Photo by Rick Prieur

Arts & Antiques

A Fragile Art Form Visits The Brandywine River Museum

By Bill Conville |

A ballerina stands lightly en pointe in a moment of graceful fragile certainty, feet arched to perfection and a hand stretched toward the Heavens. Another dancer in mid-arabesque raises her back leg gracefully. A third is momentarily frozen in time as she leaps through the air with legs stretched into a perfect straight line.

But scattered among the tutus, pink ballet shoes, and classical poses there are signs that these are not conventional ballet dancers at a generic American museum: Clues include classical poses executed with laser like precision and paintings of a Russian icon of ballet on exhibit in the galleries plus handmade costumes stitched together by a Moscow born, Bolshoi trained ballerina. The costumes are designed by Ms. Anastasia Babayeva, who is also the Artistic Director of the Academy of International Ballet (AIB) in Media, PA.

Photo by Rick Prieur

Anastasia explained: “Perhaps no other cultural institution in Hunt Country offers a better sanctuary for the creative process than the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA. It serves the region as a protective cathedral for the imagination. Yes, I said imagination, because imagination is central to art, to ballet and to our lives. Without imagination there are no dreams, without dreams there is no art, and without art there is nothing. This vibrant museum exudes creative imagination in their galleries, exhibits and programs. I sense that patrons, artists, and loyal visitors know one fundamental certainty in the art world and that is this museum celebrates preserves and protects art work that captures on canvas the people, personalities and beautiful landscapes of the Brandywine region in their very own unique light.”

She continued, “The visit by our dancers, today, was a kaleidoscope of ballet styles including selections from the perennial favorite Nutcracker Ballet, to selections from the Romantic period in ballet to several contemporary pieces. It is part of an ongoing outreach program by AIB to share the beauty and joy of classical ballet when performed in the finest traditions of the Bolshoi. The performance, today, showcases what happens when the performing arts visit the visual arts in a receptive location. They share a common theme: the perennial search for beauty and the fragile joy of imagination and creativity.”

Ballet and paintings have long overlapped in the creative world. Ballet has been captured on canvas by painters for many years from the French Master Degas to the unique paintings on display here of the Russian born ballet hero Rudolf Nureyev. His raw energy and polished demeanor are captured in mixed media by Jamie Wyeth. Whenever gracefully performing dancers are captured by visual artists then the two complementary art forms are once again happily married.

And capturing such images is not limited to the artist’s canvas. It also extends to the lens of the ballet photographer. “I enjoy any collaboration with creative people—painters, musicians or dancers” explained professional photographer Rick Prieur who captured in images the fleeting moments of the performance. A single photograph may capture a moment, but a collection can open a window into the fragile art form of ballet. Prieur added, “there is a way that they react in front of the camera, which is very confident and relaxed. Photographing the dancers was a very nice experience because they are so professional, they understand very well how to stand and act and, of course, they understand their bodies.”

A case en pointe:

Photo by Rick Prieur

So what makes ballet a fragile art form? Anastasia’s husband and dance partner in life Denis Gronostayskiy explained, “ballet is a passion driven learning experience. What does the ballet experience consist of one might ask. For one, it is the layering and layering of training, practice and performance experiences that merges the memories, senses and life experiences. The dancer must ignore the immediate need to impress or please anybody including oneself during the creative act of self explanation. The dancer, while in motion, must embrace uncertainty with total self confidence and stellar technique. The goal is to produce a unique and authentic performance for the audience, the choreographer, the other dancers and oneself. For all ballet dancers both amateur and professional there is an insatiable curiosity and desire to make sense of human motion and movement in the world. But because classical ballet has no text books to keep the art alive, it therefore can be lost within one generation and so, by urgent necessity, the flame of ballet is passed from one body to another. In the ballet world, where low tech means of transmitting steps from teacher to student is revered, old dancers never die. They echo in the muscles of the young. Where do I think ballet is now you ask? I have affection for the past and anticipation for the future. However, we must never mistake a sunset for a dawn. I don’t want to see ballet be like a candle slowly extinguishing. So you see ballet is a very fragile art form.”

Gronostayskiy added. “I am frequently asked after a performance how a classically trained ballet dancer can bring beautiful calm, impeccable technique and vibrant passion to the human body when it is not only in motion but also resisting the ceaseless tug of gravity. The answer is simple: it is practice, practice, practice. It never stops.” Gronostayskiy then smiled and said, “The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continues to practice at age 90. His response was, “Because I think I am making progress.”  

Photo by Rick Prieur

“It was an inspiring experience for our dancers to visit this unique museum. In preparing for our visit my wife and I visited this museum several times to grasp what the Wyeth artists were trying to achieve. As a choreographer one is always focused on the little TV screen in your head as you try to picture movement and connect them to the paintings, so it was really an education to have to get inside the imagination of the painters to see how they approach their material to make it work. I wanted to match the hundred of shades of color in the paintings with the hundred of movements with our dancers. I believe paintings and ballet go together as well as gin and tonic. They’re the perfect combination. They’re both focused on the aesthetic of beautiful lines and shapes,” said Gronostayskiy.

I asked Anastasia and Denis what the meaning of life is and how they see themselves within the world of ballet. They said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. How do we see ourselves? We see ourselves as special correspondents to the next generation.”

A well-known volunteer presence in the Delaware County arts community, Bill Conville is heavily involved with the Delaware County Symphony and contributes extensively to The Academy of International Ballet and International Ballet Classique.