Wednesday, 18 September 2013

In Leeds of all Places - Pavlova, Ashton and Magic.


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My mother told me that she had once seen Anna Pavlova on the stage. She said that it was a very special performance the like of which she had never seen before or since.  As Pavlova died when my mother was 21 and as my mother spent her childhood and adolescence in Leeds I could not see how that was possible especially as the First World War accounted for 4 of the years when my mother's life overlapped with Pavolva's.

But I now know more about Pavlova's life having read the report of a talk that Pavlova's biographer, Jane Pritchard, gave to the London Ballet Circle on 29 Oct 2012 which you can download from the "Reports" page of the Circle's website. Pavolva brought ballet to every corner of the British Isles, to small towns where ballet had never been performed and unless she was injured or ill, she danced at every performance. I googled "Pavlova" and "Leeds" and came up with a link to this advertisement for a special matinee at the Grand on the 17 Jan 1913,   As my mother would have been less than 3 on that day I doubt that that was the performance that she attended. Pavlova must have danced in Leeds again when my mother was older.

The reason I thought of Pavlova is that I came across this picture of Sir Frederick Ashton and the stars of the Royal Ballet when writing "Realizing Another Dream" 16 Sept 2913. Ashton, who was nearly 5 years older than my mother, had been inspired to dance after seeing Pavlova in Lima in 1917. That decision of Ashton's must have taken considerable courage for there were very few opportunities in the ballet for anybody at that time and dancing was not the sort of thing that well brought up English public schoolboys did.

That performance in Lima must have been special. One of those rare times in the theatre when audience and stage make magic. I have known only two such moments in my life. One was the show at which the picture of Ashton and the Royal Ballet was taken.  I was there standing throughout the entire performance in the upper slips of the Royal Opera House.  The other moment was on Saturday in Leeds of all places. I don't know what it is that produces such magic. I don't think it is in the gift of the performers. I have seen great performances since by many stars including Fonteyn and Nureyev and I have seen the stage of Covent Garden knee deep in flowers especially when there was a flower market next door to the House, but not the same magic as I saw on the 24 July 1970 and again last Saturday.

I wonder whether I shall live to see another.

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