Endgame: Swan Song
Laurie Taylor tries the ballet
You did realise that Odile was Odette?”
“How d’you mean?”
“You realised that Rothbart had played a wicked trick on Siegfried?”
“The evil sorcerer. The commander of the swan maidens. The one with the swirly cloak and the moustache. You did realise that he’d disguised his own daughter Odile as Odette?”
“Oh yes. That was obvious. Although it wasn’t all that easy to tell them apart.”
“That’s because they were played by the same ballerina.”
“Well, I knew that.”
I also knew as I hauled my partner up St Martin’s Lane so as to be among the first of the crowd into Pizza Express that I’d shortly be able to place a giant tick against “Ballet” on my Bucket List.
You’ll remember The Bucket List. It was a 2007 film directed by Robert Reiner in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman played two terminally ill men fulfilling a wish list of things before they “kick the bucket”.
Now, although when I last checked I wasn’t terminally ill, I have noticed that time has suddenly been set to fast forward. In the quite recent past I would often wonder if I could possibly endure another half hour of a tedious dinner party. But now I find that whole days can pass while I’m bending a paper clip back into shape. “What shall we do this weekend?” asks my partner on what seems like Monday. “Only seven weeks to Christmas,” she warns me at the end of July.
A psychologist friend told me that the only way to slow time down was to structure it, to set oneself a list of personal objectives along the lines of the Bucket List: schedule some skydiving, fix a date to fly over the North Pole or visit the Great Wall of China.
It was then I had the better idea of making a Prejudice Bucket List, a selection of things I’d never done because I’d decided well in advance that they were simply not for me.
Although the regime only began three months ago (or was it yesterday?) I’ve already scaled some of the higher peaks. I’ve not only eaten Nando’s Portuguese Flame-Grilled Peri Peri Chicken but gone around recommending it to friends of half my age. I’ve also bought a range of black T-shirts from Camden Market, watched several episodes of Hollyoaks, tried out the Concept Three rowing machine at my local gym, read two novels by Jodie Picault and worn a yarmulke at a Bar Mitzvah.
Despite all these triumphs over past prejudices I was still very consciously ignoring Item Three: Go to a Fucking Ballet. But then my aversion to ballet isn’t a mere prejudice, a simple aversion to men in tights or neurasthenic girls in tutus. It’s a hatred based on having to perform balletic steps during my sad three years at drama college. “Laurence, you are still wobbling,” Miss Westaway would shout at me from the piano stool as I tried once again to move into the fifth position (where both feet are touching and the toes of each foot reach the heel of the other).
And there was more. As a teenager I’d learned a poem by Louis MacNeice called “Les Sylphides”, in which the writer had taken his girl to the ballet although “being short-sighted himself could hardly see it”. After the ballet they’d married “to be the more together” and then “found they were never again so much together”. My juvenile but persistent interpretation had been stark. Don’t fall for the sentimental guff of ballets: all those naked waving arms and powdered faces and white skirts. It’s all ephemeral. A romantic cheat.
But five nights ago I grasped the nettle, seized the day, threw caution to the wind and settled into a stalls seat in the Coliseum for nothing less than Swan fucking Lake. I’m sure it was a fine production: the website was festooned with stars and quotes in which the Daily Telegraph critic told me that he was “left wanting more”, while the Sunday Express glowed with the discovery that “each ensemble piece” was “a self contained pleasure”.
I wasn’t totally unmoved myself. Rothbart did some good demonic swirling, Odette (and Odile for that matter) did lots of very clever pointy things with her legs, and the ensemble of swans was very lovely although as MacNeice intimated you can get tired of wavy arms. But the best bit was half-time. As the curtain came down on Siegfried looking desolate by the waters of the lake, I turned to my partner and insisted that we grab something to eat in the interval as it was already very late. “What do you mean, very late?” she said. “It’s only just after half-past eight.”
What a discovery! Ballet stretches time. Why should anybody bother about stem cell rejuvenation when they can already stretch their life by watching lots of young women dressed up as swans balancing on their toes?
I’ve already got my name down for next season’s Sleeping Beauty. It’s apparently the longest ballet ever written. A whole four hours. Or if you’re actually watching – around a fortnight.