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by Kristin Perers

 

judith 1954, judith mackrell, dance critic, writer, the Guardian

judith 1954, judith mackrell, dance critic, the Guardian, writer, Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation

 

On 27 Sep 2014, at 16:55, Judith Mackrell wrote:

Dear Kristin,

It’s a little, but too not much over 500. Hope you and W had a lovely night on Thursday

xxxx

 

When I turned 50, I held a party to celebrate. I wanted to dance and drink with my friends and stick up a finger to old age.  50 was going to be the new 35.  Nothing was going to change. What I didn’t know was that the years that followed would be as eventful and unsettling as any decade of my life.

 

It’s been a period of real transition, and some of it hard. During my fifties I’ve watched my parents become frail and die, and watched my two children grow up and (almost) leave home. Now I’m no longer anyone’s daughter, and in practical terms I’m only a part time mother.

But along with those  losses has also come a  liberating feeling of lightness.  I’ve discovered much more time and energy for work, and re-discovered the joy of being able to go for weekends away, nights out,  or spur of the moment walks with my husband and friends without needing to consider anyone else. Even though I physically miss  having the noise and nonsense and cuddles of  small boys around the house, I’m so enjoying knowing my children as adults

 

And now I’m about to discover what the sixties are like. A (slightly older) friend tells me that that  everything changes when you become aware of your own mortality. It’s like a shift  in the light. I don’t think I’m there yet but I am becoming conscious that I don’t have unlimited time to do everything I want, and that I need to get braver and tougher about prioritizing what’s most important to me.

And there are  small changes. Ailments and their symptoms have started to loom as topics of conversation, and I have a harder time remembering names. .  Also I don’t know how to describe myself. I resent calling myself old  -  or rather I resent the dingy connotations we’ve attached to the word – and what is  “senior” other than a box you tick on a form? Vintage sounds better  - except that I’m not a 1930s frock or a bottle of wine.

 

We need more words to capture what’s genuinely great and interesting  about the business of ageing. I’m convinced that most of us get better at life – far less self absorbed and far more noticing; better at humour, lightness and tolerance but also better at knowing who we are and what we want.  Most obviously we get to appreciate what simple good luck it is that we’ve survived this far.

 

When I look at my friends it’s not the sags and creases I see, it’s the generosity with which their faces now register who they are. All the living and learning and knocking around they’ve done is there. And much as I love the glow and beauty of a young face; as hopefully as I’ll slap on the moisturizer to preserve a little of that illusion, it’s the faces of the middle aged and older that I look at most, when I’m out on the street or in the tube.

 

There’s one other odd paradox.  I’m not sure if it’s Zen or plain denial, but when Kristin asked me to think about turning sixty it made me realize that the older I get the less conscious I become of my actual years. Most of the time now I don’t feel fifty or sixty. I don’t feel any specific age at all.

 

 

Judith 9bf copy

On 28 September 2014 16:47, kristin perers  wrote:

 

Dear Judith,

Not only do the names Ondeiviela and Sergeyev’s roll effortlessly off your lips but you so quickly composed these words, thoughtful reflections on being at the end of your sixth decade. Thank you. Your words are a combination of light and dark….which is what I am trying to balance with your pictures as I work on them now.

 

A few thoughts:

 

KP I’m interested in your statement – that your 50′s brought just as much change and transformation as any decade in your life. This is so different from the impression we are given that the story ends after a certain ‘markers’ are reached, usually love, marriage and babies.  Just think how many books, films (and operas?) end at that point. You have portrayed something different, a vivid decade with lots of changes, both loss and gain.

Why is this part of life so ignored by our story tellers? Are the changes more subtle? Less ‘operatic’? You’ve spent your working life as a dance critic. Could you recommend any characters, books or operas that explore this decade for a woman?

JM “In dance, all the heroines have traditionally disappeared once they were married – or  killed off – and as performers women haven’t lasted much longer. But there’s a definite shift now. I went to a show recently where the average age of the dancers was 60 (and how cool and interesting they looked on stage). Next year the Royal Ballet are doing a new work  inspired by the life and writing of Virginia Woolf, which will star the 51 year old ballerina Alessandra Ferri.

Literature is a richer field (Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is  one of the great middle aged female characters ) and novelists like Jane Smiley and Carol Shields  write wonderfully,  I think,  about women in  all stages of their lives.”

KP People often ask me why I choose to photograph the women I do. What quality, what am I looking for in my search for role models?

We first met (is it 18 years ago?!) at the school gate. That strange territory of English primary school, our eldest sons first days. You seemed to know what you were doing and I certainly felt out of depth in these waters. You were so different from me… and maybe this is why you sparked my interest. You this gamine brunette, direct articulate and sophisticated. I felt very much the Florida blond around your sophistication but I wanted to be around it … perhaps in the hopes I could soak a bit of you up.

JM “We should know by now what a giant slippage there is between the way we see ourselves, and the way other people do.

But I laughed so much at this. My memory of my life back then was that it was just about flung together, just about holding. And of you at those school gates looking  so serene!

KP Now all these years later what a joy it was reuniting, spending a few hours photographing together … watchng as you transform from the pajama clad writer tucked away in her (ever so romantic) garret into ‘the dance critic’. Could you say a bit more about this? It feels like a daily ritual from inside to out.

JM “Most  days  I’m on my own, writing and reading -  and now that we’re all on Twitter and email I sometimes don’t even speak to anyone on the phone.

So the  evenings being a dance critic –   getting out of my pyjamas and out of my head – are a wonderful corrective. Not just because the theatre is always a sociable place, but because I’m watching others, the heartbreakingly hard working dancers, doing all the  work.

KP The shelves stacked of Royal Opera House programmes… how many years worth?

 JM “30!”

KP Photographing you I felt a depth and richness to your life and a sense of being with someone who is enormously skilled at her craft.

JM “Still learning… “

KP What I thought at 35 was sophistication now I see as wisdom. And what I love about being in my 50′s is that I still feel a bit of a beach girl around you but I’ve grown to love and appreciate the difference.

JM “Did we ever imagine ourselves like this, when we first met at the school gates?  For me the photography  session  was a real pleasure. It felt so much freer than I imagined it could be, and so interesting to be taken into your visual world of angles, light and perspective.

Ten years from now, please, I’d like to sign up to the Turning Seventy project.”

Judith 7 copy copy

On 1 November 2014 11:27, Kristin Perers wrote:

Dear Judith,

Now I’m just pulling the last bits together, I listened to Swan Lake while I was composing your layout….. what should I be listening to now ? Whats the Judith vibe!? Are there great ballets you love? A few scores?

By the way happy belated 60th! Hope these images will serve as a …….. whats the word………marker? Moment? No thats not right,  they somehow feel a glance back but also a path ahead. Actually they feel seamless – like you, in motion, I loose all sense of time of age.

X K

 

Dear K

I’m now so curious! and a tribute to your art that I’m not scared.
Great dance scores from the JM playlist: a lot of Stravinsky,  so Apollo, Firebird, Les Noces and Agon. Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty
And last night, fresh from its Sadler’s Wells premiere, I would  add Thomas Adès’  Polaris to the  list
Max Richter is another fine composer for contemporary dance, and the opening of Joby Talbot’s score for Wayne McGregor’s Chroma always gives me goosebumps.
Turning 60 was surprisingly exhilarating – my two main feelings were that the really really hard work is now over, and that I  have a free Oyster card
 love to you
x J

 

Judith Mackrell

writer and dance critic

26.10.54

 

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2014 November 1