Friday, June 29, 2007

A Graceful Exit

I first heard the line "It takes great strength to hold on and great courage to let go" from a friend 9 years back. I was 17, never been in love, and it didn't make much sense to me.

As I matured (at least I hope I did) over the course of 9 years, and with what my closest friends diagnose as an addictive personality, I now understand and appreciate what it really means. Hence, my most profound admiration for Darcey Bussell, the most prolific ballerina of our generation, to my opinion.

Her story of dance isn't the same as those of the world's most revered ballerinas. At the age of 13, most ballet girls are already taught to dance en pointe. But Darce (close kami, I call her by her nickname), at 13, was only beginning to learn the basics of classical ballet. She knew how far behind she was from her contemporaries. Wanting so bad to be one of them, she wasted no time and worked doubly hard to catch up. In 1988, Kenneth MacMillan recognized her talent and brought her to The Royal Ballet, where he choreographed on her the lead role of "Rose" in "Prince of the Pagodas".

She was 19. She is, to date, the youngest ballerina to hold a place in the prestigious company's roster of Principal Dancers.
Her career rocketed to soaring heights soon after that ballet. Three years after that, MacMillan died of heart attack and critics feared his death could lead to the death of Darcey's career, like what happened to Suzanne Farrell after George Balanchine died in 1983. They were wrong. Unmatched by any of her peers (including THE Sylvie Guillem herself, according to the same critics who predicted her downfall), her popularity with the European audience continued to gallop on, and awards came pouring in as much as flowers would in her curatin calls.

Above: Mademoiselle Sylvie as Odette, the white swan; Miss Darcey on the right as Gamzati
At 38 years old, Darcey Bussell danced her farewell performance on June 8, 2007 at the Covent Garden, where she did her first ballet as a student in 1985. It was a bittersweet moment. She was relatively young and her career was at its peak. "What makes it so particularly bittersweet is that - as anyone who saw her recent, luminous appearance in Balanchine's Apollo at the Opera House will testify - Bussell is dancing as well now as she has ever danced in her life, her line, musicality, athleticism and glamour still astonishing." (--Ismene Brown, Telegraph)

In an intervew, Darcey said, "I've seen so many dancers fizzle out, and as they get older they get more injuries and more problems - if you're fighting with your body, it's not worth it. Everyone was happy that Margot [Fonteyn] went on for ever, but she wasn't happy at the end - she had to do it because she had a lot of debts because of her husband. So I just feel so privileged that I'm able to retire when I actually feel good about it. For me, that's why Sadler's Wells was perfect, because [in the interviews screened between the dance pieces] I could give them the reasons: when you say, it's because of my kids, everybody goes, fair enough."

This morning, I read McCoy's blog on Multiply. He was my junior in the dance school I went to in Manila, Steps Dance Studio, under the directorship of the very supportive teacher, an accomplished dancer herself, Sylphide Cup Award Recipient, Sofia Zobel-Elizalde. McCoy will be staying in London for four years to further his training in ballet with the Royal Ballet School. At 9, he was the youngest to be included in our Advanced Classes. He was more flexible, more technically proficient and more musical than any of us, his "advanced" classmates. Few weeks ago, he and his mom went to London to audition for the school where he was accepted. To my knowledge, he is the first filipino to get in the prestigious School of Royal Ballet. I am so proud of him. Even prouder that Darcey Bussell herself, gave McCoy a tour of the school, and told him how lucky he was to be where a lot of people would give anything to be in.