Ballet Club strikes again

My friend Catherine and I are developing a taste for the art of ballet, particularly classical ballet – the one where delicate ballerinas in white tutus and pink pointe shoes do pirouettes and danseurs in tights hold them in the air. 
Recently a friend of mine informed me that visiting ballet had become very trendy, mainly among mature audiences. I am delighted to hear that Catherine and I are trendy and not so sure about the maturity.

The performing company is the Varna International Ballet – the troupe is visiting Bournemouth as part of their 75-year anniversary tour of the UK.

Varna is a city on the North East cost of the Bulgarian Black Sea. It hosts the Varna State Opera House and the well-established annual Varna International Ballet Competition.

The Varna ballet troupe is international. Bulgarian presence is limited to the role of Berthe, Giselle’s mother and one ballerina in the Corps de ballet.
The Bournemouth Pavilion theatre is not completely full, there are noticeable empty seats. A possible explanation is the performance of the more popular Swan Lake the following evening. 

Still, the atmosphere is electric and the audience is enthusiastic. There are many mature ladies around. Two of them are openly flirting with the bartender in the Circle bar, another loud group of six take seats on the first row of the stalls and energetically flirt with the flamboyant conductor. I wonder if that is what our friend meant about the mature interest in ballet. 
Our seats are perfect, second row from the stage. I find the design of the orchestra box ridiculous, The public cannot see the orchestra or the body of the conductor but his head sticks out like the head of a scarecrow.
Next to us is a beautiful young girl who I suspect is Bulgarian. Near miss, she is Turkish. She studied art in her home land and now works in the family restaurant in Charminster. She comes to the ballet in her day off. 

The show is called Giselle. It is a classic ballet in two acts. The music was created by the French composer Adolphe Adam. Giselle is a romantic fairytale about the life-saving power of love. 
The ballet group tells us the story in an elegant and expressive manner. 
The first act is alluring but the real knockout is the second act. It is exquisite and mystique, wonderful and engaging. 
The choreography is superb, the technique – flawless. The costumes and the decors convey the aesthetic of the narrative. The show even uses modern technology to present the spirits of the Wilis (young virgins who died before their wedding day) in the second Act.

The audience sincerely congratulate the artists and orchestra (special applause for the conductor from you know who). The ballet alters our mundane day with a spark of love and magic and lifts us up.

Catherine and I promise our Turkish neighbour that we will visit her restaurant on the days she works there. Yes, we need to book a table as the restaurant is very busy. That is not a surprise – with a waitress who studied art and visits ballet this restaurant should be great at staff recruitment. 
How will our ballet delight continue? Being very fond of the music of Tchaikovsky I am going to book tickets for The Nutcracker.

In the paradise of mass tourism

What is your favourite holiday during the winter? If it is to lie on a sunny beach when it is freezing cold at home, this post is for you. 
The holiday destination is Tenerife. 
The main reason for choosing it is the convenient proximity of Bournemouth airport.
From the moment Adrian and I enter its terminal the capable and unattractive face of the mass tourism welcome us.
Our departure is early morning on a Saturday. Long queues for check-in are already formed in the airport hall which resembles a huge tent. 
Three young officers take their places at the check-in stations. Their bodies and minds appear sleepy, suffering to be at work. Yet, they are very efficient. They perform their tasks quickly, methodically and professionally. In no time the long check-in queues are transformed into queues for the security checks, then for breakfast and later for boarding the plane. 
The aircraft is basic and cold, but it takes off on time and lands on time at the Reina Sofia Airport. The journey feels like being on a conveyor belt – in, out, job done. 
The Tenerife sun congratulates us. It smiles through the clouds and lightens the azure sea. 
20 mins later we are delivered to the hotel by a petite, delicate female driver who lifts our suitcases like Arnold Schwarzenegger. 
The hotel is on the beach promenade and is huge. 
An incredible amount of people wonder around the hotel foyer, the other facilities and the strangely shaped pool outside.
A businesslike receptionist puts yellow bands on our wrists to indicate that breakfast is part of the deal.
Efficient and unpleasant. 
The island of Tenerife is volcanic.
Despite this background the island is a prime example of what business acumen can achieve. The tourism industry here is conducive to all tastes and wallets. The black sand beaches are covered with colourful sunbeds and umbrellas. 

Cafes, restaurants and clubs, shops and stalls offer everything the tourists could possibly wish for. 
People working in this industry speak many languages, and seem shrewd and hardworking.
Supermarkets’ shelves are full of goods including tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces. 
Police patrols in cars and on motorcycles are often to be seen. 
This exuberant island grows on you. The sense of being sluggish slowly changes to a subtle inclination to step up your game. Summer in winter is not an illusion.
It is more where you find it – in the gentle sense of contentment, in the feeling of laziness, or in the compulsion to join the surfing classes or viking boat trips. 
You may prefer people watching  with a San Francisco con alcohol cocktail in hand – observing the parade of all shapes and colours of bodies, proudly exposing themself to their holiday peers.
Or you may seek the intense dramas in the night clubs or short-lived romances. 
All the time the Sun holds you in its warm cuddle and 
the sea invites you to celebrate vitality. 
Summer in winter.

Decision to be indecisive

According to western astrology, people born between 22nd September and 23rd October each year belong to the sign of Libra. This sign is perceived as the Hamlet of the zodiac – Libra people are often described as indecisive. Clearly, indecisiveness is painted in a negative way which brands Libra characters quite weak and undesirable to have around. 
Despite popular opinion, let’s look beneath and beyond the labels and stereotypes. The trait of being indecisive usually involves three states of affairs: avoiding decisions, taking an incredibly long time to make decisions and being anxious about making the right decisions. 
1. Libra takes a long time to make decisions. 
Libra is an intellectual sign, very analytical, capable of objectively seeing and assessing all sides of the situation/problem. 
Libra knows that decisions have consequences (sometimes beyond their control), therefore they are determined to make smart decisions. This is impossible without collecting all the facts and listening to all the parties which requires time.
In this era of instant gratification, if you are annoyed with the time Libra takes to reach the verdict just agree on a reasonable deadline – the decision will be delivered on time by Libra.
2. Libra avoids making decisions. 
Do not be fooled – Libra is a cardinal sign, a sign of initiative, of moving forward. Libra people boldly and confidently make important, life-changing decisions. 
Still, they know that mental energy is limited. Frequent usage of the restricted reservoir of cognitive vitality for small, trivial decisions depletes it. Libra people steer clear of decision fatigue and apply the principle of  “choosing your battles”. 
They gracefully and charmingly will leave you to make every-day resolutions such as where to eat, how to shop, what movies to see. They are masters of discrimination. 
3. Libra worries about making the right decision. 
One thing needs to be clear here – Libras do not worry about arriving at the right conclusions because they are perfectionists. This is the realm of the Virgo zodiac sign.
Libra is the sign of justice and fairness. Libras want to reach a settlement that is fair to everyone involved because they posses amazing ingenuity to build relationships and import peace. 
All that sounds excellent, yet you are not convinced that it is Libra’s decision to be indecisive. You have experienced the suffering of the stuck-in-the-indecision Libras and the tiring wait for their decisions. I have a magical tip for you (the original idea is not mine) that works without fail. 
Libra is a sign of harmony who strives for happiness and balance.  So, invite “indecisive “Libras to flip a coin in order to resolve a situation. 
As crazy as it sounds Libras will do it. 
Their  motivation lies in the realisation that decisions and the changes that come with them lead to satisfaction as opposed to the discontent of decision-procrastinating and evasion.
Psychological studies have confirmed this and you already know Libra checks all the facts before deciding. 

Love story or a story of imperfection

On 3rd February my ballet buddy Catherine and I attended the Swan Lake performance by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Mayflower theatre in Southampton. 
The nearby car park was full. A long, but fast-moving queue led us to the theatre entrance and another to the desk to buy a programme. The foyer was packed with people chatting happily. I spotted many opera coats, silk dresses and velvet jackets and trousers. 
Catherine and I were breathing this air of exciting anticipation. People like love stories and ballerinas, but for me I love the music of Tchaikovsky above everything else. Its amazing ingenuity and divine flow is out of this world. 
The original libretto of Swan Lake presented a romantic story with a tragic end. 
The young Prince Siegfield went hunting and saw a beautiful swan near a mystical lake which transformed into a stunning girl at midnight. That was Princess Odette. She was cursed by the evil sorcerer Baron von Rothbart and became a swan along with her companions. The Prince fell in love with the innocent Princess and declared his forever love to her. 
But the sun was rising and the cursed Princess had to change back to a swan and fly. 
The Prince was truly in love, yet the evil did not sleep. Baron von Rothbart presented his daughter Odile, disguised as Odette, to the Prince at the ball in the castle. The black swan Odile tempted and passionately seduced the Prince. 
This was a game-changer because the curse upon Odette could only be broken if the Prince was faithfully in love with only her. When the Prince realised what he had done, he and Odette jumped into the lake and drowned. 
The audience did not like this ending so the libretto was changed and different shows offer different endings. 
The Birmingham ballet chose the tragic exit. The Prince was forgiven by Odette and they both disappeared into the lake. Their unconditional love lifted the spell from the swans.
The audience in the Mayflower theatre was so captivated by the show that at the crucial moments of the ballet the only sound I could hear was my own breath and the tapping of ballet shoes on the stage.
Swan Lake was performed for the first time by the Imperial Ballet of the Bolshoi Theatre in the 19th century during the era of romanticism. Looking at the narrative through the glasses of the 21st century I feel that this beautiful story is about acceptance. 
Self-acceptance and a true acceptance of people we love. We love to love with pure, devoted and innocent love but we also want to experience passionate, adventurous seduction.
Baron Rothbart is not the external evil, he is actually the inner complexity of Prince Siegfried’s soul and it is up to him to find a way to deal with it. But the first steps are self-awareness and self-acceptance.
We all have light and darkness inside, impulses of destruction and renewal and dealing with these forces is part of human nature. It seems to me that 
The white Odette and the dark Odile live all the time inside our lovers and even though we find it difficult to believe they make the person whole. 
As hard as it is, when we accept that human nature is far from perfect, love becomes invincible and a fact of life.

Indulge in pleasure

At the end of January it feels like winter goes on forever. One way of dealing with the end-of-winter blues is to have a spa day. Even better if the spa day voucher is the present left under the Christmas tree by your loving husband.
The best spa in the local area, by far, is Chewton Glen. Chewton Glen is a luxury country hotel situated between Highcliffe and New Milton. 
The most appealing feature of the spa is its spaciousness. The swimming pool hall is roomy, with natural light coming from huge windows and  the ceiling is high. It radiates an atmosphere of relaxation. However, the Chewton Glen spa was recently renovated and I do not fully appreciate the results. The walls were painted white and although the colour enhances the dimensions it reminds me of a hospital. The previous design, in the style of Roman baths, was better for me but let’s put that in the category of personal taste.
The spa bar is comfortable with a stunning view across the gardens. The breakfast is healthy and, importantly, the bartender is Italian. He makes an excellent espresso coffee, which ensures the day kicks off very well. Lunch is served until 15.30.
The changing room is a gem – it contains all the provisions and equipment needed and also has a steam room, sauna, cold drenches and a feet jacuzzi. Here you can spend hours detoxing, healing and energising yourself. The standard of hygiene is very high and it is maintained consistently during the day.
The swimming pool is 17m long and the area is surrounded by snuggly beds. The pool does not have lanes, and at particular times of the day can be overcrowded. Around 11.00 an instructor gives a water aerobic class attended by 6 to 8 ladies. 
The real sense of adventure comes when you go to the jacuzzi outside the hotel. The air is cold and fresh, the water is pleasantly hot. The pressure streams gently massage all areas of the body that need more oxygen and blood. 

Inside, in a spacious conservatory, there is a very big jacuzzi. Nearby are heated beds where you can lie and feel the heat on your lower back and knees. 
This jacuzzi has many sections. There are benches and beds with water pressure massaging your whole body. Other sections direct the water pressure towards your legs, your core muscles or your neck and shoulders. You can focus on all your aches and pains and ease them in the most enjoyable way. 

There is always an idiot in the jacuzzi. They stay upright under the pressure water for the neck and shoulders and splash it all over other people until they finally realise what they are doing or the most impatient spa user enlightens them. 
My favourite treatment is the full body massage. This time the treatment room is very disappointing. It is just unpleasant. It reminds me of what the Americans call a “closet”. However, the treatment is very good and the passion fruit sorbet at the end of the procedure is tasty. 
I leave Chewton Glen around 17.00. My body, mind and spirit feel a very pleasant type of tiredness. I can face the rest of the winter now. Spring will be here soon!

The most miserable day of the year – does it exist?

 It is winter, it is January. It is freezing cold, it is dark and it is miserable. Spring is miles away. 
Some years ago I read in the newspapers that the third Monday of January was known as  Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. I miscalculated and thought that tomorrow, 23rd January is Blue Monday 2023. 
The story behind Blue Monday is enlightening. In 2005 a travel agency called Sky Travel used the concept of the most depressing day of the year as part of their marketing strategy.
The travel agency claimed that the day was calculated using the formula:  
where W is for weather, D – debts, d – monthly salary, T – time since Christmas, Q – time since failed quit attempt, M – low motivational levels and NA- need to take action.
The media liked the idea and Blue Monday became news and 18 years later it still is. 
This year the story has a different flavour. The journalists questioned whether the formula has a scientific basis. It appears that the travel agency prepared the statement about Blue Monday in 2004 and offered it to a few professional psychologists to approve it for money. Some declined but one of them Cliff Arnall from Cardiff University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning signed it. It also appeared that the same Cliff Arnall is now campaigning  against the concept of Blue Monday on Twitter.
The answer the journalists received from the professional psychologists when they asked about the calculation was – the formula is  “nonsense”. I am inclined to agree with them and wonder whether the blooming health and wellness industry is there to help us or to make money for some  people. 
However, as I said, my calculation that 23rd January is the most depressing day of 2023 is wrong. 16th January has the honour and I recall what I was doing on that day. Would you believe it – Adrian and I went to a travel agency and booked trip to North America in May. The agency was very busy and the pleasant travel agent explained to us that they are inundated with people phoning to book their holiday.
So Sky Travel and newspapers sensed in 2005 that the idea of Blue Monday reflected something that we all experience at this time of year – we are craving for the sun. 

Moreover, there are 2 million people in the UK that struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  SAD has symptoms similar to depression such as low mood, lethargy, lost interest in hobbies, irritability, sleeping longer and finding it difficult to get up, putting on weight and a decreasing sex drive. 
Even though the formula is speculative and not scientifically proven I think the media do good by broadcasting it every year. It raises awareness of the fact that the reduced exposure to sunlight during the short and dark autumn and winter days affects us. So, we can do something about it? 

Sophie May – a rising star

8th January is a cold, rainy, unpleasant day. Adrian (the famous music lover) and I travel to the Absolute Music Studio in Poole.
The angle of Adrian’s eyebrows speaks volumes so I keep my thoughts to myself. Monotony and predictability in our lives are necessary evils and although they provide security and safety they rarely nourish our souls. 
But music does. 
The Absolute Music Studio organises open gigs most Sundays to promote talent. Inside, the cafe is surprisingly cosy and full of musicians and their groupies . The stage is lit by colourful lights and the atmosphere is exuberant. The bar serves espresso coffee in the cutest espresso cups possible.

Adrian and I are here to support Sophie May. 

Sophie May is a young, beautiful girl. She works full time in a demanding managerial job during the week. She also sings and dances. She practices every day after work. Her family are very supportive and her boyfriend Leon is devoted to her musical career. They are all among the expectant audience. 

Now it is Sophie May’s turn. She is introduced, a moment of silence and off she goes. Oh my God, this girl is the real deal. Her voice is powerful, she radiates effortless creativity and exhibits an  amazing combination of passion and control. The magic happens and the audience is captivated. 
Behind her impressive performance are years of training and development. Sophie May’s grandmother lived her whole life on stage and her love for music and dance was infectious. Sophie was 2 years old when her grandmother encouraged her to appear on stage in the performance of Bad Day at Black Frog Creek. That was followed by joining the Stage Door School of Dance and Drama at the age of 3 followed by singing tuition with a teacher from Absolute Music from the age of 10. 

Sophie’s portfolio includes performing as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, show casting on the stage in the Bournemouth Pavilion Pantomimes, singing at Madding Crowd Club, Bournemouth and St.Peter’s Church, Parkstone, Poole. 
Sophie sings her three songs: “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys, “Make you feel my love” by Adele and “Always remember us this way” by Lady Gaga.  The audience is clapping and cheering. Adrian is smiling and on the way home we are chatting happily about music, musical genres, great singers and the pleasure of witnessing a young and very promising talent. 
I once asked Sophie about the path ahead of her and she did not hesitate for a second “ to follow my dream”. I would not be surprised if the dream leads to the West End stage. Sophie knows that she has a talent and nurturing and developing it is something she owes to herself. She does not want to look back on her life and regret that she did not give it her best. 
I want so much to tell her that the dream journey, the journey of personal growth as part of joie de vivre is wonderful and the concept of “failure” is impossible.
Because life is about being alive not about just being. 

On the first day of the New Year

The New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is exclusive. For me, it brings the nostalgia and the joy of the childhood. The concert was broadcast by National Television when I was a child and every year on Ist January I watched it with my sister. The orchestra was world-class, the conductor was an international distinguish conductor and the venue – Musikverein – was outstanding. 
People say, the first day of the year indicates how the year will go. The New Year’s concert in Vienna and the joyful music of the Strauss Dynasty always brought hope and a sense of a vie est rose. 
I have not watched the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra concert for ages. 4 years ago I attempted to re-create the euphoria by attending a New Year’s Day concert in the Lighthouse in Poole. The concert was a disappointment which I kept to myself in order not to discourage my husband from joining me in my musical adventures. 
A new opportunity arose recently. The Barbican Centre in London offered an afternoon New Year concert performed by the London Concert Orchestra. 
First impressions – the Barbican Centre building is ugly. Its architectural style is called brutalist as it emphasises the raw materials (concrete) to the detriment of fine finishes and decorations. The foyer is full of mature people holding glasses of wine in their hands. Later I was enlightened  that  every ticket holder was entitled to a free glass of wine – a great marketing trick to ensure attendance and a jolly mood in the concert hall. The cafes and the restaurant are unappealing with long queues in all of them. 

The actual concert hall is huge. There are nearly 2000 seats spread on three levels and they are all  taken. The orchestra musicians seemed tired to me, their shirts and jackets creased and no smiles on their faces. The conductor explained that the orchestra played in Birmingham the night before and travelled to London in the morning.

The concert begins, beautiful music fills the air and everything changes. Musicians are good.The conductor Anthony Ingles is the master of the ceremony. He not only skilfully conducts the orchestra but his dry sense of humour appeals to the audience.
Suddenly Nicole Kidman enters the stage. Wait a minute, she is not Nicole Kidman, she is soprano Sky Ingram. Like Nicole Kidman, Sky is Australian, she is tall, slim with beautiful curly hair. Sky has an amazing voice. She is accompanied by the tenor Robyn Lyn Evans who brought the audience  to their feet with his performance of Nessun Dorma. 
Some tricks to engaging the audience (from The Proms) follow – we are led by the conductor to perform specific moves, to sing as a choir and to clap to the rhythm of the music. The tricks work very well. 2000 people are clapping, moving, laughing and enjoying themselves. The mood is uplifted. It is a real delight to watch the sea of smiley faces. 
And that is great because Adrian, our friends Catherine and Paul and I are going again to the Barbican centre on 22nd April to watch Gustavo Dudamel conducting the orchestra of Opera National de Paris. Cannot wait. 

Making memories at New Year’s Eve

Usually New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are the times for making our New Year’s resolutions. The resolutions are supposed to change us in a positive way – “New Year, new me”. 
I would suggest a different approach – make memories before making resolutions. 
Adrian (my husband and a distinguished art and music lover) and I decided to make New Year memories in London. 
The best place for that was the City area around the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. 
In the late afternoon on 31st December we were sitting in the All Bar One on Great Tower Street. The weather was gloomy, raining constantly. From my seat I could see through the window and the amber lights of festive decorations the mystical contours of the Tower of London and the brightly lit Tower Bridge. The picture in front of my eyes was stunningly beautiful and breath taking. My heart was full of appreciation of life and beauty even though Adrian expertly said that I was easily pleased.  
Later we went to our favourite restaurant, Wright Brothers, in Borough Market. The fish and seafood restaurant is a charming place, offering excellent food and great service from a hard-working international team. Without them this memory wouldn’t be possible. The restaurant is very cosy and cleverly designed. The atmosphere is informal, friendly and festive. The clienele were also international  – next to us at the bar was an interesting eccentric Dutch couple. 
Around 23.00 the crowd began moving towards London Bridge in order to watch the fireworks. London is really cosmopolitan – I could hear all the languages in the world around us. We were all there for the same reason – to enjoy the anticipation that something new, something positive was on the way to meet us. Only two more seconds and the hope would be reality. No, No, please,  wait for a moment, one more shot on my iPhone….
The counting on the Shard tower began and then 0 appeared and the New Year arrived – new wishes, new opportunities, new us. Kisses, love words, champagne. Could the moment last a bit longer. 
I am writing this two days later and the quiet content in my soul is telling me that despite the benefits of mindful practice the memories we made this New Year’s Eve will be evoked and treasured in the years to come. 

The luck of having a big sister

I do not know whether there is  a statistic of how many people in the world have a big sister. At Christmas time I hope there are many. Having a big sister is the greatest luck in the world. 

1. Having a big sister means you have someone who cares and protects you for the rest of your life. One of the first things I remember as a little girl was my mum saying to my sister that she must look after me and not allow anyone to upset or hurt me. Big sisters grow up quickly, they mature early because they are responsible for caring and nurturing the annoying little sibling from a very young age. Do not get me wrong – they have their revenge later in life when a stranger looks at the two sisters and innocently asks “Excuse me, who is the oldest one?” and points to the younger one “Probably you!”. The big smile on my sister’s face was unforgettable.

2. You have someone who you trust implicitly. Your big sister knows everything about you  – your strengths, your weaknesses, your eccentricities, fears and deep insecurities. She knows your triumphs and your failures, your secrets and your desires. You can tell her anything and you know that it is safe, it is secure and you can be who you are without any pretence or facades. 
And you know that your trustworthy big sister has your best interest in her heart. She would strongly encourage you to read the most interesting book all night and pretend that you were asleep when your parents checked on you. Or she would lift your mood straightaway by insisting that divas usually live in Los Angelis, that prima donnas are in the La Scala or dramas are shot in Bollywood so why not skip the nonsense and come down to earth. In any case, a walk will help.
3. Lastly, my big sister is my role model. It is not surprising that she is a Capricorn zodiac sign – the sign of the mountain goat who never gives up and reaches the peak of the mountain where no-one has been before. 

I was two years behind my sister at school and that was great for me. She was an excellent student and had a brilliant reputation. So I felt like a “nepo baby” – fully relying on the reputation of my celebrity sister. Until disaster struck. I will always remember my teacher of physics in secondary school who looked straight into my eyes and said – “ Nina, you have a long way to go to level up with your big sister”. I am still on the road. 

Happy Birthday to my big beautiful and clever sister!