BRILLIANT BALLET BRINGS BLISS
says Norman Warwick
Neither my wife Dee, nor I, will ever be invited on to a panel of four judges for the BBC´s inevitable Strictly Ballet. Any sensible comments would come from Darcy Bussell rather than us. Nevertheless, as we enjoyed a pre-theatre lunch at Skyline, on the sea front at Playa Blanca all we could talk about was the ballet we were going to see later that evening.
Over the hot, toasty, crispy bruchetta we spoke about a performance of Matthew Bourne´s Swan Lake, a very contemporary ballet. That was our first visit to such an event and it took place because I had been working as a creative writing facilitator supporting a contemporary dance group in Rochdale as they worked on a project with a group of disenfranchised, and disaffected youngsters (under 14) in the area, They actually responded well to the enthusiasm of the dance group and even seemed to enjoy writing poetry or stories they might interpret through modern dance. There was one young lad, though, who at eleven years at the time was hyper-energetic which when diced with a mischievous sense of humour was a constant distraction. We had some of the funding money left over at the end of the project and offered to return it to the funders, but they offered instead to allow us to spend the money on some arts-related event. Our Arts Officer, Beate Mielemeir, secured twenty tickets for the Bourne production at The Lowry Theatre. Eighteen of Rochdale´s most misunderstood children were shown round the theatre and allowed to speak from the stage by theatre staff who were an enthusiastic audience.
However, it was when the lights went down and the dancers came out to a full audience that these kids were blown away. The little lad who had been the blight of my life for six weeks had tears rolling down his cheeks from the moment the curtains opened until they finally closed. We would have worried about that if he had not been enthusiastically applauding at the appropriate moments. These were tears of joy and wonderment.
Over our baked pasta we looked back on a couple of exciting events we saw in the UK before we retired here in 2015. We had seen a fantastic production by the Alvin Ailey Company from the USA. Their performance of Revelations, at the glorious Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, illustrated the history, traditions, faith, and beliefs of the African American culture while telling the story of African-American faith and tenacity from slavery to freedom through a suite of dances set to spiritual, gospel, and blues music.
So, having talked of our entire history of ballet, Dee and I looked forward, to our next visit, by now only a couple of hours away. Over the lemon cheese cake dessert and a white wine, and a beer served by a waitress, Eadie, who has become our great friend in the year she has been working for the owners Roby and Sany.
Dee and I swapped whatever individual knowledge we each had of The Nutcracker Suite. None of that admittedly scant information prepared us for the magnificence we were to see that evening.
Teatro El Salinero wasn´t quite full, but there were young parents accompanied by young aspirant-ballerina daughters, and sons.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer of the Romantic period. He was the first Russian composer whose music would make a lasting impression internationally. Even his music for The Nutcracker Suite, though, was outshone by the opulence of the curtains and backdrops and costumes of a production and performance by the International Ballet Company.
The Nutcracker Ballet is based on the story “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice” written by E.T.A. Hoffman (born 1776) a German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror, a jurist, composer, music critic and artist. His stories form the basis of Jacques Offenbach‘s opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in which Hoffmann appears (heavily fictionalized) as the hero. He is also the author of the novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky‘s ballet The Nutcracker is based. The ballet Coppélia is based on two other stories that Hoffmann wrote, while Schumann‘s Kreislerianais based on Hoffmann’s character Johannes Kreisler.
Hoffmann’s stories highly influenced 19th-century literature, and he is one of the major authors of the Romantic movement.
Nevertheless what is seen on the stage today is different in some details, although the basic plot of the original story remains the same; This is a narrative of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle against a Mouse King with seven heads.
When Marius Petipa had the idea to choreograph the story into a ballet, it was actually based on a revision by Alexander Dumas, a well known French author. Petipa´s version reflects more of what we have come to love as the Nutcracker Ballet.
We, the audience in the Teatro El Salinero were transported from the very beginning to Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum house. We marvelled at this large and grand house with the most beautiful tree imaginable. It soon became apparent that The Stahlbaums were hosting their annual Christmas party, welcoming the arrival of their family and friends. The children, Clara and Fritz, are dancing and playing as they welcome their friends too.
The dancers concerned created an utterly convincing portrayal of child-like high spirits and contentment and the ballet movements, despite being laced with humour were exquisite.
The party became festive as more people arrived, with music and dance as godfather Drosselmeyer arrived. He was a skilled clock and toy maker and seemingly always full of surprises. Drosselmeyer draws everyone’s attention as he presents two life-size dolls. They are the delight of the party, each taking a turn to dance. This character became the glue that stuck this story together, brilliantly demonstrating the plot of what was going on by his expressive dance movements.
The children began to open gifts when Drosselmeyer presented his to Clara and Fritz. Although his gift to Fritz was quite nice, he gives Clara a beautiful Nutcracker that becomes the hit of the party. Fritz became jealous and, having a bit more nerve than any boy should have, grabbed the nutcracker from Clara and promptly broke it. Clara was clearly heartbroken looking on as Drosselmeyer quickly repaired the Nutcracker with a handkerchief he magically plucked from the air.
As the evening grew late, the guests departed and the Stahlbaum family retired for the evening. Clara, worried about her beloved Nutcracker, sneaked back to the tree to check on him, falling asleep with him in her arms.
As the clock struck midnight strange things started to happen. Clara began shrinking as her beautiful Christmas tree grew higher above her. The toys around the tree came to life while the room filled with an army of mice, led by the fierce Mouse King. As the Nutcracker awakened, he led his army of toy soldiers into battle with the mice. The Mouse King cornered the Nutcracker and battled him one-on-one. The Nutcracker seemed to be no match for the Mouse King.
The Nutcracker and his army could go on no longer and were captured by the mice and their King. Clara made a final daring charge throwing her slipper at the Mouse King, hitting him square on the head. The Mouse King dropped to the floor and the mice ran away, carrying off their leader’s lifeless body.
The Nutcracker turned into a Prince and took Clara on a journey to the Land of Snow, an enchanted forest wonderland where they were welcomed by dancing snowflakes.
The Prince then escorted Clara to the Land of Sweets where they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Prince tells her about their daring battle with the army of mice and she rewards them with a celebration of dances.
The Spanish Dance
The Arabian Dance
The Russian Dance
The Chinese Dance
The Mirliton Dance
The Waltz of Flowers
As a finale, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier dance a beautiful Pas De Deux., before the dream ended as Clara awakened from her dream and found herself by her Christmas tree with her beloved Nutcracker.
As if we were whistling past the graveyard Dee and I maintained a conversation all the way down the unlit, unlamposted motorway´s twenty five kilometre stretch. The bends look straight in the dark, lights that appear to be from a remote house on a hill faraway suddenly comes at you like Lewis Hamilton looking for a narrow gap.
As a distraction from all that we talked all the way home of the ´bendiness´ of the ballet dancers, the lightness of the leaps and how the lithe dancing of the adult members suddenly became delightful carefree skipping of the young dancers.
When we had decided to move here to Lanzarote we knew there would be folk-lore concerts, live theatre, jazz, cinema and visual arts, but I didn´t think then that we ever knew we would find ballet on Lanzarote, and if we had ever been told we would have worried about the level of performance.
How wrong we have been to do this.
This performance was excellent and enjoyable and I was as stunned as that little lad we took to the Lowry all those years ago.