Night Moves

NIGHT -Cahill_expressway_loop

Upwards to the The Bridge…

Saturday, 10:08pm

I’m driving home through the city at night.  One of my dearest friends is riding in the car beside me, and we’re basking in the afterglow of an evening of revellery: good food, even better wine, a classical music concert with a brilliant soloist.  Crossing over Circular Quay, we get the giggles, cracking each other up with increasingly ridiculous remarks about the man we’ve just seen perform.

He’s a violin virtuoso, he sings like an veritable angel, he has such shiny hair he should be in a L’Oreal commercial…no doubt he is the world’s greatest lover, too…

We make the long loop up onto the Harbour Bridge, our laughter sprialling skywards through the arching steel and up into the night.

Monday, 5:45pm

There’s a dance off happening in the kitchen.

In this house we celebrate good news by busting out moves, and today we’ve had plenty. Ugg-booted and stocking-footed we rollick around the room, each of us attempting to outdo the others with displays of increasingly questionable choreography, while outside in the gathering darkness the real stars appear.

Tuesday, 6:13pm

Tonight I’m dealing with Arsenic hour — the fraught and fractious time of day when you’re wondering whether you might poison your kids or yourself — when mid-meltdown from Miss Malaprop I get a text from The Bloke asking whether he can catch up with the Other Blokes for a beer or three.  I flick back a quick, “If you want”, resisting the urge to scream obscentities or engage in a vicious game of compare and contrast.

There is no point in declaring marital war over the differences between our Tuesday evenings.

Wednesday, 3:36am

The Bloke and I are at the top of a ruined high rise, and he is about to be hauled through a dilapidated door behind him to face a firing squad.  I can hear bullets spraying, drilling into the the other side of the wall, and he’s pleading with me to leave, telling me everything will be OK (which it clearly won’t be) as I get progressively more agitated and distraught.

In desperation I wake up, wrenching myself from the drama of the dream into the quiet of the night, and draw enormous comfort from the sound of the The Bloke’s breathing, deep and even, beside me in the dark.

Thursday, 5:40am

The flying foxes are at it again.

Those manic marsupials were squawking and carrying on as I drifted off to sleep, and now their raucous predawn party in the top of the tree next door has me wide awake.

I get up and stalk down the long hallway of my house, surefooted and keeneyed as a cat. They say the darkest part of night is just before the dawn, but this is my territory and I have no need for light in the place I call home.

A large part of me is nocturnal, too.

Without a Word

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Nijinsky as the Faun

I have been forever fascinated by how humans can convey the depth and width of their emotions without uttering a single sound. You may think it odd that someone like me, who relishes and cherishes the written word, would value such expression so highly – but, quite simply, I do.

I love watching people dance. I’ve written before about how my children do, too. And while I don’t mind a bit of a boogie myself from time to time, there are some things — ballet, for example — that I believe are best left to the experts. To those rare individuals who are disciplined enough to dedicate their lives to honing their skills and their selves to the point that they bare their very souls on stage.

On Saturday night I was fortunate enough to witness one such individual dance, when Alexandre Riabko took to the stage as a guest artist with the Australian Ballet in the title role of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky.  It was a powerful, masterful performance, vividly depicting Vaslav Nijinsky’s life inside and outside of dance via a series of memories and hallucinations as he descended, finally, into madness.

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Descent into madness…Alexandre Riabko as Nijinksy.

Watching Riabko inhabit Nijinsky’s interior world, as other dancers recreated his recollections — of being the Golden Slave in Scheherazade, or of the Faun in L’apres midi d’un faune, or of Petrouchka, or of learning his ballet steps with his brother and sister  — was mesmerising. But as other dancers began to give form to Nijinksy’s delusions and as his complex relationships with his lover and employer at the Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, and with his wife, Romola, visibly unravelled, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of tragedy.

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The Golden Slave…

The image of Nijinsky returning again and again to something like second position, arms outstretched, as though trying to find his centre and a sense of safety in the midst of his increasing confusion was heartbreaking, particularly when juxtaposed with the transformation of his memories of Diaghilev — performed with all his usual elegant line and length by Andrew Killian — from sensual lover and suave mentor to sinister impresario.

No footage of Nijinksy dancing is believed to have survived — Diaghilev, apparently, would not allow him to be filmed — but during the two and half hours he was on stage, Alexandre Riabko had me completely and utterly convinced that he was channelling the spirit of the man whom many regard as being one of the greatest interpreters of the artform to ever set foot on a stage.

I left the Sydney Opera House deeply saddened by the tragedy of Nijinsky’s tale — he never again danced publicly from the time of his final performance in 1919 until his death, after spending years in and out of asylums, in 1950 — but I was also, ultimately, uplifted by the sheer intensity, beauty and bravery of the performance I had just witnessed.

And I suspect that feeling — one of great admiration tinged with sorrow — would have stayed with me for the remainder of the weekend, had I not had the pleasure of attending a Greek Orthodox wedding with my family the following day.  My daughters had never been to a wedding before, and they were entranced by everything about the experience from the singing at the wedding ceremony to the table settings at the reception. But what really captivated them — and me — was the dancing.

Watching the wedding guests encircling the dance floor, every one of them tracing the intricate steps of a Syrtos, was every bit as mesmerising as the ballet had been the night before.  Here were women — some in sensible sandals, most in spectacular stilletos — and men following in the footsteps of those who had come before them. Here was a sure-footed groom, leading his radiant bride. Without uttering a single word, the dance spoke of tradition, of continuity, of community, of family.

And as the long line of dancers wound their way around the room, I found myself thinking of each of their bodies as a living link to the past, stretching all the way to the present and then onwards, ever onwards, as they danced into the night, celebrating with the newlyweds and wishing them a lifetime of happiness in the future.

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A long line of tradition and celebration…

To Baryshnikov, with Love

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Mikhail Baryshnikov…

Miss Malaprop has a case of the Baryshnikovs.

It happened quite accidentally, as these often things do: for some reason (still unknown even to myself) I was researching the great story-telller, Scheherazade, when I happened to click on a link to a YouTube clip of the Vienna Philharmonic playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s music of the same name.

Now, I’m not sure whether this phenomenon is unique to my children, but YouTube has a magnetic pull on my girls.  It’s uncanny — no matter what part of the house or garden they are playing in, the split second I start checking something out on YouTube they appear. Instantly. They then either try to squash themselves simultaneously onto my lap or lean heavily over my shoulders and usually end up obscuring my computer screen so that I can’t see a damn thing…

Anyway, this occasion was no different. Marvel Girl was at school, and Miss Malaprop had been happily drawing pictures of the Hulk and Thor (complete with swirling cape and hair so fine L’Oreal would definitely think he was worth it) when I began watching the Scheherazade clip. But there she was — yes, instantly — at my elbow.

“What are you watching?” she asked, her greeny-blue eyes already fixed on the screen.

“I’m not really watching, I’m actually listening — to the music,” I explained. “But if you want to, I can show you some music with dancing? Like when I go to the ballet?”

“Oooh…yes please, Mummy!”

And so it began. I was in one of my Russian moods (evidently, since I had begun with Rimsky-Korsakov), so first I showed Miss Malaprop the Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. And she loved it — the costumes, the dancing, the sets, the music; it was as though I had opened a world of wonder to her. But then she started asking questions about Romeo and Juliet and what happened to them, and…well, while I suspect the plot is best summed up in this e-card:

Romeo & Juliet

Seriously…they make several good points here…

…street fighting and teen suicide weren’t things I was ready to discuss with a preschooler.

So we moved on.

“Oh — here’s something you’ll like,” I said, clicking on another clip.

Those of you who follow this blog already know that Blue Jai’s First Rule of Parenting is simply “Distract” (trust me, it works almost every time). But on this occasion, it really worked: Miss Malaprop went from being simply fixated to utterly transfixed.

By Baryshnikov.

We watched him perform the pas de deux from Giselle, and then moved onto The Nutcracker, mostly because Miss Malaprop is familiar with Tchaikovsky’s score from her own ballet classes. Many of the clips are grainy, products of the long-gone days of videotape, but as my daughter watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance she first grew very quiet, and then grew very still. And it wasn’t until later that evening that I realised just how deep an impression had been made.

You should see how high he leaps...

You should see how high he leaps…

At dinnertime, Miss Malaprop began explaining what she had seen, and did so with a reverence and wonder I have rarely heard from her.

“He’s the most angelic person…” she said, trying to express to her sister that what she had seen seemed super-human.

“Yeah, Baryshnikov.  He’s a man you know…but he’s the most amazing dancer. You should see how high he leaps! I just love him.”

And there it was.

Baryshnikov had acquired yet another fan.

Clearly, Mikhail Baryshnikov is not an angel, he is a man — and one who has been criticised (most notably by his former dance partner and sometime lover Gelsey Kirkland) for some of his personal and professional attitudes. That said, from a distance and, more specifically, from a preschooler’s perspective, I think there are worse people in this world Miss Malaprop could choose to look up to.

“Working is living to me.” Mikhail Baryshnikov

Dancing — as even Baryshnikov would tell you — is hard work. You’ve got to put in the hours, from an early age, and practice. And then practice some more. And then…yeah, you know what comes next…

But to be as good as Baryshnikov, you also need discipline: not just to do all that practice, but to develop good, or in his case, close to flawless technique. And the way Baryshnikov says he achieved that? By focusing on self-improvement: “I do not try to dance better than anyone else,” he says, “I only try to dance better than myself.”

It’s also, all too often, about making choices — some of them difficult. I cannot imagine that deciding to defect from the then Soviet Union in 1974 was an easy thing to do. But as Baryshnikov says, “To achieve some depth in your field requires a lot of sacrifices. Want to or not, you’re thinking about what you’re doing in life — in my case, dancing”.

And finally, there is one thing about succeeding as a dancer that, in my view, sets it apart: it exposes. On stage, there is nowhere to hide. You have to be prepared to perform, to reveal the extent of your abilities and the range of your expression, and to be comfortable with the result. And to do that effectively, and meaningfully, you need to know yourself.

When a dancer comes on stage, he is not just a blank slate the choreographer has written on. Behind him he has all the decisions he has made in his life…each time, he has chosen, and in what he is on stage you see the result of those choices. You are looking at the person he is, and the person, who at this point, he cannot help but be…Exceptional dancers, in my experience, are also exceptional people, people with an attitude toward life, a kind of quest, and an internal quality. They know who they are, and they show this to you willingly.

MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV

mikhail-baryshnikov

“When a body moves, it’s the most revealing thing. Dance for me a minute, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Mikhail Baryshnikov

My maternal intuition tells me that Miss Malaprop’s path in life is not that of a dancer: she is much more likely to use words (volubly and at varying volumes) than to express herself through movement. But if she chooses as role models people who literally embody what it means to work hard, practice harder, be disciplined and make difficult decisions, and if she makes the effort to get to know herself, I believe that she will succeed — in whatever it is she sets out to do.

This, perhaps, could be the moral of the story, though I suspect a cautionary corollary is also called for: if the YouTube phenomenon I described above extends beyond my house and into yours, be careful what you click on…it could change your child’s life.