Contrary to the barbed-wire-fenced ranch land the "BBB" initials connote, Ballet Beyond Borders has no limits or borders, passports or visas. It stands for an international panegyric written by bodies pushing further physical and cultural limits.
From the Chinese Vancouver School of Ballet exacting precise movements to the writhing freestyle of rap-dance — all the festival’s dancing bodies were transcending personal histories, suffering and limitations. Such as the young Brazilian whose joyful frenzy exalted, against all odds, the vital, erotic energy of a culture threatened by an ominous populism, or the Romanian couple, who danced away the ecstasy and agony of the eternally stormy man/woman problematic.
Dance is as ancient as humanity.
The actor/filmmaker Jamal Shah, who presented his movie "Revenge of the Worthless" (about the Swat Valley Taliban who forbade dancing), said during the festival’s diplomacy program that by helping us refine our humanity, art fills the abyss haunting us all. Dance does it well, since it passes through the Babel-like divide of languages and jumps over walls.
Wouldn’t be amazing if Israeli/Palestinian and Latino/Anglo dancers could use the walls separating their respective nations for ballet? Imagine bodies using bungee cords, dancing up the concrete or metallic barriers!
Blackfeet dancers were also present, projecting their intense expressions beyond the reservation’s limits — beyond the legacy of a genocidal history. The Italian Venice dance school performed to Chaplin’s final speech in "The Great Dictator": “You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure... Let us fight for a new world — a decent world... By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!” A moving moment indeed.
Dancers brought from all over their national, ethnic, cultural and political legacies (some would say “baggage” — and so be it) to show how, via hard work and perseverance, one can, not reach for the stars (a trite, commercial cliché), but for one’s own transcendental elevation. In fact, at times, it was as if bodies levitated, negating mass and inertia, i.e. gravity. Dancing bodies are, of course, political bodies, although they point towards new dimensions in politics, going beyond
the limits of private/national interests. They are also sexed bodies. Some dancers were pointing towards a zone of ambiguity; a performative place questioning traditional understandings of gender roles. They were also pushing limits in their own ways.
For a few days, BBB showed Missoula what can be done against all odds, by suffering or contented bodies; poor or rich; privileged or under-privileged. Being human means suffering. Some people suffer more than others, due to life’s contingencies and contradictions, unfair economical systems, bad luck — whatever the cause, too many look for relief via opioids, alcohol or drugs, which give a fleeting escape from misery’s plight. But they carry a deadly price. They can never bring the joy, sense of well-being, happiness and health dance can provide. BBB showed us that the way to the soul is through a dancing body. Montana needs Missoula’s BBB, aka Charlene Campbell Carey’s Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre.
By the way, the early ranch reference is not gratuitous, since BBB wants to buy a ranch to further its mission; a place where youth from all over would come to dance, study, meditate and practice in the woods and fields of the Bitterroot Valley under the guidance of international, experienced teachers. Its cost? $1 million. But it will fulfill 1 million dreams. One dollar a dream is an easy trade-off.
Long live Ballet Beyond Borders.
Michel Valentin is a retired University of Montana faculty member and researcher for the Missoula-based Existential Psychoanalytic Institute and Society.