Dance is a dream-like medium, not well suited to realism. Whatever else it may be, dance is not about ‘acting normal’. It is much better with imagery and symbolism, at suggesting feelings both physical and emotional; and its meanings are more sensed than understood.
Whatever else it may be, dance is not about ‘acting normal’.
The Nutcracker (1892) is a child’s dream that moves from the nightmarish conflict of toy soldiers against an army of mice, to a sumptuous candy-coloured realm of beauty, harmony and indulgent sensual pleasure. More adult desires are portrayed in La Bayadère (1877) in which the hero, through a haze of opium, hallucinates a vision of his idealised woman, endlessly reflected in the hall of mirrors of his own impossible longings. A similar scene occurs in Don Quixote (1869), though here the protagonist is not drugged but rather concussed by the sails of the windmill against which he tilts.
After the nineteenth century, men too became idealised in dream ballets. Le Spectre de la rose (1911) is a reverie of a man conjured from the scent of a rose, who, in a leap made famous by Nijinsky, disappears outwards and upwards just before the dreamer awakes. Onegin (1965) also invokes an imaginary desire. In Pushkin’s original text Tatiana writes of her love for Onegin in a letter; in Tchaikovsky’s opera she sings it; but in Cranko’s ballet she dances it out in a dream. Her swooning romanticism is of course illusory, and nothing but tragedy ensues.
It seems as if the consequence of these delirious dreams is disillusion. The moments of feeling and fantasy vanish like a vapour – the dance ends, and the dreamer awakes to an ordinary, lacklustre reality.