Beautifully Balanced Ballet

Ballet – Not something I have given much thought to, till I was offered to accompany a friend. Mostly I’ve just seen the cliche tv sketches of “typical” ballet scenes; ludicrously skinny ladies in pink leotards and tootoo’s (no idea how thats spelt, but it looks like the sound of a toddler’s steam engine… ) prancing around with cartoon-strong men who take too long in the changing rooms adjusting their 2nd pair of socks…

This preconception of ballet is obviously inaccurate and having never had the chance to see one before I’ve happily let that be the case. Now faced with the prospect of going to one, I reminded myself that prejudice may be a funny way to pass the time between friends, but ultimately holds us back. I chose to “open my mind”, like a tie-dye californian, and embrace the opportunity to see something completely new.

The ballet we were going to see was by a Spanish….. Composer? Choreographer? Director? Artist?…. a Spanish Compgratorist (nailed it). Right in the centre of a part of Birmingham I’d never been to. I’d surrendered to my friends invitation so I may as well surrender my sense of direction too. We seated ourselves in the plush red velvet seats, spaced just too close together for a man of my density, overlooking the stage from the circle. Perfectly positioned to appreciate the magnificence of the venue and production that was to come. As the curtain lifted on the stage I also lifted it in my mind to the possibility of enjoying this new experience.

The stage was filled with nothing but a couple spots of light illuminating two naked men (closer inspection gave some relief as I spotted some tightly packed man-thongs) Their bodies were incredibly muscular, highlighted by the direct light and the slow movements to the strange music that started. It was like watching someone/thing try to take flight in slow-mo and I engaged as much of my imagination as I was capable and came to the conclusion it was something about baby birds trying to fly the nest. The music didnt really match the conclusion I had drawn as it was tense and un-melodic without repeating rythm. One guy lay curled on the floor while the other did a mime of a bird or slackliner in slow-mo across the floor to meet him. When they met, they joined up into one set of movements and matched each other across the stage. They moved so close to each other the following guy’s pair of 2nd socks must have been lightly grazing the lead mans butt.

It was a very strange experience to be surrounded by 300 or so people watching increasingly sweaty men pretend to be each other’s shadow and, as it ended, I knew my previous fleeting glances of ballet had not prepared me for anything like this. Overall I thought this particular scene was something that clearly had taken a lot of skill, balance, control and practice but ultimately I was lost while viewing. It was only after the show that we found out the story behind the dance (?) was about a famous tightrope walker. But I never did find out why there were two of them, so close to each other…

The ballet then relaxed somewhat into the next scene, a more stereotypical dance with multiple couples twirling and dancing about. I could feel myself enjoying this far more as it still vaguely reflected what I had expected. The colours were nice and the music was nice but it still held intrigue as it was punctuated intermittently by eerie echoes of the music. It was like we were all imagining the show, accessing it from fragmented memories of our past, like the cut screens in a movie where everything was edged in a fuzzy glow. It was really interesting and far less frustrating and awkward to watch.

There were other scenes in the ballet but one of my favourites was the sexy drunk girl dance. It was basically a dramatisation of a scene seen most friday nights where the boyfriend has to look after the exceedingly drunk girlfriend because she has been on the wine all night. The stage was bathed in that orange streetlight glow and they danced and flopped around the stage as she weave in and out of lucidity.  It was surprisingly loving and romantic as he cared for her, all the while she tried to carry on the dancing of the evening down the street. Loosely clinging to the wine glass she inevitably gets irritated with her carer and lashes out and then regrets it pulling him close again. It was like watching yourself on that night out you wish you could fully forget except their dancing was actually as graceful as what you wish you looked like.

I came out of the theatre at the end having really enjoyed myself. I was pleasantly surprised by this, as after the first act, I was silently dreading sitting through another hour of the same strangeness. Going into the ballet I thought there would be a storyline so the first act scared me that I might not understand the performance but it was actually a very pleasant collection of scenes. It certainly provided a lot to discuss in the pub afterwards, which I suppose is the whole point of any art. In that it succeeded, and I’m grateful to my friend for providing the opportunity to experience something new, but its not going to be a new passion. There are already enough sweaty men that are more muscly than me to contend with at the local climbing wall.