high marks

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Nina Ananiashvili and Bruce Marks, photo by VAM Productions

There is a significant someone missing from my previous YAGP posts, and that’s because I thought he deserved one of his own. The Youth America Grand Prix’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award was given to charming Mr. Bruce Marks, and boy, is he deserving. Though Marks’ roster of lifetime achievements is exceedingly impressive- an alumni of Brandeis and Julliard, protege of Anthony Tudor, principal dancer with The Metropolitan Opera, American Ballet Theatre and The Royal Danish Ballet, Artistic Director of Ballet West and Boston Ballet, to name a few- his proudest achievement seems to be the one he’s still working on: inspiring the next generation.

By Annie Watt-47915-Bruce Marks

Bruce Marks dancing with YAGP competitors at the Stars Gala Dinner

Bruce Marks accepted his recognition during The Stars of Today Meet The Stars of Tomorrow gala, fittingly just after the massive collection of baby bunheads known as Grand Défilé finished performing. Adorable little Guin Anne and the lovely State Ballet of Georgia Artistic Director Nina Ananiashvili presented the award. Marks’ speech was smart, sincere- albeit a bit on the lengthy side- but gracious and passionate nonetheless. All adjectives that seem suitable to describing the illustrious man himself. But my interaction with Mr. Marks took those things one step further…

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Just after the gala dinner of a lifetime, as B and I were returning to the Empire to hit the rooftop for a nightcap, it became very apparent to us that every fancy person we’d rubbed elbows with that night was doing the same. Passing by familiar faces in the crosswalk and making our way to the entrance, we  practically bumped straight into Bruce Marks under the awning, chatting with a few adoring friends of his. We paused, his famous friends departed, and with his gaze right on us, we approached. I extended a hand to introduce myself, but instead Mr. Marks warmly interrupted, “Come here, give me a kiss.” I felt like I was back in the shoes of my 14-year-old self, awestruck over one of the true greats. Pulling us in for quick hugs, we managed our hellos and expressed thanks for his immense dedication to the furthering of ballet education. Of course, it was difficult not to let slip at least one remark about his incredible legacy as a dancer. To that he replied- humble as anything- some more eloquent version of being in the right place at the right time. Marks credited his success to the dancers who taught him, noting that his duty is to spread what they gave him, “from Bejing to Brazilia”. What Mr. Marks said next really stuck with me:

“I’m a conduit, not a camera.”

I’m a conduit, not a camera. It appears Marks would suggest that he is a transmitter, not a machine made to capture. His job, according to him, is to transfer information. It is not to contain and show, but to give away. It felt like a metaphor for something even more, like the truest expression of ballet itself. It is not a tangible, framable art form. Not something to be held or collected, but a series of hard-earned, emotional moments, given away to the audience in the form of some lingering impression.

trust fall

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For a moment I swear I was flying.  Cradled by the air I hung in suspension, held in that pocketed ballon that dancers are addicted to.  I was weightless…then breathless.  My body came smacking, hips first, into the ground and the wind rushed out of me like a bubble with a rock on it.  Confusion, then quick surprise, and dread of imminent pain inundated my brain, emotions angrily mobbing one on top of another, each demanding my undivided attention and the cells coiled within my skull swirled out from the center like a miniature big bang theory.  Knees shrinking into my chest to relieve the anchored hip, my ability to shift without triggering any shooting pain assured me that my pelvis was not shattered.  Score.  Faces circled around my folded figure as I asthmatically mouthed I’m fine I’m fine, really in a way that made me seem very un-fine.  Twenty seconds later, ice packs lined my left side and I was laughing sadistically at my own misfortune.

I have talked about falling before, but never have I collided so forcefully with the floor that another dancer looked down at me in horror, tears fighting at the gates.  She had seen the entire plunge transpire, from my squatted take off, to the five-foot high jeté, to the precarious flip and, ultimately, the aforementioned (is it too soon to brand it “infamous”?) body slam.  Cringe-worthy to say the least, but I got lucky; Just a bit bruised up and slightly embarrassed…or so I thought…

It really is true that there are times in this career where your personal life starts to echo your professional life- almost to a fault.  Bruce Marks said, “There are falls that happen when you dance fully…and that’s worth it.”  I’m sure you are all sick to death of the depressing nature of this blog as of late, so I’ll keep this as short as possible;  I have learned a lot in the past few months, and one of the most important lessons thus far has been this:  Being honest with yourself is vital.  Personal integrity builds a trust within one’s self and when this trust grows strong enough, a safe space is built.  This space allows for self-reliance, physically and emotionally.  Use this personal integrity liberally, cultivate it frequently, and trust only you with its care.  When it comes time to trust another with something as sacred as this safe space, do, but do so carefully.  Remember, when you dance, live, and love fully, you are likely to fall, and it may not always be the good kind of falling.