Ballet is everywhere… and some clips!

Yesterday I went to an academic conference on Extremism and the Media. It was great. I left feeling motivated, inspired and hopeful.

On one of the tea breaks, I started chatting with these two girls, and turns out one had done ballet for 15 years, and the other’s mom had been a professional ballet dancer in South Africa for over 20 years.

Turns out ballet really is everywhere!

**

I leave you with a couple of wonderful ballet clips from the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert.

This first one is from the 2011 concert. It is Strauss’s An der schonnen blauen Donau, featuring some wonderful dancing. The first time I saw this, I got teary eyed. I could watch this forever. It reminds me of home.

 

 

By the way, that gorgeous building is the Musikverein. In fact, this is part 4 of 6. so please go watch all of it! I also love part 1 & 2!!

 

This next one is also lovely. From 2010’s concert. It is Strauss’s Morgenblatter. And the costumes are by Valentino.

 

 

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

The class that never was… and Ballet Mime

Some of you know that I was planning on taking a ballet class this past Monday. It would have been the first class I’d taken in quite sometime. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I somehow managed to hurt my knee. My knee has always been problematic, but I can usually manage. It is a chronic issue, and most of the time I don’t even feel anything different. Except this Saturday.

Rob and I are huge stationary geeks. I hope this is not weird (of course it is), but pens, notebooks, notepads and post-its make us happy. So you can imagine our enthusiasm when headed to Staples, on a spur of the moment Saturday treat. All was grand, I got a new notebook, we stocked on batteries for our Wii, bought more blue pens to fill our pots at home (aren’t we cool?) and were heading home in a stationary high.

Until I stepped off a kerb and my knee twinged. So far, so normal. It twinges sometimes. But when I got home, it was hurting quite a lot. By the end of the day, it was quite painful to walk. So I didn’t. I didn’t really walk all weekend. My only outing on Sunday was hobbling to the supermarket across the street to buy Harry Potter 7a. And that was quite bad.

I knew I couldn’t do a class this Monday. My knee hadn’t hurt like that in years, so I knew I had to mend it before I could do anything else.

I was bummed, I had been looking forward to class like crazy. Additionally, as my outburst on twitter yesterday suggested, I had a terrible day at work… Not only did I have to hobble to work (ouch), but I argued with my boss, and it just added to my general feelings of unease regarding my job.

But the day was not a total loss. I am so lucky to live with my best friend (aaaawwww), so Rob and I had a lovely, relaxing evening together. We also work very close to each other, so we met at lunch time, which also made me feel better.

I also spent a lot of the day thinking about how much I love ballet mime. I know it is not to everyone’s taste, but I think it is absolutely lovely. The gorgeous Bag Ladies at the Ballet Bag once wrote a great post about ballet mime. I highly recommend it for some great information and videos.

They include what is possibly my favourite ballet mime: When Odette meets Siegfired for the first time, and tells him her story:

 

 

The music that follows the mime is my favourite piece of music from Swan Lake too. For me, it represents Odette speaking. She is nervous, sad, scared, but also hopeful. So, so beautiful.

The Royal Ballet have a breakdown of this mime on their ABC of Ballet videos:

 

 

This video is a triple treat, because I am a fan of both Romany Pajdak and Erico Montes.

The Ballet Bag also have a breakdown and history of Swan Lake, and they link to this wonderful video of Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley rehearsing the mime with Lauren Cuthbertson Rupert Pennefather:

 

 

I know it is not for everyone, but I just think it is lovely. Mime sounds so old-fashioned to us nowadays, but I think when it is in the context of a ballet, it is just dancing…

Dream Triple Bill

I love short ballets and think they can be just as magical as full-evening ones. After one of the most recent Royal Ballet triple bills, a discussion about dream triple bills started on the Guardian review’s thread. This discussion was again picked up o the most recent (and biggest) thread.

I have many dream triple bills actually, but this is the one I have been thinking about the most:

La Valse

Choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, with music by Ravel, I saw La Valse for the first time last October. I thought it was incredibly dreamy, romantic, and somehow dark…. as if we were watching ghosts, eternally dancing in a haunted ballroom…. Judith Mackrell at the Guardian called it “ a whirl of demonic romanticism“, Luke Jennings mentioned its “edge-the-abyss atmosphere” and Ismene Brown thought it was “privately erotic” and compared it to old Hollywood glamour and Fred & Ginger. I must say I do not fully understand it yet, but I know I really like it. Must see it again I think 🙂

 

Ballo della Regina

Lovely, lovely, lovely. I saw it for the first time this May with Marianela Nunez and Sergei Pollunin. It was actually the Royal Ballet’s premiere of Balanchine’s Ballo. It was lovely ( I have said that before, haven’t I?).  It is supposed to be an abstract ballet, with music from Verdi’s Don Carlos. But I couldn’t help but see a story in it. I thought it was fairy court, with Nunez and Polunin as the Queen and King, celebrating the beginning of Spring….

 

 

Elite Syncopations

One of my all time absolute favourites! I actually have this on DVD and watched it ten minutes ago.  If you don’t have the MacMillan RB Triple Bill DVD, please buy it when you can. I am not sure how I feel about The Judas Tree, but I ADORE Elite Syncopations, and love Concerto.  I don’t know if it is the crazy costumes, Joplin’s music  how all the corps participate, or the sheer joy in the dancing, this is a spectacular ballet, and a fantastic way to end this Dream Triple Bill!

 

 

For me, this would be an evening purely about the joy and  celebration of dance… I hope you have a good evening too!

***

So what is your dream triple bill? Please share! I would love to hear about it 🙂

My ballet story

Usually when I tell people that I love ballet, the following conversation happens:

– Oooh! Did you use to dance it then.

-Yes, I did it for many years as a child.

-That’s nice, at what age did you stop?

-12

-Oh why is that?

-Oh you know, dodgy knee, lack of talent.

We chuckle, and people sometimes try to prod, assuming a tragic story, assuming my knee got on the way of my dreams. But I don’t have a tragic ballet story. I don’t share it with you because it is tragic, or grand or self-agrandising. I share it with you because it is mine, and I love reading and hearing about yours. I share it because it makes me smile.

*

I started when I was 3 years old, just like almost every little girl. I just loved all things girly and pink, and at that age, you cannot get more girly and pink than ballet. My mum says I looked very uncoordinated and sloppy, but very happy. She says I took it very seriously, and loved every minute of class.

I was 7 when I saw my first ballet. It was the VHS version of Balanchine’s Nutcracker. At least I think it was Balanchine’s… You know the one, with Macauley Culkin? Has anyone else seen it? I watched it over, and over, and over again. I rented it so often from the local video store that, apparently, whenever the owners saw me coming, they took it of the shelves and handed it to my dad (apparently I had Gone With the Wind, Cleopatra and The Nutcracker on rotation, of course I couldn’t follow the plot of those movies, but I just LOVED the costumes).

 

 

I absolutely LOVED The Nutcracker! That was real ballet, that was why I did all those exercises at the barre, and why we had to dance on our tippy-toes, and why my teacher insisted on perfecting my port de bras and my turnout.

It was around that time that my dad started travelling to Russia, and he would tell me on his return about watching the Kirov ballet. He still tells me about seeing The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. These experiences have stayed with him and with me.

In short, I was in love with ballet, and silently, to myself, I decided I wanted to be a ballerina. So I worked very, very hard in my ballet classes. I also took Jazz and Rhythmic Gymnastics. ( I had lots of extra-curricular activities, including English classes, swimming classes, and I seem to remember once taking  a Tennis lesson,failing to hit a single ball, and walking back to the ballet studio).

Alas, life had other plans. My port de bras  was awful. Whenever I held my arms in fifth, instead of a graceful circle, I would get something resembling a square. (come to think of it, I looked a lot like one of the nymphs in L’après-midi d’un faune). I distinctly remember being mocked/corrected by my friends as I bourréed  across the stage in a golden tutu. I also could never get the perfect ballet hands and fingers (witness the claw), never enough turnout, and very poor coordination. But I didn’t care. I more than made up for it in enthusiasm.

 

Little me during a ballet recital.

 

We all looked up to the older girls, who were already dancing on pointe. And we knew that when we hit 11, our teacher would start preparing us for it. I turned 11, the teacher selected the girls that would continue on to pointe.  And I wasn’t one of them.

I was distraught. I refused to believe it. My mother, who always knew in her heart I wasn’t a dancer, bought me my first and only pair of pointe shoes. I remember it so well… that special store in Rio de Janeiro that sold the pointe shoes… the feel of the air-conditioned room. I felt so guilty telling her I needed the shoes, because in my heart of hearts, I knew I didn’t…

My ballet teacher was not a monster. In fact, he was fantastic. He had spotted something else though, on top of my lack of talent. He saw that I was having trouble with my right knee. Grand pliés were becoming painful, so was any balance on my right leg. I actually had to move away from the barre on occasion… But I didn’t care.

I started taking private lessons. But even my private teacher chose to keep me away from grand pliés. Which is not a good thing.

I remember once putting on my pointes before my private teacher could see me, not even breaking them in, and crashing around the studio. I was so happy.  I only wore my pointe shoes twice. That time, and the day after I bought them, lacing them up alone in my room…

 

Image Copyright: Jim Kelly

 

But like I said, life had other plans. I stopped ballet classes, and a few months before I turned 13, my family started the preparations to move from our tiny village in Rio de Janeiro, to Vienna, Austria. I don’t know where my pointe shoes ended up. I think they got lost in the move.

I wasn’t unhappy, I wasn’t pining for ballet. Like I said, this is not a tragedy. I loved Vienna, I loved my new school (once a nerd, always a nerd). The school offered an after-school ballet class, but I had put that behind me even before I left Brazil. I was happy, studying, learning English, snowboarding (my neighbour and good friend Ike fell on me when we were on the T-Bar lift. He fell on my right knee as our snowboards got tangled and we were dragged up the mountain. IT HURT). I loved living in Vienna, and the city still means so much to me.

But ballet was not really behind me. Whenever it somehow reappeared in my life, I reacted strongly against it. Once, a Brazilian friend of my mothers announced that her niece was moving in with her for a few years. She was my age and had gotten an apprenticeship with the Wien Staatsoper ballet. I felt all these ugly feelings and emotions rise. I met her only once, and she looked gorgeous…. She looked like a ballerina. Even standing around she had perfect posture, perfect turnout, when she moved her arms to get a glass of water, it was a perfect fluid movement. I smiled and said hello, but deliberately avoided her. I am still quite ashamed at how silly I was. She must have been so lonely, not speaking a word of German… But I avoided her… I got home that night and cried.

 

Image Copyright: S.M. Tunli

 

The Wien Staatsoper is my favourite place in Vienna. I always felt such a strong pull to it, and would walk around it (IT IS MASSIVE) and sit on the fountain next to it for hours. I once went on a guided tour and got to stand on the stage. I never associated those feelinsg with ballet. Maybe they are related to it, maybe not. But I love and miss that building so much. I never saw a ballet there. I actually only went once, to see Wagner’s Parcifal with my English teacher. (I still have NO idea what it is about btw!)

I moved to England for my undergraduate, and while I lived in Bournemouth, I started researching ballet classes, but never went through with it. I took ballroom dancing lessons instead. I moved to London, and never gave a thought to the Royal Ballet, until one day in December, 6 months after having moved to London.

For some reason, I have no idea why, I went on youtube and googled The Nutcracker. I don’t remember if I wanted to find clips of the old movie, or if I wanted to listen to some of the music. But I found clips from the Royal Ballet’s production, with Alina Cojocaru as Clara. I watched the entire show on youtube. And I can’t describe what I felt. I cried, I laughed, I was hypnotised.  I watched it a second time that night in bed. I scoured youtube for more ballet clips, and I watched everything hungrily. It feels as if I didn’t even blink.

 

 

The next day, I ordered Romeo and Juliet from Amazon. First class delivery. Then I bought La Fille mal Gardee. Then came Giselle and something clicked in me a. I asked only for ballet DVDs for Christmas (Rob asked if I had developed a fetish). And I allowed myself to truly love ballet again. Or for the first time.

A year passed, and whilst I watched ballet DVDs and youtube all the time, I still did not go the The Royal Opera House.  I bought lots of ballet books, read lots and lots of ballet reviews online, ballet blogs (a massive thank you to the Bag Ladies at The Ballet Bag. You played a huge role in me finding ballet again. You ROCK). But I didn’t go see to the ballet.

My friend Sameen and I bonded over our shared love of ballet (and mutual loathing of game theory), and she encouraged me to come see the Royal Ballet with her. I always got out of it, until she just went ahead and bought tickets for the two of us, so I had to go. It was La Fille mal Gardee. I was a bit nervous before it started, but I shouldn’t have worried. Ballet only made me sad when I was being a silly teenager. In reality, it was – and is –  something that fills me with joy.

Yes, sometimes I get those silly ugly feelings, but I know that it is not my life. I am also making up for lost time. I go to the ROH whenever I can and I am trying to get back to classes, but it seems so difficult to find classes near me at a reasonable price… But I still do some DIY ballet.

Rob has walked in on me many times rehearsing a few variations. Just yesterday I was demonstrating a balance, when I attempted a pirouette and knocked something off the table. He calls me his clumsy ballerina. (Best reaction was when I was trying to reenact some moves from Macmillan’s Rite of spring. He walked in on me and asked: ARE YOU OK???).

I am really not a dancer.  I am a ballerina only in my head, and occasionally,  my kitchen. And I am more myself today than I have ever been.

 

My ballet mess.

 

I occasionally dream I am a ballerina… These dreams are very real. I can feel the floor under my toes, I am on pointes and every muscle in my body feels the movement, I can feel the roughness of the shoe against my feet, the satin ribbons around my ankles, and I dance…  These dreams always feel like gifts, and they are enough for me.

*

So this is my ballet story. As I said, it is no drama, or nothing really special. But it does make me smile.  What is yours?

Posted in Me Tagged

When I look in the mirror

Sometimes I grimace. Sometimes I smile. Often I frown, and sometimes I gotAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!! Usually first thing in the morning.  So far so good, so normal I guess.

Yesterday I finished reading Portia de Rossi’s memoir: Unbearable Lightness,  about her struggle with an eating disorder. I have always loved her character in arrested development, and I think she is a lovely person.  I highly, highly recommend it.  It is a beautifully written book and painfully honest.

One thing in particular stuck with me. She was once 89 pounds. 40 kgs. Dangerously underweight. And yet, when she looked in the mirror, she saw fat. She saw rolls of fat on her stomach. She wasn’t hallucinating. She could grab it and everything.  At first, I thought she was insane. But that stuck with me as I read the next sentences, and my mind started to drift. Hang on, Nina. You do this quite often. You look in the mirror and think you need to lose weight, even though you know you don’t. I don’t diet or anything, I just think I should.

Portia did ballet as a child, and she loved it. The only other eating disorder related book I have read is Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing on My Grave, which is crazy scary.  . Portia does not link ballet with eating disorders, but a lot of people make that connection.

My rational side says that you cannot have an eating disorder and be a ballet dancer. You need to be fit, strong, an athlete. And athletes looks after their bodies.

But I know this is not true. There is a short of Gelsey Kirkland dancing Giselle, and she is absolutely lovely in it. She was smack bang in the middle of her drug use and eating disorder. In her book, she talks about being critically lauded for performances she has no recollection of dancing.

Similarly, Portia de Rossi was surviving at only 300 calories a day (my tomato soup for lunch today has 254 calories) and she still had the energy to follow an extreme workout regime.  This is difficult to comprehend for me.

This morning a couple of work colleagues were discussing their diets. They don’t need to lose weight. But they feel they do. Just like I feel. A while ago I thought that if I could not be a ballerina, I could at least look like one.  Which I realised a few moments later, was a very stupid idea. But my usual response when I look in the mirror is to frown.

What is up with that? Why do we think we don’t look good enough as we are? Why do we think we need to look thinner? Why in God’s world do I look in the mirror and feel inadequate and unpretty?

I don’t have an eating disorder, my colleagues don’t have it either. But I do have an image disorder.

I am not saying this to fish for compliments. I am just being very unoriginal and repeating something that has been said over, and over, and over again: there is a definite pressure for women to look ‘better’, to feel that they need to look better.

Jean Kilbourne is amazing. I read her book Can’t Buy me Love in school. My English teacher Mr. Snider (best teacher ever) added it to our required reading list for that year. She says everything I want to say in a much more eloquent way:

And she is so, so right.

“Women learn from a very early age that we must spend enourmous amount of time, money striving to achieve this look, and feeling ashamed and guilty when we fail. And failure is inevitable. Because the ideal is based on absolute flawlessness.”

I have to repeat this video over, and over again. And it makes me feel better. And I want to stand up against this. I will try to stop feeling bad about the way I look. I will try to educate myself, and change my attitude to my image.  That does not mean I will throw away my make-up and high-heeled shoes. I think it is just as unattainable to look in the mirror first thing in the morning, and feel gorgeous. I mean, when I look in the mirror with no make-up on, the imprint of my pillows, puffy eyes, and swollen sleepy face, the last thing I feel is pretty. (the husband finds me very sexy first thing in the morning. WHO WOULDN’T??). If my self-esteem was based on my first-thing-in-the-morning look, then failure would also be inevitable.  But after I wash my face, and put on some eyeliner, I will try my hardest to at least stop thinking about my weight.

This post is not about ballet at all. I have just been thinking about this all day and wanted it to get out of my chest.  Now let’s all  dance for a  little while 😉

Posted in Me Tagged

Must get back to class or DIY ballet

I haven’t taken a ballet class in a while. I also have not done any of my ballet dvd (ballet diy) in ages. I haven’t been well lately, and get home after work so exhausted that all I have the energy for is lying down on the sofa.

(I knew something was wrong with me when I could not face putting on high-heels in the morning. I just did not have the energy. And if you know me, you know how weird this is since I once turned up to uni coughing my brains out, on antibiotics, but wearing heels and mascara.)

But I feel myself getting better, and I think some light exercise may actually help me. So this week I vow to do at least one hour of ballet.

As I am a girl on a budget, and even the local community centre ballet class is out of my range at the moment, I will have to resort to what I like to call ballet DIY. I know it sounds dangerous, but it really isn’t. It does not count as a proper class, but it does help make me feel like I am doing ballet again.

One of my favourite resources is Element: Ballet Conditioning with Elise Gulam. It is more of a ballet fitness than actually class, but still. It is a great workout and still leaves you feeling like you are actually doing ballet.

 

 

Another lovely resource is the Royal Opera House’s ABC of Ballet videos.  There are about 9 videos, and not only are they super entertaining and interesting, they also work as a mini-class, if you arrange, and repeat a few of them. They are lovely.

I know these are no substitute for an actually class, but I find that they help me quite a lot. And they are also fun.

I am in no advocating that you teach yourself ballet. That is not even possible, and potentially dangerous. But if you know a little exercise safety basics and you look after yourself, these resources can be actually fun.

I do love exercise DVDs, and have quite a lot of them. I love Darcey Bussel’s Pilates for life, and have quite a lot of the Ten-minute solution DVDs.

And of course, you have to love wii fit! I say you haven’t really lived until you pretended to be a flying chicken on wii fit:

 

 

I might do a combination of all of the above this week… one hour guys! Looking forward to it already!

Judith and Luke’s Salon

I don’t know if any of you (imaginary readers) know, but there is something amazing on the Internet for ballet lovers: Luke Jenning’s and Judith Mackrell’s ‘salons’.

Salon is how the comment section of their ballet reviews on The Guardian website has become affectionately known by those of us who read and blog in it frequently.

Here are some recent salons:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/jun/19/kevin-o-hare-director-jennings

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/may/16/royal-ballet-mixed-bill-review

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/jun/14/kevin-ohare-royal-ballet-director

In what other place would you find such wealth of first-hand ballet history, a rabbit, a leather guy and so much ballet love?

Please, if you have not seen it yet, I beg you to have a look! It sucks that the comments section close down eventually, they should always remain open in my opinion!!!

A summer without ballet

So yes… The Royal ballet season is over, and they are off on their tour soon. I cannot afford to see the Mariinsky and there is a pressing need for me to find money to pay the PhD fees. This means I will have no ballet until September. October to be precise since I am not sure I will be able to see Jewels…

Major ballet withdrawal!

But yes,  I will just have to rely on my vast library of ballet DVDs to get me through! Thanks to all the amazing friends and family who contributed to this collection

 

 

There are a few more over here:

And a few more lying around the place.

My wonderful hubby got me this as one of our anniversary presents:

Still in packaging. Will hopefully have time to watch it very soon! you know, when my kitchen ceiling stops linking,

I know this sounds lame beyond belief, but ballet means a lot to me, and I miss it.

OK, I can prove to you that I am not entirely lame: I can quote every West Wing episode. No? Still think I am lame? That is probably true, but also nerdtastic!

The Great Con

I don’t know if anybody has seen the BBC videos about the Royal Ballet. If not, please follow the link below. These videos really bug me, especially this one:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13734258

Ok, where to start? First of all, since when ballet is about seeing the expression on the dancers’ faces? For me it is about dancing, and portraying emotion through dance. Where I sit, high atop the amphitheatre, it is often difficult to see the detail on the dancers’ faces, and that does not subtract from the experience for me.

Second, and most irritating for me, is the claim that people have been enticed to see R & J at the O2 because of the prices: “£11 a head”. Well, you can also get tickets at Covent Garden for that price. All Royal Ballet triple bills have great seats in the amphitheatre for £13 and even better ones for £18. And you are much closer to the action than at the O2.

And this journalist even goes further saying that “they better not get used to these ticket prices, as tickets at the opera house cost as average of £100”. That is just bad journalism and a disgusting misuse of statistic. Having sat through countless statistics exams, this bothers me on so many levels.

This video report is actually encouraging the view that ballet is elitist and incredibly expensive. Technically yes, perhaps averaging out the price of tickets at ROH, from the incredibly expensive boxes to the £7 standing tickets does equal £100. But saying that an average ticket costs £100 implies that you would be hard pressed to find a decent ticket costing less that £100. Which is so not true.

Here is a selection of my Royal Ballet tickets covering the last 12 months or so:

As you can see, they are not even close to costing £100.

(actually, the image is not so great, so you can probably not see. The tickets are, from left to right, from the top: Scenes de Ballet/Voluntaries/The Rite of Spring: £18; La Fille mal Gardee: £28; Cinderella: £20; Ballo della regina/Live Fire Exercise: £10.20; Chroma/Tryst/Symphony in C:£11; La Valse/Invitus Invitam/ Winter dreams/ Theme and Variations: £18)

In fact, the most I have ever paid for a ticket is £51, for Alina Cojocaru’s Giselle. Actually, I did not even pay for them, as they were a graduation present from my parents (thank you).

Great seats. Actually, the best seats I have ever had at ROH. An amazing night. Still not £100.

And this is the great con, this idea that ballet is expensive. It is not that expensive. I mean, it can be very expensive, but it does not have to be.

Are you ready for a shocking revelation? It is more expensive to watch a football game than to go to the ballet. And I have proof:

The lovely husband and I are huge Tottenham Hotspurs fans. These seats are the second cheapest at White Hart Lane. And yet, they are still more expensive than all those 6 tickets picture above.

I do not mean to rant. But this really upsets me. It is a great con that has to be stopped. Ballet does not cost a fortune. Please do some research people, and do not be fooled by urban legend and bad journalism. The Royal Opera House is a wonderful place, that is open to everybody.

I hope you give it a try one day.

Hello everyone!

Hello my dear imaginary readers! Welcome to my blog! Here I am free to talk about ballet without boring complete strangers on the street or my darling husband, who is perfect in every way, even though he does not love ballet.

I am not a critic, so will never formally review anything. Mostly these are my impressions, ramblings and inane comments about something I love very much. So sit back, relax, and let’s talk about ballet!