Sunday, March 27, 2005

"I don't want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance."
-George Balanchine
Last week, on Friday night, I went along to the place where I have my dance classes, to see the evening school showcase. It was crowded and there were children, old people in wheelchairs, overexcited fellow evening school attendees (such as myself, and yes, I was overexcited having rushed over from my parents' place with my mouth still full of crispy duck pancakes - must have been the MSG) all stuffed into Studio 1, waiting for the show to start. And it was good.

Well, not all of it, really. The beginners ballet class was appallingly out of time and it was hard to tell what particular steps / positions were being exhibited as it just seemed to be lots of flailing arms and confused glances. My god, they tried. They tried and they tried and good on them because it couldn't have been easy to stand up in front of so many people and just go for it.

But I was surprised and not a little smug to see that was all they had to show at the end of 11 weeks of classes when my delightful but scary Japanese teacher in contemporary technique just assumed we would all be au fait with classical ballet vocab and was drilling us a la second, derriere, chasse, chasse, assemble, demi plie, grand plie, tendu, tendu, a la fifth, okay? from day one and we just had to learn then and there what the hell it was all about in order to keep up. We had to learn extremely quickly and concetrate extra hard as the delightful but scary Japanese dance teacher has the most impenetrable Japanese accent and made all the slippery French terms with their excessive L sounds and rolling R sounds very, very diffifult to understand (as well as deeply amusing). Hell, even trying to decipher whether she was saying "Right, right" to indicate we should step lightly or to the right was a challenge.

Perhaps I'm too quick to congratulate myself - and hey, if I'm so amazing why didn't I get up and show off my moves that night? - but seeing the showcase and in particular the beginners ballet group made me realise how far I have come in my 18 months of dancing.

"Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion."
--Martha Graham

The Martha Graham technique showcase was impressive and again, made me feel proud of myself and the people up there: what little I know of Graham technique is scarily intense and brooding, and from the few classes I did in that particular school of movement, I know it took a lot of guts to perform in that style. It's all about pleading and lamentation: lots of baring of wrists and drawing yourself in as far as you can go on an in-breath and then flinging out your limbs to give yourself to the audience. All terribly vulnerable and exposing and amazing to see - this class were giving it everything they had, and I felt very moved by it.

And then it was the main piece of the evening, the piece that had been worked on by my beloved scary Japanese teacher and her special performance group drawn from all the different evening classes and the fruit of 11 weeks hard labour. And it was magnificent - whimsical in places, autobiographical in others, extraordinarily committed throughout. The concentration, effort and sheer force in the performance was just electric and I could see that in everyone single one of the people up there on stage, there was that spark, that pinprick of light that singles them out as one who doesn't just want to dance but has to.

If there was the opportunity to do so, I would have whipped off my shoes and joined themin the final sequence, because that spark is alight in me too and by god, I'm so glad I didn't try to stamp it out but fed it and let it grow. I've danced all over London - with the Rambert Dance Company in the west (Chiswick), at the Laban centre in the south east (Deptford) and now here in the centre (Euston) and I'm quite certain I will continue. After seeing this showcase, yes, I think I will continue.

There's nothing better than having one of your personal passions celebrated and performed by so many other people. I'm proud to have been there to see it and to have been part of it, in my own small way.

Why so earnest about continuing? If I care so much, why so many justifications for going on for more classes? There's been a freeze on funding for the arts - this means a lot of struggle and strife for those who were depending on some sort of increase, even if only in line with inflation over the next few years and are now, at the start of the new financial year, panicking and raising prices for all sorts of things. Producing theatres that once read all submitted scripts for no fee are now charging for all scriptreading services. One-off events aren't being programmed if there's the slightest risk they won't break even at the box office. Workshops and classes are costing more to attend - and this will mean an inevitable drop in numbers which will in turn mean another hike in price...

I can't afford to go to classes at this present place next term: the price has gone up too steeply and I simply cannot afford it. I will look elsewhere and I will continue but not here. It is rather sad as I've grown to like this place very much. But I will continue. I've got to. I shall. If anyone reading this spots a contemporary dance class going for cheap (eBay?), let me know in the comments below thatwouldbeverykindthankyouverymuch.

"Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we're here we should dance."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

"The fortnight in Venice was sweet - too sweet; I was drowning in honey, stingless." - Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
Not quite a fortnight but my five days in Venice were certainly stingless. What a place: I've never been to Italy before and was worried that my gluttonous readings of Forster and Waugh would have spoiled me for the experience - but I needn't have worried. It was a sublime holiday - perfect walking weather, excellent company, beautiful hotel in a fantastic part of the island near San Marco, the extra comfort of knowing we got an amazing bargain, not too many tourists so never felt crowded out of places and everything was even more enjoyable because we were not on a budget. Ahh, the luxury of not having to debate whether to have a nice lunch and a budget dinner or the other way round, whether to have a bottle of wine and no pudding or drink tap water and have two courses... avoiding certain galleries and sights because they charge entry and walking everywhere because you can't afford any other form of transport rather than walking everywhere because you want to.

I have never drained the minibar in a hotel like we did over those four nights. Although I regret the Campari (never again...)

We had only two trips on the water in the entire week we were there: the first was the overlong waterbus from the airport that took us on an hour-long trip through all the islands, in the dark, that were not Venice before dropping us all off near San Marco, seasick, tired and woefully jaded about the whole experience of finally reaching this fascinating place. We were not very enthusiastic about boats after that stuffy, baffling, dark and crowded trip.

Our second trip lasted about two minutes and was quite an experience - it was a traghetto, a gondola that goes across the Grand Canal to save people the trouble of finding a bridge (there are only three that cross the Grand Canal so traghettos are convenient and necessary). It wasn't quite the romantic, languid, honey-hued Waugh-type journey: it was standing room only, at the end of the school day so there were fidgety children in there with us and we had to shimmy down some makeshift wooden poles to get into the incredibly shallow boat that was rocking and rolling like nothing else I have been on - and remember, this boat was going across the Grand Canal, cutting in front and dodging behind all the traffic going up and down it. It was beautiful, standing in the middle of the Grand Canal, looking up and down it as we bobbed about between boats - but it was something we felt we could dine out on for a while, and not necessary to repeat...

It happened to be Taxloss's birthday while we were away and we had a breathtaking evening, dining on lobster by the Rialto Bridge and sauntering back to the hotel, holding hands, stopping frequently to look at the view and sighing a lot. It really is the place for lovers - how can you not fall in love in a place that looks and feels like Venice?

The whole week was rather splendid and it made us realise just how long it has been since we have been on holiday together - not to visit family, not for Christmas or Easter or any other enforced holiday period, it was just us, going away when we felt like it, relaxing in a place that was in equal parts cultural tour, city break and romantic getaway.

I think we may do this again: but where? Prague? Barcelona? Lisbon? Hull?

Further blogging to follow, now I've broken the silence - and with pictures, perhaps!