A few comments about (visiting a) Ballet

Dr Lecter thinks he can be swept through with the herd, as long as the herd accepts him. He has toured some historic sites and galleries with these tourists, he has flown in the stews of the airplane with them, but there are limits: He cannot eat this airline swill with them.
“Hannibal” by Thomas Harris

On Sunday I saw “Giselle” at the ballet in Stuttgart. Regarding the skill, costumes and set, it was by far the most impressive of the four ballet performances I have seen so far. Since the 30th of December, 2013, I’ve seen:

and each experience was worth it.

Personally, it might sound a bit like chasing the dragon, but the best so far was the first one. You just can’t beat the power and energy of two dancers who just … complement each other. Forget the romantic love of teenagers, forget whining at the grave, but finding someone who gets you … and who not only completes you, but gets you to operate on a higher level … that’s not just love, that’s … sufficient for a raison d’être. Forget nihilism, forget Sartre, that’s it. And expressing this perfectly with the whole body in graceful movements … waow.

But anyway, I have no experience in ballets and still operate on the level of “I know what I like and I like this”. And seriously, what’s not to like? If the dancers are skilled, you see incredible grace and beauty. Even if the grace of the dancers is beyond you, to refer to Wally’s comment about Yoga classes, you see beautiful women in tight clothes stretching in … stimulating positions. And yup, also men, if that’s what you are interested in. But yeah, these dancers use their body as an instrument … and they are … incredible.

Anyway, here are some tips based on the first four performances I had the opportunity to experience.

  • Make it an event
    If I had just one recommendation to make, it would be this. Make it an event. Seriously. The dancers are dedicated individuals who put incredible stress on their bodies (and frequently burn it out after a few decades) to do an incredible performance. Do not take this lightly. Enjoy it. Make the best of it. Personally, I have never understood why people bitch about the price of the tickets. It’s a luxury item. You will not die if you do not visit a ballet performance. It will have little if any impact on your health or well being. But if you have the chance to see skillful professionals and hear an orchestra playing just as background music, why not make the best of it? Get the best view you can get. Personally, I sat in the first row, in the box on the first level on the right side, and in the middle box — and each time it was worth it. This is not a school performance where everyone is a winner irrespective of what they do. These are professionals. The performance is unique. Get the best you can get because these dancers (and musicians) are giving you the best.
  • Understand the language of ballet
    Reading chapter 16 “What the Heck Are They Saying? The Art of Ballet Mime” of “Ballet for Dummies” by Scott Speck and Evelyn Cisneros was really helpful. Yes, it’s obvious in hindsight. Yet, after reading it, I began to notice more than I previously did. It’s a bit like hearing subtitles. You just understand what the dancers are “talking” about. It’s … just obvious. Okay, when it came to Giselle, having seen a Star Trek episode (forgot which one) where the Klingons ostracized someone by turning their backs on him … ah, love Google, my video library and a couple of other things: “The House of Quark”, season 3, episode 3, helped as well.
  • Front row is best
    Yes, you see more of the choreography when you sit up high, e.g., in a box on the first level, and the sound is usually better as well. But if you really want to see the expressions of the dancers unassisted by binoculars or other helps, get the front row. Also, unlike a pure orchestra performance, you want to hear the orchestra but nothing else. Chance are better in a row in the front where people keep (more or less) quiet than in a box where people think they “own” it and talk.
  • If someone is disturbing the performance, give feedback
    In the best of worlds, people would get some kind of information with their ticket. Things like “It does not matter if you whisper, it will sound like SCREAMING in a building DESIGNED TO PROVIDE THE BEST ACOUSTICS POSSIBLE”. Or, if your breathing would make your owners shot you if you were a dog, don’t attend. But sadly, this isn’t so. No, I am not a snob. But I have a sense for beauty. And people sniffing like they are about to die distracts from this beauty. Yes, it might be “routine” and “the show must go on no matter if I fall” for the dancer, but it’s something that in this form will not occur again in eternity … so have some respect. And if it is not you, give feedback. In one performance, I told a mother that her child whispering to her was like screaming, and to the child’s credit, she did shut up (and limited her comments to the moments other people were making noise, i.e., applauding). In another performance, some angry looks and shaking my head was enough to get the simple message through that comments about the beautiful set and performance IS SOMETHING FOR THE MOMENTS WHERE THE AUDIENCE APPLAUDS! Unless you tell them too, they will not stop.
  • Get the programme
    Yes, it might be expensive, i.e. you cross finance art worth financing. But getting the programme will give you some information about the story and background and immensely help in understanding the performance. Which means you can give the dancers (and orchestra) the credit they deserve. It will also tell you the number of acts the ballet has — so if you are totally lost regarding the story, you at least know the difference between a break and the end of the show. For example, in “Romeo & Juliet”, it ends with the main characters dying, in “Giselle”, the death of the main character is the end of act one.
  • Eat before you visit a ballet
    Yup. I have no qualms paying 8€ for a glass of wine. I guess that at least some of the money will finance the ballet and it will give me a nice buzz. But if you want to eat something there isn’t much and it’s extremely overpriced. So eat something beforehand.
  • If you are involved in a ballet company …
    … how about offering sound-proof headsets connected to the sound produced the by orchestra. Personally, I would pay extra for an undisturbed sound performance. Seeing true beauty on stage but having to listen to a … senior citizen “sniffing” … that’s just wrong. It’s a Hannibal Lector moment. It’s one of those times where you can thank your maintenance crew that there is no piano wire lying around. So how about offering these sound-proof headphones where you can enjoy the unique performance your orchestra is capable off, yet block out the sounds of people talking and sniffing right next to you. It would be one thing if it were the lice in the hair of the rabble, but these are the best seats, so why not down out those on the “best” places beside you?

But no matter the tips. No matter what you know or don’t know. Consider this. We are animals. We are the product of evolution. And now watch a ballet. Watch the celebration of beauty and grace. This expression of emotion. And consider for one moment the incredible gift it is to be human … and have other human beings being capable of such a performance, and having the incredible opportunity of watching such a performance.

There are many things wrong with our world. There are many ugly things. Many ugly people. Many misdirections and lies.

This … this performance, isn’t one of them. It is a thing of beauty.

And yeah, sometimes … life … can be … something.