Poise

The early part of Saturday morning: and a pause, for just a few minutes. Phil padded downstairs to make coffee, and let out the cat.

The cat, although a VIP member of the family, is not allowed to share our night life. Every self respecting moggie should have a perfectly good nightlife of their own, after all. And for so long, hers has centred around tormenting us.

I won’t go in detail into her naughty nocturnal behaviour, because so many of you are helpless, hapless victims to the feline race. Planet Of The Apes has nothing on the vice-like grip with which our household cats hold us.

It is nothing short of psychological abuse, thats what it is.

Suffice to say that she wakes us up at any hour, or every hour, she pleases: pummels us with merciless paws, and wails with cries which would make a banshee blush.

And so she is confined, during the dark hours, to a kitchen equipped with a working cat-flap, food, water and a nice soft cushion. That way, we reason, we will sleep.

Of course, the wages of imprisonment are death; or they would be, if Kit Kat were the size of her Indian and African cousins.

Rather than savaging those who confine her to the least upholstered room of Shrewsday mansions, her size dictates she must simply complain loudly.

Which she does, and she did this morning, as she jumped up on the bed to supervise the drinking of my tea.

I wouldn’t call myself a cat person. But she and I, we have an understanding. We are two overly dominant characters who long ago sized each other up.

Unlike most cats she has an appreciation of the fact I run the house. And for my part, I have watched her cope with a life of untold upheaval to remain by my side.

We are friends, who know the intricate inadequacies and achievements of the other.

So although Phil is the one with whom she flutters and flirts, our most sacred quiet moments are spent together.

This morning she jumped onto the bed and realized I wasn’t going anywhere. and so she made like a hearthrug and stretched, comically flat onto my lap, purring like a Ferrari in neutral.

Her eyes closed, she seemed dead to the world, save for the luxuriant flickering of her tortoiseshell tail.

“Mummy, what is Kit Kat’s tail for?” Maddie ventured.

Phil answered at once.

“It’s for balance, darling.”, he said conclusively.

And I looked at that glorious tail, flicking auburn and luxuriant, and I provided an addendum.

“And it helps her to express herself,”I added.

You know that evaluative wince people use? Phil used it. “Yes,” he closed, “but it is primarily for balance.”

And he went on to do one of my favourite Phil things, his Philibuster, where he ranges around the subject, pointing out facts, drawing in influences, highlighting parallels.

Tails are for balance, he began, as smaller monkeys show so well, flying through the trees with five limbs rather than four.

Humans have the vestige of a tail, he added, explaining its location meticulously to Maddie. Because we are well-developed apes, and our distant ancestors had that tail to help them balance.

Incidentally, he concluded, if you look at the skeletons of whales, you will see two tiny stumps where, once an aeon ago, these creatures walked on land.

What a guy.

Maddie and I marvelled: but we had already, in a feminine instant, concurred that Kit Kat’s tail formed part of the way she shows how she is feeling.

Balance and expression: two sides of physicality. They are brought together so perfectly in dance and ballet.

Mum used to take me to the ballet when I was young. I saw Nureyev in action: I watched all the greats.

But I wouldn’t say I was mad about ballet. What I have learnt about great balance, great expression, has come relatively recently, when I first watched the work of a man called  Vaslav Nijinsky.

It only happened about a year ago. The BBC had a retrospective on Sergei Diaghilev, that brilliant impressario of the Russian touring company of the early twentieth century, the Ballets Russes.

Nijinsky was a brilliant dancer. He also worked as a choreographer for Diaghilev.

The BBC screened a drama about him. Part of that drama was a staging of The Rite Of Spring, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet about the sacrifice of a young girl in ancient Russia. The moves were all Nijinsky’s.

The music aches with the wide open spaces of that great country. It acknowledges all that is untamed and unconquerable about the Russian temperament. It is violent, rude, angular, unapologetic and brilliant.

I had always watched ballets where balance and expression were there to make sure all was sophisticated, all was symmetrical, all was civilised.

This was something else. Nijinsky made the dancers of the Ballet Russes  work like slaves to achieve moves which were thought impossible: choreography which was angular and asymmetrical, dance which was an entirely new form of poetry in motion.

It was looming, and threatening, and occasionally intentionally ugly and grotesque. But it was hypnotic. The rhythm of those pagan feet treading the path towards human sacrifice was utterly compelling.

If you have never watched it, it is a must-see. We have watched modern dance evolve across a century, but at its inception in 1913 the moves Nijinsky chose, and Stravinsky’s pagan score, created a riot in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris where it was debuted.

Balance and expression were pushed to new boundaries that day, and left Paris scandalised.

Our expression is not always poised and civilised. It can be sweet, and gentle, but mankind has a wider spectrum of emotion than that. Sometimes we need to be angry, occasionally ugly.

And very often asymmetrical: perfection is not reality, now, is it?

If you haven’t seen it, it’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjX3oAwv_Fs

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