Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Ballet and the art of memory

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Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes

Ballet, then, is an art of memory, not history. No wonder dancers obsessively memorize everything: steps, gestures, combinations, variations, whole ballets. It is difficult to overstate this. Memory is central to the art, and dancers are trained, as the ballerina Natalia Makarova once put it, to “eat” dances—to ingest them and make them part of who they are. These are physical memories; when dancers know a dance, they know it in their muscles and bones. Recall is sensual, like Proust’s madelines, and brings back not just the steps but also the gestures and feel of the movement, the “perfume,” as Danilova said, of the dance—and the older dancer. Thus ballet repertory is not recorded in books or libraries: it is held instead in the bodies of dancers.

Jennifer Homans, Apollo’s Angels

Written by nevalalee

December 29, 2012 at 7:30 am

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