Living in the middle of Kansas doesn’t mean we’re devoid of culture. In fact, there’s a lot more appreciation for the finer things in life out here than the mainstream media gives us credit for. We are more likely to travel long distances to seek culture than those who live in a large metropolitan area. It’s easy, after all, to take in a play, a concert, or the ballet if you’re a short subway or taxi ride away from the event. You may even take it for granted, and develop an attitude that if it’s worth seeing, it will come to you.
But here, we make a commitment to the artist, and the trip is part of the experience. Much like the experience I had with my daughters Wednesday, when we travelled to Wichita to see the Russian National Ballet perform Swan Lake.
Not only were the tickets costly (at least, on a journalist’s salary), it required almost a full tank of gasoline and over two hours driving in the cold, wind and rain to arrive at our destination. Narrow shoulder roads, sheets of water blurring the windshield as semi-trucks blast by dumping their back spray in their wake, gusts of wind pushing your vehicle around the lane, it’s enough to rattle anyone’s nerves. Still, the young ladies managed to fall asleep to the rhythm of the windshield wipers. For a large portion of the drive there, I was left to the company of Siri dictating where and when to turn.
When we arrived at Wichita it was from a new, unfamiliar direction. Siri became frustrated with the detours, so we had to turn her off. Luckily, we found our way to the performing arts center and only had to walk half a mile from our parking space. It’s a good thing we didn’t stop for dinner, or we might have missed the beginning of the dance.
Having spent years attending dance competitions and recitals, I still felt awed by the ability of the dancers. There is a beauty and grace that is captured uniquely in ballet, with it’s fluid movements. So much more control and finesse shows when a ballerina slowly raises a pointed toe overhead and slowly turns. Compare this to the quick, powerful bursts of energy from a jazz or hip-hop dancer. And to see it done by world-renown artists is even more impressive.
So here’s the funny thing I reflected on as we watched Prince Siegfried triumphantly lift Odette overhead. Why were we there? Why had we travelled so many miles in bad weather to see this astounding performance in this day and age. We could have stayed home, watched something similar on television, or something else entirely.
I realized that it all had to do with my grandmother, and her attempts to help a slightly pigeon-toed four year old become graceful. She paid for me to take ballet lessons for a year or two because she’d noticed I had a tendency to walk with my toes pointed in. In that time, I had two recitals, and had two tiny tutus to show for it. I learned my positions, but I didn’t really like it--mostly because I found the bar work boring. I just wanted to dance like a ballerina. Eventually, the lessons stopped, and it didn’t make me sad. Still, when I saw dance, I was drawn in, and later when I had my own daughters, I signed them up for classes when they expressed an interest.
They’ve made me proud with their dance accomplishments, and because of that, we went to the ballet. The ride home was much the same as the ride there, but the mood was light -- as light as a ballerina leaping seemingly in slow motion through the air.