My knowledge, and preconceptions of ballet before I started lessons came from three main areas. Ballet music, Black Swan and a trip to see Romeo & Juliet when I was about 21.
I play violin, and have a passion for classical music, so the music of the great ballet composers such as Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Saint-Saens was already known, and loved, by myself. I want to explore ballet music in much greater detail in later blogs, so I won’t go into this too much here, but the other two areas I can talk about now.
I’ll start with Romeo & Juliet. I was about 21, in the Army and attending a course near Winchester to prepare me for the Royal Military Academy, in Sandhurst, that I was aiming to join the following term. The course was mainly aimed as serving soldiers, looking to apply for a regular commission in the Army, and trying to ‘expand their breadth of knowledge’. So, we did things like essays on the expansion of NATO, explored and discussed classic art, mathematic problems, leadership skills, etc. The whole idea was to try and get you to the same ‘standard’ as the majority of Officer Cadets who came from University. I joined the Army at the tender age of 16, so didn’t attend college or university. Part of the course was to organise and attend trips out that would help to expand your knowledge, and one of the course attendees booked us into seeing the ballet. I believe it was the Royal Ballet at The Mayflower in Southampton, but please don’t quote me on that.
I do remember, and this is going back 20 years, that I really enjoyed it. We had pretty good seats, so you got to see, in close detail, the effort that was going into the production. I was a Physical Training Instructor, back in the regiment, at this time, so was fully aware of the physicality of what I was seeing and knowing that this was not an easy thing to do! I was in awe, even at this point of my life!
I think Black Swan did quite a lot of good for the ballet industry. And I’m saying that very much as a layman, looking-in. I feel that the film can be looked at from two sides. The first side is from the internal struggles that ballet dancers are constantly fighting when it comes to progressing up the ladder. I am of the belief that the professional ballet world is incredibly hierarchal, with a definite rank structure. This is very evident in the film, so I hope that my observations are correct. The second side is the amount of work that goes into what you see. Ballet is, without exception in my eyes, the most graceful art form, where even the most difficult parts are meant to look effortless. My violin teacher has taught me that the audience cares not whether a piece is difficult or easy, they just want it to be beautiful. I very much feel that this is also true in ballet. A paying audience has a certain expectation from seeing the ballet, especially from a professional company, so the standards are already set incredibly high, even before the company starts rehearsals.
So, I knew that ballet was tough and I knew that it was beautiful. I think that pretty much sums up ballet in two words for me, tough & beautiful. Little did I know that it was going to be lots of the former to get very little of the latter when it came to my initial practice. The journey commenceth…