Generosity is a quality that most of us desire in our lives. It is taught to us as children, most often by example; it is included in the ethical structure of most major religions; it is one of the secrets of successful relationships, both professional and personal. But when applied to the performing arts, generosity is something else again, subtle, often invisible, broadly required, important and purposeful.
Two recent and contrasting examples: At American Ballet Theatre, there can be no more generous partner dancing today than the extraordinary Principal Marcelo Gomes. I have watched this fine Brazilian dancer grow over a period of years. He has gained maturity, strength, and a wider and wider scope, but present since the very beginning has been the selfless way he partners any ballerina he touches. It does not matter the style of the ballet or which ballerina: suddenly, there is a courtliness to his demeanor, and one senses that his greatest desire is to make her better, smoother, higher, more graceful, more beautiful. It is never about him, although his presence as her anchor is what makes it all possible.
Is this simply a natural gift? Possibly, but it is also carefully crafted into every moment on stage. I once watched Mr. Gomes in a studio rehearsal for “Swan Lake”, working on a pas de deux. Over a period of nearly 20 minutes, the same small turn was repeated, just so that he could land and place his left shoulder exactly at the correct angle for the ballerina to meet him there and rest her hand and balance. One centimeter off in either direction and she could not maintain her equilibrium. Over and over again he repeated his move until it was exactly right, and she could depend on his shoulder being beneath her hand at the exact moment she arrived. When seen from the audience, this particular moment is all about her – the ballerina achieves a gorgeous attitude and balance. One does not think about the prince at all. But in rehearsal, it was apparent that only by endless, selfless attention and patience on Mr. Gomes’ part was this moment possible. She was the sail, he was the mast, and he was happy to support her glory.
Generosity in another form was present at a different kind of performance this past week, a “junior” Into the Woods, put on by 10 and 11-year-olds at The Richard Rogers School of Arts and Technology on West 89th Street, under the auspices of Re-Create Arts. How, you may imagine, could 4th and 5th graders even approach the difficult rhythms of Sondheim? (I remember a very homespun and simple production of Tom Sawyer in my own 4th grade class many years ago….how times have changed!) One answer is, through the generosity of their teachers, coaches and parents, all of whom contributed to this extraordinary effort. The children themselves were game, trying, counting, messing up, picking up and moving on, all with zest, enthusiasm and a great deal of fun. Any mistakes on stage were instantly forgiven and forgotten. We as audience members were also part of the giving, supporting the young performers in their efforts, enjoying the sometimes unintentionally funny and charming moments, the big songs and the little choices that made it all come together.
Despite the reputation of divas and divos worldwide, it is my opinion that magnanimity is essential in the performing arts. Whether it’s giving children an opportunity to work together to put on a complex show, or putting oneself in the background in order to make a partner shine, the generosity and yes, nobility, of such work is an inspiration. All hail to those who give!
©Poets Sinews, 2014. Reuse with permission.