Thursday, November 1, 2012

London's got something special!

It really does.
Ever since I went to study at the University of Westminster almost three years ago I knew that city had something different. Something perfect. I went to London last Saturday and I arrived back in Paris this morning. I still am quite unsure if the previous five days of my life were real or if I was just dreaming. Let me explain you the whole thing from the beginning.

So about two weeks ago I was in Paris, looking forward to the holidays because teenagers are not always very easy to deal with… and then Chris asked me via Twitter if I was doing something special for those days. He kindly said he had a spare standing ticket for Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House (all the tickets for this production are sold out since months ago), so… after struggling a lot to find and affordable way to get to London in time, I finally found a cheap night bus ticket and got really excited for my journey. Right after that I said on Twitter that I was visiting London soon, so I ended up arranging meetings with lots of amazing people, like Zebra (I know what your real name is, of course, just privacy reasons and stuff!), Nina and Dave (who told me I should go to the ROH Gala on Tuesday and was kind enough to phone the box office and book a cheap ticket for me!).

So with those amazing plans in mind I got ready for my trip on Friday night, right after I finished some really hard lessons at the high school. Going from Paris to London by bus is not an easy job. It’s a nine and a half-hour-long trip, during which you can’t sleep properly, mostly because you need to go up and down the vehicle many times, in order to show your passport at the border or to get in the boat which crosses the English Channel.

Anyway, so after a super long trip where I met a nice Belgian guy, I finally got to London Victoria at 5.30 am. It was absolutely freezing in and outside of the station, but I had to wait at least until the sun rose to be able to phone my friend Sara, with whom I’ve stayed these days (thank you!). So I waited for three hours sitting on a cold chair at the station, covered with my coat and the towels I’d brought in my suitcase… and still I think I’ve never been that cold in my whole life.

But a few hours later it didn’t matter anymore. I went to Sara’s house, which is big and great, and she’s lovely; I slept for an hour, I got dressed to go to Covent Garden, had a delicious lunch with Chris (well, it was actually dinner for him) while talking about languages (especially Russian and also about my problems when it comes to speaking two foreign languages at almost the same time), and then we went to the Royal Opera House to see Swan Lake. We arrived quite early, so he showed me the building and we went to the box office, where he suddenly remembered that you can do backstage tours at the ROH, so I booked a ticket for Wednesday morning (what a great decision, you guys!).

As for Swan Lake, it was beautiful. Alina Cojocaru was a sweet, childish Odette, yet an extremely sexy and seductive Odile. I have to admit I was really looking forward to seeing Act III because Alina is normally so lovely and adorable that I couldn’t imagine her as a fierce black swan. But yes, of course, she did it, and it was extraordinary. Federico Bonelli was on great form as prince Sigfried. He’s got such a beautiful technique! And he’s also really nice: he helped Chris solve the technical issues with my mobile phone while I was having my picture taken with him.

Alina Cojocaru, Federico Bonelli and myself. ROH's stage door after Swan Lake.

In other news, I have to say that it is absolutely worth it buying standing tickets at the ROH. You get a full view of the stage for a really good price and you can rest your arms on a barre, so you don’t get tired… as long as you aren’t wearing high heels, of course. I will do it again at some point, for sure.

The ROH is also a beautiful place to meet interesting people. The night I went to see Swan Lake I met Lee, and it was a pleasure to stand with him and Chris waiting for the dancers at the Stage Door. I also met Thomas, a German doctor working in Cambridge who was sitting next to me at the theatre, who invited me to a glass of champagne and with whom I had a very interesting conversation on opera, ballet, languages and working abroad. I saw him twice again during the week, but we’ll get to that part of the story later.

Picadilly Circus by night.
I hadn’t got anything scheduled for Sunday, so I ended up walking around the city, doing some improvised sightseeing and taking many photos. I took the Tube and started at Notting Hill Gate, walked next to Hyde Park until I got to Oxford Circus and Regent Street (were I had a delicious Kit-Kat McFlurry). Then I walked down Regent St to Picadilly Circus, took Haymarket Street and took a picture of Her Majesty’s Theatre (the venue for my favourite musical of all time: The Phantom Of The Opera)… so you can imagine how much I wanted to go inside that building! From there I went to Trafalgar Square, which was really crowded because they were celebrating some kind of music festival. Later on I took the street that goes down to Westminster. I stopped next to Downing Street to take a picture and got asked by a French tourist if I knew what that place was and why there were so many people looking at that fence. After explaining it to her, I went straight to Westminster Abbey and to the Houses of Parliament… and finally I crossed the bridge until I got next to the London Eye. Then I thought it was time to go back, so I walked again to Trafalgar Square and took a different path to get to Picadilly Circus. This time I walked around the West End to see the venues for the rest of the musicals, such as Les Misérables (maybe in a desperate wish to find Sierra Boggess walking around, since she is now the leading lady in that production). I also went to China Town and to Covent Garden one last time to take a picture of the ROH at night. Then I was tired, so… time for some sleep.

On Monday I wanted to see Nina, but she got stuck at university, so we decided to meet the day after. No problem! Change of plans, then. Luckily Thomas phoned me. He said he could come to London in the afternoon, so I waited for him next to the statue at Picadilly and there I met a guy who wanted to invite me to a cigarette (but no, sorry, I don’t smoke) and also a really nice Italian guy who was in London to go to a concert with some friends. We had quite an interesting conversation! When Thomas arrived he told me we should go to see a musical. Quite shocked, since I wasn’t expecting to have such an exciting evening, I said I loved Phantom, so he invited me to see the show… and I invited him for dinner in exchange. You cannot even have a remote idea of how much it meant to me to see Phantom on a Monday. On a Monday evening! The day when the amazing Anna O’Byrne leads the show. Anna O’Byrne! Like… only one of my favourite musical actresses of all time (along with Sierra Boggess)… playing my favourite musical role of all time, Christine Daaé?! Seeing her LIVE?!? Come on, just look at her in this video; isn’t she just perfect?

Of course, the production of [The Brilliant Original] Phantom is simply sublime. The cast is incredible, the music is wonderful and the story is heartbreaking… No wonder it’s running since 26 years ago. I cried a little, as usual.

The beautiful and talented Anna O'Byrne!
Anna portrayed a phantastic young Christine. I specially loved it when she sang Whishing You Were Somehow Here Again. It’s such a beautiful, emotive song with an unbelievably hard ending… and she made it look so effortless. She was also really kind when we waited for her at the stage door. She talked with us for a while and we had our pictures taken with her and everything was perfect. Except for the picture maybe, which is quite dark.

After the stage door I had coffee and more conversation in Covent Garden with Thomas, who told me (among other things) that he had attended one part of Wagner’s The Ring the day before at the Royal Opera House. It was a six-hour-long show, but he said it is really worth it seeing and that the ending is especially amazing. Then we went back home.

Finally Tuesday morning! I got dressed quite nicely for the ROH Gala that I was attending that night. Then I went back to Leicester Square and had lunch at Burguer King (because that’s a big place where I could easily find a seat and get connected to the Internet comfortably… and also because I think it’s very classy to go to a junk food restaurant all dressed up for a jet set gala). An hour later I went to Picadilly Circus to finally meet Zebra, who was really, really nice. We walked towards Covent Garden and visited many ballet shops which were amazing and I still can’t believe I had never been to any of those before. Beautiful leotards, shrugs, leg warmers, skirts, tutus, flat and pointe shoes… just perfect! We need more of these shops in Spain! And then Nina sent me a text message, so we met her at the ROH shop (it was great to see her again after a year!) and we went for a walk around Covent Garden while talking about the ROH and its productions, its dancers, its friends, other tweeps and stuff. Fun talk, yay!

Zebra and Nina had to leave quite early, so I said goodbye and waited for Thomas to arrive to Covent Garden. I told him I was attending the gala that night, so he decided he wanted to come too. We went to the box office at the ROH and somehow we managed to get a ticket for him. We had dinner around there and at 7 pm we headed towards the ROH shop, where Dave was waiting with my ticket for the gala. I was really looking forward to meeting him in real life, and even though we could only see each other for a little while (since the ROH was really crowded that night), it was really cool!

The gala was sublime. I was sitting on one of the cheapest seats of the house, so I obviously didn’t have the best view of the stage… but I found it really good actually! I couldn’t see the back of the stage, but I was so close to it that I could perfectly see what was going on at the wings, see the dancer’s faces and even hear them breathe, which may sound quite creepy, but it’s a good way to realise that they were actually there! And also, since I was so close to the stage I could see the rest of the audience from a very good perspective. This means I could see Her Majesty, the Queen (yes, she was there!) during the whole show.

So let’s talk about the gala itself! It was a mixed programme with lots of dancing and arias from operas, with video interviews with the staff of the ROH, their artists, their employees, their friends (including Dave!)… a rather special evening. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was going to see, since I hadn’t been able to read the programme before the show started. I absolutely had no idea I was going to see almost all of my favourite dancers together in only one night. Back in Spain I have a very good friend (and former ballet classmate) with whom I always talk about the gorgeous Natalia Osipova. This friend of mine went to see her last Saturday in Barcelona, in the role of Kitri (Don Quixote). She told me she loved it! And no wonder she loved it, because Osipova is amazing. What a surprise when I saw her there, dancing Ambar with Edward Watson! And then Alina Cojocaru and Carsten Jung danced a quite joyful pas de deux by Neumeier (Liliom); then we got to see Ashton’s La Valse, by the artists of the Royal Ballet, which was spectacular, with the stage full of dancers. Later, Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae danced a new pas de deux by Alastair Marriott, In the Hothouse. Oh, and I also finally got to see MacMillan’s Farewell pas de deux, from Winter Dreams, wonderfully performed by Nehemiah Kish and Roberta Marquez. As regards the operas, I found particularly stunning Dvorak’s Song to the Moon (Rusalka, Act I), sung by Angela Gheorghiu, and also Bizet’s Habanera from Carmen (also sung by Miss Gheorghiu). But my highlight of the night would probably be After the Rain, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon with Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel music (which I absolutely love) and superbly danced by principal dancers Marianela Núñez and Thiago Soares… just glorious. I must admit I was teary eyed by the end of it.

The gala finished with a fast and amazing Jubilee pas de deux choreographed by Liam Scarlett (I think that man is a genius) and danced by Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli… and also with Giacomo Puccini’s Te Deum, from Act I of the opera Tosca, sung by a splendid Bryn Terfel. Right after that, the Queen went onstage and Laura Morera gave her a cute flower bouquet… and the whole audience sang the National Anthem (God Save the Queen) together. That was… just wow. You know I’m not British but… seriously, wow. That was honestly one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen live.

Singing God Save the Queen!
Woah. That was so amazing! Too many incredible things had happened in four days. Too many unbelievable things for me to be able to get a good sleep! Anyway, Wednesday was my last day in London. My bus was leaving at 21.30, and even though I still had one trip left to the ROH in the morning, I wasn’t really expecting much of it. I was wrong. Oh, how wrong I was!

The backstage tour at the Royal Opera House was magical. Our guide was a young and funny woman who led us throughout the building while telling us fantastic secrets about its construction and also about the foundation of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera. We were lucky enough to get a seat on the best stalls of the theatre while they were building the set for Sigfried. I found it very funny when the woman said: “and there, do you know why there are flowers on that balcony? Because yesterday night we had a gala here and the Queen was sitting there!” And everybody went “woah!” And I thought: “yes, yes, there she was! I could see her during the whole show!”

The Royal Opera House
And then we got to see the set for act three of Swan Lake, which is so cool, with all the mirrors and everything, and we watched a DVD on how they build sets and they bring them to the ROH, and we went to the place where they make the costumes and props and we could touch many of them and try them on… and then… then we went to the dancers’ part of the building and… we watched a rehearsal for the next triple bill. And that was just tutu much, you guys. Tutu much I say! There they were, just two metres away from me, rehearsing with Liam Scarlett and Wayne McGregor! Marianela Núñez, Sarah Lamb, Eric Underwood, Edward Watson, Yuhui Choe, Ricardo Cervera, Olivia Cowley… and all the others were also around there, just chilling out, relaxing, warming up and chatting. Surreal. But obviously that’s how it is! I mean, I was just absolutely amazed for being there and being able to watch!

And then it was over, I was still in shock and I went to meet Chris for the last time. We had coffee, chocolate, tea and an apple juice. It was very nice to see him again and I’m already looking forward to our trip to the Opéra Bastille together in December! We said goodbye: he went to see a ROH Insights programme while I took the Tube back to the Victoria Coach Station.

In the bus back to Paris I met a Welsh guy who was sitting next to me and I still don’t know if I forgot all my English at once, or if his accent was simply impossible to understand. We had some drinks together in the boat and he ended up being a really good travel companion. With a nice conversation trips seem shorter, huh? When we arrived to Paris I had to help him buy Métro tickets because he couldn’t speak French, which is quite a problem if you come here alone and your English is hardly understandable by the average people! Anyway, I got home at 7.30 am., went to bed until 12 pm and here I am, writing this hyper long text because I don’t want to forget anything that has happened during this wonderful trip to London.

And that was all, nice reader. Now I have to say that if you’ve read the whole thing, you truly are nice, nice reader. Thank you!
See you soon, when I talk about that ballet lesson I took in Paris!



  1. Wow! What a great experience! I´ve read the whole text and I´m absolutely amazed! I´m sure you will never forget this trip ;)

    1. Thanks, Mar! Yes, it was amazing! I still can't believe how many incredible things I could do in only five days!

  2. Awesome! Every ballet fan's dream trip! The only thing that could have made it even dreamier: taking class with the stars... ;) You're such a lucky girl, Nerea! Thanks for sharing your five days in ballet heaven, I could almost imagine being there with you.

    1. Thank you, Johanna. I'm glad you liked my story, it was truly special. :D