BIM BAM BOOM

That pretty much sums up the last month or so. I’m basically moving to London and things have moved very quickly in the past few weeks, so I haven’t gotten down to telling everyone yet. It’s not even like this is news that everyone – i.e. all the people I know – need to be aware of. It wouldn’t make much difference to friends in Singapore whether I’m in London or Belfast, and the people in Belfast who don’t yet know aren’t people I see particularly often either.

I still feel a bit guilty about not getting the news out though, but I don’t really feel like I can deal with the time spent answering the inevitable questions that will follow or having to turn down requests to meet up before I go. Or maybe I’m just flattering myself to think that people would be bothered with all that. Ha.

I’m naturally excited about the move, now that I’m right in the flow of things and have gotten over having made a difficult decision. I’d hardly blogged in such a long time as Belfast, being such a small city, had gotten stale fairly quickly. One weekday is pretty much the same as other weekdays and one weekend is similar to other weekends – those days flowed into weeks into months that were united in their sameness and blurred into an indistinguishable mesh that I looked back on and struggled to recall what notable thing I did or saw – because there usually was none.

And perhaps things might not be too different once I settle into London. But even Belfast was interesting for about a year, so I’m quite confident that I’ll be good for London for at least that length of time. I may not even blog more, since I won’t have to deal with the boring but hugely frustrating administrative matters relating to setting up life in a new country this time.

However, I’ll be returning to life in a proper-sized city after more than 3.5 years in a tiny one. I don’t know what I’ll make of it and it’d be interesting to find out. The English aren’t like the Northern Irish and London is an entirely different beast, but at the same time the city doesn’t feel any different from how it was when I was an exchange student there 10 years ago. I’ve also been back and forth to London a few times a year over the past 3 years, so this time I’m just continuing that trajectory on a more permanent basis.

In so many ways it currently feels like I’m returning to something familiar – hell, even my new job will be similar to a previous one I had – so it’s less like a brand new total shake-up than stepping out of a sluggish fog into a fresh and invigorated life.

There will be so many things to do, different types of cuisine to eat, a variety of things to see and experience, countless museums to wander around – in Belfast there is nothing new and nowhere to go on weekends. Sure, the restaurant and cafe scene here is thriving – but how many cafes and restaurants serving generic British/Irish food focusing on fresh, quality local produce can you visit before they start looking and tasting the same? It’s not even like menus vary widely between restaurants in Belfast, as you can always count on certain staples like pork belly, steak and Strangford Lough mussels.

Of course, life in London, while different, will bring its own set of challenges. I’ve read that it’s hard to make friends in that city and I know the peak hour commutes are a force to be reckoned with. But you know what? Every new beginning is an unwritten future, which means that until proven otherwise, there is hope for a better life. And that is enough.

 

What’s up, people? 

It’s not often that I’m reminded of my fairly dormant blog twice in 5 days, so I thought to check in to see how long it’s been since I last posted. 

Well, I knew it’s been a while, but hadn’t realised it’s been quite this long! Then again, while a fair amount has happened since, it also feels like nothing much has been going on. 

Let’s see, what have I been up to? 

For a few months I’d been busy with my ballet class’ charity performance of La Bayadère to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Society on 8  July. We had two performances to nearly 250 people in total at the Crescent Arts Centre and raised a total of just under £3500! Since then there hasn’t been much dancing beyond two weeks of intensive summer classes at APPA, but regular classes are starting next week and I can’t wait. 

We’ve also had some good weather – enough to get sunny trips out to Silent Valley and Castle Espie Wetlands Reserve. We had a lovely time in Kerry for a few days, as well as wonderful weather at a beautiful wedding in Cabra Castle, Co. Cavan, the other weekend. 

I don’t think there’s been much more going on to be honest, although there’s been a fair amount of cake eating now that Patisserie Valerie has opened in Belfast. We finally have a proper French patisserie, and I’ve even tried their afternoon tea! (It’s not too bad, but I prefer Avoca’s.) 

Cake aside, I haven’t been eating out that much. I can only remember checking out Solo Bar and Restaurant as well as Thai-tanic in recent months, although I have been back to Mourne Seafood twice thanks to friends who were visiting. With my ballet classmates I’ve also been to the new(ish) kaffe-O on Botanic as well as Town Square for after class coffees – they both do pretty good food and I especially loved kaffe-O’s salads! 

Oh – I’d also brought E to Falafel after talking about it for months (since last December to be exact!) and I’m glad he liked their food too. They also have delicious flavoured coffees – like the blackforest latte – so it’s a nice place for a simple meal. We also caved into our cravings and headed to Sakura one weekend where we ordered too much food. 

Well that’s it I suppose – a recap of the past 4-5 months in a nutshell! 

Brooklyn

“You’ll feel so homesick that you want to die and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. Then one day, the sun will come out: you might not even notice straight away, it’d be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking of something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who’s only yours, and you’ll realise – that this is where your life is.”

The day after: thoughts on the Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein

Much has been said about Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein, by myself and others more eloquent than me, yet I can’t help but add a bit more to all that has come before, because never have I been so captivated by a ballet that I’m still thinking about it the day after. Nor have I ever felt compelled to watch a ballet again – on the morning after my first viewing, no less – just so that I can relive the emotions that gripped me in my favourite scenes.

The print reviews of Scarlett’s first full length ballet were critical. Granted, not all are unfair – many sections involving the corps can be trimmed and tightened, especially the tavern scene and the start of Act III. There should be more of the Creature, and there could be more creativity in the childhood scenes between Victor and Elizabeth.

But that’s where my agreement with the critics ends.

I didn’t find the production messy, nor was the narrative poor. In fact, while some reviewers felt that the ballet didn’t do justice to Mary Shelley’s novel, I thought that the ballet was vastly superior.  The novel might have been bold and ground-breaking in its day, but to this modern reader it was draggy.

The book was practically an extended whinge from the snivelling, weak, self-absorbed, cowardly and utterly dislikeable Victor Frankenstein, interspersed by brief appearances from other (insipid) characters and beautiful prose from the Creature. In contrast, the ballet’s emphasis on some lesser characters from the novel made for a more compelling story.

The set was spectacular and the costumes were luxurious too – the flowing, flare skirts were especially captivating.  Although Lowell Liebermann’s score was criticised by some, I thought it suited the ballet well, lending it dramatic and gothic effect while allowing the dancing to take centre stage. Additional sound effects were also used well and made me jump in my seat twice – much to the amusement of a friend who sniggered the first time and laughed aloud the second.

My favourite parts, though, were the various pas de deux throughout the ballet. The dancing between Victor and Elizabeth was sublime – a blend of innocent love, hesitation and playfulness in the first act, and a mixture of hesitation, desperation and passion in the second.

The beauty of Victor and Elizabeth is nothing against the riveting climax of Act III, however, as the last two pas de deux in Frankenstein were so utterly intense and that THEY TOTALLY MADE THE SHOW. It’s not an exaggeration – I will watch Frankenstein in its entirety again just for its final minutes.

For I was there, on the edge of my seat, gripped in horror and my heart in my mouth as Elizabeth was faced with the Creature – I felt her fear and repulsion as it was expressed on every inch of her face and every bone in her body.  Then, in the stand-off between Frankenstein and the Creature, there was so much hate, anger and – at the same time – an intense desire for love that I was overwhelmed by the anguish of the Creature in the closing moments.

Would I feel this way if the ballet were performed by a different cast? I don’t know – but Laura Morera’s arms are beautifully fluid and elegant and Frederico Bonelli deserved much credit for his acting as I was ready to throttle his trembling, scared face in Act III (I really despise Victor Frankenstein). As for Steven McRae, his portrayal of the Creature was grotesque yet pathetic – and who can complain about the revealing costume which featured the entirety of a muscular leg and ridiculously toned ass?

So go – read the critics’ reviews but catch Frankenstein anyway. Twitter was full of praise after last night’s live cinema relay, so watch it and decide for yourself. I certainly think that this was a most wonderful ballet and Liam Scarlett’s best work yet.

 

 

 

 

In ballet this week..

I discovered yesterday that Misty Copeland is only 1.57m tall. This is super tiny, especially since I’ve always thought of her as being rather tall.

In fact, Tamara Rojo – who looks minuscule on stage – is taller than Copeland at 1.64m. Copeland is also shorter than the minimum height required to be a supernumerary in most professional ballet companies, which is usually about 1.65m.

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I recently bought my first ballet wrap skirt – mainly because I’d also bought a gorgeous new leotard that matches neither of my two dance shorts.

I wore my skirt in class yesterday but was dismayed to realise how fiddly it is! I was constantly adjusting it to tuck in the ribbon that kept coming above the waistline  of the skirt, which is distracting at best and annoying at worst. I like the floatiness of the skirt when coming down from jumps and turns though, so I might give it another go.

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Speaking of my beautiful new leotard, I have learnt the lesson to never ever buy dance wear that has fastenings of any sort. I had to strain to snap the press studs together when trying it on, then strain again to unfasten them.

I take two back to back classes on Friday, and while rushing to the toilet between them yesterday, realised that if I were in my new leotard I’d be spending precious minutes just trying to get myself out of it so that I pee and dash back to class. Seems like I have to save my leo for when I’m doing single classes then. Meh.

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I’ve been experiencing calf and groin strain on my right side, and have also recently noticed the occasional clicky hip, which resulted in my realisation that I have the following problems:

  • weak core
  • poor turnout muscles
  • tight hamstrings
  • gripped quads
  • uneven strength between my leg and right sides, leading to unnecessary strain

It’s disheartening to discover, after years of dancing, that my technique isn’t anywhere as good as I thought it was, and dismaying to experience all these issues in the run up to a performance!

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As we’ve been busy learning and practising the variations for said performance, yesterday was the first time in forever since we did petit and grand allegros in class. And I’m pleased to discover that I still can do a pretty good grand jete to the right! Oh yeah!

It’s a whole different story to the left though. My left leg lacks the power to achieve height and my right groin/hip is a bit tight and lacks the flexibility to get horizontal – see what I mean about being so uneven between my sides?

During this section, I got very paranoid watching some of my classmates land heavily from their grand jetes with a sickled foot as well. It brings back memories about how I broke my 5th metatarsal after coming down wrongly on grand jetes (I blame the slippery, hard gymnastics floor that is so unlike that of a ballet studio), and the THUMP from a heavy landing plus the visuals of a sickled foot makes my imagination to go places I’d rather not be.

And to be honest – and at the risk of sounding like a snob – it makes me extremely nervous to see people attempting steps beyond their ability. Sure you can try to do a grand jete, but keep it low and aim to get the technique right, instead of going so high but doing so with bent knees, poor feet, etc.

Note what I said above about all my problems resulting from poor technique? I am walking proof that dancing with the wrong technique results in injuries. It is in your own interest and for your own safety to take things slow and focus on getting the basics right first. I can’t emphasise that enough and wish more people felt the same way.

Ballet as an afterthought: Mozart in the Jungle

Yes, I know that Mozart in the Jungle is a show about a classical orchestra, not about ballet. And yes, the musical bits of the show probably appear unrealistic to those in the know — especially when the characters seem to “play” their instruments without moving their fingers. But Alex Merriweather, a ballet dancer and Juilliard student, has had me shouting at the TV (spoilers ahead).

The first nudge of discomfort came when Alex was first shown moonlighting as a bartender. But that was still fine — he’s a student, probably broke and needs to earn money somehow.

Fast forward a few episodes, however, and there was Alex, with enough spare time on his hands to spend sitting outside Hailey’s apartment, waiting for her to return from her day with the orchestra so that he can ask if she’d like to jet off to Florida with him for the weekend while he shoots a commercial.

But when Hailey turned him down, Alex was utterly confused and unable to comprehend Hailey’s obsession with her oboe practice and dedication to her craft. Er — are you kidding me? He’s a ballet dancer! The very essence of ballet requires tremendous amounts of devotion, commitment and discipline. Him of all people should understand why Hailey decided to remain in New York!

I was glad when the show had less of Alex in the subsequent episodes, as he was clearly a minor character that the writers hadn’t spent much time on creating. Perhaps they felt that with Hailey’s classical training, it would naturally make sense to pair her with someone involved in a classical art form.

However, before writing Alex out of the series completely, the writers gave the ultimate kicker that prompted this piece. In Episode 7 of Season 2, Alex ran away from the filming of a Dance Off programme because:

“ I got a call from ABT. They want me to sub for Prince Siegfried in “Swan Lake” next week.”

HA.

HA. HA. HA.

What the actual fuck? The renowned American Ballet Theatre, calling up a nobody ballet student, to dance the principal role in one of the greatest classical ballets of all time? As if the ballet company doesn’t have a whole list of dancers to approach for this hugely coveted role first? And as if the other dancers at ABT will not be fighting each other tooth and nail to dance that part and killing one another in the process, before it will ever — EVER — come to holding last minute open auditions for that role?

I know, I know. It’s TV, it’s fiction and it’s not even a show about ballet. But it just was incredibly ridiculous to hear those two sentences and I couldn’t help myself. I’ll be glad to see the end of Alex.

More thoughts on my ballet journey

“How long have you been doing ballet for?”

I always find myself stumped when faced with this question. The short answer would be 14 years – which sounds like a relatively long time and suggests that I should be fairly good at ballet.

The simple answer, however, doesn’t reveal that 7 of those years were a lifetime ago, when I was 5 to 11 years old, taking ballet classes once a week at the local community centre. Nor does it indicate that in the first year after going back to ballet as a working adult – after more than a decade away from the studio! – I skipped as many classes as I attended as I struggled with a new life and a new job in Japan.

A longer answer would mean pointing out that I’ve had months go by without attending any classes when I moved back home from Japan, and yet again when I moved to Northern Ireland where I now live. It’d also require sharing that the arts centre where my classes are have mid-term breaks, summer breaks and winter breaks when no classes are held. I’ve been incredibly accident-prone in recent years too, which means a staggering amount of time away from the barre.

I’ve actually worked out that I’ve spent this amount of time not dancing in the past 3 years:

  • 3 x 3 weeks of term breaks
  • 3 x 10 weeks of summer breaks
  • 3 x 4 weeks of winter break
  • 4 weeks due to an ankle injury
  • 4 weeks when I broke my foot (which thankfully happened over summer)

These actually add up to a total of 59 weeks – more than a year! – out of the supposed 14 years of ballet training that didn’t actually occur. Moreover, frequent breaks in an already infrequent ballet practise have only serves to impede development, as most of the improvement made during term time is lost.

I occasionally feel frustrated and disheartened by the lack of progress in my ballet practise, but I don’t feel so bad now looking at this breakdown. Perhaps I should also change my short answer to the question above to 13 years instead to make it more accurate!