Here begins the story of one of the most memorable days of many in the course of 15 years of adventures with Barbara
We were in search of the impossible, tickets to the third and final evening of the Mariinski Ballet Company’s Royal Performance. So what if they had sold out within hours of the tickets going on sale, everyone knows they always save a few tickets for last minute VIP's etc. Goinailable. Everyone knows there are always 'no shows' and management of major events hold back a certain number of seats in case of last minute requests on behalf
We had an inauspicious start when the taxi drivers refused to take us across to
the Cultural Center. This had happened to me before in Bangkok, if the
traffic gets too snarled up they won't entertain taking you.
Today was apparently such a day.
We were headed to Hua Lamphong Station where we could change to the subway to Cultural Center Station, sounded perfect. A well-intentioned passer by directed us to the #15 bus, which for the sum of 7 Baht would take us to HL. We flagged down the bus and settled back to look for the unmistakable hulk of Hua Lamphong, what I eventually saw was a sign pointing in the opposite direction. We had apparently overshot our stop. How could we miss it? The sign told us the station was 1850 meters away. In spite of what my math teacher maintained. I was paying attention all those years ago so knew that we were over a mile away with no option but to walk back in the intense heat of the day. Eventually we reached a signed intersection and turned left. No wonder we hadn't seen the station it was at least a mile from the bus route!
The subway was fun but we weren't up for braving the ticket machines, lining up instead at the counter we asked for and got seniors rates. Things were looking up! Once at the station named Thai Cultural Center we naively expected to fetch up in the bowels of the theatre. The signage ended at the sidewalk of a featureless street in the middle of nowhere. A security guard told us the center was 1.5 km away! Off we went again turning right where directed and eventually reaching a large building with a sign proclaiming "Department of Culture", closed today, Saturday but a good omen we thought.
Realizing we would need something to eat and the area was looking less and less hospitable we found a little store but had to settle for a bottle of cold water. We asked the saleswoman where the Cultural Center was and she gleefully told us "you are there', it's just along the street and pointed the way. We were at a junction and having realized by now that although Thais have many admirable qualities giving accurate and complete information and directions is not one of them, we checked the other direction before heading where indicated
Again we walked and walked in the heat until we came to a series of major roads
and flyovers and gave up. We took a cab back the way we had come, all the way
back to the junction and around the corner. There unsigned and tucked well out of
sight was our destination. Obviously another state secret, shades of Legend of
Angkor Wat. We were only steps away
when we bought the water.
The center was looking it's most
radiant best as the previous evening they had hosted their Majesties the King
and Queen to a private performance, an 80th birthday gift from President Putin.
We walked up the marble stairs between the obligatory yellow and blue swaging
and most beautiful of flowers and into the lobby. It was gorgeous; the
towers of flowers, royal purple orchids with roses and ornamental cabbages were stunning.
At the box office the news was not good. No possibility of any tickets. I asked if there was a waiting list and they admitted that there was but that we would not get tickets in spite of being second on the list. We added our names, happy to be in second spot, if 4 tickets became available we were in. While Barbara took photos of the lobby, I told the sympathetic young men on the ticket counter that we would be just outside and would check back regularly.
Still feeling lucky we set about finding something to eat, we would surely need feeding before the performance. The restaurant wasn't yet open so we did what we always do in Asia for a treat or consolation whichever is needed and headed for a Walls ice cream freezer for a Magnum, a chocolate covered ice cream on a stick not then available in Canada.
We sat telling each other that we were going to the ballet and tried not to get chocolate all down our glad rags in anticipation of having to join the well dressed patrons already beginning to arrive. Two and a half hours ahead of curtain call, a stunning group of young people strode past, tall and slender and quite the most exotic creatures imaginable, like some superior sub species of the rest of the human race. This was obviously no regular tour group and it was just as obvious from their deportment and gait that the ladies and gentlemen of the renowned Mariinsky Ballet Company had arrived. We had seen them walk, now we would see them dance.
An older couple sat down at the next table with a coke and packet of potato chips each. I don't know why particularly but I moved over to join them and asked if they were going to the ballet, they said they were, were we? Well no, 'we have no tickets but we are confident we will get some because this is Barbara's dream' and I poured out her story, of how she missed them in St. Petersburg because they were on tour when she visited and had to settle for a lesser company albeit performing at the Hermitage. They were awful; she had been so disappointed that she surely had to get in tonight.
So are you following all this? Have I done enough foreshadowing? Do you know what happened next? Well not quite. He told us he had a proposition for us, due to a sudden bereavement his friend was unable to attend. He and his wife and their friends were to have met for dinner before the performance but in the circumstances they didn't feel much like it so had come on here very early and landed at the table next to us. He would give us one ticket, gratis, the best in the house but the snag was we had to choose who would go and who would not. Sounding a bit biblical isn't it? I said "congratulations Barbara you are going to the Mariinsky. It was her dream after all. Of course she protested till the cows came home but eventually saw the sense, it would be easier to get one ticket than two so we accepted his incredibly generous offer.
Now all I had to do was present myself every 15 minutes to the smiling but head shaking young men of the box office. I kept telling them next time I come I want to see smiling and nodding but it was not to be. With one hour to go I decide to get more pro active and stand by the desk and observe as everyone came by to claim and pay for their tickets. By this time number 1 on the list had given up. I was next and I made sure numbers 3,4 and 5 were well aware of it as they too were now on station beside the desk. My three male companions and I became quite friendly over the next hour.
At 7.20 we were told there were
no tickets but all stayed glued to the spot, and at 7.25 a beautiful Japanese
woman arrived, swiped her credit card for two tickets and was about to rush to
her seat when she caught my somewhat green eye and asked if I wanted a ticket,
her 11 year old daughter was sick and couldn't come. Just for a moment I
was disappointed it wasn't a better seat, but only a moment before I handed her my money and we went to join Barbara and co. inside the auditorium. She
had been adamant she would be out at the intermission so I could go in for the
second half, so just before the lights dimmed I found her amongst the sea of
2000 faces to tell her not to come looking for me. I was in.
As it happened my $30 ticket got me a better seat than Barbara's $90 freebie. I was further back but higher up on the center aisle, the ideal place from which to view the massive stage. Far enough not to hear the clunk of the dancers shoes and out of firing range of the fusillade of perspiration coming from spinning dancers as happened on one less memorable evening.
As befits the preamble it really was the most amazing performance, truly fit for a King in whose honour they were all there.
opened with "Chopiniana" (Les Sylphides) a beautiful corps de ballet
piece, which set the tone for the evening. It was superb, the curtain
coming down for the first intermission to thunderous applause.
Next the "Divertissement", 5 pas de deux and "The Dying Swan".
First "Talisman", to music by Delibes, featured a young male, the epitome of the perfect Russian dancer, beautiful, strong and athletic as he leapt seemingly effortlessly across the vast expanse of stage. He was paired with a waif like creature who floated and coasted on points for what seemed an impossible length of time.
Second "La Rose Malade" our favourite of the evening. Inspired by a poem "The Sick Rose" from Blakes "Songs of Experience" and set to the adggietto from Mahler's 5th Symhony it was without question the most sublimely beautiful pas de deux I will ever see. It brought tears to my eyes.
Next, Auber Grand Pas Classique. A tour de force', spectacular but it didn't pull at my heartstrings, as did the rose or the next offering. "Love Story" premiering tonight in honour of it's composer, Bumibol Adulyade aka His Royal Majesty The King of Thailand. I nearly fell off my seat when I read that in the programme and wondered how it could possibly stand up in such illustrious company. Well it did, it was stunning. As Anastasia Kolegoua was carried lifeless from the stage once more the auditorium was rocked with our appreciation.
The Dying Swan danced by the prima ballerina, Uliana Lopatkina....I rest my case.
What could possibly follow? It was to be "Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux", and I have run out of superlatives, please book you ticket for St. Petersburg at once.
For the finale they choose Part 111 "Scheherazada". A romp of a costume drama which somewhat broke the spell I was under. Perhaps if it had preceded the Divertisments I would have enjoyed it more, but hey, this is the Mariinsky and who am I to put their programme together?
As we filed out I hooked up with an ecstatic Barbara who declared she could never go to the ballet again as all would pale in comparison.
I said goodnight to my benefactor who not only sold me her ticket but also wrapped our legs in her pashmina against the excessive air conditioning. I wished her daughter a speedy recovery and hoped it didn't sound hollow.
We stepped outside into a fairyland of fountains, white lights dangled from trees and picked out the shape of a pretty pavilion and everywhere flowers. A scene no doubt intended for the royal couple and a bonus for everyone else. Barbara's new best friends told her they had been coming to the Center for 10 years and had to park in a snake and alligator infested field (possible slight exaggeration?) so they were amazed to arrive that night to a newly paved parking lot and valet parking.
Seeing the traffic jam on exiting we retraced our steps to the subway, very close now we knew the way. In the relative cool of the late evening we caught the last train to Hua Lamphung. There after 3 false starts we secured a tuc tuc for a madcap race through the streets against a tuc tuc bearing even cheaper skates than we, 8 of them in one vehicle. We won, though possibly not on handicap.
We finally ate our supper after midnight just off Khao San Road on a day that
started on Koa Samui 20 hours earlier.
What ever adventures the future holds in store for us, nothing could ever again compare to this evening.