Rediscovering the ‘Beauty’ of the Ballet

I’m sure most of us will wholeheartedly agree that any opportunity to venture outside of the bubble for a day is worth taking. So, on Saturday 4th February a small group of Collingwood students braved the first snow of the year to travel to Newcastle for a day of culture. Now, I will admit that I awoke on Saturday morning with a crippling feeling of I-can’t-be-bothered-ness. We were off to the ballet – Sleeping Beauty at the Newcastle Theatre Royal performed by Scottish Ballet. I for one had never been to a ballet before and this exploration into the unknown was causing me some concern. What if it was awful and we were all to hate it and waste our time and money?

It hadn’t really been our intention to go to a ballet – we chose the date first and then booked whatever happened to be showing. When we posted the news on the Collingwood Arts facebook group the reception was quite positive but it was duly noted that the majority of the interest came from dancers and dance enthusiasts. When I tried to rustle up some interest amongst my non-dancing friends the response was as follows; “Ummm, why have you booked a ballet?”, “I won’t understand the storyline – I don’t think they even have dialogue”, “Not being funny, but a man in tights just doesn’t do it for me”. This got me wondering about ballet as a concept and its popularity in modern society.

It originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the fifteenth century and for hundreds of years it was the height of fashion; the ballet was the place to be seen just like the theatre and the opera. Nowadays it seems to be a dying art in the sense that the average person doesn’t regard it with reverence or awe. In fact, the most common reaction would appear to be a cheap quip about men in hosiery.

At least that’s what I thought. But our day in Newcastle and the spectacle that was Sleeping Beauty the ballet gave me a completely fresh outlook on this wonderful art form. The first thing I noticed when we arrived at the theatre was the sheer diversity of the audience. There were representatives of every generation: families of five, six or more, grandmas and granddads, toddlers dressed in fairy wings and tutus, young couples indulging in cultural discovery and the odd seasoned theatre-goer who has that air of sophistication which makes it acceptable to attend a show alone. All of them were clutching programmes and talking in excited tones about what the costumes would be like, how many pirouettes they’d be able to do in a row and how pretty the lead ballerina would be. It was contagious. By the time we took our seats we were jigging up and down with excitement, anxious for the curtain to go up.

The show itself was magnificent. The costumes were an art unto themselves and the dancers were mesmerising. I’d hesitate to say that I followed the storyline (it deviated from the Disney telling of Sleeping Beauty so I didn’t really have a hope) so the synopsis in the programme was gratefully received.

Ultimately, it wouldn’t have mattered had we not had the synopsis to help us along. It was more than enough to watch the dancers and be captivated by their poise, grace and strength – the storyline was an added bonus. At points I was genuinely moved. In the second act there was a dance between The Bluebird and The Prince (told you it wasn’t like the Disney version) which had me so hypnotised that halfway through I noticed that my mouth was quite literally hanging open.

The show was split into three acts and each time the safety curtain came down to signify an interval there was an aura of impatience in the audience – not the normal impatience to get to the front of the ice cream queue or to dash to the toilet that usually occurs in the interval at the theatre, but an impatience for the curtain to fly right back up again and for the action to recommence.

In the theatre world they say that the hardest audience members to please are children so if you’ve managed to entertain a group of kids, everyone else should be plain sailing. As we were leaving the theatre every single child was wide-eyed and grinning fanatically, full of joy and exclamations of “Mum that was just fantastic!” or “Can I be a ballerina now please?” (I’ll be honest; the second exclamation was my own. It’s never too late to realise a dream…). I’m very glad that we went to the ballet and would absolutely recommend anyone – dancers and non-dancers alike – to do the same. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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