I was astonished when I saw my first ballet performed on stage. I had seen ballet in films and on television, accompanied only by the music of an orchestra. But as I sat in Philadelphia’s Academy of Music (Eugene Ormandy conducting, of course) in 1975, I also heard the sounds of the dancers’ feet as they pivoted and pirouetted, leapt and landed on the floor of the stage, a gentle brushing as windblown leaves on a sidewalk punctuated by occasional, muted squeaks from their soles and the barely audible groans of the floor boards.
It brought my ethereal fantasy of ballet down to earth! Until then it had seemed lighter than air, with moves and postures and flights that seemed wholly spiritual, not the performance of flesh and blood, muscles and gravity.
You know where I am going with this. My surprise is paralleled by the disillusionment of spiritual seekers discovering that our liturgical choreography, no matter how sublime or how simple, cannot cover the reality that we are bodies whose friction with earth, with God, with ourselves and with one another reminds us that spirituality is flesh and blood, muscles and gravity.
That means training is required. And forgiveness when someone misses their cue. And Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief.”
That was the case when scenery fell over with a crash during one of the premiere performances of the start-up Los Angeles Ballet. So supportive was the audience, we felt the embarrassment of the performers and stage crew while continuing to enjoy their inaugural efforts.
Boredom is another matter. When I saw the Bolshoi perform in Los Angeles before the demise of their country’s totalitarian ideology, their rigidly conservative ways of doing ballet literally put me to sleep.
Spiritual communities have much to offer, but only if we individually practice what is preached. Houses of worship cannot do our work for us. But they remind us that the spiritual enterprise is not an out-of-body, out-of-community experience. In truth, they incarnate the very muscle and gravity, flesh and blood we need on the spiritual path.
Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Check out past posts in the right rail on the blogsite.
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