I know some people just have this natural ability to be super flexible, and I don't have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is forking over my hard earned money to see ballet, and instead getting a stage full of people having a contortion contest.
Last year when the rehearsals began, the dancer was coming home, grabbing the barre in our front room and working a leg.
"Is my leg straight?"
"No it isn't. They're all telling me it isn't."
We went round and round like this for a few weeks, and once into performance the matter disappeared beneath other considerations.
This year, I got around to watching the American Masters episode produced for ABT's seventy-fifth anniversary season. Watching a dancer hyperextend in slow motion made me realize what last year's problem was.
My dancer's peers were watching his extensions, and waiting for his kneecap to drop. When he didn't hyperextend, they told him his leg wasn't straight.
Hyperextension has apparently become the new normal.
Like winging the foot, it's being used by those who can manage it to give the illusion that the leg is going higher. Like winging the foot, it is not correct.
At least it didn't use to be. Nowadays it seems that if you can get away with it on stage, it's okay for students to try it during class. And if you don't get corrected in class, the other students vying for rank will use the trick to get an edge over.
So corruption creeps into the aesthetic.
This was how eating disorders became a problem for my generation of dancers. It wasn't until enough people pulled their heads out of the sand and said "Enough, this is bad, we have to stop allowing this," that the problem went away. I am not resigned to watching ballet become distorted by contortionists. Every time I buy a ticket and have to watch a dancer wreck the choreography through trying to get that leg up higher, I'm going to sound off.
Sounding off works both ways, though. I'm happy this year that World Ballet Day coincides with my day off, so at the moment I'm watching National Ballet of Canada's company class.
I only see one dancer with natural hyperextention of the knee, and none of the others are forcing a hyperextension to match her. She sticks out like a sore thumb.
Maybe there is hope after all.