Sunday 18 October 2015

Task 27: Watch a performance of Swan Lake somewhere in the UK

I saw my first ballet at the age of 10, when my class at school was taken to a matinee performance of Coppelia at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge. I learnt two things that day - firstly, that if you have seats to the extreme left or right in the stalls, you miss at least 50% of the action (the balcony scenes at the centre of the story passed me by completely) and secondly, that men and women are built differently (cue outbreaks of suppressed giggles by 30 small girls each time a principal male in tights grand jete-ed onto the stage). 

Despite that somewhat inauspicious introduction to classical ballet, I've gone on to see some great productions over the years. But I've never seen Swan Lake, which in my view has resulted in a gaping hole in my cultural education.  So you know what's coming next......a certain ballet pirrouetted its way gracefully onto my list. 

On my birthday (well technically it was a couple of weeks after my birthday but who's counting), Michael handed me a large card. It felt a little bulky and heavy. There was something inside the envelope. Here's the card and unwrapped item below.....

Wow - so Michael had chosen Task 27 from my sixtyat60 list as my birthday present!! And it soon became clear that the performance for which he had bought tickets was both fab and easy to get to. It was to take place at Sadler's Wells, a theatre that I've never been to before (another hole in my cultural education nicely plugged), and the ballet company was the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who were performing Swan Lake as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. 

My Swan Lake day dawned on Tuesday. I fluffed up my feathers and preened myself in readiness for the evening ahead. At 3pm I decided to take the dogs for a last minute walk before heading up to London.  Bad idea Vivien....very bad idea. At 4pm I was patrolling local fields, woods and roads for the umteenth time searching for a certain wheaten terrier, last seen in hot pursuit of a adult roe deer and oblivious to all my commands and shrieks to return. I pictured her limp and lifeless body lying in a forest glade. I had written off any chance of getting to see Swan Lake. I was beyond despair. And then suddenly just before 5pm a small miracle occurred - that limp and lifeless body emerged from the trees, uninjured, a little tousled and cool as a cucumber.......I couldn't make up my mind whether to give her a big hug or put her in prison and throw away the keys.

Just over two hours later Andrew and I were in the foyer of Sadler's Wells, still in a state of high alert, but with time to buy a programme and get our bearings. 

We settled into our seats - bang slap in the middle of the stalls (well done Michael) - and so close to the conductor that I could see through the lenses of his glasses. He raised his baton, the orchestra played, the curtain went up and Swan Lake began to work its timeless magic.

It was a truly beautiful production. The sets, costumes, Tchaikovsky's music and above all the dancing were awe-inspiring. One scene that will stay in my memory for ever is of the swans emerging from the early morning mist.  For one heart-stopping moment I thought I saw a wheaten terrier's head pop up amongst them (oh no Mabel - surely not swans now.....?), but thankfully the image quickly evaporated. 

As the curtain came down and the dancers took their bows, I resolved that if I don't have a grand-daughter in 10 years' time (no pressure Hunot off-spring), I shall have to beg, borrow or steal one, as it would give me the perfect excuse to see Swan Lake again (or even Coppelia?)  I promise we'll have seats in the middle section of the stalls, and I'll do my best to prepare her for those men in tights moments.

A wonderful present from Michael,  which more than makes up for my 9-year wait to have a spin in his finished Caterham.....and I'm delighted to announce that with the completion of Task 27, I've now ticked off 20 tasks on the list! 

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Alzheimer's Research UK. For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at  

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