The answer from much more qualified people than myself, is, of course, yes but, from a non-practitioner viewpoint and largely audience member perspective, I think ballet particularly fires neurons in the brain via the complimentary senses employed. The stage will be full but also broken down into formations and steps, positions and lines whilst also seeing the performance as a narrative whole and the supporting cast of scenery, costumes and music. Arts is seeing a growing body of theoretical medical evidence to support the fact that participation in dance, enhances the psychological and sociological wellbeing. Like reading a book or looking at an engaging piece of art, I believe that watching dance also enhances psychological wellbeing because of its particularly challenging nature, it does not just produce momentary highs but sustained itself through intellectual as well as emotional impact. However, this is purely supposition and would take further study to prove. Also, it would be interesting to see if the understanding of how one processes and enjoys ballet could influence someone who categorically rejects ballet and can be trained to appreciate it and can have a positive impact on their lives. Could being involved holistically improve cognitive ability and well-being, perhaps? What this leads to, if proven, which will be down to a growing body of academic evidence, as well as physiologically and sociologically and psychologically, that is growing up around dance and the Arts, to prove the invaluable benefits to more than just a fleeting enjoyment but long-lasting benefits because of the all-immersive nature of ballet.
I discovered ballet and adult classes when hopes of making it onto the Royal Opera House stage had been dashed!, adult classes have opened up for me, like a parallel universe in Belfast, full of culturally diverse people. Some have had a background in ballet, classes as a child or through media interest piqued by being on film and television, when ballet is in the news, attendance inevitably goes up. Ballet classes attract dancers from across the globe to the common language and culture, we could travel around the globe if plotted out everywhere fellow dancers are from. Then there is a range of backgrounds from Office Workers/ IT to Cancer Researchers, some have arts school and professional training and some have come to it through media or audience, trying to push an unwilling body into positions it has never naturally been to before. This background provides the inspiration and the community to become immersed in all aspects of supporting the professional community, as audience members and participants in related media. One thing that often surprises, is that arts promoters and venues hosting ballet do not target classes with marketing or added extras/ access, as already-engaged audience members and cultivate relationship. Being engaged in the social, as well as participative side of ballet, opens up a treasure-trove of superhuman achievement (the more you try, as a novice adult, to do ballet, the more you understand the complexities and how difficult it is to make those beautiful lines and shapes). Ballet brings together elements of music, theatre, acting, using some of the leading choreographers and musicians and contrary to certain opinion, is a forward-thinking medium.
Again, mainly from personal experience, this background provides the inspiration and the community to become immersed in ballet as an active participant and to support as an audience member and of all other related media. Next week I will be taking a break from sitting at a desk to sit, engrossed, in front of my tablet, to watch as much of #WorldBalletDay as I can, which shows how innovative the industry is and how much companies are willing to open up the magic, to give us an insight of the mechanics of being a top-class ballet company and to show us, the audience, a wider perspective that what we see on stage, is the end of a lot of hard work and graft. My hope with Friends of Ballet NI has always been to try and create a more connected ballet community and to talk to like-minded people who are also as obsessed with ballet and to stimulate further debate. The delight for me with finding my cultural home with ballet is that there is so much to see and read about that is of such quality that it stimulates informed debate as well as the emotions. Instead of heading home on a Friday evening after ballet class, disparate group of people that we are, we have found a common passion, we gather round a coffee and sometimes a computer will come out and drool over the latest ballet content on the web or such and such a dancer.
Stimulation of the brain and senses also occurs from the challenge of Modern Ballet. It gives the eye, brain and heart a very different challenge. The markers of costume that are in classical, such as, “this is a Prince”, “this is a swan”, for instance, are stripped bare. Sets will be sparse, maybe blocking colour or using projections. With this, the audience member is left to make up their own story, perhaps, of a warring couple or in love or with many modern ballets, pure abstraction, truly the image of a picture come to life. Music is stripped back from full orchestra or maybe non-orchestral or non-traditional instrumentation, maybe even reduced to sounds that are at odds with the dancers or what the audience would expect to hear. Modern ballet is often abstract and perhaps without narrative and is to be looked at like art, an appreciation of the eyes that will stimulate the brain and senses. The dancers are equally challenged, if anyone recently saw, ‘Darcey Bussell’s Ballet Heroes’, Tamar Rojo talked of the difficulties of making the transition from classical to modern. Outlining that classical bodies are pulled up and projected outwards. The modern dancer has to push down and inwards, shortening the body and how this creates difficulties and stresses on a body that is trained in a certain manner for years. To suddenly retrain the body, whilst still having to constantly change and re-adjust and not all dancers can do this. Some people declare that ballet is dead but with this level of creativity and interest for the audience-member, it is not just swans and Sugar-Plum fairies and Princes. From time to time, we may get a little tired of the frou-frou-ness of ballet and recent debate centred on whether to #KeepRescueRetire by @RADheadquarters classics such as the blockbuster, Swan Lake, in favour of more modern pieces and Tamara Rojo has stated her intention to get bin the tutu, as much as possible.
As long as ballet exists, debate will never cease as to its place or relevance but few will forget the stunning performance of ENB at this year’s Glastonbury, the challenges to the mind, spirit and body are phenomenal. Ballet is actually becoming more relevant and challenging as well as being firmly embedded in academic research and the academic community are confirming what we have all believed for some time. I come from class feeling tired but exhilarated with my mind buzzing and this is a fact at all ages, not just for the young or not-so-young, I know that not everyone is Dame Gillian Lynne but how inspirational is she for everyone and encouraging us not to stop: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-29122376. I hope that my passion and engagement with ballet will not fade and I for one, believe that it will only intensify and trust that the various articles on the positive of effects of dance on the risk of developing Alzheimers and other brain-related illnesses are correct: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3551063.stm, I do not want to stop, apart from the pure enjoyment and how it positively effects my life for the better.