A Night at the Ballet

After a year living in the cultural city of Berlin, I’ve finally been to the ballet. Last night I went to the Deutsche Oper to see a performance of The Sleeping Beauty by the Staatsballett Berlin.

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Photo: Bernd Uhlig

I turned up in time for the pre-performance-introduction, offered before most concerts and performances here. I find them particularly helpful before operas, when you realise on entering the building that you forgot to read a quick plot summary before setting off and now face several hours of guesswork (although to be honest, love-betrayal-revenge-death normally covers it). However, often I can’t help feeling like I could be listening to a university seminar presentation. The speaker simply stands up, reassures the audience that there will still be time to buy drinks and food from the bar even if they stay until the end of the talk (a mixture of bribery and not-so-subtle flogging their wares me thinks), reads their speech from a sheet, before thanking the audience for listening and leaving the podium.  What they say is undoubtedly well-researched, but there is no audience interaction or opportunity to ask questions, and one gets the feeling anybody could have written it; there is no personal touch. But this seems in-keeping with the general formality of the music industry here in Germany.

Whatever you may have thought about ballet up until now, please indulge me for a moment. I decided last night that ballet really does provide something that will appeal to most people’s interests. For example:

Music – two and a half hours of wonderful orchestral music by Tchaikovsky
Costumes – incredible works of art – glittery, imaginative, detailed, bedecked with jewels.
Choreography – the fancy footwork was the work of Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato (Nacho being a shortening of Ignacio, which, incidentally, was the name of the chef that invented the famous Tex-Mex dish Nachos when hungry guests turned up after closing time leading him to improvise…)
Drama – dangerous spindles, wicked fairy godmothers, curses, vying suitors, the kiss of life…
Magic – I don’t want to give anything away, but the entrance of wicked fairy godmother Carabosse was impressive to say the least, aided by her Wizard-of-Oz-style creepy monkey sidekicks
Cross-dressing – the wicked fairy godmother is in fact…a man!
Staging/scenery – the set took us from a brilliant ballroom, into the woods, on a gondola, to the peacock-adorned palace.
People watching – the foyer is a fascinating place during the intervals, and the size of the auditorium means there is always lots of action just before the lights go down. I spent quite a while trying to work out whether one particular lady was wearing a hat, or whether it was actually her hair. And if the latter, how much hairspray had she needed to make it stay like that?!
Quiet time – even if it’s no more than an excuse to sit quietly in the dark for a while – one parent recently admitted to me that she actually quite enjoyed taking her children to see Captain Underpants at the cinema for that very reason – when else would she get an hour and a half undisturbed in the middle of the day during school holidays where she could just sit and relax or have a nap?
Wine – much is on offer and there is even more than one interval in which to enjoy it
Languages – there may not have been any speech during the performance itself (save one dancer commanding “Maestro”, which was totally unnecessary in my opinion) but around the building I heard at least German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and other languages non-identified (by me at least).

Convinced yet?

In an attempt to encourage younger audiences, last night was one of the “family performances”. Apart from the fact that I believe children’s tickets were markedly reduced for that performance, I don’t really see what else made it especially child-friendly. It still started at 7.30pm and didn’t finish until about 10.15pm – surely a matinee would have been more suitable? I think there was a special children’s workshop earlier in the day; highly commendable, but surely a further guarantee that the children will not last until the end of the ballet? It felt like a late night for me, let alone a six-year-old. The three children in front of me did very well, but were fast asleep by the second interval (luckily they didn’t snore).

Fazit: I came out smiling. I could have sat through it all again. Go tutu the ballet!

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Photo: Yan Revazov
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