I have never really thought of ballet dancers as scary, but I may have to revise my opinion after last Saturday.
The lovely wife and I enjoyed a performance of the ballet Giselle at the Coliseum in London (English National Opera) and rather good it was too. I will lay my cards on the table – I do not come naturally to ballet. It has been a bit of a struggle but I was happy to take it up because (1) the Lovely Wife loves any form of dance and (2) it allows me the smugness of getting really cheap tickets for something everyone assumes is expensive (specifically £12 seats, which, when compared to a popcorn and goodness knows what else contaminated seat at the local multiplex seems good value to me). We have the advantage of flexibility, short legs (I really feel for taller people folder up in balcony seats) and I have a thing for booking well in advance and in the faith that the universe will not get in the way.
But I’m growing to like ballet – or at least the shorter ones. I was terrified to find that the version of Sleeping Beauty we saw some years ago, which I felt had fallen by the end in a never ending series of solo dances at the wedding actually in its full form ran to over four hours. I mean really? We have only ever walked out of a theatre before the end once and that was an awfully misjudged production of a musical version of ‘Gone With The Wind’ – it was past 11 and at the second interval announcement the Lovely Wife informed me how much of the story was still to go (somehow I have – still – managed to miss the movie or book). At that point we left, with pretty much the rest of the audience. It was not a hit. The lead in that performance was former pop idol runner-runner-up Darius; I’m pleased to say that the next time we caught him on stage was in the much better musical version of ‘From Here To Eternity’ which was quite interesting – and did not run over the two and a half hours (including interval) that really should be the limit for an evening production to avoid people like me (who has long since stopped trusting on a last train home and now finds the early morning after an evening out a struggle, which I didn’t in my twenties).
I think I should get back to Giselle and scary ballet dancers mentioned earlier. I could be talking about the male principals of course; those guys are ridiculously fit and muscled and as Billy Elliot taught us anyone who thinks men who do ballet are not as scary as those that say, play rugby, is fooling themselves. These guys could eat most professional footballers for breakfast and watching someone quite that powerful move with such grace and precision is pretty impressive. No, in Giselle (and I knew nothing about the plot before seeing it) there is a form of vengeful female spirits that latch onto men that are unfortunate to stray into their realm and basically dance them to death. During one sequence a number of potential victims are surrounded by the spirits and with the lights down the swirling maelstrom (Oh I love that word, this entire blog is an excuse to get that one word in I suspect) of ballerinas circling their victims was that most unusual thing of being beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It was a short section of the ballet but sold me totally. To echo something that was shouted several times in the performance, ‘Bravo!’
I have several dancing friends and young charges and all I can say is terrify and delight me, as my personal view of what defines art – that I personally like – is that in needs to generate some emotion in me. That can be dance, music, writing, drama or painting, I don’t care. I just rejoice sometimes in what we humans are capable of and how people should be allowed to express it, as it has impacts that artist cannot possibly conceive.