Madame Lwoffa

The introspective nature of my last post seriously influenced the days that followed. My mind has been restlessly jumping from question to question and I seem to be philosophising about the silliest things from why I love coffee so much to why the train is always late on days when I am running late (very annoying but true).

Looking through one of my favourite art books last night, my mind was still restless. I came across a painting I had never noticed before. It was the sitter’s eyes that drew me in, she looked as restless as I did and as though her mind was racing through a thousand questions of her own.

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I haven’t been able to find out a lot about her. I know she was the cousin of the artist, she was a married woman at the time the portrait was taken and her maiden name was Maria Iakovlena Simonovitch. The portrait is entitlted Madame Lwoffa so I guess she was married to a certain Mr. Lwoff (great detective skills, I know).

The artist who painted Madame Lwoffa is Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865-1911), the son of composer parents Aleksander Serov and Valentina Bergman. Serov is best known for his portraits in which he strove to express the psychological complexity of his sitters (usually actors, artists and writers). His portait of Madame Lwoffa is certainly not his most famous but it is my favrouite.

I love this painting because you can almost hear the internal dialogue she is having with her self. This is not the usual portrait of a pretty yet two-dimentional woman. The artist has captured so much more, he’s captured her internal state.

I wish I could meet her – perhaps we could unburden our restless minds together.

On ballet and the “point”

She looked at me a with a mixture of concern and pity. „I understand you like it, but do you really need to take ballet class FIVE days a week?“ The emphasis she put on the word FIVE made me shift around uncomfortably. I „ummmed“ for a minute, sinking deeper into my chair, but the next quesion came before I could mumble my answer. „You said you don’t even preform on stage that often, right? So, what is the point?“

Since I first started dancing seriously again, I’ve resigned myself to this kind of interegation from friends, family and even (very, very rarely) from my man D. I don’t expect anyone to understand and I’m the first to admit that taking ballet five times a week is a tad on the excessive side. But sometimes, their questions make me feel uncomfortable, even foolish.

Why am I taking FIVE ballet classes a week? Why do I spend such a substantial portion of my income on classes, leotards and pointe shoes? Why do I choose to spend Friday nights and saturday mornings in a stuffy ballet studio, pouring with sweat, performing to an imaginary audience? What is the point – is there a point?

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In adult ballet, you strive for a perfection you are very unlikely to attain and you are fully aware of this. But having impeccable technique is not the point.

In adult ballet, you seldom dance on stage and your family and friends are usually the only ones who want to see you. But preforming to huge audiences is not the point.

Adult ballet dancers will most probably never dance for a ballet company and they rarely give up their jobs to pursue careers in dance. But making it into a top ballet company is not the the point.

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The point, for me, is profoundly simple – being in the moment and doing something that I love. Could there be a better „point“ than that?

I don’t think so.

Happy birthday, Mr. Coleridge!

On this very day some 241 years ago, a true romantic was born in a quaint rural town in Devon, England. Poet, philosopher, literary critic and key figure in the English “romantic movement”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was not as famous as his contemporaries in his lifetime but later went on to influence great thinkers both inside and beyond England’s borders.

Happy birthday, Mr. Coleridge – as a fellow “romantic”, I dedicate this post to you!

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,

Whatever stirs this mortal frame,

All are but ministers of Love,

And feed his sacred flame.

 Except from “Love”, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1864)
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On ballet and the big picture

Since I started ballet again I’ve often felt I’ve had more downs than ups. I try to take class at least 5 evenings a week and although I notice improvements, I often feel behind the others in terms of technique and flexibility. In all honestly, I am my worst critic. I find it hard to acknowledge my successes, focusing on what I could have done better instead.

Yesterday in ballet class, we practiced a new and challenging variation. I tried my best but every time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror all I could see was bad feet, poor turn-out or off-kilter alignment.

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After the class, defeated and exhausted, I slowly collected my things and was about to leave when my teacher called me to her. My teacher, Ms. R, is a real inspiration. She has a way of speaking that radiates authority, experience and wisdom despite her young age. I thought I knew what she would tell me – I should have pushed up higher on relevé and kept my arms strong- but that’s not what she said.

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She said “You have improved” (please read in slow, eastern European accent). I honestly cannot tell you what she said after that because I kept replaying those three words in my mind. I have…improooved? I have… improved. I have improved! Suddenly it hit me – she was right. I thought of the silly mistakes I used to unintentionally make but could now intentionally correct. I thought of how shy I was to “preform” during class and how confident I had grown since then. I thought of how I used to ask other dancers for help and how newer dancers are now asking me. Of course I had improved!

I am still making mistakes but now they are better ones. I still have a LONG way to get to where I want to be but I’m headed in the right direction.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose the big picture when our heads are buried in the details. But if you take the time to look back to where you began, you realise how far you’ve come.

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At the dressing table

Ever since I can remember I’ve felt drawn to portraits of women. Something about them fascinated me and I found myself making up long and intricate stories to go with them. Who was this women, what had she done right before sitting for the portrait and most importantly, what was it about her that moved someone to dedicate an entire canvas/frame to her image.

Some of my favourite female portraits were painted by the talented, turn-of-the-century Russian artist Zinaida Yevgenyevna Serebriakova (1884-1967). A descendant of an aristocratic, artsy family, Serebriakova lost her fortune (and her dear husband) during the Russian revolution, forcing her into exile in Paris. She spent the rest of her life in near-poverty and her talents were only recognised posthumously. Amazingly, despite all that she went through, her paintings emit a sense of hope and a very simple, un-superficial sense of happiness. There is a wonderful slideshow of her work here: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/zinaida-serebriakova/

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Of all her paintings, my favourite is her self-portrait “At the Dressing Table”.

The painting is bright, fresh and strangely modern considering it was painted over a hundred years ago.

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“At the Dressing Table” (1909)

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I love the youthful energy the painting emits and the gorgeous little details she choose to include – look at those beautiful bottles, fluffy powder puff and delicate lace details! Where is she going – for a rendezvous with her paramour? I wish I could ask her, don’t you?