In my teen years, when everything felt all mixed up with the incessant Auckland rain, I found solace in ballet class, where there were rules for every step. And beyond the rules: mystery.
I pored over books and magazines: page after page of ballerinas onstage or in studios, touching almost nothing but light and air. Ballet itself I understood as a fierce and complex art. Yet image after image insisted on only the ethereal.
As I looked, I imagined myself doing whatever the dancer was doing; I yearned to do it with my own body, or to keep practicing until I could.
Though I didn’t know how to describe it, I would have liked to see a ballerina responding to the day-to-day, physical world; to see the grace and astonishment of ballet not cut out but used in a different way, toward a different purpose.
To see a ballerina folded over a metal railing while standing en pointe and letting both arms dangle. To see her in the realm of the ordinary instead of the otherworldly.
To see her standing on one leg, on one toe, while pressing against a blue brick wall.
The thing itself was something my first poetry teacher often talked about. A curb in sunlight. A yellow signpost with arrows pointing both left and right. Dead leaves as only themselves, free of metaphor. It took practice, she told us, to stay with the thing without veering into abstraction.
To see a ballerina sitting on a wooden block in an alley while wearing orange tights, a lilac leotard, and elbow-length red gloves. To see her respond to a landscape of gravel and metal and weather.