A couple of weeks ago, I attended a rehearsal for the upcoming project, Ballet Confessions, a dance, music, and art installation about the physical and psychological effects of the ballet world, by Mary Ellen Beaudreau. The creative process was beautiful to watch, a manifestation of art stemming from self-reflection, on life, post-ballet.
Since the age of four Mary Ellen has dedicated her life to ballet, dancing with San Francisco Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theater and then delving into modern dance at The Juilliard School and performing with Pilobolus Dance Theater.
Dancers, in the public mind, are impossible athletes: we see them execute the classics with intense perfection, but rarely hear them speak outside of the imaginary narratives like Black Swan or Center Stage. Even rarer, is to witness creative expression from dancers once they've outgrown the competitive demands of the ballet industry.
Ballet Confessions inverts the world of ballet on it’s head: the music (warbled Romeo & Juliet), the props (piles of "dead" pointe shoes and a giant tutu), the movements (hands instead of feet). It studies the arc typical to most dancers: stereotype, discovery, euphoria, obsession, destruction, and then; renewal.
It began in 2012 at a SITI Company theater workshop, when she happened to run into two ex-ballerinas. They began a dialogue about their time in the insular world of ballet, trading stories like old war veterans. Mary Ellen recorded them speaking, and went on to give voice to six other ballet dancers, ranging from thirteen to seventy-five years old.
In some ways, the ballet world is a mirror of the real world. Females are treated as objects, and the men are favored and told to be stronger rather than thinner. We’re all born with innate creativity, but then forced to mold ourselves into the shapes society provides us with.
What happens when the mold we've been conforming to for so many years, breaks? What happens when our world changes, when we lose something close that we've held onto for so long? How do we move forward?
Ballet Confessions is a beautiful inspiration for how creation can be birthed from destruction and reflection. It examines how the rigid world of ballet constricts art to an impeccable form, and what happens to the body and self once free of the constriction. It’s a metaphor for anyone who has dared to fall in love, tried to conform to expectations, or has been betrayed.