5 Things I noticed when watching ballet live for the first time
The only ballet I've seen was the pieces that were created and shown on TV shows or on YouTube.
I've been fortunate enough where going to the theatre has never been a foreign concept to me, as my high school and drama classes encouraged watching plays, but I've never solely went to the theatre for ballet.
An opportunity arose to change that when I was invited to the triple bill of Amaranth.
Amaranth is a programme of neo-classical and contemporary classical pieces featuring George Balanchine’s Serenade, Frank Staff‘s Transfigured Night and Christopher L Huggins’ Enemy Behind the Gates.
There are certainly similarities between watching a play and ballet, as both have performance aspects, however, they are wholly different from each other.
Here are a few things I noticed going to the ballet for the first time:
The Hypnosis of Synchronicity
Right of bat, the first thing you notice as newcomer is the hypnosis of synchronicity.
This is something very basic and obvious to point out, but that being said, it induces goosebumps watching a stage full of ballerinas move in synchronisation.
Part of what makes it all so hypnotic is when they break their pattern, only to reconnect it later.
Not to be disrespectful but it can best be described as a lullaby or nursery rhyme - especially as dancers from the Cape Town City Ballet performer George Balanchine’s Serenade (Repetiteur: Rebecca Metzger).
The moves entrance you.
While the music from the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra certainly played its part, it didn't diminish the strength of the dancers movement.
It would ebb and flow yet never feel monotonous. The repetition and synchronisation told you a story that you would discover if you just paid close enough attention to.
The Distraction of the Gluteus Maximus (a.k.a Butts)
To be blunt, your focus will be distracted by ballet boy butts.
You feel guilty because it really shouldn't be what your mind is focusing on but during the first time you see the gluteus maximus it is distracting.
It took me a few seconds to get over the "shock" because you don't realise just how tight their tights are, but you quickly recover to focus on the ballet dancing and moves instead.
I had mentioned this to my plus one for the event - who herself did ballet for many years - and was greatly relieved that this does happen and I wasn't the only one.
It's certainly not intentional, but for newcomers this fact is relevant to mention.
Height and Space
My limited understanding of ballet taught me that ballerinas are required to be very tall, and while height would definitely help you, I appreciated seeing a fews members of the Cape Town City Ballet company who stood out because they were short.
One dancer's height first drew my attention, but thereafter it was the dancer's talent that kept me captivated.
Whatever preconceptions that had been peddled to me before seeing ballet were thrown out of the window. All her dancing showed was that it was how she carried herself that made all the difference.
What followed thereafter was the disregard of space used in George Balanchine’s Serenade and Frank Staff‘s Transfigured Night.
As someone who appreciates my personal space, witnessing ballet dancers use and disregard the space between to communicate lust, rejection, and the strength of human bonds was utterly fascinating.
"They're awfully close," I naively remarked.
"They're used to it," my friend said. "The dancers know nothing is meant by it, they just have to be so close for support and when the dance needs it."
Black Boy Magic
I loved seeing so many black and coloured boys in the Cape Town City Ballet.
In a society where boys, in general, have to live up to stereotypical roles of masculinity, regardless of sexuality, it was refreshing seeing so many strong and graceful black boys dancing on stage.
This was never more evident than during Christopher L Huggins’ Enemy Behind the Gates.
Seeing black boys jeté (thanks Google) through the air and fly across the stage was pretty special.
This could entirely be my own lens as a coloured man myself that made me more aware of this, but it just felt remarkable witnessing so many black and coloured boys performing on the stage - and in a space that has, and still is predominantly white.
Room for Interpretation
Lastly was the openness for interpretation.
If you are wise enough to read the programme then there is not any need for extensive interpretation of what you're watching; but it was during Transfigured Night that I thought I was witnessing the story of an overprotective mother protecting her daughter and husband, but this was not the case.
According to the official description: "The Elder Sister of the last of an old aristocratic family is intent on keeping the family together. One evening the Younger Sister invites her lover to meet her family."
I was clearly off the mark of my understanding, but it did not impact on my enjoyment and the emotions it stirred while watching the performance.
It was interesting because while my interpretation of what was happening on stage was incorrect, it didn't hinder or limit what I took away from the dance.
The journey may have been different, but I still arrived at the same emotional destination.
*Amaranth will be performed at the Artscape Opera House from 22 June until 7 July; thereafter Sleeping Beauty will be performed at the Artscape Opera House from 17 to 31 August. Tickets cost from R180 to R695 with concessions for pensioners, scholars and block bookings of ten or more.
* Bookings can be made at Computicket on 0861 915 8000, online at www.computicket.com or at any Shoprite and Checkers outlet.
* Theolin Tembo is a content producer for the Cape Argus.