Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Life imitates art: reflections on a night at the ballet

The Concert, Jerome Robbins

It began when I met Joyce in Tescos. Joyce reminds me of my mother. White hair, fragile, quietly game. She would not let me carry her shopping. “This street is not as friendly as it was”, Joyce told me. I was glad I had a six pound ticket for the ballet to look forward to.

There is something democratic about a six pound standing ticket. You queue up on the day of the performance, and hope for a miracle. The miracle is that however many people queue, there are nearly always enough tickets. Six pounds do not buy you a clear view of the stage, but at least you get a view.

That night, the show consisted of three one act ballets: something classical with fairies, a premiere based on neuroscience, and something American and droll.

Act One

Just as the lights were going down, an elderly lady accompanied by a young man arrived in a wheelchair. White hair, fragile, quietly game. The curtain went up almost immediately. There was no time for removing outer layers, settling, and so on. So they sat as they were, in rainproof clothing.

The elderly lady leant forward at a slightly disturbing angle. The young man sat bolt upright against a pillar. Something was missing. I wondered if the lady could see the stage? And why was the young man so detached?

Act Two

After the fairies, came the premiere of a ballet to do with mapping connections in the brain. As the dancers interacted on the stage, the lady in the wheelchair started to take off her outer jacket. The young man took no notice. The lady leaned forward in her wheelchair so that her head seemed almost to touch her knees. Slowly, with repeated arm thrusts, she succeeded in pushing her jacket back off her shoulders. It took her a while. As the dancers twisted and turned, my eyes were on the old lady trying to take off her jacket.

Act Three

In the interval, the man standing next to me complained to the house manager that he could not see properly. Why could he not stand where he could see the whole stage? “I came to see the ballet,” he said. As it happens, the space he wanted to occupy was next to my line of vision. The house manager said he would make an exception. The man moved into the space on my left. I shuffled to the right. It was a kind of dance.

The comic ballet then began on the stage. The scene was a piano recital. The dancers played members of an audience hell bent on grabbing the seats with the best view. They sat in front of each other on purpose. Some were asked to move by the front of house staff when they were discovered sitting in the wrong seats. One woman, who had wrapped herself around the grand piano, had her seat pulled literally from beneath her.

It was funny, sad, and so true to life.

The End