I was editing and fell down a rabbit hole.
The paragraph in question:
“Never let them see you sweat. Never let them see that you’re mortal.
Suzanne Ferrell’s words threaded through the pain and I managed one last gentle beat of my wings before allowing myself to fall gently to the ground.”
It used to be “the famous ballerina’s words”, but I thought that was clunky and irritating, so I went looking for “Suzanne ballerina” to make sure I had her name correct.
I came across this blog post and was struck by how much of current-me is colored by having read Holding Onto The Air when I was 8 or 9 years old:
” I was most interested in that dynamic: the geek, the obsessive, the person who openly admitted doing “nothing” on her days off … she had no interest in any life outside of ballet … but then also the person who was, apparently, so fearless and so willing in rehearsals, that all Balanchine had to do was ASK and she would say “yes”. She had no hesitation, no intellect getting in the way – just sheer physical trust. And so she grew … she grew as an artist in an accelerated manner, and he grew with her … and the entire company basically had to get out of the way. So on the one side, we have the prim nerd who does the crossword at home and reads her Bible every morning, and on the other side, we have the wild gyrating muse of the greatest man in ballet in the 20th century. “
Noting that when I first read the autobiography, I didn’t get or understand a lot of the really gross undercurrents. Such as Balanchine divorcing his wife, who was crippled from polio, in order to chase after Suzanne, who was 41 years his junior, ” so young at the time of her great triumphant debut, that Balanchine had to take her out to Dunkin Donuts afterwards to celebrate “
I don’t know how now-me would read their relationship, but back then, what captivated me was a sense of art as a driving force bigger than anything earthly or mortal and how incredible it was to find someone who manages to spark off you in just the right way to create something immortal.
One of these days, if I can, I want to write something that manages to touch on what brought to me tears as a child.
The mentor, who finds new insight and new life through teaching.
The artist who is inspired by their muse, who then pushes the muse to greater heights through what they create.
The pas-de-deux of artist and muse rather than it being unidirectional.
The partner who lifts you, supports you through flying, and who provides a touchstone when you’re spinning across the stage.
This line is an entire story in of itself: ” Balanchine rarely sent her out onstage without an expert partner, one who could prevent her from hurling herself into the orchestra pit. “
What I carried away from Holding Onto The Air is that art is beauty through pain, that you are in service to art rather than art bending to your whim.
Maybe that isn’t the lesson I want to carry with me for the rest of my life, but that’s a thought for another day.