Monday, March 1, 2010

A grown-up goes to the ballet

Last week I attended a world premiere in Dunedin, of the Royal New Zealand Ballet's FROM HERE TO THERE - a "taster plate" of three shorter works. Modern classical ballet.

I am a ballet nut. I even did the ballet thing myself, passing BBO exams as a child with "Honours" to grade 4 level of the imperialistic 'British Ballet Organisation'. But my real talent was always as a spectator. My Dad loved ballet too and he used to take me with him to every one of the great ballets that came to town. So from a very early age I would perch on the edge of my seat next to Dad, in the dizzying heights of the "gods" in Auckland's wonderful His Majesty's Theatre, not wanting to miss anything. We loved the romantic classical ballets. He took me to see the touring Bolshoi Ballet and the Sadler's Wells and of course everything the Royal New Zealand Ballet ever did.

We loved Giselle and Swan Lake and we could watch them over and over. And we loved the Nutcracker Suite and Petruschka.

I actually like modern dance too and so I have also always gone to see those whenever I got a chance, but never with Dad. He knew what he liked. He was a traditionalist, as far as ballet went.

We did share a dislike for any modernising of our favourite traditional ballets. Don't mess with the damn tutus! Don't put the girls in street clothes! Dance naked if you're in a Douglas Wright performance, by all means, and bring in scaffolding and trapezes, but don't try to "update" the classics - they were perfect to start with. Just dance them, and break our hearts with the beauty of your bodies and the depth of your feeling.

I love the ballet so much, that when the curtain goes up and the first note is played and the first foot thwacks gently on the boards, I have to fight against the wave of emotion that overwhelms me. I weep. I love to sit in the very front row. I'm spellbound the whole way through.

But now that my father has died I have not been able to even think of going to the ballet any more. I would just be too too sad to go without him. I couldn't stop missing him and thinking about him. I didn't even want to look at the advertising for the classical dance treats that roll through town regularly.

So it has seemed that I had lost my Dad and ballet too.

But last week when I saw that the ballet coming to town was "modern" I thought, suddenly, that here was my chance to go along to something where I wouldn't miss Dad. He wouldn't have gone to that sort of ballet, and anyway the modern stuff just doesn't pull your heart strings.

And so I went, and I didn't miss Dad, and I loved the ballet. I wasn't swept away by sentiment, but it was a profoundly aesthetic experience, and an intellectual feast too. Sublime.

There was an emotional connection, but a grown-up deliciously poignant one, of appreciation and admiration - for the music, the choreography, the dancing, the stage setting, the costumes...

I was surprised at how many references to the "great" ballets that I could identify - Giselle and the Nutcracker were two that seemed to have influenced some of the choreography - and there were even tutus, hip modernist tutus, but still tutus: as light and delicate as a thistledown and as evanescent as any romantic could desire.

The music in all three pieces was exquisitely suitable for ballet (oh what a shame we couldn't have had musicians playing it live, but at least there were no issues at all with the technical delivery of the recorded sound) and the dancing was a perfect expression of the music.

Some notes:

SILHOUETTE: Poulenc music came alive, from clockwork to disjointed, kooky, the parts whirling apart and then clicking back together, a machinery of love and desire, lost pieces finding coherence, the sharp edge of tutu-modernism, too-too tutu! Gorgeous.

A MILLION KISSES TO MY SKIN: Fluid, dazzling, colourful, virtuoso, cerebral, indefatigable Bach. And a touch of Scheherezade.

A SONG IN THE DARK: Philip Glass, melancholy, glorious, lithe, Giacometti shadows, so absorbing a performance that the rest of the world ceased to exist.


Mary McCallum said...

Lovely PC - you've persuaded me to go! X

The Paradoxical Cat said...

You won't regret it, Mary! I can highly recommend this programme.