by Aki Schilz
This month has been an unsettling and hectic month. I am lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive family and wonderful friends, who have made it easier to get through November. As a belated birthday gift, I was taken by my wonderful friend Carina first to a luxury chocolate high tea at the Hilton hotel by Hyde Park, then on to see Anthony Dowell’s opulent production of Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House. This season’s production sees a return to the choreography of Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa made famous in the 1895 revival of this glorious ballet. On the night we went, Alina Cojoracu danced the part of Odette/Odile, and her husband and fellow principal Johan Kobborg took the part of Prince Siegfried. Their pas de deux were full of tenderness, and there were delightful turns from the accomplished soloists and the energetic corps de ballet (the sound of pointe shoes as the swans bourréd across the stage in gentle synchronicity in their shimmering tutus was a particular sensory highlight), but Cojoracu’s solo pieces were the standout of the night. In the role of Odette, her upper body movements were exquisite, making the most of her upper back, the gentle flex of her spine and the power she transferred through her legwork into her arms and out of her wrists to create within each step, balance and lift a sense of vulnerability, of noble grace, of a spirit broken by incarceration but not yet subdued. In all her roles, Cojoracu’s lines sweep through and across the stage, her extensions are a wonder to behold, and her musicality is supreme. As Odile, I found myself wanting more seduction, more play, but true to form, in everything she did she was mesmerising, and her confidence was well rewarded by an audience who applauded her with warm appreciation, deeply felt.
As I watched, I wished I could write more on the ballet. I am hoping as I write more short pieces, something will emerge. A story about a ballerina, a former principal for a company in Russia, is already half-forming in my mind. In the meantime, here’s a short piece I wrote a while ago, inspired by my own time on the stage, and as an audience member, observing the display of muscular strength, vertical grace and stunning athleticism that all come together when a company, after months of studio rehearsal, slip into their costumes, take their places under the Faberge-inspired drapes behind the heavy red curtains while the orchestra play the fanfare and overture in the pit, and in that moment they become, under the vaulted ceilings and in the darkening hush of the hall, a theatre of dance.
In the hush of the wings you think of Proust, and the moon, and how your sickled foot, swaddled in pink satin, resembles a sickle moon; a slip of silver that arcs the stage, bringing and retracting light and pulling with it the quickly darkening tides. The rustle of tulle. The blinking lights like tiny stars sputtering. Silence stretches out into the empty seats.
Emerge, nascent; this moment, this, your coming-into-being. The lights are warm on your skin. You extend your leg (Odette, you are Odette) and your pirouette cracks the rosin under your pointe into the soft wood. A bow slick with rosin grips the strings of a violin to make them speak; your feet grip more firmly the floor of the stage and your soul breathes music into your limbs. Then away again into a chassé, pas-de-bourrée, glissé, pas-de-chat… you are lithe like a cat, quick and elegant and muscled, stretching out into the light that falls from between your fingertips to dance with your shadow on the stage beneath, far away beneath you, patterning the floor. Think, you must think of Degas, be Debussy’s sea, coaxing eddies into elegance, floating but never, never drifting; you must be pulled like the glittering tides by the moon. Again, the moon, and your ankle knows, and extends, and at its base the moon reveals itself, a tiny flash of silver, before it is whisked away into air that parts to allow the passage of the arabesque, and you think again of Proust – oh! to be naked under the light of the moon! you blush, and your face, you imagine, casts a pink shadow… but you must not look down, at your feet that dart and slide and tease, you must look up, tilt your head to catch the light at the tip of your cheekbone, cast in shadow always the hollow of your neck, the gentle dips in your elbows curved as if around the base of a broad-shouldered tree. Shoulders delicately framed; and your neck is extended, swanlike. Extend. Look up. Look up and see the wooden beams, touch them with your fingertips, reach further, into the sky, burst forth and dance, always, with relentless luminosity pirouette through the dark; turn, turn, turn; but never, never lose your footing.