“In 1943, De Mille was hired to choreograph the musical Oklahoma!, which became an overnight sensation and ran for a record-setting 2,212 performances. Feeling that critics and the public had long ignored work into which she had poured her heart and soul, De Mille found herself dispirited by the sense that something she considered “only fairly good” was suddenly hailed as a “flamboyant success.” Shortly after the premiere, she met Graham “in a Schrafft’s restaurant over a soda” for a conversation that put into perspective her gnawing grievance and offered what De Mille considered the greatest thing ever said to her. She recounts the exchange:
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.
Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”
“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”
“No artist is pleased.”
“But then there is no satisfaction?”
“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Cohabiting with dissatisfaction is an integral part of the creative life.
No area of artistic expression escapes the grip of the Eternal Search, a state of happy unrest that keep us humble, with both feet on the ground, and eager for more. More discovery, more awakenings, more growth.
We are never done with our creative work and, as far as I can see, that is a good thing. Not quite reaching what we feel we can reach is precisely what keeps us interested, learning, thriving, walking towards our dreams.
Having ideas is easy – it´s the materialization of those ideas that separates the mosquitos from the eagles (NOT a fancy comparison, I know, but you get my point).
We can only do our best, right now, with talent and flaws, light and dark spots; keeping, as Martha Graham says, “the channel open.”
Being dissatisfied with the results of our creative work does not, should not, mean we dislike what we do. It means we´re aware there is road ahead.
I often ask my students to film themselves while dancing. It may not be a good idea to become a slave to the mirror or the video camera but it is a good idea to combine inner exploration, with no need for external/visual proof, with an external, perhaps colder, perspective of our work. Learning how to watch yourself dancing is important – evaluating the points where you´ve grown – victories conquered – and the points you need to improve – victories in the making.
Enjoy the journey, deliver your best work possible, using the tools, experience and awareness you possess now, and let dissatisfaction pull you forward.
We do not dance, or live, to be perfect. We dance, and life, to be whole.”
Excerpt from Egyptian Dance Booklet by Joana Saahirah, soon to be published.
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