For many in the dance world, late December is the season of endless, unchanging Nutcrackers. This season was particularly unusual, however, for the almost-unbelievable retirement of the legendary Sylvie Guillem from the stage. The performer who earned the nickname Mademoiselle Non (for her insistence on doing the work that she wanted to do on her own terms) did not go out with anything so predictable as the Sugar Plum Fairy variation but with an evening of contemporary work by her favorite collaborators: Life In Motion marked Sylvie’s final performances in Japan less than two weeks ago.
I was fortunate enough to see the program when it toured to New York City Center in November. Perhaps because of this, to me the final month of 2015 has seemed less the usual jumble and rush of the holidays than an opportunity to take a breath, look around, and think about what it means to let go and move on.
After all, December also marks the winter solstice, the holiday season, and the deep breath we all take before plunging into a new year. What are these if not opportunities to take a look around and maybe see about making a few changes?
The simple idea of letting something go has snagged my attention these past few weeks. How much time do we spend holding onto things that do not actually do us any good? Why continue to value ideas that are no longer serving us?
Sylvie became an étoile at the Paris Opera Ballet at age 19 (one of the most coveted positions in all of classical ballet) but left four years later to pursue something different. Her career as a guest artist at The Royal Ballet and all over the world as a freelance contemporary artist has been anything but predictable. I think if anyone understands how to let go of notions of the self that are limiting, it’s her.
I’ve realized that for a long time, I have held onto the idea that being a dancer meant paring away everything that is not strictly related to becoming exactly what the dance world expects me to be. Sacrifice was a word thrown around a lot in my early training. I listened to dancers who claimed with earnest smiles that dance was their whole life and did everything I could to emulate that ideal. Even now, three and a half years into my college career with the hard-earned knowledge that to be an artist means to be a person first, I find myself thinking that I would be a better dancer if I cut out everything else. I still sometimes catch myself pushing away the people who remind me how important it is to have a real life outside of the studio, too.
Now, I am not one to make New Year’s Resolutions. I do, however, like the idea of setting themes, and this year’s has turned out to be more of a challenge to myself–something between a resolution and a theme. I am trying to shed the idea that I need to be anything less than the brilliantly flawed, three-dimensional person that I am in order to be successful. Maybe certain versions of success would demand that of me, but I do not find that path to be interesting anymore.
And if ever there was any doubt that refusing to simplify yourself to fit into someone else’s idea of perfection could work, remember Mademoiselle Non. Sylvie did it, and I think it’s fair to say that it worked out for her. So why not the rest of us?