Friday, November 20, 2009


In my second year at university I fell in love. My girl-friend wanted to see the Boranvansky Ballet from Melbourne when the company danced in Christchurch. Together we watched performances of Giselle, Swan Lake and Coppelia from the Gods in the old Theatre Royal. Spell-bound, this country lad was swept away by the music and movement - the grace of the ballerinas, beauty personified, the athleticism of the male dancers a source of envy. The bliss of the occasion seared into my being. Later that year she broke it off – too young to have a serious relationship she claimed. Broken hearts do mend, and when one is young it happens quickly. Her legacy for which I am grateful has been a love affair with an art form that has lasted all my life. Across the years I thank her.

I have watched the New Zealand Ballet productions whenever possible. And seen shows in London, (Sadler Wells and the Kirov), Copenhagen, Munich, Paris, Sydney and Melbourne. In New Zealand Jon Trimmer has been a fixture – still on stage despite his seventy years. 2005 was a good year – a very dramatic Dracula and a striking performance of The Nutcracker Suite, Trimmer at his best. It had very different choreography from the other earlier times when I’ve seen it presented as mainly frolic and energy.

The setting was a hospital, which enabled a different structure. On Christmas morning Clara, hit on the head with her new nutcracker doll by her brother Fritz, was admitted concussed to hospital, where after a dose of nasty-tasting medicine she hallucinated the various dances. The result was a magical pantomime, dancing cripples, a bed that rose to the ceiling, three comic doctors, snow imps, and a doctor and nurse twirling around in love. The tea-lady danced a tango. Nurses turned into Arabian ladies, candles to inspect the sick suddenly became lights of sexual allure. There was a very lively Chinese dance while Fritz and the matron, Jon Trimmer, did the Russian dance as a comedy. I’ve never heard so many laughs at ballet. All too soon it was over as Clara returned home cured. It was an evening of pure make-believe leaving the heart warm and the mind relaxed. The applause was rapturous. There are occasions when one is proud to be a New Zealander. This was one.

Too soon, however, we were jolted back to reality. When I’d made the booking a year earlier I didn’t connect the date with Guy Fawkes. We had parked in the Reading building just across the road from the St James theatre. The waterfront fireworks had just finished. This created chaos in the car-park as everyone tried to leave at once. The problem was that the streets outside were clogged. We looked at the static line of cars and turned back to the concourse to have an ice-cream and watch the youth of Wellington chatter, flatter and flirt.

There were two girls sharing our table, speaking Arabic I think, probably Iraqi or Lebanese nationals. They both wore make-up, no head-scarf, had cell-phones and texted the whole time without stopping talking. I wondered if they were as confident as they appeared. Friends approached them, a mixture of English (some surprisingly good – don’t be patronising Harvey) - and their own language. They left and a middle-aged Chinese couple sat down. Twenty minutes later we tried the car-park again. The queue was moving. Slowly we wound down the floors to eventually reach the street. There are no lights on in the Beehive as we drove past. If Fawkes had been successful would the Westminster model of government have been established in our islands?

A year later we went to the ballet for my last time. Fittingly it was Giselle, the first ballet I had seen. The early peasant dancing was pleasant and sweet but the dance suddenly became powerful, the pathos palpable as Giselle learnt of her lover’s betrayal. The ballerina’s descent into madness was a superb piece of dancing and acting. Allied to the power and energy of Qi Huan who danced Albrecht it was extremely dynamic. The second half was eerily staged. The costume of the Wilis (betrayed dead maidens) fitted my mental archetype as to what a ballet dress should look like. Their queen and the other artistes shimmered and quivered on point as they rejected Albrecht’s pleas for mercy. And so to the final anguish of the lovers, a performance a fitting conclusion to a lifetime’s pleasure.

Now, I watch ballet on DVD. While lacking the glamour of the live theatre it’s a good second best.

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