Experiencing Ballet

Two lots of ballet within a few days last week might have been overdoing it. But as a writer I know how important it is to keep the creative well topped up with new ideas, sensations and memories and two such completely different aspects of ballet so close together touched chords and left me with much to think about.

John’s inspired gift to celebrate our wedding anniversary was tickets to the Western Australian Ballet  performance of Giselle, with music played by the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra.

I don’t often go to professional ballet performances, although I love it when I do. I’m certainly not in a position to judge a production. But I do know that John and I were spellbound from the second the curtain went up on Giselle, and we enjoyed every movement on stage until the end of many well-deserved curtain-calls.

According to a review in the Sydney Morning Herald following opening night, the production at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth was very close to perfect. That is certainly how it felt for us.

From Sydney Morning Herald. Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, Matthew Lehmann and dancers of West Australian Ballet in Giselle. Photo: Ashley de Prazer

From Sydney Morning Herald. Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, Matthew Lehmann and dancers of West Australian Ballet in Giselle. Photo: Ashley de Prazer

Act I of this beautiful ballet is set in a village in Germany. A peasant girl, Giselle, falls in love with the disguised Prince Albrecht,  who is engaged to a woman from his own social situation. Hilarion, a local lad who loves Giselle, is suspicious of the prince from the start. When he reveals Albrecht’s  deception during the peasants’ celebration of the harvest, Giselle goes mad and dies of a broken heart.

Act II takes place at her graveside in the forest.

The Wilis (the spirits of women who have died after being rejected by faithless lovers) chase Hilarion away from the grave. The Wilis dance in the moonlight, dressed in their wedding dresses. Out of  revenge, they force any men who come into the forest to dance all night until they collapse and die.

Albrecht pleads with the Wilis to spare him. Photo by Sergey Pevnev (WA Ballet Company)

Albrecht pleads with the Wilis to spare him.
Photo by Sergey Pevnev (WA Ballet Company)

Prince Albrecht, in remorse, brings lilies to Giselle’s grave, and Giselle’s spirit appears to him and forgives him his wrong-doing. However, the Wilis force both men to dance until they reach exhaustion. Hilarion dies, but Giselle’s love helps Albrecht to survive the night. The Wilis fade away as daylight breaks, the lovers make their peace and Giselle returns to her grave in tranquillity, leaving Albrecht alone in his sorrow.

While attending professional ballet may have been outside my usual circle of activities, I am certainly no stranger to other ballet classes and productions.

As a five-year-old over forty years ago, one of my sons insisted on attending ballet classes with a neighbour’s little girl. Many years later, he said that he thought his experience with ballet had been helpful in the development of his considerable skills as an Australian Rules football player.

These days we know that ballet lessons can be useful for football players. Ballet can help to improve their strength, increase flexibility and make them more agile, while providing a mind-body connection and reducing their risk of injury.

While our children attended their classes, my neighbour and I also went to jazz ballet lessons, even though we were in our forties. To the tunes of ABBA, and in particular their ‘Dancing Queen’, a group of mums stretched and flexed our muscles and pushed our bodies beyond what we thought we were capable of. Over a year, we got very fit, even if we weren’t particularly skilful dancers.

My jazz ballet days awoke the latent role of dancer deep inside me, and went some way to fulfil one of my thwarted childhood dreams. I was convinced that my mother, for some reason I never fathomed, did not want me to be a ballerina. As a child, I also longed to write. But that is another story.

Five of my granddaughters have learned ballet, beginning when they were little more than babies and continuing into their high-school years.  One of my granddaughters, Amelia, still ‘does ballet’ and I look forward her end-of-the-year performance.

I’ve loved watching my grandchildren and their classmates in performances when they were tiny tots dancing ballet steps dressed as flowers, gumnut babies, elves, rabbits and little, often chubby, fairies.  It has been a privilege to see these same girls as they grew into graceful ballerinas in a variety of roles.

'Are my feet right?" (Elizabeth on right)

‘Are my feet right?” (Elizabeth on right)

Now a new cycle has begun. My great-granddaughter, Elizabeth, who has just turned three, became fascinated by ballet after she was taken to a production in which her aunt, Amelia (12) performed.

‘I liked the pink ones,’ Elizabeth told me seriously afterwards.

She, too, is now enrolled in ballet classes.

John and I walked to the Scarborough Recreation Centre on Saturday morning, and met up in the audience with Elizabeth’s parents, Claire-Helen and Bhen Linton.

It's fun, anyway!

It’s fun, anyway!

Saturday morning at the ballet

It’s fascinating to watch a class of three-year-olds in pink tutus learning the basic ballet positions and attempting their first simple ballet movements. For some, these are a real challenge, especially when they try to balance on one leg and keep the foot on the floor in the proper position. Some of the children are shy at the beginning, but they all seem to improve each week. Progress from term one to term two has been remarkable as the little girls have gained strength, skills and confidence.

 

'Are you still there?' (Elizabeth second from right)
‘Are you still there?’
(Elizabeth second from right)

 

As part of the class, the young teacher blows bubbles to encourage the children to stretch high and catch them; she provides fairy wands and bunches of tinsel that wave like trees or turn into horses’ tails as the girls move across the hall to ‘gallop’ music. She manages with aplomb when baby brothers and sisters  crawl across the floor.

Mothers and fathers, younger siblings and an occasional grandparent sit in a row of plastic chairs at the back of the hall. From time to time, one of the dancers breaks ranks and runs back for a reassuring cuddle before returning to the class. Sometimes they stop mid-step to hug each other. They all turn around to make sure their parents are still watching.

I imagine that the cast of the WA Ballet Company’s production of Giselle must have begun their careers in a ballet school similar to this one, somewhere in the world. Perhaps one day, one of these tiny, aspiring ballerinas will take her place in the cast of Giselle, too.

 

8 thoughts on “Experiencing Ballet

  1. How gorgeous your great-granddaughter is! I can just imagine how beautiful all of them were—their parents have many delights awaiting them!

    There is something so elegant and feminine about ballet, yet there is a strength to it too. I will never forget seeing Dame Margot Fonteyn dance The Merry Widow at the Princess Theatre in Launceston. It was one of the highlights of my childhood.

    • Welcome back, Louise. Yes, Elizabeth is totally delicious, and has captured my heart completely, and John’s as well. I feel really blessed to have a family like mine. What a good experience, to see Dame Margot Fonteyn dance when you were a child. That’s the sort of experience that one never forgets.

  2. Lovely Maureen! Elizabeth is a darling-I need to plan to catch up with Claire and family soon xx

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I made a video of the little girls’ ballet and learned to edit it. But I was disappointed when I couldn’t make it work on my post. Something else to learn!
      Next time you are come to Perth, I’ve invite the Linton’s for a meal. That would be good.

  3. Such a lovely post, Maureen. I love the way you use a topic like going to the ballet to open out to the heartfelt connections of creativity and love that you share with the world and especially with your family. And the delightful 3-year-olds. I have a granddaughter now 5, who’s been learning ballet for the last couple of years. Her mum, like you, wanted to be a ballerina, but her stepmother wouldn’t allow her to learn ballet. Thwarted childhood dreams can be realised in future generations.

    • Hi, Christina. I really longed to be a ballerina, probably more than I wanted to write. But as I grew up during the years of World War II, looking back I imagine there were not too many opportunities for kids to learn ballet. But I did think it was my mother’s ‘fault’! I understand how much joy your daughter must receive from living her dream through her child – as I do through my grandchildren. I had never thought about that before you suggested it.
      Thank you for your kindness about my post and for the sharing.

  4. As you are well aware… Ballet was such a fundamental part of my childhood. It gave me poise, physical strength, self discipline and above all confidence.
    Your enthusiasm, encouragement, and support for “my passion” was… And continues to be… So important!
    Now Elizabeth gets to share in the delight that is ballet. A gift from great-grandmother, to grandmother, to mother (with encouragement from Aunt Millie). Lucky girl.

    • Dear Claire, we have shared so much in our lives as grandmother and daughter. We are blessed to have such a warm, loving relationship. Now I feel privileged to be accepted as part of Elizabeth’s life as well. Thank you. The ballet is a little icing on the cake!

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