In the middle of last week a work colleague told me that a touring Russian ballet company would be performing Swan Lake at the auditorium in Roquetas de Mar at the weekend. I decided to take Lily to her first ballet. Sure, it cost far more than I could afford, but how could I pass up an opportunity such as this. I thought about bringing Katie too, but decided against it. In true Spanish style, the performance, on Friday night, wasn’t due to start until 9.30pm. While Lily might stay awake to enjoy the first act, Katie is such a lightweight that I knew it would be money wasted and she would probably be asleep before the overture.
Fridays are busy because the girls come to work with me. Katie joins a class of 4- and 5-year olds and Lily this week joined the 8-year olds. The girls provide opportunities for the Spanish children to speak English and the girls love getting to hang out with some Spanish kids. But it means that by the time we get home on Friday evenings, we’re all pretty tired.
This week, I asked Julian to have dinner on the table the minute we got home, so that Lily and I could eat and dash out again to the ballet. It was a wet evening and, as we sat at the bus stop waiting for the bus to take us to Roquetas, Lily yawned every couple of minutes. I struggled to keep her awake on the overly hot bus and eventually gave in and let her sleep. Once we got off the bus the wind, rain and a brisk walk revived her, but in the harsh light of the auditorium foyer her face was pale and drawn with tiredness.
I couldn’t believe our luck when we were shown to our seats in the fourth row, bang slap centre stage. As the theatre filled up I waited for someone to sit in front of us. But the seats in front of us in rows two and three remained empty and we had a spectacular view of the stage.
I impatiently looked at my watch every few minutes, drawing Lily’s attention to the few other children, to the glamorous women in fur coats and suede stilettos – everything I could to keep her alert and stop her falling asleep. The performance began about ten minutes behind schedule, by which time Lily was slumped in her seat. I reminded myself that I had paid for a ticket too and, if she did fall asleep, all was not lost, as I was keen to see the performance too (I had seen a Bolshoi Ballet performance of Swan Lake in Dublin when I was about 15 years old, but I was miles from the stage and my view was half obscured by a pillar!).
I shouldn’t have worried about Lily sleeping. From the moment the curtain was raised, she sat bolt upright, her eyes glued to the stage, clapping with delight at the heavenly dancing, sometimes squeezing my hand, sometimes putting her hand in front of my face to give me a thumbs up when something particularly dazzled her. A smile radiated from her face, sometimes replaced by a frown and a question whispered into my ear regarding the plot.
And it was spectacular. The Jester, resplendent in red, wowed us from the start and Odette/Odile was breathtaking in her beauty and grace and athleticism. Yeah, I’ve seen more polished ballets before and not all the dancers were as sharp as they might have been. But it didn’t matter. There was enough awesome dancing to carry it through. I often had to remind myself to look at the stage, because seeing the joy on Lily’s face was priceless.
When the lights came up for the interval, a flushed Lily croaked ‘Water’, as though she herself were the prima ballerina. We went upstairs to the cafe for water, a beer and a packet of crisps (classy, eh? Even at the ballet!). Lily slugged down the water and wolfed down the crisps and then stood up from the table. ‘Let’s go’, she said. ‘I don’t want to miss it’.
Again, through the third and fourth acts she was riveted. She got a bit annoyed with the Prince for ‘loving everyone’ – why was he dancing with the black swan now when he’d been dancing with the white swan earlier? She was enthralled by it all, and clapped long and hard when the dancers took their final bows.
In the foyer and as we stood in the rain waiting for a taxi, she twirled and pirouetted, and asked me so many questions about the plot – many of which I couldn’t answer.
I’ll never forget my first concert, when I was four years old. Daddy took me to see the American country singer Charley Pride (supported by the Bellamy Brothers) at the RDS in Dublin. I can still see the stage, still see Charley Pride, and I can still remember Daddy waking me as he lifted me out of the car when we got back home very late that winter night.
I hope Lily will have similar fond memories of her first ballet too.