When it comes to performing, when are artists at their best? Is it in youth, when bodies are limber and compliant with the physical and technical demands of an art form? Or is it when they are older, when life experience has provided fodder for deeper expression?
Dancers and singers often experience a shift in balance as they age. Take, for instance, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Years ago, the world marveled at the young dancer who seemed to levitate at will. In his youth, he could execute 14 pirouettes when the average dancer could manage 4. With grace and strength, he commanded the stage as though he was part bird, part feline. Every move he made demonstrated grace, strength and technical beauty.
Years later and now in his sixties, Baryshnikov is still dancing, but very differently. No longer able to achieve great heights, and with knees that would complain about the demands of landing from them anyway, he performs pieces that are far less demanding. His territory, now limited to the wooden planks of the stage, seems far smaller and constraining. And yet, watching him dance, today, doesn’t elicit feelings of sympathy. He never once gives the impression that he is a tethered bird. Any creative person knows that limitation breeds creativity. And the simple fact is, because of Baryshnikov’s life experience, he is dancing with more wisdom, self expression and passion than he ever did as a young man. He has taken his experience, his passion, and his limitations, and turned them into something meaningful. He has created art that inspires and impresses.
It would be such a gift to carry the vitality of our youth into the fuller years of our adulthood. Imagine what we could accomplish. Sadly, never the twain shall meet. We can choose to fight our progression into adulthood… or honor it, and incorporate it into our art. After all, it was the author, Soren Kierkegaard, who once said, “Life is best understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”