Welcome to the graceful and spectacular world of the ballet
What is ballet?
It's a highly formalised dance performance to music that usually tells a story.
Where did it come from?
Like so many forms of expression, ballet emerged from Italy during the Renaissance. However, it hit its stride in the courts of 17th century France, and after 1850 there were further developments in Denmark and Russia. The template for contemporary ballet was formed in Paris in the early 20th century with the Ballets Russes, consisting of exiles from revolutionary Russia.
Why do the dancers seem to have, well, rods up their arses?
Ballet dancers train for years to perfect the steps in classical ballet. The effect is unnatural, but incredibly beautiful, especially when it's happening live on stage in front of you.
Won't I be bored?
No! Even if you know nothing about ballet, it's hard not to be impressed by the athletic skill of the dancers, the lavish costumes, and the lush musical scores. Many ballets are based on folk tales and the plots are easy to follow. Ballet dancers are by definition young, fit and attractive, so the perve factor is high whether you dig girls or guys. And because the physical demands on dancers are high, ballets tend to be shorter than plays or operas. You'll probably find your first ballet is over before you know it.
What makes for great ballet dancing?
A great ballet dancer excels at five things. They must have excellent alignment - straight posture, arms and legs moving in parallel, and head held high. They must have turnout - the ability to rotate their legs to the point where they can stand with their feet heel-to-heel. Their feet must be very strong so they can stand on tiptoe (‘en pointe'). They must appear to float, being able to leap and glide through the air seemingly without effort. And they must be skilful mimes, able to convey emotion through expression and a series of gestures.
What companies produce ballet?
Occasionally an overseas or interstate ballet company will tour, but most often it'll be the Australian Ballet. Having begun in 1962, the Australian Ballet has in its repertoire some 36 full-length ballets and well over 200 one-act ballets, including differently choreographed versions of the same story. In any given year they will perform classical work, contemporary work and sometimes a new commission.
How much will I pay?
Adult tickets for the Australian Ballet range from $29 for a back-row ticket to $160. Make no mistake: the closer you are to the action, the more enjoyable the ballet. Tickets can be booked online at Australian Ballet or Sydney Opera House.
What should I wear?
You can dress up if you like, but smart casual is fine. We're a casual city.
When do I clap?
Bring a spare pair of hands - the applause at the ballet goes on for decades. It starts when the conductor comes out. It continues when a dancer completes a particularly impressive sequence or leap. The whole audience applauds at the end of each act. And at the conclusion of the show, the entire company takes several bows, even after the curtain has come down, when featured members of the ensemble come out individually. You can leave during the applause if you get tired but everyone in the theatre will judge you.
If a female ballet dancer is a ballerina, what do you call a male ballet dancer?
Why do ballerinas often wear tutus?
The traditional sticky-outy ballet skirt leaves the legs free to move, but its wafting motion also enhances the illusion of floating. Now you know.