Royal Ballet Swan Lake Live Broadcast, June 2018

Since the new Royal Ballet season, 2017/ 18 was announced, what stood out in a somewhat ordinary year was that Liam Scarlett had been commissioned to create a new Swan Lake.  Swan Lake is the flag and national anthem for ballet – a work that marries the essential ingredients to create an iconic work of beauty and grace.  Anyone taking on the very image and heritage of ballet, must have had to carefully consider the task and be convinced of the abilities of the team around them.  However, from the opening moments of the Swan Lake Insight evening, it was obvious to see that Liam Scarlett was going to invest his emotions into this new work.  Audiences invest emotions into following our beloved art-form and I feel privileged to be living in a generation that has the opportunity to see works, along with the rest of the world, live and with better than front row seats.  The cinema screen will never replace the frisson and thrill of seeing theatre, live, but this is a tremendous time to be a ballet fan because of satellite link-ups, from the world’s greatest stages.   Like any fans, we invest a lot, emotionally, with our favourite dancers and empathise with the feelings and sometimes dream, literally, what it must feel like to step onto that vast stage with history and prestige, that a Principal dancer in such a role, even one so experienced and talented as Marianela Nunez, must feel.   This is where the magic comes in, being so much in control of your craft, doing your job, although a pretty spectacular one and creating history.  For lesser mortals, these feelings haunt our subconscious and disturb our rest but then, that is why we love this ballet, that frisson of danger, the quickening heartbeat of expectation and then those perfectly honed ballet shoes step out with confidence, secure in each other’s arms and a partnership that is flourishing, to be one of the all-time greats.  Although in her twentieth year with the Royal Ballet, there could be few nights as filled with expectation and need to deliver, as a new Swan Lake from a choreographer very early in his career without much experience of grand classical work.  Odette-Odile is THE ballet role and a new production has not been seen at the Royal Opera House for thirty years and one with much-documented flaws.  We can empathise but never really know what this expectation feels like and add onto that, the fact that it is being beamed around the globe in all its’ close-up glory.  That said, there is not really any doubt in any of our minds that this performance would have been anything less than magnificent, partnering with one of the most exciting male ballet dancers of this generation, that dreams can become reality, and as reviews from opening night were pretty much lavish in their praise, that Marianela, Vadim and the Royal Ballet were going to be anything other than glorious and I was not disappointed.

I don’t usually write reviews because the professionals do it for a reason!  I loved the Dance Europe review by Deborah Weiss that said, “Marianela Nunez, at the pinnacle of twenty years with The Royal Ballet, imbues Odette with a vulnerability that belies her years of experience” and described Vadim Muntagirov, “raised himself into the echelons of the truly great interpreters.  A Danseur Noble… he has aristocratic stature of a future monarch”.  The evening gets off to a flying start with the Court gathered around Siegfried to do what an Imperial Court does, show off its’ prowess.  Bennet Gartside is on malevolent form as pasty-faced but impassive Baron Von Rothbart.  Conveying so much but betraying so little emotion, the opposite of what is happening around as the corps of the Royal Ballet set the scene for what is to come.  The costumes are just what you would expect a classical ballet to have, they are sumptuous and colourful, the best frocks, of course, are those worn by Elizabeth McGorian’s Queen, who also is just perfect for this type of role, regal and imperious, most of us would love to just have a fraction of her carriage and bearing and she delivers on the mime and performance as well.  Her ballroom scene dress had the longest train and she walked down those steps and swished across the stage, so impressively but she is vulnerable though, to Rothbart who asserted his malevolent presence into the Court.  Liam Scarlett used the men impressively, in their regal green Imperial uniforms, with soloists in grey.  For me, Matthew Ball stood out from this elegant pack for his musicality, presence and technical prowess, if he is not elevated to Principal, I will eat my demi-pointe shoe.  That is Swan Lake gripe number one on my list, give the men something proper to do and I loved their strong dancing and the ladies were in lovely cream dresses and were able to show off their own prowess.  It was an embarrassment of riches with Principals, Alexander Campbell as Siegfried’s friend, Benno, with freedom to lighten the mood and as always, impeccably clean dancing and fleet of foot.  Francesca Hayward and Akane Takada play Siegfried’s Princess sisters, both dancers have unquestionably great technique but as for stage presence and lyricism, it is difficult to take your eyes off Hayward.  I admired how a minor stumble, it is live after all, did not in any way affect Hayward but used this to complete an amazing set of solo turns.

Scarlett has set up a rather fast and breathless Swan Lake that leaves you feeling exhilarated and this is carried on through to the White Act.  The tempo is set by the orchestra at a quite thrilling pace and there is lots to attract the eye throughout.  The swans appear at quite a pace and there appears to be more than I’ve seen dancing this at the Royal Ballet, maybe it is because the scenery for the lakeside is rather spare but it is deeply appropriate.  I loved seeing John McFarlane himself, painting the backcloth, the starkness of the moonlit lake made the stage look vast and led us into the world where beauty is trapped by power.  To my eyes, there seemed to be a lot more swans than I’ve ever seen at the Royal Ballet and there must have been a conscious choice that because of the prestige of the work, to supplement the ranks.  The swans whirled around the stage like they were powered by the furies and they whipped around and through each other, it was a sight to behold, especially when they come forward in the diamond formation and there are about 30 swans advancing.  Then our Queen arrives and Marianela truly is Queen of the Royal Ballet, after her twenty years of experience and absorbing the Royal style and this really is her year and her moment and to dance it with a partner that can match her for technique and depth of emotion, in Vadim.

Scarlett uses the 1895 Petipa-Ivanov production for his Swan Lake and wisely leaves the White Act, largely unchanged.  What Scarlett has done very well is to draw out the emotion of the piece that can sometimes be overlooked as dancers set out to just show their prowess but this is a real partnership, there is care and there is connection.  Marianela is that rare thing that ballet is just so in and part of her body and she is so assured that there is barely a waver and she stands, on pointe, in an unassisted arabesque.  Vadim is so full of care for her, he knows what a precious jewel he holds in his hand and the desperate, all-consuming, first love is conveyed between these two dancers.  Marianela has not only a very sure technique but she is able to add a nuanced performance as well and a musicality that is in a class of its’ own.  She massages the music to get the full breath out of it and will sustain a note and then flick through the next which especially draws the audience into her performance as the most consummate of actors would do.  What stops my breath also, is the technique, the drawing of the foot up the shin bone as you are taught but cannot master, lines are exquisite and not forced, a supreme dancer for a supreme dance role.  We are also very lucky to be living at a time when this prowess is matched by a Danseur Noble who has that mix of Russian and Royal Ballet training, Slavic soulfulness with English reserve although Vadim’s jumps and turns are executed on a whisper but the technique shows a truly special talent.  Liam Scarlett has beefed up the role of Siegfried which is another of my major gripes about previous versions where, quite frankly, he is a bit of a drip.  My favourite moment in ballet is the male solo from the Nureyev Sleeping Beauty and some of the dancing in this reminded me a lot of this and Vadim uses his skills to perfection.  Siegfried matches Odette for having a true character of his own, rather than just being there to carry his leading lady.

One of ballet’s most recognisable and oft-parodied dances is the pas-de-quatre of the ‘Little Swans’.  This was also exquisitely executed, the dancers were so in harmony which they needed to be because of their proximity to each other, it was another highlight moment.  There is no messing about with this act, there are no friends lurking and certainly no drunk Tutor or jester around, it is just pure swan with their Queen and the man that they put their hope in to break the curse.  Bennet Gartside’s sinister Rothbart is turned into full, bird-man and he appears to draw Odette back into his world of gloom, the drawing back is gloriously represented in very clear storytelling by all.  We don’t drift off when the swans are not on the stage with this luscious court.  He created an exciting opening act and a story for the characters.  The supporting dances are virtuosic and really leads us in anticipatory mood to the Black Swan act.  I quite often find myself just wanting to see the legendary 32 fouettes and could just forego the character dances but we are given four foreign princesses and their entourages.  The tutus drip in jewels, it is truly sumptuous as befits a hubristic court, taken right out of the Russian history books.  The princesses were the finest from the Royal Ballet’s soloist ranks, Melissa Hamilton, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Yuhui Choe and Itziar Mendizabel.  Although a cameo role, however, you have to dance up to those tutus and these ladies certainly did.  Melissa Hamilton was especially striking and although a background character, her acting shone through in a memorable way that made its way across the Irish Sea to her home fans.  The national dances were more credible than they have ever been with striking costumes again that were less pastiche and twee but sumptuous and appropriate.  The Neapolitan the only choreography not by Petipa/ Ivanov but Frederick Ashton, had to be seen to be believed by Marcelino Sambe and Meaghan Grace Hinkis for the spectacle of their feet moving at the speed of sound and so cleanly and was nice interlude from the tension and then the Spanish dance of which we caught a glimpse from rehearsal with Tierney Heap in the centre of a heat-wave with a beautifully sensuous dance.  This really built to the introduction of Marianela who just blows all the other ladies away and takes charge as number one seductress at the behest of Rothbart.  This really is where her musicality comes to the fore, playing and massaging the music and supported by Royal Ballet Music Director, Koen Kessels.  It really is masterful, the way she can create the tension in sustaining to the last possible beat of the music and knows where to hold and take from one phrase to add to the other, makes her dancing breath-taking.  Of course, Vadim is the dancer to match this power and not to be outshone with jumps that just fly through the air, feet that are perfectly pointed, he allows himself to be swept along and to bring out his prowess to match that of Odile.  Until Odette appears and it is too late, he has given his love away foolishly, the curse will be for eternity, the darkness and the black swan had triumphed, lots of swans dressed in black tutus invade the kingdom as they seek to not just enslave Odette and her swans but to overpower this royal household as their only son, Siegfried runs for the moonlit lake.

Not surprisingly, the tempo for this final act is so much slower, the air is pregnant with defeated dreams and hope is laid waste, the swans attune themselves to this leaden atmosphere.  Liam Scarlett resurrected the forgotten Act IV.  In this act, the ‘big swans’ of Claire Calvert and Mayara Magri created a lovely backdrop and brought us into the hopelessness of the state.  A brief taste of the majesty of this act was given to us in the Insight evening.  Siegfried races to his Swan Queen, realising his mistake and he finds her, full of total devastation, they come together to perform a soulful pas-de-deux but alas, can’t rescue the situation and Odette looks at Siegfried with such grief that his heart is eked out and reduces the audience to a mess.  Rothbart is triumphant as Odette runs for the rocky crags and plunges into the Lake of Tears, Siegfried distraught but no-one is the winner as the swans attack Rothbart and bring him to his end.  This was an emotionally appropriate end for a Swan Lake that has put the characterisation back at the centre and giving it real heart and soul again.  This is a real story of love and loss, hope and betrayal, a human tale, at its core which makes it such a successful ballet.  In a world that has taken a more cynical turn, we seem to yearn for beauty and simplicity and this most complex of art-forms can still renew its’ main heritage works.  Created in the 19th century with a message of sacrifice, at its heart, the story manages to keep your heart still beating and racing for a stage, dripping with jewels, not just in sensational costumes but in the dancing and acting.  This is a glittering jewel of a production from a Royal Ballet that has had a renaissance under Kevin O’Hare who must be congratulated for being one of the few Directors, at the moment, who seems to have a happy company and creating an atmosphere where talented dancers can excel and knowing where to reward.  The future of ballet seems more assured than ever and certainly hope that this mix of the classics along with new work will continue but it is great to see the tutus back and the classics, where they belong.  To sum up the power of this work and live broadcasts, enabling places that don’t have their own ballet company to see these glorious dancers and perhaps aspire to be like them, a work colleague whom I happened to meet said that her daughter has not stopped talking about it and it has had that effect on her, you can’t ask for more.





Ballet – The Art of Being Human

As I leaned on the barre in ballet class and I joked to my neighbour, that when you can select your body off the shelf, I’m going for a ‘Marianela Nunez’, although likely to be way out of my price range!  This led my ballet compatriot informing me that there is actually research being done at the moment to transplant bodies for robotic bodies but with head and brain intact.  We conversed for a while about the feelings of inappropriateness of this and what makes us human, is it our body, our brain or the sum of our parts or our consciousness alone?  Thinking about this, I realised that the reason I love ballet so much and immerse myself, is that, ballet, by and large is a triumph of will over this bag of bones, attached by muscles and tendons and connected by a supply of food and oxygen through the blood, controlled by chemicals and electricity.  What you see is never ever and nor should it be, what you get and it is this delving under the flesh and bone of a human being that makes the arts something that we strive to be part of and to choose to devote savings and free-time towards.  The human body is at the heart and soul of ballet and is free of device in that the language is created by positioning of the body and interaction with other dancers on the stage.  A ballet dancer gets to be on that stage through a lot of sheer hard work, determination and a body that lends itself to the rigours of elite dance and artistry.  Of course, there is no suggestion that ballet is about to replace it’s dancers with robotic hybrids but has challenged me to think about what keeps grounded in humanity, connected by so much more than molecules and why we seek out experiences like going to the theatre and why we hope that our children, grandchildren or friends teach their children the joy of dance and the arts as it is so important to our society, communities and the essence of being human.


Oh, sometimes, if only we were like machines or computers that could be re-programmed or even switched off!  Life is a rich tapestry of interactions, human experience is so immense and the body holds memories and experiences of its’ own.  In our electronic-driven age, we are being told that the reality, more and more, is to view our bodies as purely mechanical.  Ballet, and other forms of dance or artistry, tell us differently, dancers may look ethereal but the real magical element – it is all grounded from the dirt of the earth – very human blood, sweat and tears with the only the few being talented enough and strong enough to make it to the pinnacle.  Those of us living through the maelstrom that is the twenty-first century, it will not have gone unnoticed that is has been dubbed the post-truth generation with lots of contemporary debate centred around fakery.   We have never had better information or more access, although, conversely, this can lead to obfuscation as facts get lost in the slew of social media and devices and ways to receive, self-awareness or self-censoring seems to be at an all-time low.  It is comforting to know, that the essentials of ballet cannot be faked, sometimes there might be a bit of ‘being in the right place at the right time’, to rise to the top but this can only be done with supreme technique, stage presence and musicality.  Ballet is an aesthetic art-form and dancers pretend to be characters, a lot of the time, that you will never see in any world, never mind the modern world but the reason we can embrace these worlds, is that ballet technique holds so much truth and authenticity as the professional dancer cannot fake the hard work and long hours that must go in to the beautiful swan or handsome prince, on stage.   Another very current debate is how aesthetically driven this media-saturated generation have become.  As an Adult Ballet dancer, one of my main issues is not having started early with ballet and therefore, having it in my body and the muscle memory, so have to work very hard, just to look a little better than a 4-year-old.  Admittedly, I am not a professional dancer and do not have the learned emotional responses or the long years of study but having some experience of the work in a ballet body, my experience as an audience-member and advocate, has given me so much more insight and respect and joy, when watching performances.  It has also given me a deeper understanding, that it is an emotional experience, and emotions, when properly directed, turn a mechanical act into an act  of artistry and beauty.  We love ballet so much as the sum of all its’ parts, give us this emotional high-ground.


Talent is to the forefront and there are no shortcuts from the hard work and resilience, dancers must dig very deep into their bodies and souls to pull out a performance that will live in the memory, for years to come.  The really exciting thing about talent, is that it can’t be purchased off the shelf.  The twentieth anniversary of the reign of Marianela Nunez as Principal at the Royal Ballet and as one of the greatest ballet dancers in the history of the art-form, would not be quite so exciting if we could go into a shop and buy it off the shelf or print it out on a 3-D printer!  World Ballet Day and Insights are such a success as we see ballet in its rawest form, seeing the dancer’s body being made in the studio and at the barre.  Technique is an essential element but so are musicality, acting and being someone that audiences want to engage with on stage.  A love and a heart for ballet cannot be faked, it cannot be programmed into a robot and thrown on stage.  Maybe you can but I for one, hope that this is not our future and that ballet never tries to shortcut that route of training intensely,  with rigorous discipline and skilled in technique and then the human spirit is let loose and can dominate and push through when the going gets tough, resilience is an ever-decreasing commodity and needs to be nurtured for the sake of humanity.  We should never lose our humanity or what have we left?  How can we connect – fake it, buy it, make it?  This is not a future I want to live in, so we should cherish and treasure ballet for how it shines a light on our humanity and we makes the world a better place.

And as an indulgence and illustration of this humanity, I give you Exhibit one: Roberto Bolle, Sleeping Beauty solo; and Exhibit Two: Marianela Nunez as the Black Swan

A (Rubbish) Dancer’s Diary – Swan Lake – the Performance


Well, when you are suffering through the rehearsals and not finding your favourite ballet as pleasurable an experience as you thought and are seriously doubting whether you are up to the challenge, there is always the light at the end of the tunnel which is the post-performance glow that makes you forget the slog.  Although, performing is one of those things that you either love or loathe.  I am not a natural performer but there is something attractive and somewhat of an allure about it.  I remember dancing round my Gran’s little bungalow when no-one was looking, performing wasn’t overtly encouraged in my household, except for acceptable outlets such as music or sport.  Although if I had a friend at ballet or offered at school, it certainly wouldn’t have been forbidden, so I would obviously advocate children being given the opportunity to dance and as a friend pointed out, you see children when adults are still, dancing, it is a universal language that unites all ages but is definitely more evident in the freedom of childhood and we should not discourage or attach embarrassment.  Second Chance Ballet has certainly united many different people and age-groups and that is certainly something, from among the many things, that I take away from this performance.  We know our level and that we cannot in any way ever inhabit the same exalted plane as professional ballet dancers but we can provide an entry level to the music and structure of ballet for many people that would never have given it a second thought and to the next generation of kids at this friends and family event.


I will admit to feeling rather disheartened and sometimes disconnected throughout rehearsals and think might have declared, “I am never doing this again”!  The final rehearsal was pretty disastrous with getting to grips with the stage and lights and being defeated by my own brain at times.  The brain is very strange territory and I think you could study it continually throughout time and never fully plumb the depths of its secrets.  Although, that is the beauty of humanity.  And humanity allows you to appreciate dance and movement to music and your soul to soar to new heights.  The other majorly advantageous element about ballet is it is such a collegiate thing to do, everyone helps everyone and that when someone gives you a tip, it is not criticism but will help you out in the long-run, especially if someone has been dancing for some time.  I’m sure not all ballet classes are like this but then we are not doing this competitively but to enhance the experience of the thing that we have come to love so much.  Having this stage experience makes us appreciate so much more what our ballet idols go through and the absolute technical skill which cannot be obtained except for starting very young and with constant work and critical analysis.


So, maybe the ballet shoes will live again and the horror of the leotard will be endured another year.  I love that my ballet friend who is a little older than I is planning to do ballet into our dotage, so, if you wish, please donate below which by keeping ourselves active, both mentally and physically, will be for the benefit of others!


A (Rubbish Dancer’s) Diary – Swan Lake – Part 3

003In the final days before performance, at the moment, I am looking forward to getting back to class where steps are not constantly going round your head and your aren’t practising, in the shower (very carefully), in the kitchen and anywhere you can hide away or you have some brain space.  Although, I am more than glad that I am given this opportunity to get an insight into what it is like to perform.  My admiration of ballet dancers and performers grows day on day and I’ve been an amateur adult dancer and professional audience member for a few years now.  Performing, even on a small scale has given me the realisation of not just the body toughness but the oodles of mental toughness as well, not just to get through the formative training but striving for perfection and criticism never ends.  Of course, not that I, in my wildest dreams think that I will attain anywhere like perfection in the dance studio but I really have benefited from dancing as it gives a real insight and appreciation into the art-form that I love.

Sometimes in the back of my head, the amount of training and the very tender age that most ballet dancers start at, disquiets me but experiencing a little bit of dancing, it has made me realise that it is necessary to start at this tender age as it needs to be in your body before your body can form bad habits.  Although it is not too late for adult dancers to feel that glorious sensation of being the closest a human can feel to flying, there is an awareness that there is so much to learn about your body and there are so many little adjustments that need to be made.  A good teacher will give you tips in a way that you can relate to and I am glad that I have such a teacher that is interested in developing technique and not just providing a cosy atmosphere for people to do a little bit of movement every week.

I am sure that I will be elated come the day after the performance but at the moment, I am just exhausted.  What we put ourselves through! but I am enormously appreciative that I have the physical capacity, the opportunity and the means to be able to have such thrilling experiences.  I’m sharing quite a big milestone as well this weekend as it will be twenty years since I graduated from the University where we will be performing and when looking at my Graduation picture, I never dreamt that I would be trying to do a passable impression of a young maiden, trapped in the half world between a swan and a desirable woman.  In so many ways, modern society is imperfect but it has enabled us to indulge our pastimes more freely and I particularly enjoy ballet because it has one foot in a glorious past, taking you out of the cold present-day and giving me a life-long community of dancers.


A (Rubbish) Dancer’s Diary – Swan Lake, part 2

003What do you do when your dance mojo has left you and you’re not feeling it as a joy but a bit of chore and how do you get your motivation back when this happens?  The difficulty with taking your dance past-time a bit more seriously for a time, is that I’ve entered into a bit of psychological warfare with my dancing.  Ballet, as we know, is very physical and we watch dancers put their bodies through tough conditioning for the technical feats but what we forget about, is the emotional toughness that ballet takes.  The constant feeling of being on view and from dancers’ biographies, that feeling of trying to obtain, in their minds, the unobtainable and the inevitable criticism of not just yourself but the company, friends etc.  Ballet dancers, although they look super-human, are, I believe, fully human and even though you can have a physically strong body and psychologically strong, women do go through many changes in their body that can imbalance emotionally and these emotions can be very powerful at times.  Dancers must listen to the rhythms of their bodies and I do hope that there is support for dancers to deal with such frailities of the human condition.  There is a heightened awareness in society at the moment for mental health but there needs to also be an awareness of the physiological make-up that impacts on the emotional health of a dancer, especially as the physiology changes through different moments in life.

At the moment, I am having struggles with the thing that I love, ballet.  Maybe I am too emotionally attached for an amateur dancer and I need to re-evaluate and rebalance or I need to see the wider picture and that there are so many different personalities in a room.  Thankfully, I have another source of strength and other interests in my life but I know, in the end, all these experiences in life will be to my betterment and if we do not run away from challenges, they will make us stronger.

Maybe, it is also that we acknowledge our busy lives and not try to push ourselves too much and I happen to work somewhere that is particularly busy coming up to the summer and it is very much questions, questions, questions, all the time and sometimes it is mentally draining.  Usually ballet is an antidote, however, it is difficult to take the mind out of ballet.  I am sure that I will establish equilibrium and go back to enjoy my favourite past-time again and it will give me the impetus to work smarter and intelligently for an older but by no means, ancient, amateur dancer.  It is probably also pre-show exhaustion as well and, after all, there is no business like showbusiness and the show must go on!





A (Rubbish) Dancer’s Diary

003Well, it’s that time of the year again when our Second Chance Ballet, Adult Ballet dancers get together to honour the woman that brought adult ballet to Belfast long before celebrity culture was a thing and Hollywood A-listers took to the ballet barre to make it a trendy form of exercise, Ruth Adams.  One of my original memories of ballet in the dim and distant past was of an iridescent-white ballerina, dancing round and round to a tinny version of Tchaikovsky’s most glorious score in my mum’s musical jewellery box.  Swan Lake is so thoroughly ingrained in the public psyche that it has come to epitomise ballet, something that the original authors would never have believed possible but then this has helped the myth of the mythical ballet to become such a cross-cultural phenomenon.  Dancing Swan Lake has been a long-time dream of mine and I just love listening to the luscious score as it builds and builds into a crescendo of anticipation, although, I think I am in somewhat of the same place as Odette as she looks on in horror at her beloved’s betrayal.

Being an adult ballet dancer, does not make you ease up on yourself, well, I don’t anyway.  I find that I am constantly trying to pull some part of my body into a shape resembling a body that could in some way produce the lines of a real dancer.  I do this throughout the day as well, in the shower, brushing my teeth, standing in the bus queue, although, not altogether sure if it is making any difference.  What all this hopefully leads up to is being able to get together with Adult Ballet friends and make certain shapes and forms to do a passable, amateur version of Swan Lake, my childhood dream.

Rehearsals started, in earnest, a month or so ago, so in many ways, this is as close to the feeling that a professional dancer must get, in my piddling little way, although not many dancers sit at a desk for umpteenth number of hours a week and with the associated brain-packing that goes with an office job which you can’t get further away from dancing.  Then I remember why we are doing this apart from the fact that it will hopefully help our own mental acuity but to remember a pioneer of adult ballet and many more people who will be caught up with the terrible disease of Alzheimer’s.  Ironically, dancing being one of the top past-times to help stave off this wasting disease of the mind, hopefully by pushing ourselves, we are helping our future selves to stay healthier.

And although I have not realised my life-long dream of dancing the pas-de-quatre or ‘Little’ Swans but then you need some dreams to still bring to realisation and make you work harder!

Ballet and Politics or Trump/ Brexit: the Ballet?

If I could photoshop, the perfect image would be Donald Trump in a tutu, although I’m sure he has worn a kilt before a-la James in La Sylphide?.  I’m sure there are times that society has felt more fractious and feelings that the chasm of doom is about to open up but maybe it is the expectation that we should have sorted the world out and better with more connectedness and resources the we have at our disposal.  The Royal Ballet, itself, owes its’ existence to the heroics of war-time dancers who were tireless in entertaining the troops around the country during World War Two.  In those dark days, the Royal Ballet was established as it brought light to the darkness and brought ballet to those who wouldn’t have ordinarily have thought it was for those of a perceived social class.  This was a time of tumultuous change in society but ballet survived mass political upheaval by rising to its strengths, dancers who are incredibly hard-working and driven by talent, at the very heart.  Ballet has survived significant revolutions in France and Russia because it was seen as a cultural jewel and largely because dancers are so hard-working and adaptable.  Calls for ballet to politicise or modernise are not new and it is perhaps because I was born into a politically-torn Northern Ireland and witnessed first-hand what political divisiveness can lead to and how public debate of politics can be dangerous.  Social Media has prompted somewhat of a renewed interest in politics, I don’t think it is a coincidence that views are becoming more polarised at the same time as social media has become prominent.  On a recent Ted Talk, one of the contributors noted that people would even like to choose their children’s partners to reflect their own political values.  The job of the arts, for me, is to inform and enlighten but in a style that takes us out of the ordinary, to be just that little bit out of reach but at the same time, understandable in a way that fires the neurons, marvelling at the wonder of seeing something that not all human beings seem possible of doing.  I hate to think that we would lose that wonder as we get stuck in the quagmire of daily life, that what we see on stage is so applicable that it no longer feels special or different.  A lot of spend large amounts of time stuck to desks in poorly lit and ventilated offices working for others for little monetary or psychological reward and when looking for where to allocate that hard-earned cash, it is to take us out of ourselves into other worlds where life is not mundane but beautiful and where fouettes are reeled off like taking a gentle walk and women are lifted to the heights while looking like they weigh nothing more than a feather and do nothing to get themselves there.  On stage, ballet fulfils the head and the heart, the eye and the soul,  this is precious, dancers are the ones that give us this and the greatest do it because they love it and this is what shines through.

Our admiration for dancers never ceases, who can go from the most classical of works to bang-up-to-date modern to theatrical works, this is where the past and the future of ballet has always lain, talent and that means dancer-led.  We engage with and buy into dancers, who obviously, as individuals in society and will decide how to use their own profile and we can buy into that or choose to not engage with any off-stage profiles, to break the magic and keep firmly ballet.   We engage because who wants something that is ordinary or just within reach, that is mass entertainment?  Which makes me question why do I love ballet?  I did not seek out ballet because it was going to illumine the current political situation, I would go to a newspaper or other sources for that, I was captured by a mix of the beauty but also the simplicity, ballet is at the same time, complex and without device, elaborate sets and costume but it mainly comes down to human endurance and little bits of canvas.  The technology goes into improving a dancers’ dancing life and health.  It is this juxtaposition of simplicity and artfulness that makes ballet the constantly absorbing art-form that it is and then add on top of this, the layers of complexity of orchestral music, immaculate costumes and a large cast either in patterns and groups or individually.  To overly politicise or modernise ballet is to lose the essence of why it is and continues to sell a vast number of seats, the grandiose nature of the art-form.  Ballet has connected me with people who I share very little common political ground but we do share the love of ballet.  As human beings, there is definitely more that unites us than divides us and they have enlightened me, especially giving me a group to chat about ballet in a passionate way and to pass round ballet magazines and books and recommendations for videos and nights out.  My life would be a lot less rich if our political sensibilities, which have largely been formed due to the influences of our surroundings, would be allowed to come between us.

Arts should bring people together, not divide them, they should cause us to think or wonder but not anaesthetise, should be arrayed in splendour and soul, not grim and arduous, however, I think there is room for an amount of this in challenging material but do I want to see this all the time?.  No, I want escapism from drudgery, I want to be bathed in a warm, golden glow or to learn of a real character from any time period that inspires or informs, especially in the light of recent events.  Pathos works well in ballet but it needs to be tempered with light, although a little gloom done through the medium of beautiful dancing and connection, can be emotionally cathartic.  Arts are that bastion of lifting us above the dross of ordinary life.  We may not always want to admit it for a short time, we get to go back to a time when Princes and Princesses can fall in love instantly and evil is extinguished in a puff of smoke or by truly falling in love with the person your heart desires or being reunited after death in a world for the beautiful, true and glamorous?  Most ballet companies do offer progressive programming but such as the recent Crystal Pite, Flight Pattern, dealing with a very human theme, although one that has dogged humanity from the beginning of time.  Tamara Rojo is moving on English National Ballet to new heights and is doing wondrous stuff with classical and modern, making London the dance capital of the world and not just the cultural capital.  Even she has been criticised in not going far enough but this is the juxtaposition right there, quite often, audiences know what they like and by and large, that is classical ballet.  Dance writers are in the industry and it easy to sometimes want to change the thing that you spend all your time with but probably your average member of the audience does not read a review but puts their hand in their pocket because of a particular leading dancer or group of dancers.  In their hard-fought-for leisure time, generally you want to see something that will ultimately bring you pleasure, leaving the theatre uplifted and in the full knowledge that have been party to phenomenal acts of human skill and beauty.