Toni Bentley writes exquisitely well about the many paradoxes of being a professional ballet dancer; and I have thought of this passage from Winter Season quite often during my many years of dancing with the New York City Ballet. Like paint on a canvas each dancer in a company represents a particular facet of a choreographic work—some of us are watery mauve stains, some are impasto globs of blue. We are often many different shades and brushstrokes within the same ballet, or within several different ballets over the course of an evening. There is tremendous liberation to be had in such a position. We are not creators; but we have the privilege of embodying monumental acts of creation. To perform Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco or Serenade is akin to inhabiting Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel. It is an honor and a joy. It is often a transcendent experience and probably the closest to the divine that I will ever come. It is, at best, to feel fully alive, to be piercingly present in time and space.
But there is also a decidedly negative cast to Ms. Bentley’s words. And though I think dancers are far more creative than pots of paint, I understand what she means. Can one truly be considered to be