Striving for Perfection
“La Bayadere” includes one of the “most iconic and breathtaking scenes in classical ballet.” Thirty-two dancers in identical filmy white costumes enter a dream scene from the rear of the stage. One by one, each performs a simple sequence—an arabesque, (a high extension of the leg behind her), arching the back, extending the arms gracefully in front, followed by a few steps forward until gradually the entire stage is filled. Each dancer executes this to superb perfection, mesmerizing the audience with the beauty and serenity of the “Kingdom of the Shades,” a view of the afterworld. A complete contrast with the frenetic activity of the preceding parts of the ballet taking place in the living world of imaginary India.
The performance I had the privilege of experiencing last Saturday at the Segerstrom Center was perfectly executed—scenes, music, costumes and of course, most of all, the dancers. Highly practiced in their athleticism and their expressive art, their professionalism and dedication to every detail—the tilting of the head, the placement of the foot, the holding of the hand so that all five fingers are placed correctly—are all essential parts in conveying the message of the piece. With colossal effort over years, these all came together for three hours of viewing, for the audience, a world of perfection.
Growing up in Catholic school, we were similarly trained to seek spiritual and life- accomplishment perfection. The confessions I used to make, “I fought with my brothers four times,” recited just the most easily remembered defects in my character. I continue to find that every day perfection eludes us in so many ways. A cross word, an imagined offense, a non-acceptance of someone who is different from what we view as the norm, the downhill path of imperfection is broad and slippery.
Now we have a political environment, nationally and here in Laguna Beach, that is concentrating on what’s wrong with others in the same performance, in the same theater. The lead characters are bickering and the performance is suffering. It’s far from perfect. “She’s bobbing her head.” “They’re lying.” “ Someone’s sabotaging back stage.” There’s no all-powerful conductor or ballet master to set things straight. We rely on each person to seek what is best and do their best to make a more perfect world and community in a harmonious way. The path may be uphill and difficult. The perfection goal may be like a mirage, always ahead of us but never quite within reach, like the afterworld in “La Bayadere”. Still, our living world will be better for our having tried.
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and member of the City Council.