I am a camera, a one-eyed one at that with poor depth of field and inability to focus adequately, but still able to make out images although fuzzy, still full of information enough to extrapolate some observations. So during the last Friday Night Social and practice session decided to use the fact that I sat out so many dances and took a look at the crowd who populate these sessions. Incidentally, this opportunity made it possible for me to vicariously learn, in a half-assed fashion, some new dance steps.
The one -hour lesson this evening was beginners rumba. Unusual for this evening was the fact that many more people attended the lession portion of the evening, and they were mostly people of my vintage or older, as well as the usual obsessive dance aficionados who dance up to five nights a week. So this was a good sign, in my estimation. It does not feel so great to be the oldest woman at these occasions.
Robin’s method of doing the lessons is to line the men up in drill fashion and showing them the basic steps upon which variations of the dance are based. Then she corrals all the women and gives us the female versions of the basic steps. Next, she tells us to pair with our partners and has us shuffle around doing the basic stuff together. Having no regular dance partner I was left for “Lounge Lizard” as the only option for a partner. He seemed somewhat reluctant to partner me, so I told him it was my special role as the “Punisher” in dance classes to make men have to do a dancing form of penance. He smiled ever so smoothly and lied through his pearly whites that I was a fast learner and he was happy to partner me.
Of course, I looked around to see how Monique, the attractive librarian who presents herself as mutton dressed as lamb, complete with clinging clothes that show no panty or bra line, and with lush long dyed brown hair she flips flirtatiously at every opportunity, managed to pair herself up. She had limpeted onto Raoul, a handsome Martial Arts instructor, who always looks hot and dances even better than he looks. Need I add, that Raoul looked dashing in matte black, like a dressed down matador. He certainly is a sight for failing old eyes. I am fanning myself as I write this!
Farouk, and early middleaged Iranian man was there struggling to learn the dance with Maura, my artist friend. Poor Farouk is very much in the same position as I am at these dances – we are both mercy partners for others, and the last ones to be selected as practice partners for other dancers, so we often end up dancing together, and we do have a great time schlepping our way around the dance floor alternating with leading each other around. Farouk has the most incandescent face when he smiles and he evinces a pleasure in partnering any woman. Oddly enough, where he seems to have trouble keeping in rhythm with the music with other women, whenever he dances with me he has a certain relaxed flair as we struggle together in some arcane moves on the dance floor. He is relaxed in the same manner with Maura; she and I have decided that this is because he has adopted us as older sister types with whom he needs not be shy or awkward.
Ron and Linda, a lovely Chinese couple in their early seventies, danced up a storm. They both look like delicate wizened children, and are so obviously delighted to be learning to dance together. Linda is always gracious to send Ron over to take his punishment with me on the dance floor. He is sweet and willing, but tends to argue with me over what I am supposed to do with my feet. Mind you, I have noted that he and Linda do get into some rather heated exchanges during lessons where they end up hissing at each other while gesticulating wildly at the floor and demonstrating in turn how each of their steps are to be performed. I strongly suspect that the reason why Linda is willing to lend out her husband to another woman for a turn is so that she can have a reprieve dance with a man who shuts up and just dances!
I did learn basic rumba with “Lounge Lizard” who is much taller than me and takes big steps and has long arms to fling me out far in a turn so that I was left scrambling to get back into the proper clinch position with him. He seemed to relish flinging me around like some sandbag and then dragging me back into the clinch with flair. Oh, well. Guess both of us were getting punished.
It appeared that many of the older couples didn’t seem to enjoy dancing all that much. The deadly serious, earnest, unsmiling expressions hinted at a perhaps enforced presence at this dance. They might have had more fun playing darts at home. However, there was one older couple who were endearing. he is much more fit and healthy than his wife, and dances regularly without her. But here they were at this dance together and he took care that she was dancing at a comfortable pace, rested when she had to, and while they were dancing he gazed and smiled at her with such pleasure. When they didn’t dance, they watched other couples and made little comments to each other as if discussing the finer points of dance as demonstrated by others.
Maura did a great turn with “Lounge Lizard” at a swing number. They looked really great together. Wade, Maura’s boyfriend, put me through the Tango paces without either dropping me onto the floor or being flattened by me whilst doing “La Carpa” which always makes me feel like the Queen Mary being manoeuvred into dock by a pipsqueak tugboat. Farouk’s older brother, a fabulous dancer, undertook to practice a Rumba with me, and I felt good, as if finally I was beginning to catch on. But then, that is what dancing with a strong male lead does so well – it makes the woman into an instantly better dancer.
Before the evening was over, “Lounge Lizard” summoned me to do a Tango with him. We did quite well in spite of our height difference, for several turns around the dance floor, but when he dragged me into the initial “La Carpa” position, I stiffened and announced “No, you, don’t…don’t you dare try this with me…we look silly doing this step together.” So he punished me be making me go through several variations of a weird move where the man nudges the left foot of his partner so she moves in a circle around him, and then finishes with a flourish of Ochos and leg-rubs. It kind of looks like someone nudging their dog’s foot to make him pee on the correctly appointed post. Maybe this move looks sexy when skilled dancers perform it. We must just have looked plainly weird. Not to be daunted, and not particularly caring as to whether I look elegant or skilled ( but looking Okay might do) I took my punishment in good grace and laughed during the essays. “Lounge Lizard” does not like a laughing partner. Too bad.
The Rumba is a most forgiving dance to learn. it is not particularly grueling, nor does it require athleticism or great stamine, or major memorizing of steps to perform at an adequate competence. It was a great lesson for this night’s dance to reintroduce couples who have not danced frequently in recent time to the pleasures of moving to music.
Archive for the ‘dance’ Category
I am a camera, a one-eyed one at that with poor depth of field and inability to focus adequately, but still able to make out images although fuzzy, still full of information enough to extrapolate some observations. So during the last Friday Night Social and practice session decided to use the fact that I sat out so many dances and took a look at the crowd who populate these sessions. Incidentally, this opportunity made it possible for me to vicariously learn, in a half-assed fashion, some new dance steps.
Kamil and Louisette who are on their fourth year of learning beginning Tango, smiled slightly when i told them last Fall of my long-burning ambition to learn to dance the Tango before I die.
“God, we have been at this for years,” said Louisette. “We are known as the ‘Fighters’, by the other diehards who are also struggling to master this dance.”
“Luisette just won’t shut up and let me concentrate on doing the steps correctly,” retorted Kamil, a twinkle in his eyes. “She is forever correcting what I am doing. Leading is real man’s work and she should just let me go on about the whole business.”
“G, Carlos, our Dance master is constantly picking on us in class, and Kamil refuses to listen to him. Take my advice and start out learning the Tango with Robin. She’ll gently introduce you to this sport. Having Carlos as your first teacher might totally discourage you.”
Thus, from January to end of March I signed up for introductory lessons of Quickstep and Argentine Tango with Robin and sans dancing partner. My young gay man was busy taking a Museum Management course on the nights of that class and sent his regrets re: partnering creaky old me. No biggie, as there were skilled rent-a-man dancers on hand during class, each one of whom I thoroughly threw into confusion whenever they danced with me, mostly as a sort of last resort and pity.Often, I ghosted after couples dancing while trying to follow the woman partner’s step sequences. Frequently I ended up dancing into walls because of my intent concentration, and even tripped up couples to whom I had to profusely apologize for disrupting. The other students put up with me as the dotty older and hapless dancing student who might be better off leaving the dance scene and retire to a park bench to feed the birdies.
The Quickstep is fun and rhythmic, if a trifle athletic when a fast tempo of music must be followed. Skipping is not something I do these days of habit. The activity a bit short of the decorum required of a woman on the cusp of accepted seniority. The Tango on the other hand requires one to move with stealthy, slinky grace and some fancy footwork – definitely not my strong suit as I have balance issues and a fear of falling. Any poor man who parnered me I clung onto like a baby Lemur death gripped it’s mother. One fellow kept insisting i grab hold of his upper arm on the underside – really firmly – and he would prop me up withhout difficulty. I often wondered if he went home after class to treat arm bruises with some unguent while drinking a needed glass of good Scotch, or Grappa, or whatever it is they drink in Argentina to decompress after a sweaty bout of partnering a dotty zaftig “Dancing with the Dogs” wannabe. One crafty rent-a-man partner, a good friend’s boyfriend, patiently put me through the paces while Robin looked on fondly with a goofy grin on her face. She is the style of teacher who utilizes humour to correct students’ effort to master basics. On last Tango lesson, she drew me aside and said – “G, it is time for you to move onto Carlos L. as student. I think you have got the hang of the basics well.” Huge surpise to me!!!
So, over a week ago i darkened Carlos’ doorway at the P.P. Dance Studio, along with Kamil, Luisette, Annouschka and others from our beginners class with Robin. This was Kamil and Luisette’s 6th repeat of Level 1 -2 Tango, and they do dance it with great elegance, and in relative silence, except for when they tangle their feet.
Luisette whispered in my ear as we were lined up against a mirrored wall looking very much like prisoners about to be mowed down by a firing squad. “God, G, I’m so glad you’re here with us. maybe now Carlos will have someone else to pick on besides Kamil and me.”
Just like in any first dance class, the protocol is to scrawl our names onto a hunk of sticky label so the teacher can call us by a name other than ” Hey you!” when he is picking on us. Carlos walked by each of us and shook our hands, repeated our names, made welcoming noises in his cute Argentine accent. He squinted at my name tag and started to laugh. “You’re called Baby?” he sputtered.
“No, Gaby”, I said, offering by way of explanation, ” Kamil made up my nametag, he has awful printing skills.”
Carlos went up to the front and centre of our lineup and faced the opposite wall. “Warmup” he called tersely, and led us through a series of ballet warmup exercises, from head, neck, fingers, wrists, elbows shoulders, core, hip, knee, andkle and foot manouverings. We did plies, slink walks backward and forward in series, jazz walks, step combinations while facing Carlos’ eagle eye in the wall of mirrors in front of us. Let me tell you, this was not a pretty picture! Imagine if you will a scene from “Chorus Line” with professional dancers going through their paces in unison and with grace. Now, imagine a motley group of variously aged, dressed and physically conformed men and women, trying to keep pace with the drill, and doing so very badly. I can only guess this was also for Carlos’ benefit, as well as one of warm-up for us “dancers”. His keen eye was able to swiftly assess who had two left feet, or inability to follow instructions, or having strength or flexibility problems. Never mind our musicality, this he would soon find out when he had us try to move with music later.
Pity, the poor professional dancer of thirty some years, most of them as a ballet dancer, and then when he grew too old at 40 something to loft etherial women into the air without giving himself repeated injuries, only to then have to make his living patiently passing on his love of movement to adults, none of whom had a long standing dance background. And he is a very nice teacher, proper old-fashioned Argentine gentleman of about 50, with a soft bark, kindly black eyes and an almost boyish mien. He has a ‘fuzzy doorknob’ haircut of thick black stick straight hair – sort of like those little boys who have been taken to the barber’s by their dad to get their first, not too close military haircut, and which little heads I have hard time not fondling, being such a tactile sort as i am.
And, Don Carlos has the most amazing agile feet and slinky moves for a barrel chested middle aged man. And he is a dream to dance with, while he demonstrates in pair how to do things in correct form.
Move over Armando, my imaginary Latin Lover, with whom I dance the Tango solo on my carpeted Living room floor. You are toast, Querido! As long as Carlos refrains from barking at me during class, he has been co-opted as my imaginary Tango Dance partner.
Psst! I’ll never admit this to anyone else! I mean what would Carlos’ opera singing wife think of this depraved use of her husband?
When I made the decision to separate from Rumpole, last August, he moved into our recently completed basement suite which we called his Man Pad. There he had already moved his office, and I had decorated the space as he desired, with images framed that he enjoyed regularly viewing. Mousey, when she came to visit always insited on visiting the Man Pad, to get fresh looks at what I had labelled Grandpa’s Gummy Dragon, a really cheesy Chinese plastic dragon one of Rumpole’s clients had brough back from China. It smelled like recently imported Chinese plastic goods in the Loonie stores smell, a nasty, virulent rotten vegetable odour. Rumpole was wierdly attached to this artifact, and Mousey also. She did say it smelled strange – sort of like dragons smell, she said.
Like a somnambulist, I moved through the paces of finding a lawyer who practiced matrimonial law, severed our joint bank accounts, set up my own bank account and began the process of trying to figure out where I would land in order to begin to piece a solitary life together. By the end of September, I had engaged a realtor to assess the saleability of our house and to advise as to what needed to be done to it for us to get the maximum amount of money for selling it. Rumpole merely had to rubber stamp all the documents that had to be signed by both of us. This he did readily for the necessary real estate documents, but negotiated fiercely for the legal separation agreement, as he would,being a lawyer himself.
While we haggled over the terms of separating assets, I prepared the house for showings and open houses, did the necessities to maintain things in ship shape, started divesting myself of hundreds of drawings, teaching aids and studio supplies and also gave away objects and equipment I realized would not be able to be accommodated in the size of space I knew I could afford to live within. Having to make these decisions helped me to focus on practicalities and not make any hasty and panicking moves.
Within four days of the first showing of the house, we had recieved an offer, conditional on the purchasers selling their own place. It was a reasonable offer, and within a week we had a back up offer to buttress it. Must hand it to Rumpole – he bargained up the offering bid like the most skillful Persian rug purveyor – although at times during the bargaining procees with buyers he came close to losing the offer – but he is experienced in knowing just how to pressure during a deal and restrained his capacity for flaring up in anger and frustration.
As we waited for the buyers to show their place and in turn recieve an offer on it, I began the process of finding myself an apartment in the centre of town. I had absolutely no idea what was available, but knew that whatever place I could rent had to be walking distance to all necessities since I no longer can drive. I must have looked at 10 or so different apartments and was ready to give up when I found just the right apartment. And, lo and behold, our buyers recieved a firm offer for their place and we had a closing date for the sale of our house – December 4.
Meanwhile I was having lawyer problems on the separation agreement front. The lawyer I had engaged was a mother to three children, one of whom had special needs – so she was often unavailable to deal with amendments that cropped up during my bargaining with Rumpole. But, I must have had a collection of horseshoes and shamrocks gathering dust somewhere in the deeper recesses of my midden of a studio, because the house sale completed on the same day as Rumpole signed our separation agreement.
I took a risk in November in putting down a deposit and month’s rent on the apartment that best suited me, and had organized a move and clearing up of the house that proceeded like clockwork. Many friends came to my aid in effecting the move. I had enough time to move my stuff to the new apartment and then spend a week getting rid of our spoor and making the place clean for the new family of mom,dad, grandma, three kids under ten and one on the way about to take possession of my old digs.
Margaret, my sister, Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis, her two sons, Ron and Rosalie, a young painter friend helped move my stuff into the new Gal Pad with a rented U-haul which caused us a bit of grief – otherwise the move went smoothly and after rolling out the rug and assembling my bed, placing the boxes of stuff into the apportioned places, we repaired to the Kingfisher and ate a celebratory dinner, en masse.
It took me a month to shake out the disposition of my possessions, as I was also house-sitting for LookingforBeauty who was basking in the Mexican sunshine.
Since end of January I have familiarized myself with my new surroundings, set up a studio in the bedroom and generally have been busy and quite content.
Mousey loves coming over to the Gal Pad to do overnights, or for lunch. She knows where everything is, particularly the treasures I have stashed in different places for her to find and be delighted with.
Friends and family come by for coffee, tea, to drag me out to outings, to come and eat a meal with me.
I have a beautiful view of a ravine, and these spring days delight in the early morning bird repartee, the subtle sunrises and my new life, in general.
And yes, this old dog is learning new tricks – Flamenco dancing with the castanuelas, the tango, reviewing ballet core exercises, Spanish, and is carrying on…carrying on…
Details, details, details,…always those damned details. This morning I trekked to the Art Gallery to have a meeting with the curator and the programmer regarding the status of that darned project that seems to want not to be complete. The rest of this entry is to be an extended whine, although Rumpole has repeatedly cautioned me that volunteers usually get little respect, so what was I expecting?
The curator has had our documents for a week, and as of this morning “hadn’t had the time to go through it”. Three of us have expended over 300+ hours of volunteer hours to get the project to this stage, as unpaid volunteers, yet she had not been able to make the time, say an hour, to peruse the binders, even if merely to familiarize herself with the contents in a casual way.
Tha gallery needs this project ready in order to be able to meet its “fee for service” requirements by the municipality. Three of us volunteers are delivering the project at a District in-service workshop on January 21, and yet, we have not been given clear direction from the paid powers-that-be as to how the teaching kits are going to be booked by district teachers. The curator suggested I be responsible for the bookings. I demurred, saying that the utilization of the teaching kits were to benefit the Gallery’s desire to mount a theme show of student work, and they should be responsible for the clerical duties involved. And of course, there should also be a whiff of officaldom attached to the project.
I am more than done. My work-mates are also more than exhausted after making sure all details have been looked after as closely as possible, and that trouble-shooting for potential areas of difficulty has been done.
We feel pleased at how the work has come together and that we have been of useful service in our community. We have worked hard, and wish not to be given more chores to fulfill. Let the paid workers roll up their sleeves now, and see to the successful implementation of this project.
This particular volunteer needs to read, write, walk about looking a the increasingly brighter days, and the beginnings of late winter/early spring growth. Plus, I have to sign up for ball-room dancing lessons with my young, fun, gay friend ( the only one Rumpole will allow me to take dance lessons with!) and swing this crone-like body all over the dance floor.
Late winter, dancing lessons, movement, rhythm, beat – that’s what my old body craves.
Mozart is probably revolving in his grave, what with his ethereal music being recently used to entertain a two year old. He had no idea, really, that his Marriage of Figaro might provide a lip-synching miming oppportunity, accompanied by invented costumes, for a grandmother and grand-daughter duo.
Well, I thought, nothing ventured, etc.. It occurred to me that babysitting Mousey has given me grand occasion for embarking on unorthodox play, or at least play which painlessly introduces forms of music to a young child which in some adults of my acquaintance causes pained expressions and demands to turn the music down. Think Opera, and then think Rumpole and Glasgow Girl. They both concur that listening to Opera is akin to torturing cats in a back alley in the dead of night. Somehow, trying to develop an appreciation for such an art form in my delightful grand-daughter is such a deliciously subversive idea. Why, I can already imagine her as a teen-ager, playing deafeningly loud recordings of The Magic Flute, or The Tales of Hoffman whilst singing along in passable pitch and with great passion while her mother, Glasgow Girl, cowers in chagrin in the bathroom with the shower going full blast to drown out the wonderful music. Ooh, the delightful frisson of a possibility!
Mousey is used to me arriving with my purse and the black bag which she anticipates looking into to see what new thing I have brought to show her. On this particular day, it was loaded with long scarves that would completely swathe her little person and The Marriage of Figaro CD that I like to play and sing along to whenever I am alone at home. It doesn’t matter whether the singer is a soprano, mezzo, tenor or baritone, I tackle all the songs with great vigour. I like the idea of such power lurking in the depths of my black bag!
As soon as Mousey saw my black bag she made a grab for it, pulled the scarves out with flourish and immediately cast them aside, but brought the CD into the light and looked at me with a quizzical expression. “Pooh and Tigger?” she questioned.
“Oh, no.” I said with a stage whisper. “It’s Mozart. Just wait till you hear it.”
“Yeah, just wait till I’m gone before you play it, ” announced Glasgow Girl. “can’t stand listening to that screechy stuff.” She made hurried motions to put on her work shoes, kissed the Mouse, grabbed her purse and made her getaway.
I put the CD in the machine, grabbed a long scarf and dressed Mousey in it. Took her little pillow from her bedroom and tied it on top of my head with another scarf and brought the opossum mom hand-puppet and her baby into the living room. Possie, the mom, was my prop. The baby possum was the Mouse’s. We sat on the floor and listened as the opening strains of the music wafted through the room.
Mousey immediately began to bob her head in time with the music. She tapped her toes. She moved the baby opossum toward Possey in my hand with mincing motions, very Mozartian and playful. When the first aria arrived, I mimed the song, lip-synching and craning my neck and head with exaggerated drama toward Mousey and then toward Possie who I engaged in dramatic accompaniment. Keeping with the Music, the Mouse made rhythmic motions with her hand puppet and with her mouth.
We got up off the floor and danced around, weaving and flowing with the music; stepped with exaggerated care keeping with the crisp qaulity of sound. In the more melodic portions, we subsided onto the floor and kept the beat with the hand-puppets. Mousey is remarkable in that she shows great love of music and has a way of activating her little body with sound. At times, she listens with great acuteness, her brown button eyes take on a faraway look. She tilts her head as if she let the music inside it and it courses through first her head, and then through the rest of her little body. Then she moves in automatic accord with the rising and falling sound. This is so magical to see, such an unselfconscious and honest response.
It was remarkable how long she was able to engage with the music, for the duration of the CD. She seemd to like the baritone passages which had a booming quality. During the soprano bits she became somewhat languid and danced around making gentle swooping movements with her arms. In moments of drama, she’d come up to me, bring her face close and lip-synch with emphasis punctuating with the baby opossum hand-puppet.
By the end of the recording, I was quite pooped out. Mousey was relaxed and alert. “Moosick finished,” she said in her quiet voice. We lay on the floor with our feet propped on the seat of the couch and covered ourselves with our scarves. She had brought a book over and we read and talked quietly. The opossum puppets lay beside us, now forgotten, or temporarily put aside.
“Would you like me to leave you the music? So you can listen to it whenever you want?” I asked her after we had finished reading.
“Yes, pwease. I like it!” Mousey said with enthusiasm.
Mozart would be pleased, I like to think. He is continuing to delight yet another generation. What a pay-off for a composer – long life for his “moosick”.
Lila and I gathered our outdoor painting stuff at 8am on a warm April day, piled them into her Ford Focus and drove to the end of Harris Road in Pitt Meadows. The road ended at the dike and we parked right next door to the barn in which Dry Sherry kept her beautiful Percheron/Andalusian, Paris. He was out in his paddock cruising around, munching hay, a splendid dappled, distressed grey -white monolith in motion. Because I was busy gawking at him I nearly ended walking my easel into the ditch. Lila meanwhile, being much better organized and less of a wool-gatherer, made an efficient job of carting her easel, large canvas, and carrying bag up onto the dike. I dragged my easel and set it up. Had to go back to the car to get my drawing board and paper pad as well as my bag with my drawing stuff. Once set up near each other we sussed out the place; looked about us to select an area to work with and from.
I had earlier in the morning determined that in no way was I going to get precious or self-conscious about my materials or the imagery which would absorb my attention. I was in a rebellious mood. No museum quality paper, archival drawing medium, or picture-worthy, picturesque subject would distract me from the pure pleasure of looking, seeing, making marks, moving freely and playing.
So, the paper was plain old 18 by 24 newsprint. The tools, oil pastels. The challenge for me today with the subject was to take the least picturesque aspect of the landscape in front of me and to find the rhythm and unity of forms in front of me. It didn’t have to be an earth-shattering or mind-blowing image. So there was the spring growth of sedges near the river’s edge; shrubbery, low-lying near the shore, denser and taller, more vigorous further from the river, and in the distance a massing of vegetation, then the sky. The log-booms snugged along the river provided a warm contrast against the sky-reflecting blue of the water.
I windmilled my arms to get the blood flowing, did some knee bends and lunges and then selected the pastels colours and began the drawing dance. And kept drawing until the study reached the above stage. Lila may as well have been on the moon, for aside from hearing her brush scratching and swishing on her canvas somewhere to my right, her presence didn’t infringe on my concentration.
We spent the whole morning, working in silence, absorbed as the sun rose to the zenith and we began to tire. Lila worked on an ambitious 22 by 30 inch oil of the mountains and river and had a strong start with which to work later in her studio. I made the three oil pastel studies and felt satisfied with having met the goal I set for myself.
As my vision has failed me now, to the point that I no longer can make such distinctions visually as in these three-year-ago drawings, I like having these rather flimsy pieces of paper up on the walls of my studio. As I come and go from the house the drawings are an aide memoire. Now when walking along the dike this is not how I see what is there. It has changed so profoundly that patterns have lost their crispness, shapes have lost their clarity and tones and colours have become of paramount importance. Now, I realize that already, three years ago my vision was starting to change from the almost painful acuteness and clarity I have been gifted with throughout my first fifty years of life. These drawings represent a change, though not necessarily for the worse. A change toward some different ways of seeing, maybe a different way of being.
They looked beautiful in their finery. Glasgow Girl, her hair done up in an elegant up-do, was picture-perfect in her wedding dress. Renaissance Man made a dashing and splendid sight in his kilt regalia – the only man in a skirt, at this party. I was happy to see them together like this. Rumpole, looking distinuished, rumbled and rambled a wonderful anecdote about the two of them. He played his bass quite well with the band, in spite of the fact that earlier in the day I had inadvertently crushed his bass-plucking fingers while helping him and Barb shift the portable bar into place. Amazingly, while he hopped around clutching his injured finger, he demonstrates a rather unusual and unfamiliar ability to sing in a high key. Luckily, the swelling had subsided by the time the band struck up with music for the party.
My sister, Margaret, who has faithfully attended at all of Renaissance Man’s milestone celebrations, was there with her husband and daughter. Margaret, an attractive matron, danced up a storm with Renaissance Man. She demonstrated some dance moves Go-Go girls would try hard to emulate, much to her daughter’s amusement.
Renaissance Man’s friends, Pete, Heidi and Stevo, also known by their band name, “Sex Under Cars” warmed up the revellers with some groovy punk music. The crowd just loved them, especially Heidi, who sings with an amazing growl and was dressed in a vintage black dress with lace inserts in strategic places. After them, Rumpole and Renaissance Man’s band, “Pyro Bob and the Maniacs” sounded a tad Lawrence Welkish, very mainstream.
The guests were colourful for the most part. The exceptions were those of us of a matronly persuasion who worked around the periphery of the celebration, monitoring the tables groaning under all the foodstuffs, clearing dishes, watching the celebrants with amazement and amusement. We all wore black; why, I am not sure, but there we were, black crows fluttering about. Martha had on top of her elegant black duds a rhinestone-studded apron. Lucky, in her black dress presented as attractive and sophisticated. Barb worked the bar like a pro. Looking-for-Beauty strolled around taking pictures. She had on the most elaborate black-on-black blouse and pants outfit. Our-Lady-of Perpetual-Crisis showed off her new, svelte, personal-trainered figure with a stunning black ensemble. We looked, good, efficient and, dare I say it, as if we had colluded prior to this do about how we were going to present ourselves, which is absolutely not the case at all. We simply must be going through our “black phase” simultaneously.
The whole party had a big-barn celebration feel to it. There were little children dancing and goofing about. People chatted, danced, visited at different tables. Lots of hugs in greetings and goodbyes at the end. We had to shut things down by 11pm. as we had to be out of the building by mid-night.
Dismantling elements of an event such as this takes orchestrated effort of many individuals. We, the old crows, packaged leftovers and sent them off with various groups. The younger men broke down the band-stand, band equipment and loaded up the cars and trucks. The younger women disassembled tables and crated dishes and cutlery. The young men cam and hauled all this stuff to be moved by cars lined up outside. By the time the building security came to kick us out, the hall was completely empty. The security guard was amazed our exit was so well organized.
Rumpole went off with the band to return the equipment to their home base. The rest of us dispersed, quite exhausted to our various destinations. Looking-for-Beauty drove me home. We unloaded a ton of supplies into my studio and staggered off to the kitchen in search of some tea. We were sipping our tea, quite wilted, when Rumpole arrived home. He collapsed on a kitchen chair and announced, “On my way home it ocurred to me that I had left my suit hanging in the Legion Hall.” He had changed clothes into comfy band clothes earlier. I figured the suit was safe, hanging where it was until Monday morning. LFB toddled off home.
Rumpole and I spent yesterday in a fog of exhaustion. We have to return the dishes and cutlery to the rental place this morning, and then go and retrieve his suit from the Legion Hall. We have some leftovers to consume, for which I am most grateful as doing cooking is something I do not wish to do for several days. My flu is still lingering; Rumpole’s flu has again cycled back. All our friends are exhausted. But, the big party is truly over. It was fun, but not the kind of fun we want to have much to do with for a long, long time.
Rumpole has ever been a man reluctant to separate himself from the Law. Thus on the day we were to drive to Harrison Hot Springs he was poring over some tomes in the downtown Law Library. He breezed in at 4pm and proceeded to argue his reasons for why he should not bring a formal jacket, on this, our 30th Anniversary. He cleverly won by reminding me that way back when we tied the knot, he had not worn anything but sweaters and jeans, and the ever so necessary rain-slicker. So why would we not do the romantic thing and dress down in remembrance of our youth? Naturally, he neglected the fact that after thirty years we could both do with considerable spackle and polish, to fill our numerous cracks and bring our tarnished lustre to a dullish glow.
Suitcase in the trunk and digital camera on the front between the two of us, we drove off in beautiful sunshine of the late November afternoon. It was a scenic drive. We found a good rock station with golden oldies rock and sang along, admired the gorgeous views. We were delighted the weather was not a reprise of our honeymoon torrential rainstorm, and high-fived our good fortune. As the twilight settled we had arrived at Harrison Mills.
“Look,” Rumpole mentioned, “The mountain up ahead is on fire.”
I had my sunglasses on, as my eyes were again infected and sore. “Where’s the fire?” I just couldn’t see it.
“Oh, for God’s sake, take off your sunglasses,”said he with an exasperated tone. “See the lights up ahead, the smoke? There – straight ahead.”
Well it looked like fog to me, the kind of low-lying stuff that wreathes the bottoms of mountains this time of year. The lights were the usual foggy star shapes that might indicate an electric light on a pole. But then I don’t see at all well nowadays, and rather than incur a long winded argument between us, I concurred. “Ah yes. I see (fingers crossed, liar liar pants on fire)Do you think it might be campers?”
“Are you kidding? In November? Nope – probably a slash burn.” He didn’t see fit to report it and we drove on.
In dark of late afternoon, we arrived at the lakeshore and drove around looking for a parking spot, near the resort. No joy. Rumpole is an independent sort of fellow; doesn’t like maps, nor signage. So we drove around some more. He was becoming quite irritated. After I figured he was thoroughly fed up, I gently suggested we drive up to the port cochere and ask the attendant where we might park the car. As it turned out, parking was at some distance, and Rumpole didn’t want to drag our suitcase for that long a walk. He let me wait inside the lobby for him, with the bag. This suited me just fine. I got to scope out the lobby.
Directly in front of the wheezing automatic doors, inside, a large painted chainsaw-sculpture of the cigar-store Indian variety greeted visitors. So far, so bad. Hasn’t it yet dawned on German and Japanese tourists that these artifacts went out of fashion when cowboy movies did? A couple of Japanese business-men in casual attire, both sporting neck-slung cameras took turns gaily posing with the Indian. Brother! Talk about cliche! Political incorrectness, eh?
Rumpole arrived, with reddened cheeks from exerting himself on the long trek from the parking spot, and took a double-take as he spotted the Japanese men checking their digital pics. The Indian was gazing, quite oblivious, into the distant lake vistas. The guys decided to do retakes, and Rumpole threw them an amused glance as he looked about for me. The Indian didn’t twitch a muscle, but I was snerkling under my breath, trying to smother down a loud laugh which was threatening to erupt.
Booking in was a breeze. We were given a detailed map of the premises, key-cards and sent on our way to find our room. As Rumpole grasped my elbow and led me around the Indian to climb a few stairs, he noted a bunch of older men, wearing white bathrobes strolling toward us. “These guys must be on their way to the lake to practice for their January Polar Bear swim,” he conjectured. We stopped and looked at the map. Yep, either they were on their way out of the hotel and down to the beach, or they were visiting Miss Daisy’s Cafe located slightly to the east of the Indian. Shrugging with relief that dress code here was so informal, we proceeded up the stairs. More people of all ages and physical condition, lounging and strolling around in bathrobes. HMMM.
“Don’t look now – there’s a cop behind you.” Of course, Rumpole just had to look. Leaning against a pillar was a 10-foot tall stuffed toy Grizzly bear in formal Mountie dress uniform. It had its palms upturned as if seeking donations. Very natty,but oh so cliche! He was guarding the fireplace/piano/lounge room where a couple of men in bathrobes warmed themselves by a crackling gas fire, and a mother watched in irritation as two ten year old boys played video games on their laptops.
We looked around for the elevator. After consulting our maps we and 6 people in wet bathrobes got on the elevator which made herky-jerky progress to our floor. By the time we got off, my glasses had fogged over. Rumpole had to lead me by the hand to our room.
First things first, I just had to find our bathrobes. Yep, they were in the closet where the coats and clothes would hang. I unloaded our suitcase and stashed our stuff while Rumpole, ever mindful of rules and regulations perused the Resort Information Booklet. “Get this,” he announced. “They charge for each phone call made to the desk, for wake-up calls, for concierge help…. haven’t found where it says ‘for breathing’, yet.” Of, so it was going to be like that, eh? “Oh, no” he complained.”It says here I have to wear good casual wear to eat dinner at the Copper Room.” We had arranged the tour package -room for two nights, breakfast for two mornings and our anniversary dinner at the “Copper Room”.
“Maybe they have a “rent-a-jacket” place on premises,”I said. “Or you can go down there tonight in the sweater you plan to wear to dinner tomorrow and ask if that would do? Alternately, we can do a nice drive home tomorrow morning to get your jacket.” Rumpole chose to do a walk about the place, find the hot-spring pools, the gymn, the spa and then casually drift by the Copper Room and ask the Maitre D’ whether he would be acceptable in sweater and good pants. After finding out we didn’t have to drive home to get a jacket, we strolled around trying to figure out with the help of the site map how to get to the Lakeshore Room, where we decided to have supper.
The Lakeshore Room had a huge waiting room with a crowd waiting for seating. We signed in and held up a wall. People there were trying to stave off their hunger with the dough-nuts provided to ease the long wait. It was good people watching opportunity. There was a family with two little girls and a rickety pair of grandparents in tow. The little girls sat in the only two available armchairs with their feet up on the seats, ordering the mother and father to go get them juice and doughnuts, while the doddering grandparents swayed on their feet, almost about to topple over. There was something very wrong with this picture. I waved my hand in their direction and gave Rumpole a disgusted sneer of disapproval. He pursed his lips and looked at this crew over the top of his glasses, looking very professorial. I’m certain he had not failed to notice that no-one waiting here was in bathrobes. Thus we did not fear being overdressed.
Dinner at the Lakeside Room was buffet style. On this occasion it might have been called “buffett” style. As I was raising the tongs to transfer some spinach salad to my salad plate, a Japanese lady of middle years hip-checked me and grasped the tongs out of my hand, filled her plate, smiled nicely and proceeded to do a number on Rumpole. We were so stunned that all we could offer by complaint was a weak, Canadian expression – “Sorry” and watch in bewilderment as the lady continued to make her way backward on the line butting in front of everybody. About this, I am proud of our Canadian tendency to say “sorry” whenever we have done nothing to be sorry about. Perhaps the English-Japanese guide book needs to make it clear that when we say “sorry” we are not really saying “go ahead, do whatever pleases you”. I noted that was going to be a point I made clear when filling out the visitors experience report after our stay.
“Don’t look now, but that Pushy Japanese woman is sitting right behind you,” whispered Rumpole. And of course, I looked.
“I should just dump my dinner plate on her after I go get my salmon and vegies, and say a cheery “Sorry”,” I hissed back.
“G, now don’t start something you can’t finish,” he admonished. “Just give her an elbow if she crosses you at the trough.”
Sure enough, I had just got my salmon, rice and vegies and decided to go with Rumpole to the Prime Rib area and augment my plate with a Yorkshire Pudding (never mind that’s not taditional accompaniment for salmon, who cares?) and voila, she reappeared again and much to the server’s controlled amusement bunted Rumpole aside and held out her plate for the piece of prime rib the server was about to place on his plate. “Sorry,” said Rumpole, automatically. He didn’t feed her an elbow. I admired his restraint and grinned at him with approval.
Back at our table, we ate and chuckled at the vagaries of travel to foreign places, at misunderstandings of manners. I jokingly told him that the resort should have a Buffet Etiquette book, translated in several languages in every room, and while they were at it might post a rule about people schlepping about all over the place in the near altogether in soggy white bathrobes. Seeing all those bloated bodies with bad hair, wet hair, hairy legs and poor posture might turn people off from eating altogether, never mind they had an obstacle course to follow at the buffet, with tourists nearly snatching morsels from proffered plates.
After dinner we went for an evening constitutional on the lakeshore, went back to our room and read in bed.
By morning my eye had swollen and took on the bright colouration of a sailboat’s port light. And it was sore. After breakfast buffet at the lakeshore Room, we had our eyes peeled for the Japanese lady, lest she come near us to snatch our croissants from our hungry grasp, or scrape butter pats from our plates. No such adventure to be had. She was most likely soaking in one of the hot pools, bless her.
I was concerned about my eye, as after we returned home from the weekend I was slated to go for surgery on Tuesday morning. Here it was a Sunday, so where could we find a doctor handy? Rumpole went off to bring the car from parking in the boonies, and I went off to the concierge desk to find out if there was a local medical clinic open. The concierge called around to Hope, nope, the clinic there was closed. The nearest clinic, in Aggasiz, was also closed. But, Bingo! The clinic in Chilliwack, a mere half-hour drive away, was open. She made us a good map, and by the time Rumpole arrived with the car at the porte cochere, we were good to go. Only it was raining really hard, which kind of ruined the scenic aspects of the drive.
The clinic in Chilliwack was not full with patients, so we got to see the doctor quickly. She took a look at my eye and said to Rumpole “You’ve got to stop punching this poor woman.” I took an instant liking to this doctor; however Rumpole didn’t seem to approve of this light-hearted, put-the-patient-at-ease banter. He sat looking quite crest-fallen as I hastened to encapsulate the medical history of my eye over the past 8 months and made it perfectly clear that it was not result of a wife beating. The doctor was adamant that I cancel the upcoming Tuesday operation, gave a scrip for antibiotic drops and sent us on our way. We filled the prescription at a nearby pharmacy and went back to the resort.
The rain was pouring down in earnest. Rumpole decide to parade around in the resort in his white bathrobe while I took a nap. Much later in the afternoon, with him refreshed from his soaking in hot mineral water and me in a warm bath in our room, we decided to explore thoroughly all the amenities of the hotel, and do a long indoor walk, interspersed with climbing many stairs. On the way back to our room to change into our finery, we stopped in at an expensive ladies wear shop in the lobby, where I admired the lacy, gauzy and beaded confections that were more suited to women under 40, than to a woman of my vintage. Rumpole found a lovely metallic grey silk shawl that brought out the highlights of my gun-metal grey hair, wrapped it around my shoulders and said to the clerk “This, my wife will wear to the Copper Room for our anniversary dinner,” and bought it for me. We nipped upstairs and changed into our fancy duds. We looked pretty good together, we thought.
Off we went to the Copper Room, holding hands on the long walk there, severely overdressed compared to the bathrobed figures flitting here and there. We were seated at a table with good view of the dance floor. The band was good, in a cheesy Las Vegas kind of way, the singer had the mellifluous voice of a younger Wayne Newton/Englebert Humperdink cross and the food was delicious. We drank no wine, just water, and watched the dancers and sang along to old standards. There seems to have been a recent resurgence of ballroom dancing, because many couples on the dance floor strutted their stuff. Rumpole does not dance. He feels about dancing as cats do about being immersed in water. But he made an exception for this occasion; he would dance to a song I requested in honour of our anniversary. I perked up – goody, I get to dance a wee bit. I asked the Maitre D’ to send my request to the band, Eric Clapton’s “You look wonderful tonight.” Soon, the band made the announcement. Rumpole took my hand, and I dragged him to the dance floor. The band began to play “Yooo loook boeetifoool too meee….. can’t yooo seeee….” Gag, Barf, Ick….. the song both Rumpole and I absolutely loathe. Rumpole was helpless with laughter, so much so that he couldn’t keep rhythm and lead. Not that he could anyway even when concentrating. So I led us around the dance floor, and we giggled as we stomped around, trying not to interfere with skilled dancers. Well, we were the oldest people on the dance floor, and the worst dancers, but we had an excuse – we came from a generation where ball-room dancing was the antithesis of cool.
So cool were we, that after watching the antics of some really fine comic ballroom-dancers, we started yawning and decided to repar to our room to read in companionable collapse. My eyes were sore, so I managed a page before dozing off. I was suddenly snatched from blessed oblivion to find Rumpole sneakily easing a couple of pillows from under my head. “Go back to sleep,” he groused. “You’re such a pillow hog. I need some extra pillows for reading.” Ah, loving, romantic words from my husband of thirty years. He never said that thirty years ago!
The next morning, a horrible windstorm accompanied the torrential rains. We had to leave this land-locked cruise ship experience and return home to daily routines. But first, Rumpole had to brave the elements to go get the car and bring it to the front of the Resort. Of course, being British Columbians from the Lower Mainland, we need umbrellas as winter accessories. But being us, we left them in the trunk of the car, so poor fellow made his way in the downpour and arrived back with the car, soaked to the skin and with the windows badly fogged up. After loading up, we waited for half an hour until the car’s heater could deal with his evaporating clothes and our moist exhalations.
We drove home, singing and chatting and listening to the weather reports. Shades of our honeymoon trip thirty years ago!Trees were downed everywhere, power outages beset a large number of people, the ferries were not running on schedule and hundreds of people were stranded on either side of Georgia Straight on the last day of this Remembrance Day weekend. About fifteen miles from our town, we came upon a road block, were rerouted on unfamiliar back roads and arrived home two hours later than anticipated. Our luck held. No power outage at our house, and it was nice to be back in our comfy digs.
It occurred to us as we were drinking coffee in the kitchen after unloading the car, that we had not taken a single picture of our weekend, or had another tourist take our picture grinning and mugging in front of the cigar store Indian, or the Grizzly in Mountie uniform. But then this comes as no huge surprise, we have not one photo from our honeymoon either. But we do have memories to share. That’s what counts to me,
Rumpole never ceases to amaze me. He, of an opinionated, conservative and curmudgeonly nature, has some fairly rigid ideas for how men must behave, comport themselves and achieve in life. So, the occasion of his first face-to-face meeting with Remittance Man revealed an aspect of openness in Rumpole of which I never suspected he was capable.
Back about eight years ago, when the life drawing group was limping along and barely surviving week to week with low attendances, a group of us met at the Lone Wolf Pub and came up with our “Naked Lunch” happening.(I wrote about this in the blog “Naked Lunch, the David and the Birth of Venus”) We decided that Remittance Man, our young poet friend and Leila our Science major model would be the ideal models for this famous painting re-enactment. Remittance Man is probably the oldest male model on the West Coast, drawn and painted by many during the past 35 years or so, and has been immortalized by Jeff Wall in one of his compositions which hangs in the Tate Modern. It became my job to phone him and ask for his support of our little endeavour. So I called him with an offer he just couldn’t refuse. A weekend stay with Rumpole and me, access to a mountain bike he could tool around on in the local countryside, room and all meals, the company of nubile and intelligent female models and familiar artists and an opportunity to put on one of his sound and movement performances in a new venue, a suburban lawn. He was enthused to take part and arranged to come out by commuter train on the Friday night before Naked Lunch.
It occurred to me that maybe I should prepare Rumpole for Remittance Man’s upcoming weekend sojourn with us. Thus a careful and thorough description of RM’s peccadilloes and background seemed to be in order. I carefully laid the groundwork by stressing that RM had served in the British Army as a young man (Rumpole is in awe of men who have served their country!) I did neglect to mention, however, RMs tendency to doff his clothes and cavort in the altogether whenever the slightest opportunity presented itself.
I carefully laid in food provisions for RMs visit. He had very few teeth left in his head with which to chew substantial foodstuffs, so it was fish, vegetables, brown rice and soft fruits that were on the weekend menu. Rumpole expressly requested only halibut and most definitely not salmon, which he hates – and, oh yes, in a savoury white sauce, not au nature. The spare bedroom cleaned, fresh bedding laid on and I was ready to fetch Remittance Man from the train station.
At the train station, old Remittance Man emerged from the rail car wearing his home made summer jester outfit, hefting his ever-present back-pack which bulged with unknown necessities. We hugged and did the European Kiss-Kiss on alternate cheeks, to much curious ogling by commuters streaming by us at the station. On the drive to my house, RM wanted to know when Rumpole was expected to arrive at home. We chatted about this and that.
Once inside the house, RM made himself at home, laid out his gear in his allotted room and , bearing a nice bottle of wine, joined me in the kitchen. He asked if Rumpole would mind if he came home to find us already sipping some wine. I needed alcohol fortification for Rumpole’s initial reaction on meeting RM, so I suggested uncorking and pouring a couple of glasses.
Rumpole arrived home from the office, hot and weary, to be greeted by RM and me in the kitchen, sipping wine and munching on pate, soft bread guts and olives. RM hopped to his feet, the spry old dog, exchanged a manly hand shake with Rumpole and poured him a glass. Rumpole suggested that we repair to the living room and relax as it was still too hot to eat supper.
In the living room we reclined and Rumpole and RM had an extended conversation about RM’s military experiences and service in Kenya. The sun filtered through the west window, we chatted comfortably and ferreted out some information about RM’s years as an immigrant in Canada, his children and his family back in England. RM mentioned that he had travelled in India, and Rumpole shared with him that his own Mother had been born in Indore and he wanted so much to travel in India himself.
Suddenly, Remittance Man asked Rumpole if he would like to see for himself a brief performance of the type RM made regularly as a busker on Granville Island. I almost choked on a mouthful of wine at this proposal, knowing full well what was coming up if Rumpole might say “yes”. Huge surprise, yes was the answer. Rumpole sat on the green velvet love-seat, like a lounging Pasha awaiting entertainment. RM commandeered me as prop-girl. We moved the coffee table into the dining room and cleared a large space on the living room floor for the performance. Then, with a flourish, RM produced a stop watch, set its timer for seven minutes, placed in on the arm of Rumpole’s perch, and withdrew into the dining room where he proceeded to take off all of his clothes, which he carefully draped on one of the dining room chairs.
He made his entrance into the living room, completely nude, and like a true performer provided a preamble for his sound and movement exposition. Rumpole didn’t twitch an eyebrow in surprise. One would think it was a common occurrence in our household for new male guests to shed their clothes and cavort around naked. Seven minutes is a longish time to test the patience of one as conservative as Rumpole, and I held my breath in anticipation of a fit of impatient temper on his part. He calmly sipped his wine and watched the performance with care and attention. Remittance Man screeched, whooshed and hissed in accompaniment to stretches, twirls and impossible body positions. The seven minutes ticked by, the alarm on the stop watch announced an end, at which point RM calmly walked back into the dining room and put on his clothes.
Rumpole asked for a top up of his wine glass and leaning back in his seat calmly asked “Have you extensively studied Yoga, and are you a student of Sufi culture?” Remittance man perked up; here was a thread of discussion, aside from things army, they could follow up on. From that point on these two men, who had completely different beliefs, backgrounds and ways of operating in the world, relaxed into a companionable evening.
You could have knocked me over with a feather! Rumpole’s entirely unexpected reaction took me completely by surprise, and I thought “God bless your soul, Rumpole, now I know why I have always loved your capacity to surprise me with your ability to make anyone feel at home with us!”
To this day, Remittance Man comes to our home twice a year for short week-end’s holidays. We spend pleasant visits with him, and Rumpole always welcomes him. RM does performances for me in my studio, and I make a sustained study of motion on every occasion. Rumpole is always curious about these drawings, and now has a basis for appreciating them.
Back in art school in the 60s, I felt the need to see more artwork and in greater variety than was available to be seen for those of us living on the west coast of Canada. How to make this possible? Well, travel to Europe, that crucible of Western Art was the prescription. I researched and calculated where to travel, and how much this would cost me, and finding the costs daunting plotted how to acquire the necessary finances in order to do so. But I needed a part-time job that payed well enough to allow me to amass the necessary funds over a short period of time. During coffee-time breaks between studio sessions, a group of us mulled over how this could be accomplished. Alex, an older and more worldly student, who worked part-time at the local art centre and theatre as a stage-hand, often regaled us with stories of performers and performances, technical glitches that occurred during the mounting of productions and of life as a back-stage worker. He suggested that I apply to the theatre as an usherette, a job which was unionized and paid well, and which would not interfere at all with my school requirements. So I applied and was hired, much to my pleasure. Thus began my brief career as a theatre usherette. It was by far the most interesting job of my times as a student!
All who worked at the theatre entered by the performers’ entrance, manned by a formally uniformed guard and supplied with a time clock with punch cards for workers to sign in at the beginning of shifts and out at the end. The guard was a paternal gentleman who was very kind and friendly. I prevailed on his kindness often to seek admission to back-stage, where armed with my sketchbook I would try to be as unobtrusive as possible while observing and drawing the activity of performers and technicians. There I had the chance to observe Marcel Marceau silently engaged in blocking in his movements on the stage several hours prior to his performance. So, here was my good fortune to observe his preparation and then later, while on my work-shift, the performance from the front of the house. Prior to Renata Tebaldi’s performance (on her farewell tour) I watched her familiarize herself with the backstage layout and contemplate the enormous empty cavern of the seat areas.
It was however the week-long duration of the British Royal Ballet performances that provided the most wonderful opportunity. Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were principal dancers in “Giselle”. And, fortuitously for me, they rehearsed every afternoon. My shift to work coincided with every evening performance, and also the matinee on the weekend. So, right after school, I’d scurry over to the cafe to bolt down a plate of carrots, broccoli and cheese, and head over to the theatre to ensconce my invisible self back-stage to witness the practices. And think, observe and draw, draw, draw!
Rudolf Nureyev was very young then, a delicious leonine specimen of youthful malehood. He had the presence of Michelangelo’s “David” as pictured in my Janssen art history black and white photos. He moved with fluid, strong and precise manly grace, completely absorbed in his repetitions of entrechats and wonderful, high leaps where he seemed suspended for more than long moments in space. Light as a feather, but with the tensile strength of steel he seemed!
Margot Fonteyn was an impossibly tiny, sprite-like woman, much older than Nureyev at that time. She had the appearance of a slightly dessicated teen-ager, but a visage of amazing gravity lit by child-like flashes of expression. She warmed up at the portable barre, stretching slowly with great intent, repeating motions over and over again. I got a lot of good quick studies from this activity of hers, and kept drawing like mad. Nureyev would stop and watch her from time to time. He’d stand quite still and relaxed for extended periods and made a good model for many drawings. Busy, engrossed, I tried to keep up with these two marvellous bodies in motion.
After a while, Fonteyn made many passes of chaine turns across the width of the stage. She had the density of a thin strip of paper that quickly rotated from place to place. She seemed to have little mass and basically flickered across the floor.
Shortly they began practising lifts. This was amazing to observe and to try and draw. Neither of these two dancers was tall, and yet they had a size and physical compatibility, and a synergy, that was wonderful to witness. Fonteyn entered into lifts, Nureyev assisted – it was a mutual effort, seamless! Time after time, they repeated variations of lifts that might occur in their pas de deux. Sometimes their timing would be off, and Nureyev winced with added strain, or Fonteyn would make a disappointed moue with her face. And always, they communicated quietly and without disagreement or rancour.
A male partner in a pas de deux is more than a mechanical lift for the ballerina, much more than a prop. He is an integral part of the unit of two bodies interacting in space, carving out form, extending a motion or completing movement, or so I have learned to understand with my limited knowledge of dance. But lifts are so beautiful to see when they are excecuted with precision and in unison. Light as a feather – strong like steel, the male and female principle kinetically united. That was Nureyev and Fonteyn, paired for me as the ideal male and female in the dance. Moving, poignant and breathtaking!
In writing this, I am expressing my wonder and thankfulness about how lucky a young woman and art student I was to be able to witness these two remarkable artists and draw them. It was a little bit like being a fly-on-the-wall backstage.
Surely everyone has experiences of this sort, that give them pleasurable pause in their recollections?