Monday, 8 June 2009


Water has an undeniably calming effect; some of my earliest and best memories are by the water. Paddling in the sea, picnicking by a fast river; favourite places returned to again and again as a youngster. On a hot summer’s day the imagination is set free and a child’s mind runs away with all the possibilities that water holds.

It was a child-like water nymph that swam into my consciousness on Friday evening. In a cold and damp London, miles away from the sea, I was swept into Ondine’s watery world. An audience, that had long ago forgotten innocent play, was surprised and captivated with this smiling, swimming nymph who was impossible to catch and impossible to ignore. She stole the hero’s heart and together we disappeared above and below the water to witness the tragedies that only water nymphs can know.

The Royal Ballet’s Roberta Marquez danced like a nymph falling in love for the first and last time. Ballet has the ability to tear at the heart-strings without a word: letting us feel the joy of love, and the agony of betrayal. She danced with lightness and mischievousness, opposite a hero that couldn’t take his eyes off her.

Like the choppy waters of the sea, the corps de ballet was fast and furious demonstrating a precision in their dancing that was just breathtaking. The Lord of the Mediterranean, the jealous Berta, and the Divertissements were all danced so well by a company that can hold its own on any of the world’s stages.

Ondine was a ballet I had not seen before, or seen so long ago that I had forgotten it. But Friday evening’s performance will be remembered for a long time as something exceptional. I know I always say that, because it is difficult not to enjoy one of the world’s great ballet companies, but maybe the sun, the moon and the stars all lined up on Friday evening to make it something special.

I want to believe that what I saw on Friday had nothing to do with anything as mundane as performance management. Logically I know that isn’t true. The hours of practice, the high standards set by the company, and the management that goes into each and every show must be like the management of any other business. I don’t go to the ballet nearly as often as I would like, but on the occasions I do go I have never seen a ragged performance. Which makes me think their performance management is anything but an afterthought. It is an integral way of how the Royal Ballet does business.

A shocking thought.

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