Monday, 10 October 2011

Tutu Dreams

Today's post is inspired by my wonderful friend, N, and a truly adorable photo of her when she was tiny (well, when I say tiny, I mean very young, as she is still a very petite grown up!) - apparently she had to wear a tutu for her ballet exams. I love this photo because she looks so proud of herself, so balletic and also because she looks so much like her daughter (who is in the ballet class that I help with. In fact so much so, I had to double check who it was!)
N in her Tutu as a child. I am so retrospectively jealous!
When I was little, the only thing I wanted more than to be a 'real' ballerina was to wear a 'real' tutu. I dreamed of tutus, I imagined that, simply by wearing one, I would be transported into a land of sugarplums and pirouettes. Sadly, I went to a very strict and serious RAD ballet school, where the focus was on getting girls (for we pretty much all were girls) through their RAD grades so they could start pre-vocational/ vocational training. The closest I came to wearing a tutu in all the years that I attended the school was wearing a little cotton broderie anglaise dress for my primary exam. I can't even show you a picture so you'll just have to trust me on this - it was no tutu, much to my disappointment.

There's nothing quite as balletic as a white tutu, right?
(image courtesy of  www.unexpectedmanitoba.com/)
Even now, I still harbour a longing to wear a tutu, and sometimes even wonder if I did ever actually have occasion to wear one whether all my ballerina dreams would come true in an instant. My fear is that if it did happen, perhaps I would have no reason to carry on dancing, for my very 'raison-d'etre' as a dancer would be utterly fulfilled. I think now, as a grown up, my preference would be for a romantic rather than a 'plate'/ classic tutu, but actually, I really don't think it would matter, since I'd be so excited that you'd have to restrain me to stop me from dancing!

What is it, I wonder, that makes tutus so alluring to the little girl in all of us? Ballerinas (professional ones, that is) say they are often uncomfortable and restricting, but I think, to me, they are the very essence of being a ballerina, and I don't think I'll ever stop dreaming of the day I get to wear one!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

BRB's Autumn Glory

Sometimes my husband, the wonderful Mr. B, knows just how to lift me when I'm feeling sad. And yesterday, he did just that by surprising me with tickets to BRB's triple bill, Autumn Glory. He only booked the tickets at about 2 yesterday afternoon, but by 3.30 we were on the road to Birmingham to watch my favourite ballet company. 

I always feel a (slightly misplaced) sense of pride at the BRB. I think they're wonderful. They are technically amazing, have a fantastic repertoire, always put on a brilliant show, but more to the point, they are a first rate predominantly classical company based outside of London. And the fact that their home is only a 40 minute drive from where I live makes me feel like they're part of my cultural makeup more than any London based company could.
The beautiful Symphonic Variations (image courtesy of BRB)
Autumn Glory showcased BRB in all their glory. Of the three ballets performed, my favourite was definitely Ashton's beautifully classical Symphonic Variations, although I think it seemed out of place in the Autumn bill, since it seemed so evocative of Spring in its freshness, verdure and precision. I felt very privileged to see both Natasha Oughtred and Elisha Willis on stage as well as Cesare Morales and Jamie Bond. Their technical prowess and clean lines were stunning to watch, especially in the moments where they were accompanied only by the pianist - I loved this, as it is so rare to see a ballet just to piano, and that is, after all where most of us began dance, accompanied by a single piano. 
Chess themed ballet - how odd! (image courtesy of BRB)
Checkmate was an oddity, in my opinion. I was amused by the costumes, with the pawns looking like 1950s air stewardesses, and the setting, on a giant chessboard, was obvious. The movement, however, seemed a bit contrived: I think dance has come such a long way since this was choreographed, and if you gave the theme to a modern choreographer like Wayne McGregor or Stanton Welch, the resulting  ballet would be exciting and groundbreaking, but this being created back in the first half of the 20th century, it felt constrained by a lack of athleticism and an over-reliance on repeated motifs. It also was the first ballet I have ever been to where Mr. B had to explain what was going on to me, rather than the other way round, since the 'characters' moved as chess pieces do, and I've never played chess, so to some extent it was lost on me! Mr. B, however, thought it was clever how each playing piece was brought to life with a character befitting the character behind their chess piece.
Ambra Vallo was brilliant as the plucky Pol! (image courtesy of BRB)
I was expecting to hate Pineapple Pol but actually found myself laughing out loud and beaming from ear to ear by the end. It was just joyful. The score, and the plot, is a Gilbert and Sullivan fancy: Basically a good looking sailor comes into town and all the women go mad for him. So mad they all pretend to be sailors and stow away on his ship with hilarious consequences! The acting in this proved that BRBs dancers are excellent character actors as well as technically brilliant dancers. The characterisation of the women was completely un-p.c. but incredibly funny. Definitely a family classic!

So, although I started the day feeling a little sad and sorry for myself, by the end of the day, I felt uplifted and on a serotonin high! Thanks Mr. B, you're great, and thanks BRB, you never fail to impress me, I'm so pleased you're my 'local' company.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Blogs are the new magazines. Only better...

I have only just realised this. I think I now glean more enjoyment from reading blogs of people I follow, and friends of theirs, and friends of friends of theirs, than I do from reading magazines.
Monthly magazines - Not half as enjoyable as the range of blogs out there.
Thank you internet. Thank you bloggers. Blogs are amazing! Where else can you read musings on all the things you adore (for me: ballet, fashion, arts, etc. etc) on a daily basis, and then carry on reading others' simply by clicking a tab? And all for free. Where once I would have subscribed to a women's monthly, now I can choose what I'd like to read on a daily basis, where each blog is as unique and interesting as the writer who writes it. Where each day brings new discoveries.

For someone who loves reading and finding out about others, it's heaven. How incredibly lucky we all are to have this amazing wealth of knowledge and entertainment so readily available. So, if I read your blog regularly, I'd just like to say thanks; I may not always comment, but I do always appreciate!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

In pursuit of perfection?

In a recent article in the Times by ex Royal Ballet star, Deborah Bull, ballet is apparently "about perfection, not punishment." This headline worries me somewhat, because although the rest of the writing is staggeringly well balanced for a mainstream media effort (well, she does have a wealth of real experience rather than simply a 2 hour date with the film Black Swan), it still perpetuates the myth that perfection is possible. Read into what she has written (you'll need to be a Times subscriber) and you'll see that she talks of dedication, building strength and flexibility, the demanding schedule of a dancer and the years of practise it takes to get to dance with a company: all of these things are doubtlessly integral to dancers' everyday lives, but still, I find the use of the term perfection troublesome.
Deborah Bull (image courtesy of the Times online) - Pursuing perfection even as a child?
What is perfection? In Black Swan Nina pursues perfection to an obsessive degree; it is her nemesis and her eventual downfall. Ballet companies (and any company for that matter) pursue perfection all the time. But at what cost?  I wonder, is art ever perfect? And if it is, is it still art? I don't mean to belittle effort or achievement; I for one wouldn't go to the ballet if I didn't think it was well rehearsed and full of dancers showcasing their well honed, practised talent. I'm not suggesting dancers shouldn't strive to achieve their very best, but perfection? I'm not so sure:

I came across this definition of perfectionism in a book I'm reading:

Perfectionism is the setting of, and striving to meet, very demanding standards that are self-imposed and relentlessly pursued despite this causing problems. It involves basing one's self-worth almost exclusively on how well these high-standards are pursued and achieved.
(Shafran, Egan & Wade, 2010)

Anyone at the top of their game is, obviously, aiming to be the very best they can be, but the problem with perfectionism is that good can never be good enough. We've all done it, haven't we, when we've been praised for something good and dismissed it as fluke or thought that something else must have had a role in our success? Any classical art, especially one as potentially rigid and structured as ballet, has the potential to drive people onwards to better things, and this is good, this breaks barriers and forges new paths through the art(s). But, relentless pursuit of 'perfection' - that's not healthy, surely?

When I was little, my mum used to tell me a story about the women who weave Persian rugs: apparently, somewhere in every rug, they weave a deliberate imperfection. These women are highly skilled craftswomen, whose work is highly revered the world around; they are the very best at what they do, but they choose to make a mistake. Why? Because they believe that God (their Allah) is the only one who is perfect and it would be arrogant to suggest that anything man can do could be as perfect. They aren't shoddy craftswomen, they are apprenticed for years before they are considered skilled enough to make the highest quality rugs, but they are humble too.

I love this story: it captures my imagination and reminds me of magic carpets and stories from the 1001 nights. But I also think it holds a really important message: Pursuit of excellence is essential; it drives us onwards as humans; it makes our great artists (and ballet companies) what they are today - exciting and mesmerising to watch. But maybe, as dancers, instead of citing perfection as our aim, we need to change our choice of words, because, like the Persian rug weavers, maybe we need to acknowledge that mistakes are human, and that's what makes us man, not machine.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Ballet themed jewellery

Last year I bought myself (indulgent, I know) a charm bracelet. I already had a charm bracelet, a present from my parents when I graduated back in 2004, but the one I bought last year because I really wanted a ballet related piece of jewellery.

Here's what the charm looks like:
Simple and unfussy, right? I fell in love with them even more when my friend's daughter told me they would fit her imaginary friend - so sweet!

But, today, whilst trawling the internet on a totally unrelated mission, I came across these:
http://azendi.com/products/Silver-Pointe-Shoes-Charm.html

Then imagine my absolute delight when I discovered that the same company (Azendi) do a range of beautiful ballet related charms! There's a cute tutu, a ballet dress and even a swan lake charm. Apparently, for a while, they teamed up with Northern Ballet as a sponsorship deal.  But it got me thinking: I could have a whole charm bracelet dedicated to ballet. I think I might start a ballet jewellery related christmas wish list for Mr. B!

Look how pretty they are: (all images courtesy of www.azendi.com)



Monday, 3 October 2011

Ballet Erotica?

This isn't a review, just a few ruminations on Northern Ballet's Cleopatra. In case you were wondering, it definitely lived up to the hype - the score was excellent and the dancing was a perfect mixture of classical and contemporary (which given Northern Ballet's slight tendency towards non-pointe-shoe ballets, is great!) and also fantastic story telling, but there were certainly moments that took my breath away for a number of reasons!

The bath scene: I can only say 'oh my!' to this - never before in a ballet have I seen something so overtly erotic or sado-masochistic. I can't describe it, you just have to see it. There was water, (practical) nudity and  murder in a see-through glass bath. That's all I have to say about that, I certainly did NOT see it coming!

The end of act one: hooded red costumes of the egyptian men and women - like a cross between a ballet blanc and something far more futuristic. Visually, totally stunning! Mr B said it was a 'ballet rouge' - the overall impression was of blood but the company were technically excellent!

Mark Anthony's Bacchic orgy: writhing bodies, very little ballet, but certainly very physical, and extremely powerfully choreographed. This may have been part of the reason for the parental advisory warning on the posters!
A snapshot of the aforementioned Orgy... I'll leave the rest to your imagination (courtesy of grouptravelorganiser.com)
Clever use of set & projections: There was one moment where blood seemed to trickle down the scenery. I've never seen this done before and it was an extremely powerful evocation of Cleopatra's state of mind at the time.

Apart from that, there were some amazingly powerful moments in the ballet and it really showed off the technical prowess of the company whilst not being at the expense of storytelling (which is something northern ballet ALWAYS do well anyway.) It was certainly my favourite NB classic to date and I think that the company have marked a new era in their development. New name: new style, and extremely powerful indeed. Even  if Mr B did term it 'ballet erotica' I think that doesn't give credit to the absolute technical and narrative brilliance of the piece. My only regret is that I didn't see the first cast, but the second, but it's a minor quibble since, I, for one, am just glad I was there to see it!