David Wall

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Ballerina Daria Klimentova showing her iPod Nano to ballet master David Wall in the lower studio at ENB. For more detail, see the end of this article This is Dec. 8th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th

David Wall with Daria Klimentova +iPod

I’ve forgotten quite how terrible my first attempts at playing for class were nearly 20 years ago, and what forms that terribleness took. What I do remember, though, as if it only happened this morning, was the effect it had on one of the poor sods I was playing for. I think David Wall, who was a director (with Julia Farron) of the RAD at the time, must have suffered my playing once or twice in silence, but this time, he couldn’t hide his impatience any longer. When I saw him coming towards me in the corridor after the class, I was absolutely terrified. He seemed to be shaking, sweating and glowering, as if one false move on my part would have made him punch my lights out.

I can’t remember anything that he said, but the upshot was that I was crap at playing for class, and he couldn’t stand it any longer, and the dancers just couldn’t cope with music if it was going to be that bad, and that I should get together with Annie Hogben (another pianist) and get her to show me what kind of things she played for class, and let me photocopy some of it. When I got home that night, and a couple of other nights too, I burst into tears. It can’t really have been as bad as I read it – for one thing, David is one of the most mild-mannered and easy-going people I know – but that’s how it seemed.

Annie Hogben will feature in a later advent entry, but suffice it to say that I couldn’t have been put in better hands. I learned one huge lesson that day, which was that music actually matters to dancers. It’s not a question of ‘appreciating’ music, or liking it, or having a penchant for it – they darn well need it to be right. When it’s wrong, it’s not just annoying, it’s physically painful & distressing. When it’s right, dancer’s don’t necessarily thank you, any more than they thank their heart for beating. Only when it’s more than right does it begin to make a difference, which is why playing for dance is at once so challenging and so gratifying. ‘Good enough’ is never good enough. I probably owe most of my career to David’s apparent impatience, and for that introduction to Annie Hogben. Within a few months of that incident, David & Julia were encouraging me to go for a company pianist job. As Verlaine once put it so beautifully, Qu’importe un peu de nuit et de souffrance?

The story of the photograph

I was playing for a rehearsal with Daria Klimentova today, and asked if I could take a picture of her with her arm-mounted iPod Nano which she uses for practising & doing her own classes with (I’m pleased to say she has Studio Series Intuition Vol. 3 in there at the ready). By spooky coincidence it is almost exactly a year ago that II asked the editor of Dance Gazette to commission a cartoon showing a ballerina strangling herself with an iPod, to use as an illustration for an article. The real thing (minus the strangling, of course) would have been much better, and as chance would have it, the real thing was right there in front of me today. As will become evident in another entry, I pick up nearly all my technology tips from dancers, so it’s nice that this is a picture of Daria explaining to David what is so useful about iPods when you want to practise your solos alone. David is asking the inevitable question – “but what about the tempo?”. Click here for a much better picture of Daria + iPOd, which she took herself the next day – my batteries ran out at the crucial moment.


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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist