Last night I went to see Matthew Bourne’s ballet company doing Carman at Curve theatre in Leicester.
I do not generally do ballet, or contemporary dance. I use the word ‘do’ meaning ‘like’ rather than having you imagine me doing energetic pas de deux up and down the veg aisles in Sainsburys’.
I am allergic to the idea of enjoying dance I think. I don’t know if it is early exposure to The Kids from Fame and a diet of leg warmers in the early Eighties, or being terrified of my ballet teacher. So terrified I only lasted about four weeks.
I remember my mum being quite annoyed at me for giving up. I think secretly she was quite pleased as there was a big show coming up and I distinctly remember talk of her having to sew sequins on a tutu for me. I suspect it was a timely escape for us both.
I have, over the years, sampled various kinds of dance as part of my immersion in the world of culture and learning to love Radio 4 etc. I was taken to the Royal Ballet years ago by a friend who was a ballet fiend. She took me to see the young stars doing Peter and the Wolf followed by some short ballet about either pigeons in love, or peasants in love, or peasants pretending to be pigeons in love. I have no idea. I mostly had a crashing headache and dozed through it all, woken only by the rhythmic thumping as the dancers bounced up and down the stage with such vigour that even the orchestra couldn’t drown them out.
It didn’t do a lot for my headache, or our friendship. She was distinctly frosty with me on the way home. I had failed ballet spectacularly.
I’ve taken the children a couple of times to see things locally when travelling ballet companies have come. I have recollections of a Nutcracker and a Sleeping Beauty. Both girls desperate to leave at the interval, as bored as me, and me insisting that we sit on through to the bitter end, believing that great things might happen in part two. Possibly some kind of apocalypse, or at least a fight with guns and knives.
Contemporary dance tends to make me snigger a lot, and think of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer clad in Marcel Marceau type leotards with enormously pointy shoes and chins. Possibly farting. This does not help me when selecting things to sample or enjoy and I tend to steer well clear.
I felt that my education with regard to dance had stalled rather, until I got the opportunity to organise a dance workshop for some children in the last school I worked at. Matthew Bourne’s company were offering to show the children how they created Swan Lake. We would get two dancers and three hours for very little money at all considering we were getting tuition from one of the most lauded dance companies in the world. I jumped at the chance, and got to sit in on the process on the day itself.
It was, I confess, quite mesmerising to watch them work. They showed the children how they built up the scenes and the characters of the swans, and how they worked with the music, and the children had a go themselves and it was utterly fascinating and rather brilliant. It made me think that I must give dance another go.
Hence last night’s trip with Andrea.
I confess firstly to having a headache, which had been rumbling about in my head all day, and which, by the second half of the ballet, had developed into a full blown migraine. It did not help me to embrace the medium at all.
I realise that this is the second time I have mentioned crashing headaches in conjunction with ballet. I am not blaming the ballet this time. I have had a spectacular period, which along with allowing me to enjoy two weeks of continuous and pretty agonising PMT, has also been an utter, grinding bastard since it arrived. Headache/migraine are de rigeur with this type of thing, and I blame my endlessly fascinating hormonal journey entirely for last night’s blinder. Such a blinder in fact it did not shift until four this afternoon. Well played that woman.
Back to the ballet.
I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I didn’t enjoy it in the same way I enjoy theatre. With theatre I find that when it is brilliant I am utterly immersed in what I see in front of me. I am totally willing to suspend disbelief and get in there and live it. With ballet that has not happened. I was aware that my head was pounding, something I could probably forget in a play. I was aware that the seat was not the most comfortable. I was aware of the people changing the scenery. I found my mind wandering. Having said that, I was not bored by it. I was just not ‘in’ it.
I liked this contemporary approach to ballet much more than the traditional ballets I have been to before. I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that this is much more narrative dance. It is a cross between dancing and acting, whereas traditional ballet is much more formal and about understanding the symbolism of the dance rather than having the dancers react to the story. It is almost, and I hate to use the word but can’t think of anything better, ‘mime’. But in a good way.
We were in the front row last night. This meant we could see all the subtleties and nuances, all the gestures and facial contortions the dancers were enacting. This helped a great deal in understanding what was going on. I feel that if I had been sitting further back I would have missed all this, and not enjoyed it so much.
I liked the fact that there was a great deal of humour in the way the story had been adapted, the staging and the dancer’s ‘narrative’. I found myself actually laughing at times, which I would never have imagined happening before I went in.
The dancers were unbelievably skilled and it was a real pleasure to watch them. I was delighted that they were not in formal tutus and tights. I thought the costumes were great and it was fascinating to see how every detail had been thought through.
So, all in all, it was a hit. I would definitely go again, as long as I felt I would get a similar or better experience. Who knows, if I didn’t have a splitting headache I might even find I was able to immerse myself in it more. I’m pleased that I was able to appreciate it, and at times really enjoy it. I wonder if I might be growing up?