Saturday, 16 June 2007

The Retiring Ballerina

Last night I wept my way through Darcey Bussell’s farewell performance for the second time. In case you didn’t know, Britain’s most famous principal dancer retired last Friday and it was televised live by Channel Four. This marks an era not just in Darcey’s life – she has been a principal dancer of the Royal Ballet for the last 18 years – but in British ballet. Darcey was the last British principal dancer of the Royal Ballet.

Watching her last performance, you could see that the whole time she was dancing she was utterly focused, dancing a ballet she knew well. Once the curtain came down, she collapsed. Watching her I felt a granite rock lodged in my throat as I peered blearily at the television screen. Darcey stood on stage, clutching her side with the sudden and intense pain of realising that she had danced for the last time on that stage. One minute she was the consummate professional, the next an agonised child, panicking, lost. She looked almost naked in her vulnerability, wearing a skimpy Greek tunic, her hair in the typical dancer’s bun.

Retiring while she was at the top of her profession was, as Monica Mason said, a courageous thing to do. I’m sure Darcey won’t regret it, but it must be a massive shock to her daily routine not to have to do class every morning, rehearsals every day, performances most evenings. But she has a family now, and a new business to run, a totally different life to lead. But I’m sure it will catch her, at times when she least expects it, and she’ll itch to be back in that studio, straining her body to achieve perfection. As an artist she must need to create, and having spent over 20 years dancing, no one can brush it off that easily.

The morning after we watched the live performance we were staying with my mother. I thought of Darcey, waking up on her first day as a Non Dancer. I could imagine her sense of relief, of confusion, of unreality. Her worry that she’d done the right thing.

‘I wonder how she’s feeling?’ I said, wiping my own tears away at the thought of it.
‘I expect she’s got a hangover,’ came the crisp reply.


Cornish Dreamer said...

I can't imagine what it would feel like to retire from something while you are at the height of your career. But I imagine there must be some kind of excitement with the idea of moving on.

A wonderfully written blog entry.


Flowerpot said...

sorry you had to hear it a second time!