Friday, March 14, 2008


When I was young, I envisioned muses as Grecian nymphs, clad in flowing togas, swanning around looking inspirational. My mother was a Graecophile. 

I had heaps of books on Greek myths and gods by the time I was 3. She would read to me and made me learn the pantheon of gods alongside the multiple timetables. She tried to make us both learn Greek so we could read Homer in the "original language". She even attempted to name me Vita as a child. Thank God my father put a stop to that.

I first came across the word "muse' when I was 6 and she was the one who explained the meaning to me. She used the example of painting and dance.

"Remember Uncle Roger? All those paintings in his house that he drew? Well, remember he said we could be his muses?"

"Isn't that a model, Mummy?"

"Well, yes ... but more special."

"How special?"

"Very special."

"How special is very special, Mummy?"

And so on. Yes, I drove the poor woman barmy. In desperation, she took out some of my art books and showed me the paintings of the old masters. Mona Lisa. Muse. OK. David. Muse. Degas' Ballerinas. Muses. Got it.

Then she played me Swan Lake with Fonteyn and Nureyev. 

"See your favourite dancers, honey?"

"Yes, Mummy ... Fonteyn and Nureyev."

"Yes. They were each other's muses."

"But they are not painters, Mummy. How can they be muses?"

"Remember the Greek stories about the nine sisters? Well, each of them was in charge of a special gift."

Of course, as she explained, I pointed out that none of them were in charge of paintings and she tried to distract me with more ballet videos.

So the concept of muses underlaid my perception of creation. As I grew older, I realised it need not be a physical entity or person but a concept, a leaf, a cloud, an avatar of one of the nine pesky sisters.

I've always created for myself. I am self-centred and can be maniacally obsessive compulsive about my craft. My own idea of drive and completion is not easily shared by others. In my later dance years I have learnt to create for others. An organic progression as my skills were honed and my perceptions widened.

Yet, my best dances could only ever be performed by me. Perhaps it is because I am an "emotional" dancer and am noted for choreographing pieces that require a fair amount of maturity, emotiveness and technique. 

Often, my vision is let down by the dancers and I resign myself to solo creations. Even in duets, it is exceptionally hard to find the right partner. 

As a child, I viewed Fonteyn and Nureyev through glittery, rose-tinted glasses. They were my quintessential Romeo and Juliet. As I grew older, I realise how rare they were.

Once in a lifetime, you may find a partner that speaks to every part of you. Knows you through and through. Can anticipate every move you make before you even think it. Mould to each movement of your body like a second skin. Whose breath will catch as yours catch, exhale languidly as you draw the deepest sigh. Share the same breath, heartbeat and touch.

You find many workable partners. Some may even come close to that level of intimacy. But only one can spark you such that you both become more ... bigger than the individual part.

Many people assume that dance partners who can inflame each other so heatedly on the dance floor have to be sexually entwined. Fonteyn and Nureyev were wildly different. Age gap of 20 years, completely different temperaments and as likely to have a cougar relationship as I am to turn blonde. Yet they were one of the most phenomenal dance partnerships this world will ever know.

I have no idea if I found my ultimate muse. I once imagined I did. I still do but I have learnt that life always has surprises for you. 

When we danced together, everyone felt the heat of our passion. Our bodies so in tuned that many times it seemed as one. I knew what he wanted from one slight narrowing of eye. He could sense my breath signaling my readiness for a leap. People observed that we glowed when we danced together and seemed diminished when we were apart. We truly set the floor and each other on fire.

He was one of my first real dance partners. I met him at a friend's party. Typically, all the girls were at one end of the room and the boys another. Wistful and heated glances were exchanged but no one danced with each other.

I was in my usual uniform of denim skirt and bright tank top chatting with my girlfriends when the music started. My feet tapped as I continued the conversation.

He came right at me. Face to face. He had balls. I was known to have a temper and if some strange bloke tried to hit on me, would usually find his balls tied around his neck.

"May I have this dance?"

He met my eyes clearly and did not flinch. His smile was sunny and broad. 


And that was that. The moment he held my hand, we both knew. Muse. Hello. Hi. It fits. Yes. Just right. I know. Cool.

We danced as if we had been doing so for decades. Turns were effortless. Dips were spontaneously easy. Jumps and catches performed without warning or discussion. We egged each other on, challenged and fulfilled at the same time. By our second dance, everyone had cleared the floor to watch us.

We did not notice. We were that caught up in each other. The novelty of finding the other pea in the pod. It was exhilarating and I had not felt that alive before. We danced till the place closed.

He walked me home and we exchanged numbers. 

From that day onwards, I snuck out after ballet almost daily for two years to dance and practice with J. My family and dance teachers had no idea. 

He brought concepts, dance styles and ideas that were completely foreign to me. My classical to his modern freestyle. My rigid foundation to his free flowing exploration. We taught and learnt from each other. We gelled and together created dance in its purest and most joyful form.

I performed with him without the knowledge, and thus consent, of my family and teachers. He was the antithesis of everything they would have wanted. From the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. Save the Last Dance For Me was a pale imitation that made me laugh when I saw it decades later.

But he had talent as I have never seen. Pure, unadulterated genius. I was caught up in his virtuosity. He could see a movement once and not just replicate but improve it. His choreography was effortlessly vibrant, dynamic, graceful and powerful. I admired and adored him as the other, better half of me. He idolised me right back and called me his Fonteyn.

We started a young troupe. With next to zero funds and more enthusiasm and talent than sense. The numbers we created and the performances we delivered are still some of the most engaging I have ever been privileged to be part of.

When we were found out, the repercussions were devastating. I was sent packing off to boarding school and he was given the edict never to approach me again. Everyone assumed that we were lovers as well as dance partners. 

We weren't. I was not able to make contact with him again for many years. By the time I returned home, he had left the country. Some said it was to join a troupe. I sincerely hoped so but I never forgot him. He left a legacy of inspiration, creative freedom and perfectionistic mindset that I never relinquished.

I finally met him for a brief, heartbreakingly transient encounter decades later. We danced one last dance together. Slowly. Sadly. The spark was still there. We knew each other's moves and intentions deep in our groin, our gut. We shared our last breaths together as each other's muse.

He died two years later. That year I went to gay Mardi Gras in Sydney and danced on one of the floats for him. I knew he would have loved it and wished he was there with me. It was my tribute to him and to help fight for a cure for the relentless disease that robbed this world of one of the greatest dancers I have even known.

Tonight I considered creating a duet for a young man. He has been stalking me persistently to dance with him. I have been resistant. I have not done a pas de deux in years. I could not see any real synergy between us. I felt nothing between us that could inspire the spark of creativity or fusing. Our age difference could make a duet between us incongruous. The concept of a our duet as lovers would make it a comedy instead of a dance of passion.

But on the way back. In the car. I was listening to the music. I knew he liked it and wanted me to choreograph a solo for him. It's a beautiful piece of music but much more suited to a female dancer. It speaks of a sensitivity, subtle but ruthless sensuality and pathos that he does not possess.

I closed my eyes and fell. My spirit flowed with each haunting draw of the violin. My eyes flickered and darted behind their lids as the heart paced in time to the drums. Everything stilled as my soul ventured forth.

Mother and child. Separated from birth. Crimes of the mother. Bars from the son. Search for identity. Yearning for reunion. 

The dance came together in a matter of minutes. By the time we reached the hotel, I had the loose choreography in my head. I found my muse. Unlikely and unwanted though he is.

I am still uncertain whether I will gift him with this dance. My mesmerising muse. J. Loyal to the core. We never worried about betrayal. A common theme in our world. We trusted each other implicitly.

I do not trust this young man. Not with my dance. I suspect he may deliver it to the technical level I seek. But does he have the moral, emotional and spiritual fortitude to bring it to life and cherish it as the gift it is? Do I want to dance with him and open myself completely to someone who may be unworthy? But the dance has called and I answered. It has taken life but now I seek to hide it from the world? Because I fear betrayal and disappointment? How selfish can I get?

People think muses are desired and sought. Not always so. Sometimes your muse is someone you find nothing in common with. You may even resent and dislike them. But regardless of your conflicts of loyalty and common sense, they spark something in you.

Creation calls. I answer. But do I want to give of myself as I once did? 

J, what do you say? Baby, set it free? You have more in you than one dance? Be nice and share, my Fonteyn? I wish you were here, mate.