Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ballet Balkan style.

One of the things I love about living in a different country is that it is often unpredictable, often surprising, & it encourages flexibility & adaptability (as well as tolerance & resilience of course)
Everyday life is interesting just because the way of life is different, habits, routines, behaviour is different & is a reminder that, whilst people are pretty much the same the world over, their way of doing things or dealing with things is very varied.

Here in Albania there is the more Mediterranean pattern; of afternoons being very quiet & quite deserted, as people take a siesta-style break in the middle of the day. In the early evenings everyone goes out for a walk, to see, be seen, 'take the air, enjoy the cool of the day in summer, & meet up with friends. Children are all up till all hours because they sleep in the afternoons.

Then there is the more Balkan pattern; of conversation sounding like heated arguments, business being done over long coffees in caf├ęs, horns blaring if cars don't shoot into action the minute the lights turn green, people telling you very directly it's time you got married, had another child, lost some weight etc. Albania has always been, & continues to be very much a mish mash, & certainly 'a law unto itself' - in more ways than several....
This struck me afresh at the week end when we went to our 2 children's ballet performance in the National Theatre of Opera & Ballet. Both our two have been having ballet lessons once a week. The ballet teacher had agreed to compromise her (to our eyes 'communist' style) intensive ballet lessons which are normally (& for all Albanian children ) 3 times a week for 1.5 hrs each time.

They have been working towards a performance of the Nutcracker & other pieces. Our two were desperate to perform on the 'very' stage they had seen the Nutcracker on at Christmas, done by an Albanian & Italian mixed ballet troupe. Turns out this ballet teacher, Moza, Albania's most famous former ballerina, teaches about 200 children, as well as a lot of girls & a few boys in their teens & twenties, several of whom are on scholarships to Italy but came back for the performance.

And it was a truly Albanian cultural experience. It lasted 2 ½ hours, with several interludes of long speeches detailing Moza's illustrious career as a former ballerina, lauding her teaching credentials & praising her multiplicitous achievements.

At the beginning there was quite a scramble & not a few rather heated discussions over seating, despite the fact that it was 'free seating', there were people with no tickets at all, insisting they had rights to sit in certain seats, there was the hapless, but fairly inconsiderate, TV cameraman who tried to set up right in our line of sight, slap in the middle of the audience seating. My husband gesticulated at him & said, 'We can't see actually, that's not awfully helpful being there, can't you go somewhere else please?' but, almost immediately, one large Albanian, with an even larger camera, waded in with a tirade about this camera man's position, who was half heartedly waving his video pass at him claiming rights to be there. He clearly hadn't reckoned with irate parents, never mind irate Albanian parents whose view was blocked. The angry Albanian parent kept this up until the cameraman slunk off to the back & tucked himself apologetically into the side aisle, to record this event for national TV.

The audience was nothing if not appreciative of their little darlings & the skills of the older performers. There was fairly constant applause, gasps, & oohs of admiration. Nevertheless there was also fairly constant activity; people were getting up & moving out of their seats mid performance, mid dance even; the guy behind us spent much of the performance on his mobile phone conducting a conversation in what could hardly be described as 'sotto voce', whilst filming his beloved daughter all the while.
The family in front of us broke open their picnic & started passing the byrek along the row (a pastry style Albanian fast food).

This picture only shows about a quarter of the dancers, & was taken before general mayhem broke out. it also only shows about a fifth of the costumes. The main performers & many of the children had about 5 changes of costumes unbelieveably.

At the end, as the entire troupe took their bows, after the 50-something, now rather plump, former ballerina herself had rather bizarrely performed a little routine with her fellow Italian director, several mums rushed on stage to take closer pictures, or hug their children. All the children started spontaneously chanting 'Moza, Moza' & one very tiny ballerina rushed up to 'Moza' to hug her, round the knees, whereupon pandemonium broke loose & all the little girls rushed up to hug Moza & she disappeared in a cloud of frothy pink & yellow tulle (well more likely nylon actually). Certainly not communist style in that regard, she was quite obviously adored by all her little pupils. And also quite clearly loved what she did, & loved to dance.

And it was even on the Albanian national news the next day. In fact at the market today, I was buying a bag of rocket from my usual supplier & it was the 1st time he had met my children so he was asking about their age & school etc & then he suddenly recognised my son & said he had seen him on TV in the ballet! My son was in all of about 15 minutes of this 2 /12 hr performance though he did have a solo performance, but still amazing he was recognised. Being a boy amidst a swarm of girl ballerinas (& with blonde curly hair in a Balkan/Mediterranean country) he certainly stands out more. He had all the Albanian 13 yr old ballet girls clucking over him & ruffling his hair, so several mums told me. Just as well he has had nearly 5 years of cheek pinching, hair touching & general staring to get used to the attention. Fortunately he takes it in his stride & it doesn't phase him any more. However, being on TV, AND being recognised , as 'the blonde ballet dancer' just chuffed him to bits. Not enough to make him want to continue though, he tells me he is 'hanging up his ballet shoes' for good now.

After all when you have danced on the stage at the National theatre & been on TV where else is there to go?


PantsWithNames said...

Really the only way is down from here on in. hope he is ready and prepared for it. (can you tell I've been back in Britain for a while, the British attitude is starting to make a come back in our house - sigh). When are you back in England? Really looking forward to meeting you and asking whether byrek are the same as burek. x

London City Mum said...

Oh brilliant. Worthy of its own TV series alone I think! With you as producer of course.


Mwa said...

Very colourful. And what an experience for your children to look back on!

Sarah (Chez Lee) said...

Bravo indeed! What a wonderful event and how brilliantly you retell it.

Inaie said...

Love it!!