I had a pretty spectacular experience this week.
In collaboration with the Curve theatre, I was offered, for the school, a chance to host a two hour ballet workshop by Matthew Bourne’s company for thirty children.
I am not, it has to be said, a massive fan of ballet. I have been a few times to various ballets and been disappointed by them all. They were all, to a fault:
- Too stylised in terms of how they told a story, so that it looked simply like a bunch of ‘moves’ trotted out mechanically, rather than a story that would touch my heart or engage me in a narrative.
I have the dubious honour of having been taken to see the National Ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden once, and actually falling asleep during the performance. Something that did not endear me to the person who bought me the ticket.
But, I am a great believer in encouraging the arts, all arts, because you never know quite what is going to unlock the potential in a child, and there is always the chance that something that you can’t appreciate will turn out to be the beginning of someone else’s artistic epiphany.
I had heard that Matthew Bourne’s ballets are quite a different beast, and the opportunity was too good to miss. We partnered with a local school in the area and set about the process of finding thirty children who wanted a once in a lifetime opportunity for ten quid a head.
It was not easy – sadly…but we got there in the end.
On Wednesday night I picked up two dancers from Leicester station and drove them to the wilds of the Leicestershire countryside to plonk them in a school dining room – where they sprinkled a little magic on everyone’s lives.
And they really did.
It was astonishing.
Firstly, it was astonishing that they managed to hold the attention of thirty children from the ages of six to fourteen for two hours, after an already long school day. And not all the children were dancers. Tallulah, and her friend Mary, her mother and I agreed – have all the dancing finesse of two planks of rather hyperactive wood.
Secondly, it was astonishing that given the fact the hall was noisy, and echoey and a bit dinnery, they really did manage to make it something quite magical.
They did everything from warming up, which they made not at all boring – to eventually teaching them segments of the actual dances from the Swan Lake ballet they are currently touring.
What I particularly loved was the way they showed the children how to build character and story and how to create a narrative of the body that still engaged the narrative of the mind. It was utterly fascinating.
Two days later and I’m still thinking about it, and I’m not sure whether any of the children had an epiphany, although they all raved about it the next day, but I certainly did, and although I shall still eschew the more traditional forms of ballet with a firm hand, I am booking my tickets for the next Matthew Bourne production pronto.