I am now a ballet mum. Having danced from the age of three until I was 24, getting my teaching diploma in the process, it feels very strange now to wrestle G Major into her tights and leotard and wave her off to class and not go myself.
G Major loves ballet, and there are distinct shades of her mother when she demands I move the coffee table off the rug so she has “more room for beautiful dancing”. Enthusiasm definitely outweighs skill currently, but I wanted to tap into that enthusiasm by going to see a real ballet.
Traditionally the Nutcracker is the ballet to which one takes small children, but a full length ballet is hard work for littlies, and I think the story of The Nutcracker is actually quite complicated, with all the sweets from round the world and so on.
So I was excited to lean about My First Ballet, a joint venture by the English National Ballet and second year students from the English National Ballet School. Designed for children 3+, this year’s ballet is Sleeping Beauty. The ballet features a cut down version of the score and a narrator to help the audience follow the story.
Before we went, we talked about what we’d see, what a theatre looks like (stage, curtains, seats etc) and how we behave at the theatre. We also read the story of Sleeping Beauty a number of times – I changed the names original Grimm characters as we went to reflect the names used in the ballet.
G Major barely sits through a full length film, so I wasn’t sure how she’d manage with a ballet, so I invited Grandma for crowd control and a spare lap. In the event, G Major was completely absorbed, although the view was better from our laps rather than from her own seat.
The costuming was beautiful and the giant set very effective. The choreographer, ENB’s Associate Artist George Williamson, has greatly emphasised the use of ballet mime to tell the story, making it easy for the young audience to see who was ‘beautiful’ or ‘a prince’, or who might ‘die’ or just ‘fall asleep’.
The narrator took the form of an older Princess Aurora, retelling the story of her christening, enchantment and eventual rescue. It was clear and easy to follow, but didn’t interrupt the dancing action.
The dancers themselves were excellent. It’s a great opportunity for the second year students to perform as part of a professional company, and they were very strong even when faced with some difficult choreography such as the Rose Adagio.
Interval was blessedly long enough to get a theater full of young children, mostly girls, through the toilets. The audience is encouraged to dress up; if not, there are plenty of tiaras, fairy wings and wands on sale at the box office. Overall the audience was extremely well behaved, a testament to just how engaging the production is – they were all captivated.
G Major absolutely loved it (almost as much as she loved the balloon from Giraffe after lunch) and we’ll definitely be going to another next year.
The production is still touring – you can see full details of the tour until July here