Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Baryshnikov's last ballet

The lovers of most performing arts live a curse and a blessing. They start admiring a performer, see the performer astound and bewilder over the years. And then they live through having to see the performer’s skills fray, their genius slowly fade away and see them reduced to remnants of the maestros they once were. Sure, it’s a bit of a curse to endure that. And then the maestro performs for the last time, and we realize what a blessing it was to have been astounded all these years.

Imagine this! You’re in a concert at Madison Square Gardens, Bille Jean is reverberating in the air, Michael Jackson starts moon-walking – and stumbles! The performer can’t moonwalk as effortlessly anymore. What would the MJ fan in you go through? It’d feel like seeing Roger Federer dunk forehands into the net, the ones he’d have caressed past his opponents in his sleep, when he was at his prime.

Sportsmen are the epitome of performing arts. Yes, sport is more art than science. It’s more literature than mathematics. Tell me, when you think of Sachin Tendulkar does a statistic of 15921 test runs flash past your mind or are you reminded of a short man, standing tall, cracking a ball straight past the bowler for four? I don’t think of Federer as 17 Grand Slams, 7 Wimbledons. I think of forehand cross-courts hit with a precision so great that it would make a surgeon proud.

Roger Federer’s game is beautiful. He doesn’t thump his opponent & batter them to demolition, he merely delicately carves them up, slices them to pieces by the dazzling cuts of his excellence. There’s no scowl on his face when he plays, no grunts of effort, no expression that says that he’s putting in tremendous physical effort. He’s like a ballet dancer, silent feet moving across his stage with enormous effort, but the face belies it. Federer at Wimbledon was like Mikhail Baryshnikov at the ballet. Much of that astonishment is now in the past. These days I see Federer shank forehands into the net, mistime the backhand to 8 feet past the baseline. It’s like seeing Baryshnikov doing a ballet with a limp.

I’ll still see him play this Wimbledon. Sure, I want Federer to win. Not because 18 grand slams will make him a greater player than when he won 17 slams. But because I’ll be able to see a genius pushing an older, obstinate body into some more breathtaking ballet that masquerades as tennis. It’s because despite stumbling through a lot of his games, from somewhere out of the recess of a memory of the past he’ll bring out a forehand which will also make his opponent applaud.

And I’ll watch Federer play because I don’t know if this is the last time he’ll take court at Wimbledon. Yes, I am living a curse of seeing the greatest ever become a shadow of his great past. But I still need to live the blessing of seeing the greatest ever compete despite being a pale shadow of what he was. In every game he might stumble, but till he’s in the competition Federer will just get up and moonwalk again. The ballet of the Baryshnikov is ending, but it hasn’t ended – not yet!

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