Weightless in Exile


My story about Hayna Gutierrez, a star Cuban ballerina who now dances for Calgary-based Alberta Ballet, appears in the current issue (May 2013) of Alberta Views.

I met wit Hayna last winter when the company was preparing for their annual performance of The Nutcracker. For my research, I briefly sat in on one of the rehearsals. I expected to see a troupe of dancers learning to be sugarplum fairies. I thought I’d watch teachers and directors instruct the dancers artistically. Teaching them to be beautiful.

Instead, I was surprised to see something far more physical than artistic. On the edges of the room, dancers rubbed their sore arms and legs while listening to their iPods. A therapy ball was lodged beneath a baby grand piano. On a loft overlooking the studio, two dancers rode exercise bikes. On the floor itself, an instructor was working with a single ballerina, having her perform the same few steps over and over again to the same few bars of music. I heard her tell the dancer to “raise her lever”  – by this I understood to mean her leg – by a few more degrees. Her instructions were wholly technical. I was surprised how much the scene reminded me of my University wrestling practices. (And I mean this with the highest reverence.) Wrestlers talk of ‘levers.’ We repeat the same movements over and over again. The dancers I witnessed were training their bodies and their technique more than they were ‘creating art.’

Of course, anyone who has seen an Alberta Ballet performance knows that, on stage, the dancers do, in fact create art. They are pure and gifted artists. They appear weightless on stage, and resemble the birds and fairies that their movements are meant to represent. I feel fortunate, though, to have been granted an insight in the physical training that forms the muscular foundation for this artistry.