I can still remember with remarkable clarity, the first time I saw Viktor Plotnikov’s Coma. I was 13 and a member of the Junior Company at FBP, which relegated me to the very first row of the theater, waiting with the other young dancers to deliver bouquets to the principals at the end of the show. Not ideal seating for a ballet, but secretly, it was exactly where I wanted to be.
When the curtain rose for Coma, the entire audience hung breathless. Dancers swung just feet above the stage, their horizontal bodies cutting through the air like blades. The effect was startling, so striking and beautiful that I actually felt deaf for a moment. Visual imagery overwhelmed me and for a moment all I could do was see it. But I was seeing not in the traditional method of perception through retinal observation; I was not looking, I was seeing it. Not observing, but absorbing.
Moments later, a bell chimed, waking my ears from their momentary impedance, and the dancers abruptly rose from their positions. A haunting oscillation between silence and sound flooded my eardrums, and I realized the visual components, though stunning, may not even be my favorite part of this ballet. It took me about 16 seconds to fall in love with Arvo Pärt’s tragically beautiful music, particularly Spiegel im spiegel, used in the end of the ballet. After a number of difficult movements depicting heartache, sadness, and the grief of the living, two of the “coma” dancers (the ballet is split into “coma patients” and “visitors”) dance together with a dream-like serenity that plucks you up out of your seat and into the weightless world of a vast oblivion. It’s delicate and devastating. A completely heedless surrender to the bliss that envelopes the unaware moribund. Profound in its simplicity, and harrowing in its youthful intonation. I was transfixed. So much so, that my plucky little teenage self mustered the courage to approach the great Viktor Plotnikov (after performing my flower delivery duties, of course) to let him know how much the ballet moved me, and also to ask for a bit of insight into the plotline and inspiration. In the true Plotnikov fashion that I would become all too familiar with in years to come, Viktor simply replied, “Tell me what do you think it is about?” And then I was speechless.
Eight years later, the ballet is being revived for the third time, after being performed the season following its premiere upon popular audience request to see it again, and then traveling to Venezuela with the company several years later. FBP doesn’t perform Coma until this spring, but my entire season has secretly revolved around whether or not I would be cast in the masterpiece which struck my senses so intimately all those years ago. I invite you to imagine my sheer elation when I learned that not only was I cast in the ballet, but I would be dancing the very part which taught my eyes to see music, the final pas de deux to Spiegel im spiegel. It’s an honor that I don’t take lightly, and although we’ve already begun setting the ballet, I am extremely anxious to begin rehearsals with Viktor this week. I hope to uncover more clarity in my own divulgence into this ballet, but this quote from Mr. Plotnikov during the early stages of Coma’s choreography does shed some light on the subject:
“This ballet is abstract, but with a deep emotional quality I think people will be drawn to. The piece portrays the difficult feelings friends and family experience when a loved one is in a comatose state, and flipping the coin, also depicts the vision I have of those actually in the coma. I feel the mind of one in a coma is a beautiful place to be, as is the transition to the next place. Arvo Part’s music is important to the piece, an amazing composer who gives both the notes and the silence equal weight. This is very appealing to a choreographer such as myself. I feel extremely fortunate to have been granted the rights to the music for this piece, as it’s not easily given.” (Dance Magazine)
It seems the music was just as vital to Viktor’s creation as it was to my artistic awakening. Stay tuned for more on this enigmatic masterpiece…