On `ballon'

By

WHEN I first heard that ballon was one of the most important, desirable qualities a dancer could express, I practiced until I thought I had achieved it. Ballon means bouncing, a floating lightness such as a balloon has. Some balloons are full of hot air which makes them rise. I hoped that wasn't the case with dancers. Yes, I talk a lot -- am ``full of hot air'' in that sense -- but it doesn't necessarily add to my levitation. In fact, my words weigh heavily at times, pressing me down so that I can scarcely rise above them. They can even put my foot in my mouth, from which position a leap with or without ballon would be mo st difficult.

Then it must mean something else. Among its physical qualifications, ballon is achieved by supple, bent knees and by persistent practice. Its mental requirements are equally demanding. Inspired expectation, desire, and confidence blend in a manner that transcends gravity.

Dancers with perfect technique who have mastered ballon appear not even to touch the stage, just skim along the surface as they glide about. Or they rise in the air with an effortless ethereality and descend with the weightlessness of a feather. That is real ballon !

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Vaslav Nijinsky, perhaps the most acclaimed dancer of all time, could leap to an incredible height and land lightly. His biographer writes, ``Nijinsky manages even to stay in the air for a moment . . . the best part of his talent [is] the extraordinary ballon and uncommon elevation.''

Nijinsky did not waste his breath in trivial words. He seldom talked at all, being shy and uneasy with all except his mother and his sister. When he spoke, his conversation was filled with solemnity.

Evidently he left his heavy thinking on the ground as he achieved his volatility. Apparently his breath was used as inspiration to help him ascend to the spectacular height in the leaps that carried him halfway across the stage. Audiences gasped at the marvel of the dancer who suspended himself in the air before coming down soft as a petal. Inhaled breath to get him up, ballon to help him alight.

``Lightness'' is defined as a lack of body weight or a lack of seriousness of character. Although Nijinsky expressed lightness by rising despite bodily weight, the heavy, serious nature he embodied did not outweigh his dance performance. For his seriousness enabled him to daily apply himself to his technical ballet exercises, practicing, perfecting, every movement until he was satisfied with it. Thus his effortless leaps caused him to look as though he had ascended above the world's cares.

A dancer can hardly help but express joy when he dances. Apparently Nijinsky's joy in the dance buoyed him above the ponderous thoughts he expressed in weighted words. Love will always lift one and give one ballon, whether it's love of dance, unselfed love for one's people in running to meet a Goliath, or the love of a little child who has just learned to walk. Love, ballon, the lifting quality!

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