Thursday, September 1, 2011


The Ballet came to Knysna.
An old friend bought me and my daughter each a ticket. Turned out she bought a load of tickets and on the day we all followed her, splendid as she is with grey plait and jaunty hat, to take our front row seats, amongst the other ballet dames, with grey coiffed hair and legs crossed neatly at the ankles, in the Knysna NG Kerk Hall.

Ballet is not new to me, although seeing it so close up is not something my daughter takes for granted.
My sister did ballet for years. We started out together as little girls, me dropping out early and moving sideways to the more heavy handed (or footed) tap. Even the satisfying clickity clacks bored me pretty quickly and I moved out yet again. I found my niche in drama as siblings tend to unconsciously give space to each other , leaving my sister to the delights, and there are many, of ballet.

The most impressive things about ballet, to me as a child, were the concerts. Concerts and costumes. I remember my mother hunting down seamstresses and fumbling, panic stricken, with paper templates and dress patterns. A sewer and a maker of anything creative my mother was not. She was a secretary and an earthbound gardener. She still is.

Ballet teachers are a different breed. My memories of them are of tiny flexible feet, fluttery fingers,  and feathery beehive hairdos. They are eternally cast, for me, against a backdrop of church halls and rows of little girls with buns, clattering around and thumping jumping, spinning and falling.

The soundtrack is one of piano playing, by a retired ballet dancer, looking up and over all from behind her spectacles, while the teacher loudly shouts out single words - in French - pliƩ, pirouette - and first position, second position, third...
It was all fascinating for a very young me, sitting on the church chairs at the back with my mother and other mothers, fretful over the next concert and the whispered expense of it all, the bother...
But it always came together in the end. Temple Bell costumes, Thailand style, scratchy I thought, and stiff, with a large headdress which my sister wore without a murmur of complaint. She only vomited a lot, as I recall. Excitement did that to her, always. And so, she glided out from the wings, in tutus, Polish Mazerka peasant dresses or as a Temple Bell pretty pale beneath all that make up on a totally empty stomach, with my mother praying silently that she would not faint.

As it turns out Ballerinas and empty stomachs seem to go together.
You have to be light.
There's a lot of leaping and jumping and catching that goes on. I saw that close up in Knysna the other day. The dancers were right on top of us all. I loved being so close up. Its so much nicer than looking down or up to a performance on a stage. I did that often in the P E Opera House, growing up, where we regularly went to see Capab Productions and Phyllis Spira. Once two men stood up in long black coats and threw single stemmed roses at her feet. I was awestruck by that, feeling, for a moment quite transported to London or Paris, forgetting the limited charms of the Opera House, with its tiny stage and musty dimly lit foyer.

My sister danced on that Opera House stage later, many times, when she got older. I did moon over the star dressing room, the tutus all squashed together on a rail, the strange turned out feet and the delicate but hollow thunk thunk ballerinas make rushing about in points.
I tried to be very small backstage, so as to be smiled upon by a totally transformed face, now sporting eyelashes as long as a birds feather.

Oh, the magic of it all!
The magic of the dance does linger. I dreamt of the Knysna visitors that night.
I remembered
the hooks and eyes holding the extraordinary tutus of lace feathers sequins satins brocade and gossamer floating tightly together
the delightful lycra bottoms of the men
quivering fingers and gently perspiring foreheads
glossy lipstick smiles exactly tilted necks arms elbows knees ankles toes
lifts and legs and tight holds releases spins stops..

There is always an element of imperfection to any live performance, a crackle on the soundtrack, a piece of loose cellotape, a slipped strap, a feather fluttering down, a wiff of cigarette smoke from a fleeting flying figure...
the illusion slips
I enjoy the little girls, who run onto the sheets of floor covering laid down specially for the dancers, once they have skipped finally behind the velvet curtain. At their age no imperfections can be seen.

And me, I was transported.
Probably by their awesome commitment almost more than anything else. Their work. Their striving and attaining perfection in their craft. Their ability to transport me, in lifts and tilts, and to be so balanced...

I remembered other church halls.
Thanks Fi.

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