Poems of Gesture: Jewels
September 17, 2019,
George Balanchine once described dancers as "poets of gesture." With that evocative line in mind for our 19-20 Season, we invited a group of poets to explore the ways in which the stage and the page unite in a series of commissioned poems, including this piece on Jewels from Corps de Ballet Member Mary Elizabeth Sell.
Wrapped tulle of vibrant green
Striking Emeralds set the scene.
Her feet match the sparkles adorning her hair
Elegant gestures are made with purpose and care.
She gives light to this precious gem
Swirling her romantic-length hem.
She inspires respect for her history
But always maintains her mystery.
Elegant perfume lingers softly behind
Forming heavy memories in the mind.
Emeralds possess an elusive luster
Inviting the desire to trust her.
Deep inside the hollowed cave
Where the temptress Ruby’s made
Velvet limbs fly like flames
Sparking each other in playful games.
Flashy and filled with fun
Ruby’s dance has just begun.
Pushing and pulling to fuel the fires
Of her rich and tumultuous desires.
The passionate energy Ruby owns
Is unlike all other stones.
Her color so warm and robust
Her movements like stars combust.
Diamonds turn light into a dance
Expressing the maturity of true romance.
Every shade of emotion may be seen
Through the facets of her sheen.
No two Diamonds are ever the same
Each must have her very own name.
Her shapes and lines reveal her story
Of strength and of radiant glory.
Her every angle powerful and bold
She is the grandest gem to behold.
An imperial queen reigning bright
Diamonds dance brilliantly in light.
Mary Elizabeth Sell is a member of NYCB's corps de ballet. Lauren Lovette named her 2017 ballet Not Our Fate after the final three words in one of Sell’s poems, which was also featured in the accompanying Playbill. Learn more about the process of turning a ballet into a poem in this exclusive Q&A.
What is it that you most appreciate about poetry as a creative medium? About ballet?
With poetry, I appreciate that I have an almost endless variety of words I can string together in any way I want to express my thoughts and emotions. With ballet, I appreciate the freedom it gives me to express my more abstract ideas and emotions — the ones that don’t have words to describe them. I also love the rules and discipline of both mediums because I like to live by the mantra that one must know the rules in order to break them.
What difficulties, if any, did you face in capturing movement with language?
I find it easy to describe in words what I see when I watch Jewels, but it is very challenging to express what I feel when I watch and dance the ballets. This has a lot to do with the power of the music and how it travels into my brain and out through my body. It’s a feeling that we simply don’t have words to describe, which I think is wonderful. The closest one can get to music through words on a page is poetry. This is why I like to rhyme my poems. It may seem trite or even juvenile but to me it’s musical.
How did your creative process shift when it came to writing about ballet as opposed to dancing it?
The best thing about these two creative mediums is that each fulfills what the other lacks. Sometimes I want to be very direct and specific and that requires language. However, most of the time I want to express a feeling through my movement, which is informed almost entirely by the music. I will never be able to fully write what it feels like to dance Diamonds — how the strong notes of the horns and drums vibrate inside my rib cage and the woodwinds make my feet point and move with precision. In a similar way I will never be able to communicate with my movement very specific ideas as I can with words.
Balanchine described dancers as “poets of gesture.” How does that line resonate with you given this assignment?
Describing dancers as "poets of gesture" is spot on. The poets I admire most are those who make music with their words, the same is true for the movement of dancers. I think it is a dancer’s responsibility to communicate thoughts and emotions in the most beautiful and glorious way they can. Poets distill what they want to say into only the most beautiful and meaningful words, dancers do the same with their gestures.