Friday, 6 December 2013

It's an Ill Wind - Review of Northern Ballet's Beginner's Class

I got up at 05:00 yesterday so that I could make Annemarie's 11:30 class for the over 55s in Leeds. This was more of a struggle than it sounds because I had come to London for our chambers Christmas bash at the Luce e Limoni the night before. Barristers are a fairly gregarious bunch as Lucentio noted in Taming of the Shrew
"And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends;"
and Luce e Limoni is not a bad eatery if you ever find yourselves in the area (which you might if you go to Sadlers Wells for a ballet or even consult me about a patent).  So I rolled up to my long suffering daughter manquée's home in the early hours of the morning. But I hate to miss a class so I set off at 06:00 clearing the Blackwall Tunnel in no time at all and belting up the M11 and A1 towards Leeds with bags of time.

And then just south of Donny disaster struck. I found myself in a massive queue of trucks on the A1 (M). Yesterday's storm had blown down a tree which closed both lanes of the motorway. I found myself wedged between lorries, the hard shoulder and the central reservation unable to do anything except scan the ether for traffic information of which there came forth none.   As Melvyn Bragg gave way to Woman's House which in turn gave way to something else I realized that I was not going to make my class. Doubly galling as I shall have to miss next week's as well because I am speaking at a conference on Middle East intellectual property law at the Langham Hotel on the 12 Dec 2013. As Annemarie is a great teacher I rang the Northern Ballet Academy to send her my apologies. "No problem" said the kind lady at the other end. "there's a beginners' class at 19:00 tonight if you can make it in time".

Eventually the tree was moved and I reached my humble abode in time to prepare myself a late lunch or early dinner and make my way to Quarry Hill by 18:45.  The class took place in studio 3 which Annemarie had used on a couple of occasions. It has mirrors on only one wall and that is the wall where there is no barre. The class was very much like the one I had taken at Pineapple a few weeks earlier, lots of earnest looking disgustingly fit and thin young men and women one third of my age.

I understand that the class is usually taken by Fiona Beale but she was indisposed last night so it was taken by a teacher who introduced himself as "Chris". "Could that be Christopher Hinton-Lewis?"  I wondered.  One of my favourite dancers. Dancers look so different when you see them off the stage without makeup, lighting or costume. Well I couldn't think of any other Chris on the teaching staff so I guess it must have been. "What am I an ageing female version of Horace Rumpole of "traditional build" like Mma Ramotswe doing in the presence of this Adonis?" I thought to myself.

Class started with pliés though the sequences were a bit more complex and energetic than I am used to starting in second with port de bras, rises and quite brisk turns but I survived.  I also survived tendus and frappés plus a brush through which Chris described as "getting shit off your shoe" and an exercise which so far as I can remember was tendus to en plat front, side and back with the right foot culminating in a  retiré.  Quite a lot for an old lady.

Then we went into the centre which started off tamely enough with port de bras but became increasingly complex. The next exercise was pirouettes and that is something at which I am not very good. However, I did pick up some good tips and to my great surprise I was able to complete first 90, then 180 and finally 360 degree turns - more or less.

We next did chassés and pas de bourrée and even managed something approaching a port de bras which Chris commended.  I felt quite confident about that because Annemarie is mustard when it comes to port de bras. Finally we did some jumps which is about the only thing I can remember from my very first ballet classes in St Andrews 44 years ago. My teacher, Sally, used to get me jumping like a jack in the box. Chris started us with simple jumps in first and finally got us to do échappés.

It was very hard work but a wonderful class and great fun.  "See you next week" said one of the girls afterwards which was a wonderful boost to the self-confidence. "Was this your first class?" asked another which brought me back to earth with a bump. Was I really that bad? Anyway Chris invited me back though I am not sure how often that will be possible as I am already taking one regular class on a Thursday and nobody pays me to take ballet classes.

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