Thursday, 24 September 2015

Isn't it great when you find a teacher with whom you just click

Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova in Swan Lake
Dutch National Ballet Gala 8 Sept 2015
Photo Angela Sterling
(c) Dutch National Ballet 2015 All rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

You are probably wondering why I am writing about a ballet teacher under a photograph of the great Matthew Golding and Anna Tsygankova in Swan Lake. You will find the answer in my review of the Dutch National Ballet's gala of 8 Sept 2015:
"The first half of the evening was rounded off gloriously by Golding and Tsygankova's pas de deux from the black Act of Swan Lake. That was thrilling although I couldn't help thinking of my own shortcomings when I tried to learn Siegfried's solo at KNT's ballet intensive last month (see KNT's Beginners' Adult Ballet Intensive - Swan Lake: Day 3 20 Aug 2015). They were as magnificent in Swan Lake as they had been in Cinderella on 8 July 2015 (see Wheeldon's Cinderella 13 July 2015)."
The teacher who taught us Siegfried's dance as well as the cygnets, the Hungarian dance and the entry of the swans was Jane Tucker and she teaches the adult ballet improvers' class on Wednesday evenings at Northern Ballet.

The reason I mention Jane today is that Birmingham Royal Ballet are at The Lowry this week and tonight I shall see the whole ballet with Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley in the title roles. Another favourite, Céline Gittens, is in the show too. I admire all the other artists in the cast too. We should be in for a treat tonight. chukkas and toi-toi to all and indeed to all the other casts who will perform at The Lowry. I shall be looking out for the dances that I was taught with particular interest. That Swan Lake intensive has given me insight into the ballet that I could bir have gained in any other way.

When I was learning Latin in the early 1960s I had a classics master called Smith. Mr Smith was terrifying. If he caught you yawning in his class he would make you run  round the Big Side (the playing field that ran alongside the Talgarth Road opposite the Royal Ballet School and later LAMDA as it happens) in full school uniform. He was also an officer in the corps and if you dared to yawn in his class on Monday when we all turned up in cadet uniform you found yourself running round Big Side with a heavy pack. But I was devoted to Smith because he aspired to excellence and coaxed the very best out of his pupils. He taught me that my classics lessons were not just exercises with particles of sound but the gateway to brilliant civilizations whose treasures are still accessible with just a modicum of effort.

Fifty years on I have found another teacher like that. She is not in the least bit terrifying and the only time she makes you run found anything is in warm up.  But she has the same aspiration to excellence and she coaxes the best out of her pupils in exactly the same way as Smith. Obviously none of us will ever dance like Golding or Tsygankova or the excellent dancers of the Birmingham Royal Ballet whom I shall see tonight but with any luck we will all dance better than we did last week. I feel pretty sure that I do.

To be fair all the teachers of Northern Ballet are good and I learn something valuable from each of them. I also have a brilliant teacher at Team Hud to whom I owe an enormous debt of gratitude for leading me back into ballet. I shall never forget Adam at Pineapple who has only taught me twice but has taught me a lot or the wonderful teachers at KNT, Ailsa, Josh, Karen, Mark and Sarah. But there are some teachers with whom pupils just click. Last week I was stuck with a turn. Jane talked me through it and turned with me. Last night  I saw her do the same with others:  a young classmate doing a particularly awkward jump and re-inspiring an older classmate who had danced with one of our great national companies in her youth but has now been weakened by disease and the passing of years. It was this coaxing of the best from everyone that reminded me so much of Smith and it is why I am equally devoted to her.

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