Ballerina’s are a bit like swans. Beautifully graceful at first glance, but under the water the swan paddles frantically. This art form has a demanding physical excursion and is not something that the frequenters of ballet will see on stage. It breaks toes, loses toenails, deforms the feet and puts pressure on the ankles and knees. The world of ballet is rife with other issues such as diet, self image and awareness and physical development. What Degas captures so perfectly in this painting is that other side of a graceful art form.
It’s no coincidence that I’m writing about Degas, as he links so well with yesterday’s post about Toulouse Lautrec. They were drinking buddies and you can defiantly see that the post impressionistic style is very similar, although Degas is certainly more refined.
Degas’ study of the ballet really concentrated on when the public face dropped. He was very aware of the physical and emotional pressures of this short lived career and was taken with the absolute exhaustion and challenges that these women would put themselves through for the fleeting moment of grace. He also looked beyond the stars of the time to those of yesterday, who often became chaperones for the younger dances. His study of rehearsals and back stage gave the more real perspective of this world, from that which the audience saw from the seats within the theatre.
I love this particular painting, the dancer, rubbing her ankles of the out turned feet, legs apart, almost bent double. Her finery not echoed in her physical presences. Next to her, her long suffering chaperone, who, most likely is suffering from arthritis from her days dancing on stage. Both look deflated and worn down.
This is beauty of a different kind, that of the real. It’s not the public swirling mass of tutus or bright lighting, but defines the physical strength of the dancer, willing to sacrifice for her art.