My Life List has featured “watch a professional ballet performance” for a long time, and I’ve never quite got round to it. I’ve just recently realised why that is, considering how much I love the theatre and would grab any excuse to go. I have a weird obsession with ballet that manifests itself by me loving the behind the scenes activities – training and classes, rehearsal, choreography and dance schools – but then not being at all interested in the end result.
I’ve tried watching performances of things on TV, and granted you don’t get the same experience as you would live, but I’ve barely managed to get more than ten minutes into it. The actual performance and storytelling of ballet passes me by, but the discipline, the talent and the sheer craziness of the life of a dancer has me enthralled.
So, I was all for striking this item off my long term to do list, until I stumbled across a new concept to me. The Birmingham Royal Ballet have been doing a selection of Company Classes on stage – so their regularly scheduled morning class, but on stage with people invited to watch. At £10 a ticket, I thought this was more likely something I would want to watch and not too much of a wasted investment if it turned out to be too dull.
It was a bit odd going to the theatre on a Saturday morning, and I should have anticipated much of the rest of the audience being young or teenage girls keen on becoming ballet dancers themselves. Once we were all sat down though, it didn’t really matter who was in the audience. The company gradually appeared on stage in dribs and drabs, and wearing their odd assortment of clothing. I’ve always wondered how some of them can be comfortable in the items they choose – we had one girl with insanely baggy trousers that she pretty much had to keep hold of to stop them falling, and another wearing a short stretchy skirt with suspenders. Also, those with one legging down and one rolled up above the knee – why?
Anyway, it all got underway under the watchful guidance of their class leader, I was staggered by their skills. It starts slow, but even in the most basic of movements, she rippled off a fast-paced burble of moves and rhythms at the pace of an auctioneer, and then stepped back and they all completed them as instructed. It was mind-boggling, even taking into account they’ve done this many times before I’m sure.
The other thing that impressed me was their rehearsal pianist. He also managed to take in what the ballet dancers would be doing and converted it into the music required, piecing together the beats and bars needed and getting the tone just right, even switching between the more feminine and masculine feeling within one piece of music depending on the group in front of him. He could pick up the pace if he’d slightly misjudged it, but that was rare. The class leader would tend to demonstrate the rhythm required and off he’d go. I was so jealous of his skills.
The dance movements gradually got bigger and more complex. They started at the barre, then moved those to the side to do more leaps and spins and moving across the stage, before ending with a sort of show-off section where they would spin as much as they could to get the crowd’s approval.
The whole thing was fascinating, and at just over an hour long there was no time to get uncomfortable in the theatre seats. I think they could do with slightly more production – I know it’s a privilege to be able to watch the class on stage, but if the leader was miked up so we could hear her better, that might have helped, and slightly more guidance on what they were doing and why it was useful to the dancers could also have been a big asset. Nevertheless, it was a good way to spend an hour, if you’re interested in the mechanics of dance, and regardless of if you want to be a ballet dancer yourself or not. For now, I’m going to claim this as a success on my Life List, because sitting through a full on ballet performance still seems a long way off for me for now.