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THE GRASS WAS ALWAYS BROWNER
Releasing May 1st, 2016
The Grass Was Alway Browner by Sacha Jones is the story of a strong-willed, smart yet often less than sensible, curious and questioning girl growing up as the middle-child of three children. Her parents are old, and old-fashioned, deeply impractical, idealistic and naive, not best suited to negotiating the rough and rugged terrain of suburban Sydney in the 1970s-80s.
Sacha is not only the middle child, but she is stuck in the middle of the muddle and mess of her family’s situation. She sees and suffers more than her siblings do – or so she feels. However, one advantage of her position is that she is sent to study ballet to treat her asthma, and through ballet she finds a way out of her predicament.
Sacha’s determination to escape her humdrum existence and ‘become Russian’ saw her push through and succeed against the odds (wrong-shaped head, wrong feet, overall wrong build) and a father who is strongly against her becoming a ballet dancer. He describes ballet as ‘a frivolous and selfish pursuit, too focused on appearances.’ His own dreams are focused on a desire to save the Third World. However, in their very different ways, Sacha and her father are more alike than either would care to admit.
In becoming a dancing star, Sacha surprises no-one more than her legendary dance teacher – an actual Russian – Mrs P, Tanya Pearson. However, her father was right about ballet.
Although it gives Sacha the escape she desires, there is a heavy price to pay. And when she sets off for London to further her dance career, it is in part because the Australian dance scene betrayed her trust.
Award-winning playwright, poet and novelist Stephanie Johnson says of The Grass Was Always Browner, “Nineteen seventies suburban Sydney comes winningly alive in Sacha’s light-hearted girlhood memoir of boundless optimism, pink milk, tutus, triumph at the Eisteddfod and a horse in the back garden.”
The Grass Was Always Browner is a laugh-out-loud memoir and a cautionary reminder that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.
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Ballet My Way
…Because no one else in my family, least of all Auntie Robin, would have been likely to recommend I do ballet. And indeed when Mum took me along to meet the Russian – yes,Russian! – ballet teacher at our local dance school to have my potential for dance assessed, she was highly sceptical too, and quickly took Mum aside to tell her: ‘I am sorry, Mrs Jons, but she is not billt for barllet’, looking my way with a pityingsmile, and speaking with a slightly terrifying accent.
Fortunately Mum was able to impress upon this straight- talking Russian, who was none other than ‘Mrs P’, aka Tanya Pearson, formerly Tatiana Jakubenka of Moscow and futurerecipient of the Order of Australia Medal for services todance, that it was a matter of life and death that I do ballet. But, Mum insisted, she need not teach me how to dance, merely how to breathe a little easier.
And so it was, on this rather more modest basis, without expectation on either side that I should ever learn to dance,that I was accepted into Tanya Pearson’s Northside Ballet Academy early the following year…
Standing backstage, waiting for the adjudicator to ring her bell to announce she was ready for the next dancer,dressed as an absentminded professor, I was not feeling entirely confident. Not my usual relaxed self. The dancersbackstage had laughed heartily when they’d seen me dressed in character, in such a non- sneering way that it seemed they thought I had given up, which was a little off-putting. But Icouldn’t blame them; I didn’t exactly feel primed for dancinggold. The adjudicator’s bell finally rings. My ‘AbsentmindedProfessor’ is announced by the convenor and I cringe hearinghow odd that concept sounds broadcast to a theatre full of ballet dancers, their teachers and parents, not to mention the all-important adjudicator. But there is no turning back now. I brace myself for the music to launch itself without introduction, relieved at least that the dance is not technically demanding.
When the first note sounds I lunge onto the stage en pointe, wobbling my head to the wonky music, stumblingalong the diagonal to finish slightly off-centre. The audiencechuckle immediately, which is a bit of a surprise and throwsme a little. I should have been expecting it, but I wasn’t somehow. Ballet eisteddfods are such competitive environments, especially at the senior level, that the last thing you expect from the audience is laughter, even when you’re dressed in a grey wig and stick-on moustache. The laughtermakes me want to laugh too, but I know I shouldn’t; mymoustache might fall off. I do my best to stay in character and maintain a level of composure as I carry on my wonky way and the audience’s chuckling turns quickly to full- blownlaughter. I am careful not to stare at the adjudicator’s writ- inglight glowing in the centre of the dark sea that is the audience, normally the focal point of your presentation. I have decided it would not do for an absentminded character to eyeball the adjudicator. Instead I fix my absentminded gaze somewhereoff to the side, and bumble on.
The whole theatre is laughing now, even the girls back- stage, who I can see watching me from the mezzanine levelwhere the dressing rooms are, laughing with their mouths wide open. They really must be glad I’ve taken myself out of the running. I have to bite down hard on my tongue to stop from catching the laughter bug, while struggling to hear the music and remember my steps, which are carefullychoreographed to look absentminded but are not in fact absentof mind, as it were. When I fall to my knees and crawl under the old desk, knocking over the test tubes on top (not breakingthem) and emerge the other side on my knees, with a befuddled look straight to the audience, I really can’t hear themusic for the laughter. The walls themselves appear to be laughing. It’s a wonder they don’t crumble and fall down. Nothing would surprise me now.
I am truly dancing deaf, doing my best from memory to shuffle here, stumble there, pausing with a troubled frown, trying to recall my last genius inspiration (tricky), all without clear musical cues, and feeling genuinely befuddled, whichprobably adds to the humour of the performance. But the audience has got the serious giggles now and can’t stop whatever I do. I could probably do a strip tease and they’d carry on laughing. Perhaps that’s not a good example. I amjust about biting my tongue off trying to keep a straight face,as even the worry about having lost the music is not enough to make my situation seem anything but hilarious.
Somehow I make my way to the end of the dance that is marked, not by the last note of music, but by the applause that erupts over the top of the laughter that doesn’t stop. I stopwhen I hear it and stand to face the audience, trying to stay incharacter with a genuinely befuddled look on my face. It is customary to curtsey at the end of your dance – if you’re a girl. I just remember in time that today I am not a girl but an old man and should bow instead, which I do with my head at an absentminded angle, which produces more laughter and applause.
Finally, I shuffle off stage into the safety of the wings with some relief, as the laughter and applause continues behind me. ‘That was brilliant!’ the girls backstage say to me,practically pushing me back on stage to take a second bow. Ishuffle back on, genuinely dazed, wondering if the world has gone a little bit crazy. Nobody ever takes a second bow in aneisteddfod and your competitors never tell you ‘that was brilliant’…
Sacha Jones has a PhD in Political Theory from the University of Auckland and has variously taught politics, preschool and dancing. She lives with her family on the outskirts of a proper forest (in Auckland, New Zealand) and returns as often as it will have her to the land of fake forests and improbable fruits where she grew up (Frenchs Forest, Sydney).