30 Jun 2012

On attending ballet

The post in which I reminisce.

Tonight we're going to see The Australian Ballet perform Onegin. I think it may be my favourite dance, although I'm also terribly fond of Manon and Giselle and some of the other great narrative ballets. It's a beautiful traditional ballet filled with exquisite ball gowns, sumptuous sets, a great tear jerker of a plot and Tchaikovsky's sublime music - we're in for a real treat. I think Onegin may be the first ballet I ever saw. I certainly remember my mum teaching me how it is pronounced - not on-e-gin or one-gin but on-yay-gin with a hard G as in good not G as in the drink made of juniper berries. I have lovely memories of seeing ballet as a child. I felt very grown up indeed, and I am grateful to my parents for taking me.

We subscribe to the ballet as a family because it is just something we do.

This year The Australian Ballet celebrates its 50th Anniversary. It was really only when Maina Gielgud assumed the reins as Artistic Director back in 1983, though, that it became a Company equal to any in the world. I first started subscribing a year or two earlier than that. I went with a group of friends from University organised by my friend Catherine. You could tell that Catherine's parents were cultured even by the names of her and her sisters - Meredith and Rosalind. I always regret that I never met her father. Her parents has separated acrimoniously a year or two earlier, and emotions were still very raw. I think he would have been a fascinating man - his daughters certainly were. We went on Youth Tickets, which were far more affordable than the adult tickets for impecunious students, and yet despite paying only a fraction of the full price, we managed after a few seasons to end up with the coveted 8th row centre seats. Pretty fantastic really.

I suppose I must have stopped subscribing with Catherine when I went travelling through Europe in 1985. I know that I next subscribed with my mum in the early nineties. We would each travel separately into The Arts Centre, she from Geelong, and me from my work out in Clayton, and meet at The Treble Clef restaurant for dinner and a half bottle of champagne before the performance. Happy memories. I was always regretful that I had been overseas when Sir Robert Helpmann made his last move as the Red King in Checkmate back in 1986 because of my gallivanting, but we were delighted to see Rudolf Nureyev's last tour in 1991. I remember that we were both sorry we knew so much about his quite sordid private life, because it put rather a damper on what would have otherwise have been a highlight in our ballet memories despite his obviously diminished capabilities as a dancer by that time because of ill health (he died a year later from complications of AIDS).

I suppose I must have stopped subscribing with mum when I went travelling through Asia in 1995. (Notice the trend here?). I next subscribed with my husband and a good friend in the early 'naughties'. Although our friend stopped coming when she began her family a couple of years ago, hubby and I are still going strong and loving it just as much as we always have. We had always planned that Jemimah would join us when she turned 8, but as it turned out, she was six. It just seemed easier to take her than to organise babysitting.

For us a night at the ballet is an occasion. We dress in going out clothes, and we always have dinner at a smart restaurant first. The glitz and glamour delights our bling-loving daughter, and she has always behaved immaculately. Despite our expectations that she would prefer the story ballets - Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, even Onegin, at six she preferred the triple bills, which were shorter and had more variety in costume, scenery and music. When she was bored she liked to look through my opera glasses at the dancer's faces and costumes or to watch the orchestra. I didn't mind as long as she enjoyed herself...and that she was quiet! At ten, she, like me, prefers the narratives the best, and my favourites are amongst hers as well.

I don't know why I love the ballet, but I do know that it makes me feel happy. Last year after the flood it seemed quite surreal to dress up and attend a performance as if nothing had changed. It made me forget my troubles for a little while, and for that alone I was grateful. I'm so glad that we had already paid for our season tickets, because we would not have been able to justify the expense otherwise.

People have actually done scientific studies on the benefits that can be derived from watching ballet. Apparently dance audiences can experience physical and imaginative effects of movement without actually moving their bodies; that is, spectators can react in certain respects as if they were moving, or preparing to move. None of that matters much to me, though - I don't need an excuse to do something that for me is sheer delight. They say that music soothes the savage beast, and it is certainly difficult to be in a bad mood while listening to Tchaikovsky. I'm told that listening to music reduces blood pressure, controls pain, heightens the immune response and cures depression. When you combine that with the graceful and lithesome dancers then it is hardly surprising that ballet is so very peaceful and relaxing, and for me at least, attending the ballet is a real stress reliever. It is worth going for the sheer rapture on Jemimah's face as she watches the story unfold on stage. As a ballet dancer herself she appreciates certain intricacies of dance that are lost on me. Certainly her insider knowledge adds an extra layer to her enjoyment.

As a family we attend many performing arts productions - the opera, Shakespeare and many music performances, but we subscribe seasonally only to the ballet. Why? Well, because we love it, that's why. All that other stuff is just a bonus. I can't imagine us ever doing anything different.

Are you ballet lovers?


  1. We enjoy the ballet here as well, though we don't get to go too much. We saw a wonderful Nutcracker last winter by going to a student performance. The kids still remember the Rat King as the scariest thing they've seen by far. Our state orchestra does student shows in conjunction with a ballet school here in the city and we have attended those, too. The orchestra usually picks shorter pieces and the dance company does a performance on stage with the orchestra. There is usually more talking from the conductor (and they pick a handsome, Cambridge educated conductor for my benefit, I'm sure) where he explains a bit about the composer and the music.

    I hope we'll get to do more in the future!

  2. I love the ballet. There's something about the combination of dance & movement. We don't get to go much because of the expense but I love some of the more modern dances like Spartacus.

  3. Hi Jeanne,
    Lucy and I saw Onegin on Friday night. We loved it too.



I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...