Throughout her history and a relatively brief one considering that men dominated the art of ballet from its origins in the courts of the Renaissance until the Romantic Era, when the cult of the ballerina took flight , the ballerina has been perceived as an otherworldly creature, beyond human. Even a cursory look at the art form suggests that ballet is more sweat than sweet. The origins of the ballerina are mired in poverty and sexual exploitation. Turner says, the body is the site of incorporated history, then the ballerina''s body is the incorporated site of ballet history. Since the beginning, she has mirrored local conditions contributing to the production of art and historically specific ideas governing her role and identity within society as a professional woman of the theatre. Ballerinas who deviate from ballet''s norms are ostracized, ridiculed and excluded from doing the one thing they have trained themselves for--to dance ballet. As the Swan Queen Odette dressed in pale tights and feathery white tulle, manifestations of the ballet blanc supporting her etherealized image, the ballerina appears chaste and beyond reproach, a feminine ideal existing beyond the reach of human desire. As her wicked twin Odile, she is the ultimate seductress, manipulated by dark forces from behind the scenes which make the ballerina appear more sinister than she at first seems.
The art peddles in beauty but it is a beauty manufactured much like designer label clothing produced in Third World sweatshops, in often dehumanizing conditions. Even a cursory look at the art form suggests that ballet is more sweat than sweet. Her lowly economic status within society has often compelled ballerinas to make choices that compromise her dignity as a human being in order to survive. Ballet diminishes, and in some cases maims and kills, the very dancers it elevates on pedestals of high choreographic art. Historical accounts from the 19th century describe dank, windowless, rat-infested studios condemned by public health authorities as warrens of consumptive disease. The ballerina comes across as a kind of feminine ideal, unblemished and ethereal, inspiration incarnate. As her wicked twin Odile, she is the ultimate seductress, manipulated by dark forces from behind the scenes which make the ballerina appear more sinister than she at first seems. She has devoted herself to her art from childhood, training her body away from its natural forms and curves to dance what, in essence, is an intricately patterned distortion of the body: If, as British sociologist Bryan S. That situation has hardly changed over the years: She has always been the worst paid artist in her society, subsisting dangerously close to the poverty line. From the sugary sweetness of her popular jewel-box image to the saltiness embodied by her carefully molded, highly eroticized flesh, the ballerina appears in the popular imagination as a painstakingly prepared dish for cultural consumption. It''s point of view explored by the Hollywood film, Black Swan, which showed the backstage world of ballet as a twisted hall of mirrors where ballet''s so-called prettiness was grotesquely reflected back on itself as a life of horror. For some, she is the art form''s bread and butter; for others, she is its sinfully rich dessert. Certainly there is something disturbingly schizophrenic about her identity. It is this backstage view that fascinates--the beastliness hidden behind the satin and sequins, and excused in the name of beauty. She floats on air, rising into the ether, and is variously a swan, sylph or spirit haunting our imaginations from beyond the grave. Dancing in hard-tipped shoes that literally lift her above the earth, she appears to occupy a realm beyond that of the everyday. A second theme concerns the ballerina''s role as property; throughout her history, and lasting until the present day, she has been owned by men, the state, her art and, more recently, artistic directors and choreographers who claim it is their work, their genius, that bestow beauty upon the ballerina. The answers lie in the dual existence of the ballerina. Turner says, the body is the site of incorporated history, then the ballerina''s body is the incorporated site of ballet history. The origins of the ballerina are mired in poverty and sexual exploitation. Ballerinas who deviate from ballet''s norms are ostracized, ridiculed and excluded from doing the one thing they have trained themselves for--to dance ballet. Since the beginning, she has mirrored local conditions contributing to the production of art and historically specific ideas governing her role and identity within society as a professional woman of the theatre. As much as an aesthetic symbol, the ballerina is also a social construct, a complex product of her time and place. Her true essence lies somewhere in between the light and the dark.
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