What is it that makes certain performers magnetic?
This past weekend I saw Pacific Northwest Ballet perform at the Joyce here in New York City. I was taken aback by the bevy of beautiful bodies onstage. Almost every female dancer had exquisitely long limbs, ideal ballet proportions, feet to die for and even model-worthy facial features. They were Ballerina Barbie come to life—if Ballerina Barbie had been designed by George Balanchine.
And then there was soloist Rachel Foster. She was a few inches shorter than the other dancers in both of the pieces I saw her in (Twyla Tharp’s Opus 111 and Benjamin Millepied’s 3 Movements). And while she’s thin, instead of a delicate, lithe silhouette, she sports an athletic, muscle-y build. She does not have what most pre-professional ballet students think of as “the perfect ballet body.”
But she was breathtaking. Every time she moved, it felt like she was literally speaking to the audience. You could almost hear a raspy voice as she powered through Tharp’s jaunty choreography. Even when her arms sometimes landed in awkward positions, they looked completely real. They were in that less-than-elegant place because her body was doing something more important than hitting positions: it was really dancing. And it was fantastic.
She’s got chutzpah, and it vibrates out into the audience. Every time Rachel left the stage I couldn’t wait until she came back on, and when she did, I barely saw anyone else up there because I was so entranced by her movement.
Although sky-high developpés and triple pirouettes are nice, when you get onstage, the audience never notices 180-degree turnout. In fact, if you’re really moving, audiences can never even tell if you have 180-degree turnout or not. What they do notice, however, is spirit. And even beautiful bodies can’t distract them from the girl with the spark.