Comment: Playing away at the ballet

Like your average football fan, I've had my share of strip shows, blue movies and lap dancing
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IT ILL behoves a Wolverhampton Wanderers' supporter to tell a Sunderland fan anything. But, as far as the ballet goes, I'll say just this - stick with it lads! There's a whole world out there you never knew existed, and it's just waiting to ambush your senses.

There was boundless media glee at the news of Sunderland football supporters flocking to the city's Empire Theatre, to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet's version of Romeo and Juliet. This was on the strength of Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights - from the ballet - having been used as the Sunderland FC theme tune since the opening of their grandiosely named Stadium of Light a year ago.

Media tittering over this is doubtless based on the assumption that the recent middle-class affectation for watching football is deemed not to have reached the far north-east. I've always preferred the Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet myself. But as one who came equally late to ballet, it just so happens the work which stretched the back of my appreciative net was... Romeo and Juliet.

In theory, of the "high" arts - opera, classical music and poetry being the others - ballet should be the most accessible to the sports follower (although Tony Harrison's magnificent poem V is up there, as any Leeds supporter will tell you). After all, ballet dancers are incredibly athletic, far more so than the average midfield dynamo, not to mention the fat boy rolling around the pitch again for Sunderland's Teesside neighbours.

The biggest problem that ballet has posed for the lad fraternity has been those tights. And, I suppose, the gay thing. But after recent Parliamentary revelations, even that, thankfully, seems to be OK with the proles nowadays. But if there's anything dedicated to riveting the average football punter to his plush seat at the Empire Theatre, it's a healthy dose of sex.

And that's what did it for me.

I'd seen a couple of versions of Romeo and Juliet since my wife, a former dancer, started dragging me to Covent Garden a half dozen years ago.

And, like everyone else, I loved the male corps de ballet in Adventures in Motion Pictures' Swan Lake last year. But the full-blown epiphany only came with a Romeo and Juliet, or rather, a Juliet at the Apollo in Hammersmith six months ago.

In common with the your average footie fan, I've had my share of strip shows, blue movies, lap dancing, holidays in Thailand, etc. However, nothing, nothing, outside the marital bed prepared me for Leanne Benjamin's neck- tingling, tear-straining, eye-popping, throat-clenching, gut-wrenching, groin- trembling rendition of the bedroom scene with some lucky bastard in tights, whose name I've consigned to perdition.

She melted all over him on tip-toes, a swooning, incandescent waif dripping around the stage in a pheromone haze doubling as a negligee. And all before the interval! I had to take my drink outside, and count the cars crossing Hammersmith Flyover, to get a sufficient grip to venture back in for the second half - I mean, act.

It was, in a word, sublime. Like good sex, it left me truly satisfied, but intrigued, and eager for more. After the match last Saturday (Bristol City 1, Wolves 6, heh! heh!), I went to see another ballet, which the Sunderlads (sic) might like. It was Michael Clarke and his mates at the Roundhouse in north London, bounding and bending and stretching eccentrically, backed by a bunch of musicians who sounded as if they were weaned on a diet of Led Zeppelin cross-fertilised by King Crimson. It was wonderfully primal stuff. It wasn't Leanne Benjamin, but then again, what is?

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the delightful Ms Benjamin at a function a couple of months ago, but my wife kept me on a tight rein. Just as well. You never know with Wolves supporters.

As it happens, the Wolverhampton town motto is Lux ex Tenebris, Out of Darkness Cometh Light, a reference to the extensive coalfields around the area. Rather like the north-east around Sunderland, where the old joke was, if you want an extra wing-half, just shout down the mine shaft. Well, the joke's on us. And we don't mind. We've seen the light!