What are your first thoughts when you hear the word 'ballet'?
In my mind's eye, I see a horde of little girls in white tutus, prancing around, on their toes, in the most graceful and light-footed moves in an elegant form of dance. If I drew the curtains a bit further back, I might include a lithe dame or two, again in the pretty white and translucent ballet dresses, gliding across the floor... hands raised in the air, one high up, the other on the way, feet raised to the tip of the big toe. No matter what else may change, the picture in my head consistently has the signature 'on-the-toes' pose, light, graceful moves, short white skirts with a well-fitted bodice.
The promos of the Queensland National Ballet's Hunchback of Notre Dame at The Old Museum and the internationally acclaimed Ballet Nacional de Cuba's Don Quixote at QPAC have pictures of the female protagonist flying in the air, arms and legs raised in difficult straight lines, both clad in red frilly skirts that look incredibly inviting to watch the performance. All the pictures of both ballet have various difficult poses and lifts of the ladies (some also include men) in their red garb. The scene in my mind opened out further to include red dresses and tall, slim beautiful women.
You can imagine my surprise when I went to watch QNB's Hunchback of Notre Dame last week and the scene started off with a man in loose black clothing, curly hair falling all over his face. It was as if the scenes being played in my head had been hit by an earthquake. He was one of the characters. Why was I so upset? I can't explain. With the entry of another man, a priest and their miming acts, it started off seeming more like a play and less of what I had imagined a ballet to be. Soon, the ladies came on the stage. Tall, slender beautiful women, no doubt. I was already crying in my mind after the appearance of the black villainous creature instead of sweet children in white. Watching the women in long, frilly frocks, nothing like that in the pictures did not help! Worse? They did not do the toes act. Their feet thumped on the floor at their lifts. As they moved about with less grace than a ballet requires and more like the other forms of dances, my heart began to sinking. Fast and furious.
Eventually, the lead lady in red came into the picture. She had her ballet shoes on (the others had been in bare feet so far) was in her red frilly dress. She flew across the stage gently, stood on her toes and performed the signature light-footed steps of the ballet. In the light of my muddled feelings of the moment, I failed to appreciate her performance and wrinkled my nose at the grey dust under her ballet shoes. "These shoes have been used long enough, they fail to seem to blend with the feet", I found myself thinking. I did not quite like the shade of red that her dress was, either.
Eventually, as the turmoil in my heart settled and there was more of Talia Fowler with her ballet performance, I began to enjoy the show. I began to understand the genearl story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, if not the intricate details. Every now and then, students of different levels appeared on screen and performed their bits. It was clearly a performance by students, coming through like one of those shows we watch when in college or school. Like one of the shows my dance school had put up in the earlier days.
Even though it did not quite live up to my expectations, it was not unenjoyable. Talia Fowler, as Esmeralda the gypsy girl, was good and so was the guy who played the hunchback Quasimodo. While I was not unhappy about the $35 I spent on the tickets, I could not bear to part with another $25 to drive a cab back home. It was much too much to spend on a night as such. I took the public transport back home. A good night but not memorable enough. My first experience of a ballet felt like expecting Nando's fiery chicken and ending up with bland pasta. Not quite the anticipated flavour, so hard to tell how good or bad it really was.
I might have loved to watch the Cuban show too but their tickets are priced way higher than I can afford. Plus, I've decided that if I'm watching a ballet again, I'd rather it be pretty little girls in white. To satisfy my inner self. That picture is worth a thousand times more than any lady in red.