Miss Malaprop has a case of the Baryshnikovs.
It happened quite accidentally, as these often things do: for some reason (still unknown even to myself) I was researching the great story-telller, Scheherazade, when I happened to click on a link to a YouTube clip of the Vienna Philharmonic playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s music of the same name.
Now, I’m not sure whether this phenomenon is unique to my children, but YouTube has a magnetic pull on my girls. It’s uncanny — no matter what part of the house or garden they are playing in, the split second I start checking something out on YouTube they appear. Instantly. They then either try to squash themselves simultaneously onto my lap or lean heavily over my shoulders and usually end up obscuring my computer screen so that I can’t see a damn thing…
Anyway, this occasion was no different. Marvel Girl was at school, and Miss Malaprop had been happily drawing pictures of the Hulk and Thor (complete with swirling cape and hair so fine L’Oreal would definitely think he was worth it) when I began watching the Scheherazade clip. But there she was — yes, instantly — at my elbow.
“What are you watching?” she asked, her greeny-blue eyes already fixed on the screen.
“I’m not really watching, I’m actually listening — to the music,” I explained. “But if you want to, I can show you some music with dancing? Like when I go to the ballet?”
“Oooh…yes please, Mummy!”
And so it began. I was in one of my Russian moods (evidently, since I had begun with Rimsky-Korsakov), so first I showed Miss Malaprop the Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. And she loved it — the costumes, the dancing, the sets, the music; it was as though I had opened a world of wonder to her. But then she started asking questions about Romeo and Juliet and what happened to them, and…well, while I suspect the plot is best summed up in this e-card:
…street fighting and teen suicide weren’t things I was ready to discuss with a preschooler.
So we moved on.
“Oh — here’s something you’ll like,” I said, clicking on another clip.
Those of you who follow this blog already know that Blue Jai’s First Rule of Parenting is simply “Distract” (trust me, it works almost every time). But on this occasion, it really worked: Miss Malaprop went from being simply fixated to utterly transfixed.
We watched him perform the pas de deux from Giselle, and then moved onto The Nutcracker, mostly because Miss Malaprop is familiar with Tchaikovsky’s score from her own ballet classes. Many of the clips are grainy, products of the long-gone days of videotape, but as my daughter watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance she first grew very quiet, and then grew very still. And it wasn’t until later that evening that I realised just how deep an impression had been made.
At dinnertime, Miss Malaprop began explaining what she had seen, and did so with a reverence and wonder I have rarely heard from her.
“He’s the most angelic person…” she said, trying to express to her sister that what she had seen seemed super-human.
“Yeah, Baryshnikov. He’s a man you know…but he’s the most amazing dancer. You should see how high he leaps! I just love him.”
And there it was.
Baryshnikov had acquired yet another fan.
Clearly, Mikhail Baryshnikov is not an angel, he is a man — and one who has been criticised (most notably by his former dance partner and sometime lover Gelsey Kirkland) for some of his personal and professional attitudes. That said, from a distance and, more specifically, from a preschooler’s perspective, I think there are worse people in this world Miss Malaprop could choose to look up to.
Dancing — as even Baryshnikov would tell you — is hard work. You’ve got to put in the hours, from an early age, and practice. And then practice some more. And then…yeah, you know what comes next…
But to be as good as Baryshnikov, you also need discipline: not just to do all that practice, but to develop good, or in his case, close to flawless technique. And the way Baryshnikov says he achieved that? By focusing on self-improvement: “I do not try to dance better than anyone else,” he says, “I only try to dance better than myself.”
It’s also, all too often, about making choices — some of them difficult. I cannot imagine that deciding to defect from the then Soviet Union in 1974 was an easy thing to do. But as Baryshnikov says, “To achieve some depth in your field requires a lot of sacrifices. Want to or not, you’re thinking about what you’re doing in life — in my case, dancing”.
And finally, there is one thing about succeeding as a dancer that, in my view, sets it apart: it exposes. On stage, there is nowhere to hide. You have to be prepared to perform, to reveal the extent of your abilities and the range of your expression, and to be comfortable with the result. And to do that effectively, and meaningfully, you need to know yourself.
When a dancer comes on stage, he is not just a blank slate the choreographer has written on. Behind him he has all the decisions he has made in his life…each time, he has chosen, and in what he is on stage you see the result of those choices. You are looking at the person he is, and the person, who at this point, he cannot help but be…Exceptional dancers, in my experience, are also exceptional people, people with an attitude toward life, a kind of quest, and an internal quality. They know who they are, and they show this to you willingly.
My maternal intuition tells me that Miss Malaprop’s path in life is not that of a dancer: she is much more likely to use words (volubly and at varying volumes) than to express herself through movement. But if she chooses as role models people who literally embody what it means to work hard, practice harder, be disciplined and make difficult decisions, and if she makes the effort to get to know herself, I believe that she will succeed — in whatever it is she sets out to do.
This, perhaps, could be the moral of the story, though I suspect a cautionary corollary is also called for: if the YouTube phenomenon I described above extends beyond my house and into yours, be careful what you click on…it could change your child’s life.