The Top 5 was thrilled when we were invited to attend Orlando Ballet’s opening night of Giselle. As a youngster I had, of course, seen The Nutcracker. (That’s Orlando’s version of the Rockettes, kind of like a rite of passage during Christmastime.) However, The Nutcracker features almost the entire ballet school, so I was excited to see the professional dance troupe perform.
We excitedly arrived at the Bob Carr, and my hubby was pleased to see so many physically-fit former dancers in the crowd. There were also lots of mothers with their daughters in the audience, some even wearing tiaras! As the first act lasted an hour and the pre-teen girl in front of me was held spellbound, I wondered if she were not an avid dancer. However, I noticed her mother constantly leaning over to whisper, perhaps explaining the storyline the dancers were busily intimating and pantomiming. So, I thought why not come up with some tips to help prepare you for a successful trip to the ballet.
1) Read about the storyline
Ballets don’t have dialogue or subtitles, and the characters can be difficult to determine unless you know what you are looking for, so start googling! Wikipedia has a very easy to read plot summary of Giselle, which was extremely helpful when I was watching the ballet. (How else would I know Albrecht, the noble and male lead, was a noble disguising himself as a peasant or that he was engaged to Bathilde while he was busy flirting with Giselle?) FYI, the playbill usually has a summary, too, but sometimes you may be too busy people watching or the auditorium might be too dark to read easily.
2) Research a dancer’s training
There are lots of sites on the internet as well as books at the library to see just how many years of athletic training and development it takes to become a professional ballerina, but sometimes a quick look at youtube will provide a good overview. I particularly like this one on training younger ones as well as the one below showing great athleticism from the Orlando Ballet’s Battle of the Sexes 2010:
3) Understand the Wardrobe
Let’s admit it: Americans who are not familiar with the ballet get a bit giggly when they first see most male ballerina attire. My hubby was floored when he saw the guys dancing last night, every singly ripped muscle visible through their tights… thank goodness for dance belts! And, as in the case of Albrecht whose tights were flesh-colored–good thing he looked like Twilight’s Rob Pattinson!–the costume can appear very revealing. But, yes, you get over it pretty quickly because the dancing is so great; however, it is still best to be prepared so the uninitiated don’t get too distracted.
4) Appreciate the fanatics
Ballet is a form of entertainment that goes back for centuries for a reason…people love it! And Orlando is no exception. There are some staunch fans out there who take seeing the show very seriously. And fortunately, they are educated fans, too, knowing when to show appreciation through loud applause for a particularly hard maneuver or difficult dance step.
And don’t get in a fan’s way during a performance! Take, for example, the drama that unfolded in front of me last night. We all took our seats before the show started, and a mother and her daughter (looked to be 12 years old or so) were seated directly in front of me. In front of them, was a finely dressed older couple with another set of adults, whom I took to be their grown children.
As the curtain rose, the mom leaned forward and asked the elderly man if he wouldn’t move down several places to where an empty seat was, so her daughter would have a clearer view of the stage. Now, we’re not talking just ONE seat over, but SEVERAL seats away from his family. The man politely said no, upsetting the mother quite a bit. She persisted (nastily) about how her daughter just couldn’t see very well and he was in her way. Finally, just to shut the woman up, the elderly man’s grown daughter said she would move. So, the vile mother then traded seats around so her daughter would have the unobstructed view. (Of course, the mother didn’t care that she had just blocked the view of a young girl behind her who was seated beside me!) Fanatics… they need to see their ballet! (Just don’t let them ruin your experience.)
5) Go in with an open mind
Classical ballet is not the movies…there are no action sequences, fancy movable sets, sound effects. Nothing is told in a rush, so be prepared to study the nuances of the dancers and appreciate their athleticism. In a world of information overkill, there is an elegant simplicity to the ballet, where information is conveyed via arm motions, facial expressions, and the dancer’s body. While television shows such as Dancing with the Stars or So, You Think You Can Dance have made dancing more popular than ever, these shows are also competing for ratings, and therefore must add in flashy excitement, short segments, costumes, sets, and hip hop music. They are not classical ballet, which is equally as beautiful and equally as demanding. So, when you attend, understand you are going to see something different, something less hectic, a welcome break from today’s world.
Giselle is running this weekend and next (October 23-24 and Oct. 29-31) at the Bob Carr.