Today we come to the end of this meander through my musical influences. In part 1 of Music and Me, I wrote about how my love of music came from my parents. In part 2, I talked mainly about classical works and in part 3, I took us to gigs with some of the great icons of rock music. In part 4, we went to the theatre to watch a musical or two. In part 5, I relived some of the more memorable times when I was making the music, rather than just listening to it. In particular, I attempted to describe the pure joy I got when singing Cavalleria Rusticana with Red Earth Opera. And in part 6, we were back at the opera once more, but in the audience, rather than on stage.
So here we are at the end of the journey and I’ve left my favourite music until last. I’m going to talk about dance, primarily ballet but with the odd off-shoot into more commercial forms.
I’ve probably watched more ballet in Russia and the Former Soviet Union countries than I have here in the UK. The music of Massenet’s Thais takes me back to a most beautiful interpretation, in a theatre in Chelyabinsk in the Ural mountains. The costumes were a delicate green, and gauzy; the ballerina was tiny and fluent; and her partner, although also a skilled dancer, had obviously been given the role for his upper body strength rather than his ability to perform the perfect jete or pirouette.
The music of The Nutcracker reminds me of performances in Kiev, where I swear they turned the heating down and introduced a cool draft during the outdoor winter scenes; and in the Kremlin theatre in Moscow where, ironically, I had my purse stolen from the bag I had carelessly slung over my shoulder in the refreshment queue. But The Nutcracker, at Sadler’s Wells in London, was also my first introduction to the productions of Matthew Bourne.
Like musicals, ballet is something I often watch on my own, or at least without my husband. He has never really got past the fact that if you listen really hard, you can hear, above the music, the dancers pounding around the stage – especially in corps de ballet numbers like The Waltz of the Flowers. But Bourne’s productions tend to be the exception, as both of us enjoy the contemporary interpretation of old stories. The all-male corps de ballet in Swan Lake is chilling (and to my mind, preferable to the Russian version I saw once, where the story had been changed to give it a happy ending). And Bourne’s version of Sleeping Beauty with its undertones of kidnap and rape, is much closer to the original fairytale, than the more sugary version to which we are usually treated.
But I can’t finish without tipping my hat to one iconic form of dance which will be familiar to anyone who watched the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. Riverdance, which we have watched live on more than one occasion, has become a worldwide phenomenon loved especially by anyone with even the remotest links to Ireland. And as the daughter of a Dubliner, it brings me full circle, back to the days as a child when I helped my mother embroider the costumes in which my sisters competed in the dance competitions that proliferated across the Irish community in Birmingham in the 1970s. As with so much of my musical experiences, even if I didn’t perform myself, I was happy to watch and enjoy the performances. Music is one of the threads that bind the generations together and I hope you have enjoyed sharing my musical memories .
Readers: how important is music to you? What memories does it bring back? Where do your musical influences lie?