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.


THE NORTHERN POWERHOUSE: Northern Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, Grand Opera House, Belfast, 28th September 2016

The MacMillan Romeo and Juliet is pretty much the definitive version and doesn’t lack for anything.  However, like the recent Scottish Ballet version of Swan Lake, I believe there is room in the world for at least two and the Northern Ballet’s one of them.  Over the years, I have witnessed many profound interpretations of classical literature from Northern Ballet and this is one to add to the cannon, although, in recent years, along with being named Europe’s top company, they have spread their wings and turned to top European talent, Le Ballet de Monte Carlo’s chief.  From my brief experiences of Jean-Christophe Maillot, World Ballet Day appearances and watching his highly entertaining version of The Nutcracker, he appears to be a choreographer of heart and soul with a deft touch for comedy and so it was with his Romeo and Juliet.  A sparse, mainly white set but lit theatrically and with cleverly moveable parts that added to the drama rather than detracted.  The ballet had a central thread with the character of Friar Laurence who was witness to key events of the piece.  Romeo is a dreamer, not interested in casual flirtation like his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio who are wide boys, great to be around if you are on their friend but insufferable if you are a Capulet.

I was privileged to see two performances, the first night cast with one of the greatest interpretive ballerinas of her time, Martha Leebolt and up and coming leading man, Guiliano Contadini.  It was difficult not to view this as possibly one of the last opportunities to see Leebolt on stage in Belfast, Mercutio was played on both occasions by Kevin Poeung who has been growing as a dramatic dancer for a few years and plays is an excitingly technically clean dancer plays Mercutio to perfection.  Mercutio is the ring-leader of this little gang, and is reckless in the pursuit of pleasure but is not reckless when it comes to fine ballet technique with high, split-leap jumps that are rapier sharp and personality to fill this theatrical role, it was an eye-catching performance.  The other key role is that of Tybalt.  Javier specialises in dark, moody characters with his Cuban-trained strong, technical dancing, he is a great interpreter.  For a lot of the ballet, Tybalt is rather restrained and the main influence for this is a sophisticated and haughty but glamorous, Lady Capulet.

Lady Capulet is danced by a very elegant, Lucia Solari with a cat-like movement and fluidity as she glides through the production barely disturbing the air but attracting attention through through the nobility of her presence.  She wants her daughter to follow her and marry a man of noble birth and tries to instil some of this elegance into her daughter and thrusts the hapless Paris forward who doesn’t make any ripples himself but his presence is little felt.  Juliet who we see for the first time, toying and playing with her Nurse is more like Lise from La Fille, wayward and full of joy and life. The interplay between Juliet and her Nurse is the heart relationship that she doesn’t get from her mother.  The sequence introducing Juliet and her Nurse is very playful and paints the picture of a very young girl who matures extremely quickly as she experiences all momentous life events in a matter of days.  In the dancing form of Martha Leebolt, we see the full blossoming of Juliet as she goes from childish games to first love to dramatic end.

Led by Mercutio, Romeo and Benvolio crash the Capulet ball to have a bit of fun and score some points off the hated enemy by invading their hallowed territory.  This is the moment the world’s most famous romance is born as the star-crossed lovers meet as Juliet, dressed as a vision in gold, catches his eye.  There is a lovely little sequence, where they take a break from the brightly lit ballroom and innocently explore their burgeoning love by touch and feel, an underused sensation in ballet but created a deep bond between our leads.  Unusually for the Northern Ballet, this was a much more grounded production, a lot of the exploration of this exciting and new love was done by touch and feel, like an external extension of the soul.  It was very beautiful and must have seen many hours in the studio for the dancers to perfect movements that are not naturally in the ballet repertoire.  The movements added to the tenderness of the the meeting and as the score builds, painting luscious pictures for the choreography to build upon until the audience are also carried along on this romantic rush.

Ingeniously, central to the staging, there is a white-painted ramp that lifts up to form Juliet’s balcony and the radiant Martha Leebolt, makes her appearance, to nearly the height of the proscenium arch, which gives a frisson of excitement, along with her usual mesmerising performance where you fully believe that she is in the first flush of youthful love, to form the balcony. In the matinee performance, Juliet was played by Miki Akuto who is also a fine dancer with great technique and her Romeo was Matthew Koon.  Matinees are where dancers with not so much experience get a chance to hone their performances and with their two most famous dancers, partly moving on, it is a great opportunity to view these dancers at an early stage of their career.  Romeo dances and leaps through the air to hang off the balcony, propelled magnificently by feats of love.  Juliet reappears and takes control after her reticence borne out of years of family strife to take control beckoning Romeo to lift her down and join the luscious music of this famous begin a pas-de-deux that had me transfixed from start to finish.  Again as the MacMillan balcony pas-de-deux is so iconic and in so many ways with the interpretation and storytelling is very reminiscent of the sort of work that the Northern Ballet would be most comfortable in with the lifts that they accomplish so well.  This is a more grounded and understated pas-de-deux as if their souls are being passed from one to the other through touch and gesture.  I was deeply moved and watched with rapt attention as the two dancers ended the first act with the audience thirsting for more.

The second half is where most of the action takes place and in innovation to the usual staging of ballet, inaction!  Maillot uses the dancers as if they are on pause and their stillness is so convincing, the only one moving is Friar Laurence who moves around and between the still figures, surveying the scene and prophesying what is to happen.  The fight to the death between Mercutio and Tybalt and Romeo and Tybalt is done in slow-motion which was really effective but also I am sure very difficult for the dancers to master.  They are used to being in control but to slow moves down and still make them look real and balletic, it must have taken incredible work in the studio.  However, I think the work lost some impact in the exclusion of any kind of weaponry and Romeo, passive throughout most of the work, is difficult to then see where the spark for murder came from, especially as Tybalt’s death is not as reactionary as picking up a blade and plunging it in, in the heat of the moment or even a heavy club!  This is done in a quirky and ingenious way as well.  I felt it lacked some key elements that are there for a good purpose and why Shakespeare’s works have transcended time, the ability to demonstrate the desperation of their love and the consequence for its discovery and why Friar Laurence sees so much hope in it.

Romeo flees to his new love, Juliet, whose cousin he has just killed and the two argue only to be reconciled in love as she leads him to the bed for their unconventional wedding night only to be awoken by her Nurse, surprised to see Romeo in bed.  Juliet’s nurse is always one of those loved characters who gives our heroine her lightness and spirit and not her mother, Lady Capulet who gives her daughter no visible love and just wants to see her making a good marriage.  This makes it easier for Juliet to defy her mother and seeks her heart which is more a mirror of the warmth of relationship that she has with her nurse.

The final scenes are pretty much done in contemporary ballet style, there are not pointe shoes or big costumes in sight.  Friar Laurence does his creeping through the scene as a marker of impending doom as the character feel implicated and powerless to stop.  Martha Leebolt was able to clearly demonstrate the anguish that Juliet goes through in such a short space of time, from youthful girl through to newly-wed, to grief to prospect of forced marriage to contemplating her own mortality and then really witnessing death first-hand.  The character of Juliet is the driving force for the partnership throughout and in many ways, with the puppyish Romeo, entranced by her is the architect of both their downfalls.  It is easier to take vengeance of a beloved friend whilst under the hot-blooded provocation of a sword fight but the death scenes are somewhat more cold-blooded and therefore don’t always fit with the arc of the story.  Sometimes, although clever and innovative, we know that Shakespeare is still relevant today with strife in the world but the ending of this, although danced excellently and told to such a high degree, there is a slight anti-climax that does not fit the soaring Prokofiev score.  However, this is still a fine work of ballet theatre, delivered to a thrilling standard of technique and drama and minor niggles aside that do not take away from the overall power and innovation of the work.

giualiano-contadini-as-romeo-and-martha-leebolt-as-juliet-photo-andy-ross-1200x861I cannot wait until the Northern Ballet return to these shores.  They have so many talented dancers who are rapier-sharp in their technique, strong in their jumps, soaring in their story-telling and interpretation of literature.  This runs deep through the company, it is not easy to tell who are the lower-ranked dancers and this bodes so well for their adventurous future.  I know that dancers appreciate the warmth of the audiences in Belfast and hope they continue to grow for this excellent company, not just fans of ballet but fans of the theatre as theatre is delivered to such a high standard.  I do hope our Northern friends return soon.  I just wish I had the courage to stand to my feet as some audience members did, to salute one of the world’s greatest interpretive ballerinas with a to-die-for technique, Martha Leebolt, who we may never see again in Northern Ireland.  On this run, I did not manage to see Tobias Batley dancing, although I have many times in the past and their partnership has been a big strength of this company and wish them very well and much success in the future.  Although I suspect that this future may lie on further shores than the UK or Europe, possibly.  Thank-you so much for your commitment to ballet and dance and touring ballet to parts of the UK that other companies do not tour to.