I’ve just finished watching Birmingham Royal Ballet – Home from Home on BBC iPlayer, part of a BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine showcase. My jaw muscles got a good workout from stuffing my face with stir fried rice whilst witnessing 20+ professional dancers take part in one of their daily online classes from their homes located around the world. I love the coming together of different nationalities in whatever shape or form but I’ve also always been fascinated by dancers; to have that degree of presence within and ownership of one’s body is remarkable to me. Not that I’m not thankful I can get my body to do most of the things I want it to most of the time. It’s just that I find watching a group of people who are able to effortlessly position their heads in such a way that they can see parts of their body I would need a mirror, iphone camera or major orthopaedic surgery to frankly awe-inspiring.
Their poise and grace reminds me of my first arts role at the Arts Council of England back in the early 90s. I was in the Touring Department whose remit was the touring activities of performing arts companies and middle to large scale venues nationwide. Throughout the year, I would prepare paperwork for and attend various meetings. What I found amusing was seeing in action stereotypes associated with these art forms. The theatre folk tended to be dramatic and animated, whilst the dance folk tended to be incredibly demure and didn’t so much walk as waft. Needless to say, having not long emerged from just outside Croydon, and still cripplingly shy, entering such a sophisticated and cosmopolitan workplace took a good while to adjust to and not perpetually feel gauche. But I learnt a great deal during that time as I was opened up to a whole new world of culture and communication. I came to love being surrounded by passionate, vibrant people, some of whom might be dismissed as luvvies but whom I just saw as lovely. Life was never dull.
Back to classical ballet… As an audience member, I must say, it’s never really been my thing. Don’t get me wrong, a documentary on Sergei Polunin left me dumbstruck – literally, the man has angel wings on his feet. And the level of athleticism, not to mention discipline and pure grit, alongside raw natural talent, is what always draws me to watch programmes on performers and their process; there’s always something to learn and be inspired by. But I personally prefer contemporary dance – a field full of classically-trained dancers – and have seen a number of performances over the years, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and Akram Khan being particular favourites.
In the midst of munching, I was struck yet again by the level of commitment, focus and dedication required to fully participate in one’s chosen field, let alone achieve any kind of ‘success’, whatever that might mean to an individual. I myself am still working on a major career transition. It’s taking much longer than I anticipated and this, in turn, has entailed building up and drawing from a vast reserve of energy, self-belief and faith in a higher power.
Watching those dancers do their daily exercises to ensure they remain at the top of their game, whatever limitations they currently face, I was reminded of what I need to do to stay at the top of mine. My daily stretches include meditating, cooking fresh food for myself and, now, creating, through whatever means presents itself as a way to realise an idea but particularly through writing. Slowly, I am learning to relax and breathe through all the tightness and aches in my creative muscles caused by fear and self-doubt, and am beginning to feel the burn of a passion to connect with and express that which lies deep within me.