Good feelings

Classic ballet-dancer

Image via Wikipedia

At my nieces insistence I went along on Sunday to watch her ballet performance at the National Theatre in St Kilda. She was one of hundreds of girls – and a dozen or so boys – who performed on the day. The youngest was perhaps 4, the eldest somewhere around 17, and between them they danced in different styles from classical ballet to hip hop over 2 hours.

My niece was one of the youngest there, just 5. She loves her ballet. She’s the youngest in her class, and just about the smallest, but when given the option insisted she wanted to stay with the older girls. For their performance her class were dressed in pink tutus dancing along to a romantic piece that sounded like it had been penned by one of the Stausses.

It’s hard not to feel yourself swayed by these happy children on stage. Most of them are far from expert, but all of them are so committed to the performance, to giving their best. It’s clear that for all of them this is a joyous activity. Their faces are serious as they concentrate, recalling to mind the steps they have so diligently practiced, or else when memory fades following the girl in front – this is what Schae did. At times a smile will peep out, or a small giggle escape. Watching it’s hard not to smile yourself at these small, earnest but happy people. All of us are barracking hard for them – parents, grandparents, uncles – and not just because they are family. It is a genuine delight to watch these children blossom under the lights on stage. Sometimes we’ll laugh as something goes wrong, two girls collide perhaps, a child waving from the stage, the uninhibited skipping of one of them. At one point a small girl was left on the wrong side of the curtain as it came down. Exposed to view under the spotlights and all alone she started to wail trying to get under the heavy curtain while we laughed with affection. Soon enough the curtain was thrust aside and she returned to her friends.

Ballet is not my caper even when it’s adult and professional practitioners on stage. The craft is not about to seduce me, though I was greatly impressed the staging, the costumes, the choreography, and many of the performances. All that is secondary really to the reality that we are watching junior versions of ourselves on stage finding their way. I was moved by the beauty of these innocent children, empowered by the performance they had been tasked to execute. They were so proud and happy, as were their families. These were great and unforgettable moments in their young lives. To share in that gave me a sense of what it was like; I recalled for moments that particular innocence of just doing and being. My feelings were common I think, and a sense of shared community came from it. We were all on the same page.

I love my niece Schae. She is an intelligent and very wilful child. She is unrestrained, mostly in the best ways. Later we walked down the street hand in hand – she loves her Buppa too. On Acland Street there are paving stones decorated with different patterns. Upon stepping onto one of these stones she would proclaim at the top of her voice “hearts” or “stars” or whatever the decoration was. Holding her hand I noticed at a table nearby two women looking upon her uninhibited pleasure with delight. They seem transported too, taken from themselves, the conversation about everyday things and the coffee in front of them, and given a glimpse into the happy world of children. And parents too, I imagine. I found myself hoping they took me for her father. Now that would be a good feeling.

Homage to childhood

I watched Super 8 last night and found it an enjoyable, fun piece of typical Spielberg, though given the J.J. Abrams treatment. Fun as it was it’s a pretty disposable piece of entertainment meant to be enjoyed in the moment without leaving any real residual effect. Most movies are like that.

For me, and for others for all I know, there was one small exception to that fact, which leads me comment upon it today.

Much of Spielberg’s stuff plays upon our nostalgic sensibilities. At times it can become a bit much, veering into schmaltzy sentimentality, which I think is an American trait. Done well though it hits the mark, evoking in those of us who can relate a sense of fond remembrance. As many of his movies are filmed from a child’s perspective the viewers childhood is often recalled with a warm, fuzzy glow. I think Spielberg makes movies because he has yet to lose the wonder and awe which is such a feature of growing up, and sometimes we get to share in it.

Such as it was last night for me. The story and action of the movie was fine, but what really set me thinking was the relationships between the young teenage kids in the film and the various typical shenanigans they got up to. I didn’t grow up in a small Ohio town in America, and my experience of childhood was different – but in many of the basic intangible elements not so different.

I think one of the reasons that Australia and the US have such a strong bond is that for all our differences – and we are different personalities – there is also much we can relate to in the other. Both our countries are large and sprawling, and our histories feature frontiers being extended. By and large our cultures are robust, and have a sense of the outdoors. I know myself watching so many American movies over the years, from Stand By Me to E.T. to Super 8, that so much is familiar to my experience of growing up: the outdoors, riding bikes, playing sports, building treehuts, knocking around with my mates, the sunshine, the pool or beach, the girls, and the general antics. It’s an experience shared between us much more than it is shared with Europe say, which is a different society again. In other words, despite the distance between us, the gulf in population, and the differences in national character and outlook, there are many parallels between us, particularly through childhood.

That’s what I experienced and took from the movie last night. For every character in the movie I could just about place a character from my childhood. The games they got up to, the keenly felt projects, the passion to explore life as they knew it, all were familiar. We talked the same, stirred each other the same (perhaps a bit more pointed in Oz), we were into things in the same way. It was made easier watching the movie last night when I considered that I was at a similar age to the protagonists at the time the movie was made – just somewhere on the far side of the world.

Naturally it got me thinking of my childhood, which looking back now glows with a nostalgic perfection. I had a grand childhood, even if I didn’t know it then. We did all that stuff, went for long bike rides, played street cricket day after day, built rafts to float down the Plenty river, built tree-huts in big sprawling pines, had adventures left, right and centre. I lived in a newer suburb where the families were young and kids were everywhere. Over our back fence was a paddock. In that paddock at different times there were horses. Once one foaled to our great wonder and pleasure. I took two buses to school each day, and two back. I played footy and soccer, and sometimes cricket. Like most kids then I was a strong swimmer, excellent tree climber, and handy on a bike. I spent a lot of time outdoors, and in my memories it seems almost always to have been summer. Looking back I had a relationship with my parents often typically portrayed in the movies, the love and affection I didn’t always understand, and the urge to protect that sometimes led to misunderstanding on my part.

I guess the thing I took most from the movie last night was the reminder of how wonderful childhood is. I’ve always enjoyed my memories, but I saw them as uniquely mine and as part of the continuum that has led me to the place I am today. Childhood is different though. It may lead on to other things, but in itself it is a different state of being. Growing up I was always told to make the most of my childhood days, and now I understand. They are days of magic and wonder, innocence, curiosity and unfettered The child who misses out on that misses out perhaps on the best part of life, and a necessary antidote to the serious stuff still to come.