She dances, dying. As around the reed
Of a flute where the sad wind of Weber plays,
The ribbon of her steps twists and knots,
Her body sinks and and falls in the movement of a bird ...
And her satin feet like needles embroider
Patterns of pleasure. The springing girl
Wears out my poor eyes, straining to follow her.
I didn't know that Degas had ever written poetry. No big surprise that I loved the Royal Academy's new Degas and the Ballet exhibition when I went this morning. When he was in his 50s, he went to the ballet three or four times a week which would suit me just fine if I could only afford the tickets. Occasionally I've had the chance to go to ballet rehearsals - and once to company class at the Royal Ballet - and you realise how exactly Degas got it right. Dancers are always fiddling about ... with a strap, or a shoe, or a ribbon. You can feel the tension in a plié and the pull of thigh muscles performing a battement. As for those glowing pastels from his later years when his eyesight was failing ... those gossamer skirts seem to lift on their own.
The exhibition links Degas to developments in photography and film. In 1915, he was filmed unwittingly on the street, an almost blind old man. I watched it again and again. It seemed so sad.