Thursday 20 August 2015

KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 3

Marius Petipa
Source Wikipedia

Well it's over. We did our show. We have all had a stab at dancing four of the best known dances from Swan Lake. I feel a massive sense of achievement merely to have taken part in all the classes and rehearsals and the final performance even though I am conscious that much of the choreography was well beyond my physical strength and skill. I am enormously grateful to Jane Tucker for teaching this course and to Karen Sant for organizing it. I am also grateful to all my teachers for conducting me to the point where I could contemplate a workshop of this kind. Finally, I want to say a big thank you to all the other participants for making me feel so welcome notwithstanding my antiquity, awkwardness and lack of talent.

Our day started with warm up exercises on our pilates mats. Depressingly they included some that I could do perfectly well just a couple of years ago which were now quite beyond me. Sit-ups from a flat on the back position, for example. I could only achieve that by enormous exertion which was clearly not a good idea so I raised myself as much as I could and sank back with somewhat greater alacrity than anybody else. The exercise that I found particularly useful was for the feet. Just over a year ago my right foot started to give me trouble to the extent that I can no longer rise on it on demi. Jane showed is how to flex and stretch the toes. That really helped with some of the barre work later.

I felt very much at home in Jane's class for it started just like every class at Northern Ballet with a walk, skip and run. We did tendus at the barre, followed by pliés in second, first, fifth and fourth, then more tendus. glissés, ronds de jambe, cloches, grands battements and stretches. In the centre we did a port de bras, pirouettes of various kinds, chaînés and all types of jumps. A bit more difficult than the Over 55 improvers at Northern Ballet perhaps but still doable.

The last hour before lunch and the first hour after lunch were taken up with rehearsals. We did the Hungarian dance, Siegfried's solo, cygnets and the swans' entry.  There were sequences of each dance that I never mastered but the prince's dance was by far the most difficult for me.  It required assemblés, tours en l'air (which I had never tried before) and multiple pirouette turns which I have never managed in class. The swans' dance was the most satisfying to learn and execute.

The last event of the day was our show. We had been asked to bring white leotards, flesh coloured tights and a black skirt. I had ordered mine from Just Ballet in Essex. Those garments took their time to arrive because the rain had smudged the address. The Royal Mail in its wisdom had sent the package to Harrogate rather than Holmfirth. Happily I picked them up on the morning of the show. This was the first time I had worn ballet tights and I found them difficult to put on in the confined space of the ladies' shower cubicle. Nevertheless, I managed somehow.

As often happens the excitement of performing raised everybody's game - even mine - but it was over so quickly. I savoured every single second of the show.  Karen and Jane clapped us generously.  Jane asked us whether our expectations had been met. "Oh indeed they had" we replied. "They had been exceeded." Jane commended the progress that we had made in the three days of the workshop.

So was this workshop worth £200 and three days off work. Emphatically yes! I think the real benefit will be a heightened appreciation and understanding of the ballet when we next see Swan Lake on stage. In my case that will be Birmingham Royal Ballet's at Sadler's Wells. I shall be looking out for the changements and échappés of the cygnets and I will say to myself "I did that". I will share the pride of the noble Magyars in the Hungarian dance. My heart will leap with each of Siegried's tours en l'air. And I know what it is like to be a swan under a magician's spell. This experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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