Monday, 28 September 2015

Growing Old Disgracefully in Morley

On 4 July 2015 I danced again at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in the Northern Ballet Academy's end of year show (see My Second Ballet 5 July 2015). Gita reviewed our performance in Northern Ballet Academy's End of Year Show 9 July 2015. Last Saturday we took out show on tour and danced in A Feast of Music and Dance by Older Performers at Morley.

We contributed to a lunch time cabaret organized by LEAF partners (Yorkshire Dance, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance, Leeds Grand Theatre and City Varieties and Opera North) at Morley Town Hall. The cabaret was part of a project known as Young at Arts which is itself part of a 6 year programme called Time to Shine that will bring the arts to older audiences in community centres, health centres, care homes, shopping centres and leisure centres so that they can get creative, active and connected. The Time to Shine programme is funded by the Big Lottery's Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better scheme to reduce social isolation of 200,000 older people.

The cabaret took place in the basement of the Town Hall between 11:30 and 13:00. For those who are not from these parts, Morley is a town of about 44,000 people a few miles south of Leeds. Although it forms part of the metropolitan district of Leeds for local government purposes it remains a distinct community in its own right with its own mayor and town council who meet in their own town hall. We were asked to meet Selina McGonagle, Northern Ballet's director of learning at the town hall at 11:30. I reported to Selina at the appointed time and found most of our troupe already seated around a table which had been reserved for us. That table was one of several that had been arranged around a wooden dance floor. A screen had been erected just behind the stage and there were also trestle tables with sandwiches and cake and tea and coffee urns in a corner of the room.  The room was already quite full by the time I arrived. Almost all those who were present appeared to be aged 55 and many much older. They seemed to be a representative cross-section of the population of Morley.

As we needed to warm up someone found a corridor with handrails just outside the room where the event was to take place.  It was not ideal because it was on a slope and very narrow but we each did out own barre exercises. I started in the way that I had been shown by most of my teachers and faced the rail in first position. I did three tendus to the front with my right food rotating my toes on the third, three to the side and three to the right, repeating the exercise with my left and then reversing with a plié and a rise on demi pointe after each set. I then did a set of demi and full  pliés in each of the five positions with side bends in second and fourth and a back bend in third, followed by more tendus, glissés, ronds de jambe, développés, cloches, grands battements and finally the very deep stretches on the barre that Karen Sant had originally taught me at KNT and which Jane Tucker had refined in the Swan Lake intensive. In the corner of my eye I could see that most of my classmates were doing the same.

Selina called us back form a film from a dance group from Canberra called "The Golds" who seemed to be very similar to us. They were also aged 55 or over and their number included folk who had danced or taught dance to quite a high level as well as several individuals like me who had taken up dancing in the last year or so. I subsequently learned that Gold is an acronym for Growing Old Disgracefully and that it is "an exciting dance class for movers and non movers over 55 years with a focus on fitness, mobility and creativity." That class was originally part of a performance project for over 55s in early 2011, in association with the National Library of Australia and Belconnen Arts Centre, and supported by the ACT Government under the ACT Health Promotion Grants Program.

I had actually visited Canberra on the way to an International Bar Association conference in Sydney and had spent a very pleasant weekend touring the city and its environs. My late spouse and I visited the Houses of Parliament and saw one of the earliest copies of Magna Carta. We heard part of an appeal to the High Court of Australia which is the federal supreme court of the country and were surprised to find the judges who were sitting en banc in American style gowns which reminded us of night shirts rather than the sort of robes that our judges wore at that time. We patronized a restaurant called The Republic where the local politicians, lobbyists, journalists and others are said to hang out. We marvelled at the local bird life which made one hell of a racket at nightfall and somewhere spotted a family of kangaroos. We explored the mountainous countryside nearby. It was very beautiful but also very cold and actually snowed quite heavily in the hills and briefly even in the city while we were there.

The Golds did not dance at the lunch but they did answer questions from the audience. Unfortunately I had to miss the Q and A in order to rehearse.  We were then called back for lunch after which we changed into our costumes. I think the Feeling Good Theatre Company and a group from Yorkshire Dance did a turn or showed a film but we missed them because we had to get into costume. Then it was us. We were nearly forgotten by the compère who was about to close the show but her co-presenter reminded her that we were still to dance.

We entered the dance floor, took up our positions and danced.  We raised our right arms in sequence, then our left and tuned in out sets. We swayed back and forth and turned. Then we did a couru in demi flapping our arms like swans. Half of us them did balancés and pas de bourrées while the other half prepared to jump. We ran back to allow them to do their glissades. Then a dancer from stage left followed with a balancé and a temps levés while two if us did the same from the other side. We took up our final positions in a semicircle lifting an arm in sequence and then finally a post de bras to right and left. I think it went very well except that my hand bashed the hand of another dancer as we were both turning which was entirely my fault. We had to change our choreography a little as we had a much smaller stage, fewer dancers and were dancing in the round but we remembered the changes and executed them well. We received very generous applause from the audience. An elderly lady in a hijab congratulated me and told me how much she and her companion had enjoyed the show. She said that it was her first taste of ballet and that she hoped to see more ballet in future. As the object of the exercise is to bring the performing arts to members of the public who do not attend the theatre regularly I chalked that up as a success.

After the show I introduced myself to some of the Golds. I suggested challenging them to a cricket match but they had to prepare for their next engagements in Bradford and Vienna and I am not sure that everyone in our class would have been up for a game. One of the Golds asked me how long I had been dancing. I replied that I had been with the Northern Ballet Academy over 55 class for two years but that I had also had a year from an excellent teacher from Brisbane and had also benefited from classes from Adam at Pineapple and Sarah at KNT who were also Australian. The Golds positively purred at that answer.

Selina thanked us for performing. So did the compère and her staff. Most importantly our teacher Annemarie seemed genuinely pleased with us. I enjoyed the afternoon enormously and hope we can do something like that again very soon.

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