Recently I was lucky enough to attend a general rehearsal of the renowned fairy tale and long-established ballet, Sleeping Beauty, at the Royal Opera House in Convent Garden.
This particular ballet holds a special significance for the company, as it was the first performance staged when the Opera House reopened in 1946 after World War II. Ballet is a classical art, and whilst improved set technology and special effects may have increased on stage drama, the show does not much differ from the choreography and music that brought Marius Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s vision of the ballet to life in 1697. This continuity renders the performance a time capsule of classical magic, allowing the observer to feel that they might just as easily be in an audience of the 17th century, as of the 21st.
It was difficult to feel anything but awe throughout the three hour performance: at the glittering costumes, the intricate sets and the music so ingeniously crafted to manipulate the emotions and excitement of every audience member sat in the grand hall. Most spellbinding however, were the movements of the dancers, so synonymous with the music that it was hard to believe the two things did not come from one body. Whilst it was clear the choreography required unrelenting stamina, skill acquired over years of training and, in many places, a type of strength and control the average person could only dream of, the dancers were able to create an immaculate illusion of effortlessness. Each ballerina created an impression of weightlessness, twirling across the stage and, at times, seeming to float above its very surface. The presence of fairies within the story appeared therefore to be very apt to the images created on stage.
Being one of the more theatrical ballets, the stage was often filled with dozens of dancers in elaborate period costumes and tutus, creating a swirl of colour as they flew around the stage in perfect co-ordination. Whilst the visual art of these formations on stage were truly something to behold, it was the solo and paired sequences performed by Akane Takada as Aurora that were truly mesmerising. Often performed on a large stage with minimal sets, it was her movement alone that succeeded in filling the stage and holding the audience transfixed. There could be no doubting the skill, strength, and above all balance, the shapes created by the Principal Ballerina required. Often holding her weight on the pointe of a single foot whilst contorting her limbs into elegant and apparently gravity defying postitions. Her performance was undeniably a living piece of artwork, each movement an illusion of a new sculpture. This feeling was clearly shared by the whole audience, with audible exclamations of wonder and amazement breaking out each time the curtain fell on one of Takada’s sequences.
Leaving the Royal Opera House’s elaborate golden theatre with a definitive feeling that I had just experienced something quite amazing, I found myself wondering why this wasn’t something people my age did more often. Whilst we’re often prone to thinking of the classical arts as something for wealthy pensioners and the elite (whoever that might be), ballet is something that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age and may even provide a refreshing contrast to the home streaming for entertainment we’ve all become accustomed to. With the idea that ballet is only something for the upper classes, the assumption follows that it is extortionately expensive and therefore not available to a large number of young people. Whilst it is not untrue that tickets can be on the pricier side, there exist a number of programmes offering subsidised ticket prices to young people in order to allow them to access the ballet – one of these being The Royal Opera House, which you can find out about here: https://www.roh.org.uk/ticket-deals/young-roh
So, next time you are looking for something new to experience, fancy a day up in London, or simply want a change from the bright screen of your TV, consider the ballet and if it’s being staged, Sleeping Beauty at The Royal Opera House!