09 10 / 2012

Writing the above title makes me think that I should be a seven-year-old girl, about to exuberantly declare my adoration for the art, after either an exciting if daunting first ballet lesson, or my first visit to see one. However, seven-year-old me probably would have deemed ballet as too girly or boring. And of course that’s one of the biggest problems with performing arts, especially those such as opera and ballet. It is the preconceptions people have before seeing such a thing. Ballet can be deemed as ‘snobby’, or something that only older people or little girls enjoy. (I hasten to add, I’ve never shared those views, I’m just acknowledging that they are very prevalent amongst those unfamiliar with the arts!).

It tends to have this pre-attached stigma. Certainly it is considered as something of high culture and can seem daunting to those who have not yet ventured into that world. I suppose in that respect, I have regarded it the same way. Afraid that perhaps the ballet world wouldn’t welcome me in, that perhaps I’d be considered too ‘low-brow’ with regards to my other tastes, or automatically judged because I am perhaps not in-keeping with the typical ballet-goers age. Silly how I have never judged those who do attend and tried to avoid stereotyping in my mind, yet I’m stupidly concerned with the way that THEY will judge ME.

Anyway, seven-year-old me was probably only just getting into musical theatre, if that. And ballet, as I found (and always knew), though sharing some similarities with musical theatre (music being one, obviously), is a very different medium. So while seven-year-old me was not ready for ballet, twenty-something year-old me certainly was.

My prior knowledge was fairly limited. Cats was my firstWest Endshow, arguably a contemporary, musical theatre-ized version of a ballet. I’d fallen in love with Billy Elliot’s story years ago and always enjoyed the ballet segments in The Phantom of the Opera. This was enough to pique my interest to the point where I decided to make a conscious effort to see a full ballet. Initially, I wanted to seeSwanLake. It’s probably (arguably) one of the best known, most famous and traditional ballets, but was not being performed locally. And then I saw the Northern Ballet Company’s production of Beauty and the Beast was going to be inNorwich, a city not too far from me. A good start, I thought, for I already loved the age old story and it would mean I would be able to follow everything without having to worry about not quite understanding what some parts were about.

My decision proved wise. Not because I was unable to follow what was happening, but because knowing the story enabled me to appreciate the dance aspect even more and focus on parts that I perhaps would not have, had I not known the story. I even knew some of the pieces of music that were used, for the company had chosen to use already existing pieces rather than having a whole composition of its own. Perhaps that is the norm for this ballet; I am not sure and have not as yet researched the matter! I also wasn’t expecting the more modern setting (tour bus, anyone?!) and the humour scattered throughout. If someone had told me I would have been laughing out loud at a ballet, I wouldn’t have believed them! The production had stunning sets that adapted seamlessly through revolves and other mechanisms for the different scenes. I adored the use of roses throughout, a motif familiar with the story, and especially Beauty’s rose bed. Martha Leebolt was exquisite as Beauty, the grace in her dancing only adding to her character name and Giuliano Contadini was both sinister and oddly adorable as the Beast. Out of all the dance, I especially loved Beast’s choreography. Far from the flowing grace of Beauty and the others, his movements were often low to the ground, crouching and prowling, every bit true to his name.

All in all, (I never said this would be a proper review!) I think the Northern Ballet Company (and David Nixon) really surpassed themselves in working to making ballet more accessible to everyone. They took a usually daunting medium and made it open and inviting. From those around me, it seemed that everyone enjoyed it, whether they were regular ballet attendees, or first timers like me. No one was left feeling alienated or out of their comfort zone. At first I found it strange, watching something without any sort of words or song, but then I was swept up in the dancing and story and was left eagerly waiting to see how this version played out. I wasn’t disappointed and I will absolutely be going to see more ballets in the future because I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It is yet another medium that is encompassed in my love for theatre and the performing arts. What’s next to conquer? Opera!