The Butterfly Effect

Posted: November 24, 2009 in Artistry, Culture, Taste

I saw a recent documentary film on Russian ballerinas. I don’t really get dance, and though I’ve seen my fair share, I usually can’t distinguish merely good from truly excellent execution in terms of either technique or expression. However, in the course of the film, one of the profiled ballerinas rehearsed what I am guessing must be her signature solo and pose, the sort of thing that appears on ballet posters. I found the image below:

Turns out it’s Uliana Lopatkina as a dying swan, danced to music of Camille Saint-Saëns. Pretty extraordinary. I also found the following video:

There are videos on YouTube of other ballerinas interpreting the same dance for comparison.

One of the curious things about ballerinas is the total devotion to the art necessary to achieve success, something few average folks can muster. But unlike most other artistic pursuits, dance careers are typically over by age 40 (or much earlier). Athletes have similarly short careers, limited by the fact of aging.

Perhaps inevitably, my mind wandered to this memory while at the pool swimming (a regular part of my ongoing triathlon training, which I don’t approach with total devotion), only in my mind the swan became a butterfly. Considering the obvious physical demands on a ballerina and their ability to persevere, I thought I could at least swim a few lengths of butterfly. Suffice it to say that I don’t have such extraordinary extension in my arms, but I do have the body control and coordination to swim the stroke properly. I also know it takes everything I’ve got just to do butterfly at my age, even though I’m in good shape for swimming. So for two lengths of the pool, I was totally committed to doing something both powerful and maybe a little graceful. I paid for it for a few days.

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