Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Ballet Years (1990-1995)

When I was younger I did ballet. For about six, seven years. I loved it. I lived for it. The lights of the Whakatane Little Theatre with sold out crowds watching my classmates and I dance The Nutcracker, the fame of being photographed for the Whakatane Beacon, the makeup, the slicked back hair, the fact I got to wear a lot of pink.

But I was rubbish. As my final year at home before boarding school drew to a close, I started asking questions about where I’d do ballet in Cambridge. My teacher had quiet words with my parents. These words were undoubtedly ones such as ‘lack of rhythm’, ‘not likely to pass higher levels’ and ‘Laura should really stick to academic endeavours’.

My dreams about being the next Margot Fonteyn dispelled into the stark reality that I was about to start a new school being stuck with the dreaded nerd/geek/dork features/loser label. I wasn’t born to be cool, but at least with ballet I (thought I) had a chance.

Looking back, ballet was hard work, probably even harder given I was always out of time and almost completely incompetent. Though my enthusiasm was palpable, my talent, unfortunately, was not. Those that have danced with the adult Laura will have discovered that from struggling acorns, uncoordinated oaks grow.

We’ve all seen those ‘motivational’ notebooks/cards/calendars/canvases that start off with ‘dance as if no one’s watching’. I have to, otherwise you’d never see me out there cutting shapes!Just as those who can’t sing think they can after a couple of wines, I thought after each lesson of having my feet forced into the right position, my legs being yanked into turning out properly, my teacher constantly yelling at me and my exam reports coming back from the Royal Academy of Dance with ‘Pass’ ‘Pass Plus’ as opposed to ‘Highly Commended’ and ‘Distinction’ (I think I got one ‘Merit’ but that was probably for theory…) that I’d somehow been given talent in my sleep.

My first ballet was Giselle in Tauranga at the old Baycourt theatre. I think I started imagining that Sir Jon Trimmer was going to come to our twice weekly classes and identify me as hot favourite for my very own performance as Giselle. Then I had a celebrity crush on Rudolf Nuryev until I learned what 'gay' meant...and then consequently 'AIDS'...we were never going to work. He was 53 and terminal, I was 8, living at home and not allowed out after dark.

These days I am more than happy being a devout admirer of the ballet and thrive on going along to the theatre to see performances. Earlier in the year the Royal New Zealand ballet did their annual tour of all the towns and cities throughout New Zealand for their Tutus on Tour show, a very well marketed campaign to get all New Zealanders on board; and next week my mother and I are going along to La Sylphide, a tragic love story (something novel for ballet) about a Scotsman who is tricked by an evil sorceress and succumbs to the usual star crossed lover fate. Like many ballets, I know it will hold such a lovely sense of magic about it, particularly seeing as a sylph is part of the love triangle!

Giselle, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Coppelia, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Romeo and Juliet: many of these you will know in some shape or form anyhow, but to see an age old story told through dance is something else.

Ballet has the amazing ability to combine strength and skill without once compromising the grace, elegance and romance that the stories usually hold. Audiences can admire the tall, lithe forms of the female dancers and we can note the extreme...’definition’ of the males: it’s particularly amazing how male dancers are able to maintain an air of masculinity whilst on stage in tights. Ballet brings together art, music (particularly when we are lucky enough to have a live orchestra playing) and of course dance. Glancing around the types of audiences that frequent the seasons held in Wellington, many are older; patrons of the RNZB, donning tuxedoes and sparkly long sleeved gowns for opening night. But it is so lovely to see many mother/daughter duos, young couples (husbands/boyfriends being dealt a dose of culture…) and young children continuing to drink in the atmosphere that comes with the ballet territory. While I cast disapproving glances at those that wear jeans (honestly…), it is heartening to see performances still being heavily attended, and enjoyed by the public.

This Saturday is a free tour and behind the scenes look at the Royal New Zealand ballet. Head along if you’re in Wellington and have a few moments spare. And if you see a short red head sifting in the background wearing pink leg warmers and trying to look like part of the furniture, be a friend and drag me out…

NB: This is not me dancing. My hair isn't that long.

1 comment:

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