Last week I watched the television live broadcast of tennis hottie Marat Safin playing his final match in Paris. At 29, the tennis world’s most charismatic and temperamental star was retiring. Safin, a gorgeous hunk with movie star looks, was a former world number one. However, he decided that it was time to move on. How come our dancers never get this thought? Dance is an unforgiving art, pushing our bodies to the extreme with the daily abhyaas, the sweat and merciless gaze of media and audiences who watch our every move and wait for us to fall off our pedestal. Our art allows us to grow internally through our teens, twenties, thirties, forties and even fifties. When we enter the sixties it is really time for all our divas and devas to consider hanging up the boots. Or in this case the ankle bells.
There is a grand event for each dancer called the arangetram. This is the debut of the performing artiste as he or she ascends the stage. How come we just don’t have an event called the arang-erakkam, the final show and the descent of the dancer from the professional stage and performing circuit. One can argue that art is not a job or a vocation, but a calling to a higher purpose. However, there is a time for even the greatest of performers to morph into teachers, mentors and occupy a space of wisdom that only life experience can give. Nobody wants to see hanging jowls, paunchy dancers with 70 mm hips and flabby arms. These living legends should be presented and seen in small salon type of chamber concerts and not in mainstream festivals and large dance venues.
In the West, dancers stop performing at age 40. An exception was Martha Graham who danced past 65 and ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov who shares Safin’s looks, charisma and skill. While Baryshnikov’s extraordinary talent allowed him to dance past age 40, he simultaneously started a company of senior dancers between 40 and 50 years of age called The White Oak Project. In Canada, Karen Kain and Margie Gillis are fabulous soloists who, in their fifties, appear in very rare short performances. Granted that the arts are not about winning or losing like other spheres of activity. But we live in an age of youth, speed and unforgiving greed. The older dancers have enjoyed their time in the sun. Talented young dancers wait and wilt for their turn to appear in important and prestigious festivals, which are always dominated by the seniors.
In every field of activity, there is an optimum period of contribution and service. Then there is the inevitable end. Sports and dancing demand much of the ageing body. Is it not better to retire like Safin and Baryshnikov when you are still fit and fabulous and adored by many rather than hobble off the centre stage with a walking stick? Quit when you are ahead. Easy to say but impossible to do in our country.