I often feel extraordinarily privileged to have such illustrious friends in the ballet world, particularly when I want an answer to a simple question, and can just pick up the phone and ask someone whose knowledge and experience is of such an order that it would be like asking Einstein to change a fuse on your vacuum cleaner.
But it has always been my experience with geniuses that they put their great minds to the most humble of subjects; thus my composition teacher, Malcolm Williamson, for example, in time off from being the Master of the Queen’s Musick, offered suggestions as to how I could improve the music I had written for the RAD Intermediate syllabus, and surprised my parents by knowing all the details of an argument my grandmother had had with one of her oldest schoolfriends. Wayne Sleep once lent me a pair of his socks when I had none to wear in the pit.
Last night, however, I felt – as Tony Blair would say – the hand of history on my shoulders, when I was trying desperately to accomplish skip change of step from instructions on the Internet. I was trying to write a paragraph on why one piece of music was more suitable than another for this step, when I realised I didn’t really understand what I was talking about.
I googled ‘Skip change of step’ and tried to follow the instructions on the screen. Try as I might, I couldn’t do it. I considered ringing colleagues at the RAD, but then decided this would be like asking a plumber friend if they’d help you out with your blocked toilet on a Saturday night.
Then chance intervened. As I hobbled round the room, my mobile rang, and there on the screen was the name ‘Chris Hampson’. If anyone should understand skip change of step, a choreographer should. Before he could even utter a word, I was in full flow “Look, how do you do skip change of step?”. I explained my dilemma, and that I couldn’t interpret the instructions on the internet.
“Read them out to me,” Chris said, “And I’ll try and do it”.
“I hope you’re not anywhere public” I replied
“Just so you know how public I am,” Chris responded “I’m outside the National Theatre in Norway at the premiere of the Taming of the Shrew.”
“So”, I said, beginning to feel the index finger of ballet history on my shoulder, “Take a little hop on the left foot….”
“OK. Yup. Yup. OK, got it.”
Miraculously, I also got it too. What the instructions didn’t tell you is that it’s your left foot which propels you, not your right.
“Oh, the ballet master of Royal Swedish Ballet’s here now. He’s doing it with me.”
Well, of course he is. The ballet master in question, the extremely lovely Krzysztof Nowogrodski, formerly of BRB, the PDTD course, and now in Sweden, was there with Mr Hampson, practising skip change of step at a premiere outside a theatre in Oslo, from instructions on the internet conveyed by mobile phone from Tooting. As if that were not all, I even got corrections “Oh no, it’s all very small in Scottish Dancing” said Chris wisely, as I explained how I had been trying to jump the step (impossibly) with the non-working leg.
So when you read your guidebook to the Alternative Music for Grades 1 -5 have some respect – I suspect that it’s rare that so much balletic weight has ever been brought to bear on the first exercise in RAD Grade 1.