To adapt a quote from a London Symphony Orchestra tube poster I saw the other day: “The greatest [dancers] in the world, in my own city”. This sums up for me one of the greatest pleasures of enjoying ballet in a city like London.
When I moved here from abroad six years ago, my background in dance meant I was already a huge a ballet fan. But looking back, I can see the question causing me anguish at the time was probably much the same as that facing many who are a lot less familiar with ballet but considering taking in a performance or two: “How do I choose?” Of course one of the problems is we are spoilt for choice. All of the major companies from across the world will stop through this city, bringing waves of tantalising choreography, renowned performers and famous showmanship.
For a while I cherry-picked performances to attend, which was enjoyable enough. But the real revelation came when I started to get to know our resident companies. With resident companies, you have the pleasure of being able to see them multiple times per year, to become familiar with the choreographers, to learn the style of the directors, and, most importantly, to familiarise yourself with the company dancers. The real richness of a performance comes from these factors, which can render the exact same ballet in significantly different ways.
This well and truly sunk in for me last year during the Royal Ballet’s spring run of Manon, an emotional rollercoaster of a full-length ballet choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan. Although true balletomanes wouldn’t blink an eye at the practice, this was the first time I had taken in a performance by three different casts during the same run. Was there a favourite of the three for me? Maybe. But what I enjoyed most was the diversity of interpretations each cast brought to life so vividly. Each was unique to the style of the dancers performing that night. Dancers whose style I have gotten to know and love throughbeing able to see them perform season after season on my doorstep, in my own city.
The feeling also applies to companies such as Ballet Black, Rambert Dance, and Richard Alston, who, although they tour and perform less frequently in town than the Royal Ballet, all offer wonderful performers, distinctive styles and a repertoire that it is incredibly rewarding to get to know.
So, regardless of whether you are new to ballet or wanting to immerse yourself more deeply, my advice would be to start local. If you are lucky enough to be in London, make the most of the amazing companies calling this city their home. It is one thing to enjoy a thrilling ballet performance, another to enjoy a thrilling performance by a world-famous company/dancer, and quite another to enjoy that same thrilling performance by a world-famous company/dancer whom you also recognise as an amazing, inspiring friend who never lets you down.
I know which I’ll choose every time.
Image credit: BeJaMarie.