When you haven’t had a ballet class since a week before Christmas, eaten a little too much, consumed a little too much wine, been way too lax with the stretching and therefore suffering from serious post-Christmas bloat, what is the worst thing you can do?
The answer: Take part in English National Ballet’s Nutcracker Workshop.
Well, that’s what I chose to do. Myself, and two of my my ballerinas headed for a weekend of ballet related activities, starting at the Bloch shop on Drury Lane for new pointes (a future post) and ending by watching English National Ballet’s final Nutcracker performance of the season.
Meeting at the Stage Door of the Coliseum on a Sunday morning was only the beginning of trying to keep-it-cool. The Stage Door is was literally the door to another world, and stepping into it for a few hours was very surreal. Neither of us had any idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to see any dancers walk past, epecially somebody who looked like a very wrapped up and virtually unrecognisable Alina Cojocaru while you’re waiting to be let in.
Oh dear. Real dancers are about.
There were discarded skates from the Nutcracker lying in the corridors on the way to the stage. We dumped our luggage/dance bags/Bloch bags/and everything else in the wings and got changed into what felt like a very unforgiving leotard and walked out onto the stage.
I’m not sure I took it all in, there was too much going on at once. I remember thinking that it was smaller than I had imagined, it certainly looks bigger from the stalls. From the stage the stalls and the balconies are a lot closer than I thought they would be. The theatre looked magnificent, you can really appreciate it a lot more from the stage. Imagining performing there was quite a daunting thought. All of those seats being filled with people who have come to watch you dance must be quite an overwhelming feeling.
We took our first ballet class of the year on the stage at the Coliseum, quite an acheivement! Our teacher was a lovely lady called Natalie. The barre work felt good, epecially after such a long time off over Christmas. My Grandma Hips were back in full form, feeling very tight and stiff and not at all graceful like a ballerina on a stage. Barre work was the right combination, not too complicated to think about, so that we could enjoy what we were doing and take in the surroundings. I enjoyed all the arms in Arabesque, and Natalie corrected me so that my head was looking up, not down, and therefore attempting to look more graceful and less like a dumpy Christmas pudding.
After some brief centre work we moved on the learning some Nutcraker Choreography, which turned out to be one of my all time favourites, Waltz of the Flowers. Enter *great-big-sigh* here.
It was at this point, various dancers started walking around the wings, and I was hoping it wouldn’t be anybody I recognised in the fear that I would make a huge post-christmas looking fool of myself.
ENB’s current Flowers reduced me to a chin wobbling idiot when I saw it last month. It’s a beautiful dance where everybody is partnered and shows off not just the ballerinas but also the strength of the danseurs. Unfortunately, only one danseur turned up to the workshop so no partnering for us, but we learned the opening part, in a line, with lots of arms to think about, and mirroring the line of dancers at the other side of the stage.
The wings were getting busier with dancers. I became more distracted and more self conscious. The guy in the corner sat on the floor warming up with the bandana on, Johan Kobborg? The post-Christmas Wife with the lack of flexibility, that was definitely me.
We continued to learn a little more Flowers, by this point I was glad I was third in the line on our side and therefore hopefully hidden and out of sight of any ENB dancer.
The morning moved quickly and more and more dancers were turning up. ENB’s ballet mistress, Hua Fang Zhang was warming up at one side. When I went for a sip of water, I looked across to the opposite wings and there was Ksenia Ovsyanic, and near her one of the Menezes twins.
Intimidation in its highest form. Attempting to ballet in front of dancers you look up to? Ground swallow me up. I felt quite small, very humble and very much wanted to be invisible and hoped that my attempt at ballet would not offend anybody.
It could have been worse. If Daria or Tamara turned up. Hell, I would have ran out of there quicker than Tamara chainé-d past me in the Royal Albert Hall last year.
A little while later we were finally evacuated from the stage so we could let the real dancers take their class. We watched from the balcony as Hua Fang Zhang coached ENB though what looked like an exhausting, fast-paced barre session. Their turnout, their flexibility, the strength of the dancers was very inspiring to watch. It was also quite nice to see that despite the difference in obvious ability that ballet classes are the same and universal. Little groups of dancers having random laughs at the barre before the next exercise, or little fits of laughter spreading down the barre. The random dance moves/shapes made in the corner with your friends before its your turn in the centre. Even the corrections, being pulled out to do those turns again by your ballet teacher, it still happens at the top.
Sunday was very inspiring (if sometimes daunting). I took away the corrections and advice from Natalie, especially about how to hold Attitude better. Watching the company in class, followed by the final Nutcracker performance was quite special.
English National Ballet are certainly not moving anywhere from my top spot soon, especially when they keep continuing to make ballet so accessible to everybody.