If I Can’t Be the Talent, I Want To Be Talent-Adjacent


Of course you have; you don’t live under a rock. But, in case you haven’t, watch it immediately.

I have watched this video, approximately, too many times. I’m obsessed. With Hozier and with this video. And after watching this a few times, I fell down a Youtube rabbit hole of ballet. I watched several clips of Sergei Polunin dancing and interviews with him, which then led me to Rudolf Nureyev, since Polunin has been called the next Nureyev. And then my obsessions collided.

Last month I read the book Dancer by Colum McCann. It’s fantastic. Colum McCann is another obsession of mine. He is an exception writer. I have read four of his novels and love each one immensely. Dancer, incidentally, is historical fiction about the life of Rudolf Nureyev, the infamous Russian ballet dancer who defected to the United States and became a phenomenon, with good reason. I’ve watched a few documentaries about Nureyev and his partner Margot Fonteyn, I’ve watched clips of him dancing, watched the full length recording of him in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (which is obviously more of a vehicle for him than Fonteyn- and that death scene is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen, beautifully and intelligently choreographed and danced; it’s perfection) three times now, and have ILLed a biography of him, which I am eagerly awaiting. I want to know everything about him and see him dance every role he ever danced and imagine that I knew him. He is excruciatingly beautiful. I hate saying things like, ‘Just. . .all the feelings,’ but I cannot accurately put into words how extraordinary Nureyev is or how I feel watching him, it’s just. . .all the feelings. He, and Polunin, are equally intimidating and alluring and so damn good at what they do/did.

Prokofiev, it’s worth saying, is one of the greatest Russian composers, and when I first discovered his Romeo and Juliet, I became – yup – obsessed with it. And, in further obsession collision, Prokofiev’s Cinderella is being performed at UConn next month, and who choreographed it? Nureyev. Then my brain exploded.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten stuck on a ballet obsession. When I was a kid, my parents brought home a VHS (yup.) of Mikhail Baryshnikov in the Nutcracker. I was mesmerized. (And slightly disturbed but also intrigued by Baryshnikov’s very muscular, very white, and very naked-looking legs.) I loved it so much, I made my mother, God bless her, reenact the pas de deux with me. I have never been described as having a ballerina’s figure, and I was not a slim kid. But there we were in our living room, in front of the television, Mom lifting me à la Baryshnikov, and me, pretending I was floating like Kirkland (I was not). I wanted to be a part of that magic. I wanted to be a ballerina.

Cut to a few years later when I realized how awful I looked in a leotard and tights and quit dance classes all together. Of course it wasn’t just the outfits, it was that I had no talent for dance. I wanted to be a ballerina, but not enough to suffer through jazz and ballet classes. I didn’t enjoy it. We spent forever learning one routine that we performed once in front of our parents and then started all over again next year. Not thanks.

Now here I am, many years later, still wishing I could be a ballerina. It’s not that I wish I had the body of a ballerina, it’s that I want to know that kind of dedication and drive. To know by the age of 11 that this is what you’re going to do, to dedicate your life to. To be utterly devoted to your craft. Have absolute trust in your partner and your company. The intense artistic connection you have with your partner. It’s not just the end result I want, it’s the work that leads up to it. Things I clearly could not appreciate as a kid.

I think now I may be past my prime. I may have to let that ship sail.

But my ballet obsession is still alive and well. Part of why I love it so much is because it is a thing I have no talent for, no real experience of. It is completely otherworldly and foreign to me. My dream now is to just sit in on a ballet rehearsal, to be in the presence of all that talent and focus, and just pretend I am somehow a part of it. If I can’t be the talent, I want to be talent-adjacent. I may no talent for ballet, but I can appreciate the hell out of it.


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