Saturday, 26 January 2013

Fanaticism in the Ballet World

I've been reflecting on last week's attack on Sergei Filin. In many ways it's brought the best and the worst of ballet to the world's attention.

There are fanatics in all walks of life; in sport, in business, in medicine, in law... it is not a normal mindset but it exists throughout our society. I would hate it if fanaticism on this extremist level came to be associated with ballet more generally; yes there are fanatics in the ballet world, and yes one of them appears to have attacked Sergei Filin in the most horrific manner. However, the vast majority of those working in ballet, even at the highest most competitive level, find the attack every bit as reprehensible as the rest of the population.

While the attack is shocking, it has not necessarily seemed that surprising. The Bolshoi has had more than it's fair share of drama over the years, and stories of extreme competition or intimidation are not difficult to find. From the historic allegations of dancers putting crushed glass in one anothers pointe shoes and dead cats being thrown on stage in place of flowers, to the more recent scandals including the firing of 109lb ballerina Anastasia Volochova for being too fat, Gennady Yanin being forced to resign after sexual photos were published online and now the attack on Filin, the Bolshoi has never been a stranger to scandal. The theatre represents the world's best dancers, renowned for their unrivaled performances, it also at times appears to represent a caricature of the extremes of competition and corruption in ballet.

So how has this brought the best of the ballet industry to the world's attention? Through both Sergei Filin's own response to the attack, and the reaction of the dance community at large. Dancers within the Bolshoi and around the world have leapt to the support of Sergei. However Sergei's own response has been the most inspiring  For a man whose entire life has been built around the aesthetic of the physical body, the power of the spectacle of the body in motion, he is now faced with many more hours of surgery, a long recovery process, significant damage to his sight and the inevitability that his body and health have been changed forever.

Considering this, his response has been remarkable - "I can't promise that I'll return handsome, but the fact that I will return in full force, I can guarantee." *

Fanaticism exists everywhere, particularly in situations where competition is extreme. This means it appears in ballet, just as anywhere else. However the extremist nature of this attack has shown the strength and determination that exists within those at the top of the ballet world, not just the corruption.  This extreme level of violence has failed to diminish the man's commitment to an art-form that all too often hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Determination, passion and even obsession are often associated with professional ballet, however in Sergei Filin we see the positive application of these traits, juxtaposed against the negative application that led to the attack.

Sergei Filin in 2011 (c) Yuri Kadobnov/Agence France-Presse 

I wish Sergei the best in his recovery and hope to hear of his return to work at the Bolshoi in the near future.

* A transcription of The Arts Desk Interview with Sergei after his attack is available here

No comments:

Post a Comment