But there’s another theatre rule that says that you can never predict which performance will be the best in the series. The premiere may come just a little too early, if the rehearsal period has been too short. A second cast can be so surprising and fresh that they eventually surpass the premiere cast. The production can lose quality over a succession of performances, for example if the performers become increasingly less able to disguise their feelings that it isn’t the strongest of pieces. Or the leading principal can be hampered by injury. So there are plenty of factors that can make every performance unpredictable.
And then there’s the audience too. Because a great performance is made together. If the ‘house’ is enjoying themselves, that’s reflected on stage. And that, in turn, puts the audience in an even better mood. How this actually works is, of course, a mystery. For instance, the ‘house’ on Friday evening 13 May, in Sadler’s Wells, London, consisted of 1400 people. 1400 individuals who really hadn’t agreed with one another beforehand that they would be extra receptive to a wonderful evening of ballet. But it can happen that a sort of collective turmoil arises spontaneously in such circumstances; a feeling that everyone who was present will recognise afterwards, but of which there was no sign at the start of the performance. That’s the magic of theatre.
Friday was just such an evening. With hindsight, it could be concluded that this second performance was the best of the three; performed just that little bit more perfectly, with just that little bit more enthusiasm from the audience in reward. It was a truly wonderful feeling. And yet there were no extravagant festivities after the show on Friday. Because tomorrow another show awaits. London isn’t finished yet. There’ll be another full house in Sadler’s Wells on Saturday evening. And the dancers are fully aware of that other golden theatre rule, which says that you’re only as good as your last performance.
When we land at Schiphol on Sunday afternoon, Ajax have just become the Dutch champions. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the Museumplein to welcome the stars of the best football club of the Netherlands. The homecoming of our stars, the best ballet dancers of our country, goes unnoticed. This, however, does not diminish our sense of victory.
On Monday, the champions of London have a free day. Then back to normal, with a performance in Maastricht on Tuesday and one in Arnhem on Wednesday. After all, Hans van Manen needs to be seen everywhere, even in towns that suddenly look like pixie villages after London. But perhaps there’ll be yet another special evening there too. Who knows? That’s what makes theatre so beautiful. The knowledge that ‘it’ can happen at any moment, and if not now then at least some other time.< blog archive