Dancing Amidst the Shadows

Recently, my heart swelled wider than my chest as I watched my niece perform in her Allegro Winter Spectacular. I found a love for lyrical dance that almost matches my love of ballet…

Outside of the obvious Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, and Giselle—my absolute favorites are Swan Lake and La Bayadère.

Swan Lake:

“A well-known and beloved ballet, Swan Lake is found in the repertory of ballet companies around the world.  Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky from 1875-1876, the original production “The Lake of the Swans” premiered in March of 1877 by the Bolshoi Ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.” ~Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Ballet

“For those not in the know, Swan Lake is basically a tragic fairy tale. A young girl is bound by a curse to become a swan forever, and true love is the only thing that can break the spell. The cursed girl (Odette-the White Swan) finds hope in a young prince, but her evil twin sister (the Black Swan-Odile) seduces him away.” ~ Kristen Lamb

La Bayadère:

“La Bayadère is a ballet in four acts and seven scenes, choreographed by Marius Petipa. It was first performed by the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg in 1877.

La Bayadère takes place in the Royal India of long ago. As the ballet begins, we learn that Nikiya, a beautiful temple dancer, is in love with a young warrior named Solor.

However, Solor is engaged to the Rajah’s daughter. During the betrothal, Nikiya is forced to dance, after which she receives a basket of flowers from the Rajah’s daughter. The basket contains a deadly snake and Nikiya dies.

La Bayadère is most famous for its “white act,” commonly known as the Kingdom of the Shades. It is one of the most celebrated excerpts in all of classical ballet. The dance begins with 32 women in white, all making their way down a ramp in unison. The dance is exquisite, and often performed by itself.” ~ Treva Bedinghaus

Ballet and Sacred Alchemy:

Like so many others, I absolutely love and adore the ballet. I have seen many versions of each, such as The Black Swan and find that I relate both ballets to the yin and yang we all carry within our psyche.

As Kathryn Bedinghaus states in her article ‘Speaking of Black and White,’ “The evil of blackness and the beauty of whiteness are embodied not only by the swans in the nineteenth-century ballet Swan Lake but also in differing contemporary views of dance itself.”

The same can be said of La Bayadère.

I believe it represents the light and the darkness we each carry. I believe it represents ways in which we view these polar opposites that reside within and how we deal with them.

Ms. Bedunghaus continues, “My morning meditation exhorts me to inhale life and light, exhale death and darkness. Angels are robed in white, devils cloaked in black. There are “black markets,” “little black clouds,” the workings of “black magic.” Lies and lists are “black” or “white.” Consciences and hearts—even souls—are described as black with wrongdoing or pure as the driven snow.”

But can this duality within really be expressed as good or bad? I believe we carry all forms of life as a part of who we are and that we must learn to embrace and love all aspects of ourselves.

There is a lot of shadow work represented in these ballets as noted by Colleen Szabo:

Shadow work is a part of the ancient art of alchemy, or transformational magic.

Alchemy is the art of transforming our base metals, our life’s ore, that which we have been given from our fates, our families, and our other life circumstances and events, into the gold of consciousness, “spirituality” in contemporary American parlance, or transcendence in the words of Thomas, the ballet director in Black Swan.

Alchemy, as Carl Jung wrote about it, uses three colors to describe the basic trajectory of human transformation: black, white, and red.

The black, the nigredo, of alchemy represents falling into the shadow world of chaos and fear and darkness and suffering, a first step in the transformational process.

Next red, rubedo, a color with ancient religious roots as the nourishing blood of earthy passion and love, symbolizes sacrifice, the moment of death, the letting-go of the old.

White, albedo, is the symbol of purification, of the new consciousness which follows the darkness and sacrifice. White acknowledges the fact that something new has been brought to light.”

Carl Jung, a renowned psychologist, devoted much thought to the “shadow self.” He seemed to be deeply invested in researching ancient esoteric knowledge and spiritual scriptures as he wanted to not just treat the mind of man—but his soul as well.

Two of Jung’s major archetypes are the persona and the shadow self.

So what exactly is the persona and shadow self?

“Well the persona, according to Jung, defines what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world.

The word “persona” is derived from a Latin word that literally means “mask,” however in this instance the word can be applied metaphorically, representing all of the different social masks that we wear among different groups of people and situations.

On the other hand, the shadow self is an archetype that forms part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, instincts, impulses, weaknesses, desires, perversions and embarrassing fears.

This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos and the unknown.

We are all born pure, like blank canvases. But at some point during our childhood development, we learn knowledge that teaches us to separate things into good and evil.

The moment we eat from this tree of knowledge, our shadows are born and we begin to divide ourselves.” ~Mateo Sol ‘Shadow Self: Embracing Your Inner Darkness’

Basically, this means we are born whole and complete but that over time, we begin to repress that which is not accepted within the ideal of our society.

Often, we repress feelings or traits that have a negative connotation and often this can be a huge barrier in one’s journey toward self-love and living authentically.

By being honest with ourselves and accepting (and even embracing) our shadow selves (or the dark elements of our being), it allows us the opportunity of really experiencing uncharted territories within our psyche.

For one to be truly whole, one must reconcile and embrace all parts of ourselves to create a unity within.

When was the last time, if ever, that you have been to a ballet? I would challenge every person to see at least one in this lifetime.

And when you do, look for the shadow work—look for the symbolism. I would love to hear what you have noticed that I may have missed.

Above all, enjoy the dance.

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