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

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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!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/second-chance-adult-ballet-swan-lake

 

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.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/second-chance-adult-ballet-swan-lake

 

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!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/second-chance-adult-ballet-swan-lake

 

 

 

 

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.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/second-chance-adult-ballet-swan-lake

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 Performance – A (Rubbish)Dancer’s Diary

Alzheimer's flyer

Rehearsals over, ballet shoes put into storage, pre-performance stress and post-performance high are now all far behind me.  Unfortunately my Royal Ballet contract has not landed on the mat, so I have to go back to the mundane world of office work and leave the camaraderie of a shared, stressful but ultimately satisfactory experience, behind.  Adult ballet has taken off in the last number of years with more and more researchers putting together the link between dance and wellbeing and also with the world becoming somewhat more individualistic, people are craving a community of shared interests and this is what I have found through Second Chance Ballet at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast.  Sometimes in Northern Ireland, we might have been accused of being a tad provincial or colloquial but I have met so many interesting and friendly people from across the globe and of all ages, although unfortunately we are still somewhat lacking in the male of the species but then, that is something that will hopefully change.

I still have some ballet dreams to be fulfilled, one has passed and that is to where pointe shoes (too old, in ballet years), to wear a tutu (still possible) and to do a soaring pas-de-deux with the feeling of being lighter than air (possible but not likely) but sure, a girl can dream and Friday night has still given me that hope.  And when you have people who are beautiful dancing creatures with what seems like a lot of confidence giving you so much encouragement and displaying some of the vulnerabilities that you know you have yourself, this is what makes the experience so special.  My friend said to me, “what would Marianela (@MNunezOfficial) do?” and this became our little joke to ease the tension, so I pretended I inhabited that level of perfection and was dancing towards my Solor or @RobertoBolle who was just out of sight, the other side of the stage lights!

Of course, there was a profound and poignant reason for doing this, not just giving a bunch of amateur dancers of varying abilities the thrill of being on the stage but to honour a lady who started Adult Ballet in Northern Ireland and therefore us, along this road.  Ruth Adams let us dance, the other side of those red curtains, staring out to a full auditorium of family and friends.  Many people who started dancing or were brought back to dancing with Ruth Adams commented how much she would have loved the performance and that is where I took my inspiration from.  Ballet has added a new dimension to my life and although there are constant reminders out there that life is very real, for a few moments, we were transported to a world of Nikiyas and Solors and we even cheered for Gamzatti!

Ruth Adams passed her love of adult ballet and her classes onto Chee-Shong Soon who has certainly developed this troupe of amateur dancers with just the most appropriate mix of drive, inspiration and passion.  I did not envisage a performance on such a scale as having to negotiate three costume changes for myself, however, we did draw the line at having a live orchestra, as one dancer was asked!  I was truly in awe of how Chee-Shong put this together, not even working full-time in ballet or dance, although we all dream of our parallel lives of what we would do to transform ballet in Northern Ireland and make it as visible as it should be, if we had lots of time and money.  After all, Northern Ireland has one of the world’s up and coming ballet stars in Melissa Hamilton and she would always be welcome down at the Crescent Arts Centre for a Guest appearance, if she ever wanted one!  Lots and lots of people of all ages are filling up dance studios and standing at barres and more studios and classes being added, around the country.  I’ve seen the cinemas begin to fill with audiences and the same audience still flocks to live theatre (unfortunately not as often as we would wish and would also like to see some of the smaller companies being given access to the big theatres and their technology for live screening, although, can see how funding might be an issue), we are a strong community and it would be nice to get that recognition.  Maybe some year!

Right now, it is nice to have a couple of months off but with the prospect of a few summer classes to keep my feet moving.  Also, there are big plans for next year as well as we get those swan arms out.  The ballet of ballets, where there is so much dancing and character as well as classical roles with ballet’s most famous corps de ballet scenes, the oft imitated pas-de-quatre and the Black Swan, although I don’t think I will be volunteering to execute 32 fouettes, maybe the next year!

Alzheimer’s Society: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Second-Chance-Adult-Ballet.

And here’s our beautiful New York dancer who has given us a lot of grace and great fun and a beautiful tutu as well.  There were a lot of covetous ballet dancers.

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A (Rubbish) Dancer’s Diary, part 3

Well, the week has dawned with its usual summer slate grey, washed-out and chilly.  To think each year we start the summer with hope, oh what foolish dreams.  Anyway, my other dream of being a very unprofessional ballet dancer is also becoming reality this week.   Hopefully the performance will not be as dismal as the Northern Ireland weather and it will give many people some joy, mainly, of course, through our dancing! but also through people’s generous donations for the Alzheimer’s Society: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Second-Chance-Adult-Ballet.

It is a struggle when you are so far out of your comfort zone and a little like ‘old dog, new tricks’.  To be perfectly honest, in some ways, it has been the first time that I have not enjoyed dancing as much, I said to a class-mate, “I don’t like pressure ballet”.  This may be to do with changes in my life, outside of the ballet studio and just too much at the wrong time.  However, I also know that if I had opted out of performing, it would be even worse with a ‘being surplus to requirements feeling’ and hopefully, the high you get from doing something that is reasonably extraordinary as you certainly don’t do it every day as I mostly sit at a desk and type.

The best part of preparing for performance is that when you get people together in a pressurised situation, the camaraderie is great, all in it together feeling and sharing emotions.  I have picked up tips on how to improve and realise that everyone is nervous, no matter how good they look and how long they have been dancing for.  The mind is a funny instrument and it plays tricks on all of us and tries to throw us off, it takes exercising of the mind as well as of the body and that is why this performance is so completely apt.

Alzheimer's flyer

At the moment, I will be glad to get back to ballet for fun but hopefully after Friday evening, I will be on a post-performance high and wanting more!