Rarely does ballet combine with all-you-can-eat buffets, but the eccentricity of the combination made for a particularly memorable Ertegun evening one cold February night last term. Knowing in advance that an early buffet dinner awaited them, many scholars, including myself, kept their breakfasts and lunches light in preparation for an early-dinner feast. We descended into the basement dining hall of Cosmo – a restaurant which many of us pass every day on our way to the Ertegun House but have never had occasion to visit – and were stunned by the range and quantity of food that greeted us. After a day of concentrated scholarly activities, nothing replenishes brainpower better than a chocolate fountain!
Conversations over dinner were typically wide-ranging, but much of what we spoke about revolved around the ballet: for many of us this was the first ballet outing of our lives. The performance we saw was Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ put on by the Russian State Ballet of Siberia. Throughout the show, which was both dramatic and graceful, I found myself reflecting on the strangeness of this art form. The athleticism of the ballerinas on the main stage was gripping and awe-inspiring, but I could not tear my eyes away from the orchestra in front of the stage. I derived particular pleasure from observing the preparations of one gentleman who doubled up as both drummer and cymbalist. In order to keep his many sticks and snares of different shapes and sizes in places where he would know to find them when needed, the man would carefully put them away in their own boxes, pouches and wraps after each number. He was a picture of organisation, and I found myself appreciating the logistical achievement of the music – a delicate art of its own – as much as the music itself.
In contrast with the openness of the cymbalist-drummer’s preparations, another recurring thought of mine was of the concealment involved in ballet. Behind the beauty of the dancing, I could not get out of my head an image which I had seen many years ago of the bruised and misshapen foot and toes of a ballerina alongside an image of her shod foot, where the injuries where unnoticeable. Thoughts of the ballerinas’ painful training, no doubt from a very young age, took my musings to Russia, where the troupe was from. Having spent much time studying in Russia, I am well aware of the cultural importance and history that ballet possesses in the country, and I can only imagine the sacrifices that the ballerinas had no doubt made to get to perform in such a highly regarded show. There is one thing we can be sure of: they definitely are not in the habit of going to all-you-can-eat buffets!