexual way. The human body – female and male – forced to assume so many unnatural poses and yet, in their unnatural state those poses seemed to accentuate everything that was natural – even beautiful – regarding the human form.
The “star child” of the HBC back then was Judith G. She had red hair and even the reviews of her work noted that hers was a “powerful body” – a euphemism I think for a woman who was a bit stockier than we normally think of a ballerina. She was short. But that same reviewer said of her that she was “controlled” in her performance – and I read that to say that somehow, in spite of what might have been working against her physically, she could dance. She looked taller on stage, especially en pointe – the full weight of her body perfectly balanced on the toes of one foot. And when she jumped – that is, in the midst of a grande jette – she soared and hung in the air as if to defy gravity…
Sitting in that school gymnasium qua performance hall with a couple hundred students, I was mesmerized by this girl. Do these people understand how difficult it is what she is doing?! Do they appreciate how beautiful she is? Or, as far as they are concerned, is she just “jumping” and “spinning around” up there!
Her grande jettes were impressive. (“The dancer must remember to hit the fullest split at the height of the jump, with weight pushed slightly forward, giving the dancer a gliding appearance.“) Maybe it was because this was a Catholic School that I made a sudden connection between dance and religion. For many of us – and at times even for the most pious of us – our “religion” is really not much more than a jump. But every now and then the Spirit moves in us just right. The angels of heaven align with the human heart and will and behold – a grande jette! An instant of intense spiritual beauty! For that moment we are beautiful, and we know it. We also know we can’t take full credit for it; there is something gravity-defying about it and we know it won’t last. But that is what we aim for, pray for, believe for – that moment when we leap into the air and never come down.
“Wow,” someone said; “she can jump!” That’s not a “jump”; that’s a “jette“. And few things in life are more beautiful.