Sunday, April 8, 2012

Finding Inspiration in a Ballerina's Story

Few things inspire me like ballet does; my preferred online "time waster" is watching YouTube videos of my favorite dancers and choreographers. I was doing that a couple of months ago when I stumbled on a ballet story that's inspired me like no other.

It's a story I can relate to on so many levels.

I found it almost by accident, when perusing my "recommended" list - it's this episode of a documentary the BBC did about the English National Ballet. If you have time, I highly recommend watching the whole thing.



This episode centers on the company's aging prima ballerina, Daria Klimentova, who is called to rehearse the lead in Swan Lake, a role that will be assumed in performance by superstar Polina Semionova. Klimentova is pushing 40 and knows her career is almost over. She's treated like a workhorse--to the point of abuse by the ballet's choreographer--and, in what could be seen as an even bigger humiliation, is paired with the ballet's new, 20-year-old male star, Vadim Muntagirov. The age difference seems almost absurd and she handles the entire situation with stoic, sometimes gallows humor. Everything comes to a head when Semionova can't make opening night due to visa issues.

Klimentova doesn't particularly want to go on in Semionova's place but agrees to take one for the team. You get the impression she's ready to have danced her last Swan Lake. She and Muntagirov figure they have nothing to lose so they drink a bunch of champagne, have a good laugh, and then go dance.

And something miraculous happens - Klimentova and Muntagirov become a sensation. They find they have an amazing chemistry, and the audience loves them. Critics compare them to Fonteyn and Nureyev, and Klimentov's career is resurrected in spectacular fashion. This article has the whole, inspiring story.

I love this because, as a writer/author, even at this early stage in my publishing journey, I find it's easy to feel like the best might be behind me. I hear similar fears from colleagues, no matter where they are in their careers. You see other, perhaps younger, writers getting the big book deals. It can seem like others have it easier, while you work your butt off only to feel like you're underappreciated at best, not good enough at worst. You try to be graceful and philosophical but sometimes you feel, as Klimentova says in the documentary, like an "old ballerina crying."

I'm sure it's not just writers who feel this way. That feeling probably visits everybody in their chosen field at one point or another.

But Klimentova's story should give us all hope that something unexpected can turn everything around. Maybe it's an inspiring new critique partner or an idea you try out for the heck of it. It might just be the most painful and absurd experience that opens all the doors. If you keep working and keep a decent attitude--and maybe drink some champagne because you figure you've got nothing to lose--you could find yourself in a whole new place, just like Daria.

In honor of her, let's enjoy a little of the bedroom scene from Manon, oui? :-)

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