Monday, April 03, 2006
Young Iraqi Ballerinas
This is going to be a slow rambling post about ... well, to begin with, this photograph. It appeared in the Asian Age, Sunday April 2nd 2006 on page 16 "Newsmakers" of the DELHI AGE section. It's an AFP photograph but has no other captions or credits and when I searched for it online couldn't locate it on the AFP site. So ... here it is, scanned from my newspaper in all its grainy glory.
I found myself gazing at it several times all through the day. I don't know whether your screen rez allows you to see the painterly texture of the image, the wonderful Degas flavour of it, echoed in the painting of a ballerina displayed on the back wall of the stage (I don't think it is a Degas, but it has the correct mood to be one). The colours, the expressions on the faces of the little girls, the curious suspension of life and reality beautifully symbolized by the pair of dancers behind the row of girls in front, of a slightly older ballerina supported on the arms of a male dancer, whom we see only from the waist down. She is all pastel and pink, her cruelly dainty shoes -- can't you just feel the tender toes cramped and bleeding within the tiny wooden cage of that unnatural footwear! -- raised in the air, while he ... well ... he's just the muscle in the picture and yet, in his uniqueness, he stands out. We don't see his face, yet we can guess that he is strangely handsome, that he lives a life that most young men only dream of, immersed up to his bobbing Adam's apple in acres of virginal semi-clad female flesh.
It is hard to know what story or moment is being depicted here. What exactly is the meaning of those tender, underdeveloped limbs, just one for each of the young girls, raised up at that ungainly angle? Are they in the midst of a dance movement or was the photograph posed, frozen for the camera? There is something so thrillingly familiar about the expressions on those very young faces -- the combination of boredom and solemn engagement, the prim sweetness of the wreaths around the heads, the flushed pink skin, the glistening eyes, the half-opened mouths. There is, about the picture, a hushed breathlessness, just as these girls' lives, one senses, are also hushed, breathless, half-open, paused: until ... time's little switches get turned on one by one; they blossom and grow full; the weight of womanly Otherness transforms them; that sweetness is gone -- replaced with other flavours, for sure --but never again that intense, that pure, that unconscious sweetness.
It is very odd for me to have these thoughts.
I have seen lots of pictures of ballerinas before; one of my schools offered ballet as an option and therefore I saw many versions of these young dancers performing in real life, and can still see them in my memory. I used to get Girls Own annuals with endless photo essays of ballerinas and their costumes, hopes, tears, triumphs. Yet none of these remembered pictures evoked in me the confused thoughts that this picture did.
Is it because I know that the girls are Iraqi and that their performance takes place against the backdrop of the war that has engulfed their world? Here's what the text says: Life goes on: Young Iraqi ballerinas perform on a Baghdad stage on Saturday during the opening ceremenony of the First Festival of Child Theatre in Iraq. The 11-day Festival started despite the death of two actors who were to perform in one of the plays in the festival. Their bodies, riddled with bullets were found last week in the war-torn Iraqi capital. The festival is dedicated to Iraqi children and aims to revive happiness among the children, who witness daily bloodshed in their country. (AFP)
On the one hand, I feel what (perhaps) the festival organizers would like everyone to feel -- that it is a remarkable achievement to be able to produce a full-fledged ballet in a country that has seen the kind of upheaval that has been the stuff of front page news for ... oh ... three years already? On the other hand, I feel it is bizarre and inappropriate for little girls to be paraded in this way for all the world to gawp at. I feel quite guilty harbouring such thoughts. But there you are: with one part of my mind, I feel that this kind of display of little girls is exactly what leads, through sad and twisted pathways, into crimes against girls and women.
With these thoughts still twitching and fidgeting in the back of my mind, today, I accessed this link sent to me by Zigzackly. It's a must-read blog-post and it makes reference to two very shocking incidents -- one that occurred in Vietnam, at My Lai, and another that occurred out of media view, to the blogger herself.
In case it seems as if I'm leading up to a grand general theory -- I am going to disappoint you -- coz NO, I'm not. I just wanted to present two very different images of reality, and leave you with the task of working out how we manage to live with both of them side by side(-- okay, not physically, but certainly juxtaposed through the magic of media) in the same world.
And that's all for today.