Death of a dancer

Mario Vargas Llosa

A dancer has died, a celebrated and familiar figure who for many years enlivened village fiestas and spread happiness with his agile steps and mysterious gesturings, and the crich! crich! of the scissors blades striking sparks as he slashed the air above his head.  A dancer who, following the rhythm of the music of the harp and violin, danced in a way that evoked the people’s emotions, but perturbed them as well. (According to believers, violinists and harp-players go to learn this music in the rushing streams of ravines, in the roar of the waterfalls that plunge from the mountain heights to explode over the abysses, and in the sound of the great rivers that flow down from the Andes to the jungle of the Amazon.)   He will be missed, this man who seemed to be performing a ritual in his dances, to be speaking through his movements, and dance steps, and figures with the spirits that dwell in the rocks and flowers and trees, as well as the distant clouds and the condors that swoop down to plunder the peaks of the cordillera.  More than a dancer, when he danced he seemed to be a magician or a witch man.  That was why although everyone admired and respected this performer, they also feared him.

And now today they are going to bury him.  To accompany him to the cemetery, the girls of the village are dressed in their most festive garb, and all the way from the church to the tomb where he will rest, his body has been strewn with rose petals, and dirges have been sung to him, and people have wept.

Now they are here at the edge of his grave, telling him good-bye.  Arrayed in their many layers of colorful petticoats, their white, fine woolen rebozos and their diadems of mirrors and colorful stones and gilded coins, their elaborate scapulars, their feathers, their sashes, and their exquisitely embroidered gloves.  The sorrow on their faces, the silence of their gazes, and the irrepressible melancholy that touches their youthful lips express a heart-rending truth: with the old dancer’s death, something of the past and of the soul of their people has also vanished, and in the future there will be less magic and mystery in their lives.  The traditional ways to give order to life are fading out…and the new?  That will have to be invented.

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