Saturday, 9 June 2018

Flowers for Dreda?

Dread Blow is leaving Northern Ballet this evening and we shall miss her so. I tweeted last night:
Of course, there is unlikely to be one.  For a start the Lowry is not Covent Garden and there are good health and safety reasons why members of the public should be discouraged from emptying their gardens on to the stage. Leanne Benjamin described it as "pretty scary" to be bombarded with blooms in Roslyn Sulcas's Tiptoeing (on Point) Through the Tulips 20 Nov 2014 NY Times.

And yet.  What a lovely way to say goodbye as London did to Zenaida Yanowsky last year:

Or to Sir Fred when he retired from the Royal Opera House on 24 July 1970. I was in the audience that night. Yes folks I really am that old.  That photo was taken before the flower throwers got into their stride for by the time the last bouquet was tossed the stage was ankle deep in flowers.

In the 1970s, when I first became interested in ballet, flowers seemed to be thrown at the end of almost every show.   It was easy to get them in those days because the flower market was in what is now the Paul Hamlyn Hall.  Roslyn Sukcas writes:
"The floral tradition at the Royal Ballet is also probably a result of the opera house’s proximity to the Covent Garden flower market before it moved and the possibility of buying leftover or spoiled flowers cheaply.
'Back in the day, the fans used to queue overnight for tickets, and there was a very striking woman, dressed in a black velvet cloak, who used to run the queue, collect money for flowers and organize throws from the amphitheater,' Mr. Welford said, referring to the tradition of pelting dancers with loose flowers from the topmost part of the theater."
You know, I think I can remember that woman in black.  Rumour had it that she had been a Russian ballerina, noblewoman or even a princess who somehow survived the butchery at Ekaterinburg.

I certainly remember a lingering smell of vegetation everywhere in the House that remained long after the wholesale market moved to Nine Elms. Covent Garden was not quite so posh or pricey in those days. Remember that the Royal Opera House had been used as a cinema, palais de danse and even furniture store within living memory.  The smell only disappeared after the extensive renovations of the 1990s during which time the company performed in a circus tent in Battersea Park.

Nowadays flower throws in London are organized by the Ballet Association for extra special occasions (see "About Us" on the Ballet Association's website).  That's probably a good thing but it has taken away the spontaneity of the gesture.

I once discussed the custom of throwing cut flowers with Ernst Meisner of the Dutch National Ballet. He was familiar with the tradition having trained at the Royal Ballet School and having danced for many years with the Royal Ballet. "It's a lovely custom," said Ernst, "but we have never done it here."  Well, actually, according to Julia Farron, it was Ernst's compatriots who started the custom for she remembers showers of daffodils and tulips the day that Sadlers Wells Ballet performed in the Hague (see David Bintley How World War 2 made British Ballet BBC website).

Whatever is to be arranged for Dreda (and if anyone is collecting for flowers, do get in touch with me for I would love to contribute) it will be a bitter-sweet occasion.  In many ways the curtain call is the most important part of the performance for it is the audience's opportunity to perform. The ballet should never be a passive experience. And tonight we shall perform. With tears. With cries and yells and Russian style roars. With thunderous applause.  And hopefully flowers. Because we love dear Dreda so.

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