Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Tuesday night ballet, again, and despite the title of this post, it wasn't quite as frustrating as you might think. It was a great lesson but we (by which I mean I - the royal we, perhaps?!) are still working hard on the sisonne/coupe/assemble, only now I seem to have the sisonne and assemble, but am somehow missing the coupe! Before I was flapping my legs about wondering how to get the assemble right, now I've sorted the assemble; I'm missing the coupe. I realise this is not a really complex move, but it's like my brain and feet will not liaise with one another. How frustrating! I'm just going to have to keep trying hard and practising until I get that and the eternally confusing pas de bourre over and unders. (I get pas de bourres but 'behind side front/infront side behind swap really confuses my poor, work tired brain on a Tuesday evening.)

My main issue with all the practise I'm doing is that the more I practise, the more I ache, and although I really enjoy the practise and would do it every day if I could, I can't work out whether I ache because I'm working really hard, or whether, perhaps somewhat sadly, it's a sign of my age. I'd prefer to think the first, but I do worry it might be the second(how do you ever become old enough to say that? It just creeps up on you from nowhere.)

Worries aside (and I
do worry quite a lot- one of my less appealing characteristics!), we did do some fun allegro work today, which was great: lots of pose turns in pointe and ballet class - it makes me feel like a proper dancer even if I'm not brilliant at it!

Vaguely to return to the topic of the sisonne - my [much younger, teenage] ballet-class friend today declared, in response to my extreme struggle over the very simple move, that there was nothing quite like a sisonne to wake you up and that she would do one as she got out of bed every morning if she could! I had to giggle: she's mad!

Next project: to learn to use the Theraband I've bought. I've been googling how to use it but I need to spend some time get
ting to know what's best for strengthening my feet and ankles for ballet!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Exam Prep

For about the last month I've been preparing to take my grade 5 IDTA Ballet exam with the studios I dance with. I already have my RAD grade 5 from my teenage years, but I thought "why not?" as it's a challenge and a target to work towards (and I'm quite into measurable goalposts that make me feel like I've accomplished something.) I'm also quite keen to do well but with only one adult lesson a week at my studios I couldn't quite see that happening - especially as my head is often not in prime learning mode on a Tuesday after work. So... I've been taking a class with the teenage grade 5s on a Saturday too. Although it was odd at first, I've just about slotted in now: I guess it helps that I am smaller than most of them and have been known to be ID'd for a lottery ticket (you have to be 16!) within the last year. There are moments when I feel old: when they talk about school; when they discuss teen politics (aka who's popular/who's not!), but generally they are amenable, and one or two even stop to chat, which is nice!

These extra lessons give me more time to run through the syllabus, strengthen technique and also take
an additional lesson a week, so I've been really enjoying them but, I was particularly chuffed today when the teacher stopped to give me a lengthy correction. In our adult lesson, it can often be difficult to stop for corrections because many of the dancers just want to get on and dance, and if they're not taking exams it sort of seems irrelevant, but it's great to have the chance to go through something I'm struggling with. The lovely teens were quite happy to chat amongst themselves as I went through the exercise with the teacher (sissone ouvert, coupe, assemble - if you want to know!). I think when I first went back to ballet I felt quite anxious about being corrected, but now I relish it and really appreciate it, and in a strange kind of way makes me think I must be getting better if the teacher thinks I warrant a correction! Anyway, eventually I managed to complete a few rounds of the exercise ("jump out, coupe back, swish, together"), by no means perfectly, but I'm getting there! By the end of the lesson I felt like I'd worked incredibly hard and as I was waiting for my teacher to photocopy the syllabus notes for me, we had a little chat where she said she really felt that I'd come on. Not massive praise, you might think, and I qualified it with, "Well, give me a couple more months and I might be there" but she dismissed my comment and reiterated that I'd really come on rapidly, and that I'd be ready for my exam. What a positive feeling that gave me! I've always somewhat doubted my ability and even as a teenager I'd prepare myself for a scraped pass then get a commended/highly commended, but this felt like such an enormous compliment, and genuine too, as she'll say when things aren't great!

I beamed with pride all the way home! Her little comment has given me a real boost and I now feel like it's really worth going all out for my exam preparation. I'm not suggesting that I'm going to get the highest mark ever recorded (as lovely as that would be, I know that's an impossibility!) but I feel that I will be ready to give it my best shot! I'm so aware that pride comes before a fall, but I'm not going to let myself fall - I know I've still got lots to do, and much more practice, but I feel like I will be ready and I won't let my dance school down!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Pointe Progress

It's the small things that brighten up my day! And I really do look forward to Tuesday evenings as it's my mid-week pointe and ballet lesson. It's one of the little things that keep me going and I look forward to the clock hitting 5.05pm so I can leave and be on my way to the other side of the city for my lesson.

Tonight was even better; everything seemed to go in my favour - (although I shall touch wood as I say that!) I had no meeting at the end of the day, the traffic wasn't too horrendous, and then, I had a really great pointe lesson: My pointe shoes finally feel broken in! I've had them a few month
s and only a fortnight ago realised that when I put my foot flat in them, the heel my left foot really digs in. My teacher had suggested I shave them down to make the sole's profile slightly flatter, which I did, but last week they felt far too soft (I wonder if perhaps they hadn't dried out since I'd been practising the day before) and I had fears that I'd have to buy a new pair. But - this week they felt perfect! (Take a look at my pic, right, to see my bloch serenades!) I even managed to balance in second arabesque (albeit low) without wobbling! We tackled some more advanced bar work and it's such a great feeling to think that when I began a few months ago I could barely rise onto one foot without gripping the barre for dear life, and now we're doing wonderfully balletic things like pose balances, pas de bouree piques and my favourite, coupe fouette racoursees! Now, I'm not naive enough to think I'll be pirouetting like Natasha Oughtred by Christmas, but it's great to feel progress and to be able to see it in the things we can do.

I learned pointe for about a year as a teenager, but since I didn't pursue the vocational examination route, my teacher didn't 'push the pointe' (so to speak!) and it was always a final 10 minutes at the end of a syllabus lesson. Taking a dedicated pointe class now feels quite indulgent, given that I'll never dance professionally, but I really do love it! Perhaps the most exciting point(e) tonight was when the teacher explained to us that she was having to set up a new 'beginner's pointe class' since we were no longer beginners. As we looked on dumbstruck she explained that what we were attempting wouldn't really go down very well in a 'beginner's lesson' since it was a little more advanced. Now, I don't really care how much more advanced, but the fact that we're spending more time in the centre, more time side-on to the barre and less time repeating simple rises and pliees, is a brilliant feeling of accomplishment and really made me smile!

Ballet class was good too, we did lots of enchainement and I wasn't rubbish, for once. Having been brought up on a diet of RAD syllabus work, it's hard to get my brain to process all the steps at once without practising them till they're second nature, but my IDTA class embraces the enchainement and though tough, I feel it's really improving my dance-sense and ability to pick things up. I'm not always great at it, but I can feel a slow, but steady, improvement and I feel more like I'm actually dancing each week. I wasn't sure about IDTA to start with, but I'm really enjoying it now and learning to enjoy the music and dance as well as the technicality rather than the practised perfection of RAD.

NB: Please forgive my pointe puns - lame, I know - but I couldn't help it!

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Sleeping Beauty (BRB)

Friday evening's Sleeping Beauty at the BRB was wonderful. As a former (amateur) theatre critic, I know for a fact I am no ballet critic, and there is much I have to learn, but these are my musings about Friday night's Sleeping Beauty:

I was really excited to arrive at the theatre, not knowing the cast, to discover that not only was Marion Tait playing Carabosse, but Natasha Oughtred and Iain Mackay were in the lead roles. It was almost as if I had picked the line up for my own personal ballet performance. I've followed Natasha Oughtred for some time and feel that she represents, to me, everything I would love to be if I were a ballerina; and I had seen Iain Mackay in Cyrano in October - and had thought him very accomplished, so I was, understandably, excited before the curtain went up. And, by and large, I was not disappointed.

Of course, the ballet doesn't start with the entry of the evil fairy but Marion Tait, as Carabosse, stole the show for me. I can't believe how a woman of such diminutive stature (in real life) could command such presence on stage. She conveyed an icy evilness that permeated the stage and was utterly delicious in its malevolence. I thought she was perfect in the role and I could have watched her all evening! She didn't overdo it, but you certainly got the feeling that she could have frozen any member of the company with one of her powerfully withering glances. I can only imagine how effective she is as ballet mistress at the BRB. I wouldn't want to miss her class, that's for sure!  Mention here for Andrea Tredenick, who played the queen. She, too, was wonderful and has a definite Marion Tait-ness about her: I think she might be one to watch.

The lilac fairy was beautifully mimed/danced by Lei Zhao and I really believed in her care and compassion - not to mention her stunningly soft port de bras. Crucially,  Natasha Oughtred didn't fall short of my expectations (as I was a little worried would happen at one point!), and despite a minor stutter in the rose adagio (she didn't look as confident as perhaps she should - although perhaps this was part of her naivety as a 16 year old), she danced lyrically and musically(which is my preference over, for example, some of the overtly technical dancing of Russian trained ballerinas) and she looks every inch a prima ballerina on stage . 

In the prologue, both my husband and I loved the fairies and their lightness of touch in their initial performances. In fact, little could be criticised of either this or the first act, since it was so sumptuously costumed and mimed by even those not in dancing roles. The corp de ballet were all, without exception, wonderful to watch in the roles of Aurora's friends and the Lilac Fairy's assistants - they danced musically, lightly and with beautiful arms and feet (if only I could do the same - they made it look so easy!).

The third act, in the forest, seemed quite different to the Royal Ballet version, but I think I preferred this one. The positioning of Aurora in the centre of the stage certainly made more sense to me, and when we caught glimpses of her through the forest, it seemed more apt for her to be at the middle of the stage rather than to the side, as in the RB performance.  Oughtred, accompanied by the fairy's assistants, was mesmerising to watch, and I certainly felt the frustration of Florimund when he couldn't identify Aurora. Mackay was strong, manly and lithe - turning swiftly and deftly, desperate in his chase of Aurora. When the two finally met (both in the vision scene and later in the final act), I felt they were a well matched couple - and he a noble suitor to her constantly maturing Aurora. Their pas de deux was moving and musically approached, even if the music left little impression on me! I know that it's set music, but I wanted more of the Tchaikovsky  Sleeping Beauty refrain "I know you I walked with you..." - (apologies to Disney) at this point!

The final act didn't quite have the punch that the RB version had, and although the pas de quatre and bluebirds were entertaining they served as a distraction before the union of Florimund and Aurora. I also preferred the fairy tale characters in the RB version, although will always have a soft spot for puss in boots and the white cat, regardless of who plays them! 

Overall, and perhaps because I was watching from the middle stalls of the Hippodrome rather than the upper slips of the ROH, I preferred the BRB version. I felt it to be a strangely more palatial production, and I also had more invested in the musical and emotional interpretations of the main characters. That isn't, of course, to disregard the RB version, but rather to say that my heart is stolen by the Florimund and Aurora of the BRB. I felt it spoke more directly to me and I came away remembering exactly why I LOVE the BRB!

Here's my first foray into the world of blogging. I love reading them, so perhaps I should offer my own to the online world too!

I'd never really thought about it before, but I hope this can become an account of my experience as an 'adult' ballerina (I hate that expression, it makes me feel so old!) and also my thoughts about all things balletic. I'm always interested in what other people think, so do comment, I'll look forward to hearing from anyone who has anything to say on my topics!!

First things first, I'd just like to recommend a far superior blog to my own... I know one shouldn't say such things when setting up alone, but if one day I could become even half as engaging as Elise, I'd be very impressed with myself!