A Few Practical Tips for Visiting a Ballet Performance

“Guys, seeing real ballet live it’s … (sighs) it’s like another world. Gunn, these guys are tight, and you’re gonna be trippin’ out.”
Angel in “Angel” S3E13

So, this was a ballet weekend. I watched a live performance of “Romeo & Juliet” in Hamburg on Saturday and a live streaming of “Don Quixote” in the local cinema on Sunday.

(Plus “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” — or “The Huntsman & the Ice Queen” — directly after “Don Quixote”. It was one of those weekends.)

I have written a few postings about ballet performances, but I’d like to recommend visiting a ballet again. If it is a good performance, you see a masterful expressions of what the human body is capable of — a story told solely by gestures, facial expressions and dance (plus music). If it is a bad performance, you still see the beautiful bodies in graceful poses. It’s win-win.

But if you have never visited a ballet, it might be strange to do so. What are the rules? What should you take into account?

Personally, I like Speck and Cisneros (2003) “Ballet for Dummies” for their practical tips regarding visiting a ballet (chapter 17). For example:

  • to understand the play
    • listening to the music beforehand and read about the story to get an idea what it is about
    • read about the ideas the composers and choreographer(s) wanted to convey with their specific adaptation
    • listen to the pre-concert talk (if offered)
    • buy and read the ballet program
  • to get the most out of the experience
    • arrive early and look at the place and the people (it’s a great place for people-watching)
    • regarding the seats, seats at the back of the balcony are often best for seeing the overall choreography and listening to the sound, while seats in the front may provide awful overall visuals and listening experience, but you can see the facial expressions of the dancers
  • and to fit in
    • wear what you feel comfortable in (you can dress up, but there is no need for it)
    • eat and drink little (this isn’t the time to use the restroom)

The “Ballet for Dummies” book is very interesting and easy to digest (it’s “for dummies” after all) and a recommendation if you are interested in ballet.

Personally I would add that

  • clothes are really not an issue (Well, except that one time I got confused with a light technician, but yeah, black pullover and trousers work. One person in front row on Saturday was wearing a pink T-shirt and jeans and nobody batted an eye.)
  • there is something to be said for seeing the dancers up close (one reason why I prefer seats in the first row, and if I cannot get them, the front row of a balcony)
  • if you want to have any chance of understanding the story, yep, find out the story beforehand (read the program what happens in each act) — after all, this isn’t about being surprised by the story, it is about the story being expressed by the dancers bodies (so you should know it beforehand)
  • regarding the evening, find out the number of intermissions (usually one or two, and it should be in the program)
  • during the performance, take care what happens in the background (in some performances, there is a lot happening there)

Besides these tips, there is a huge variance in the performances. Both of the story and the way it is told. Regarding the story there is everything from, well, literally Shakespeare (“Romeo & Juliet”, “The Taming of the Shrew”) to … well, giving highly skilled dancers a rationalization to dance (“Don Quixote”(*)). And as for the way it is told, in some performances, the focus is solely on the protagonists — with hardly anything else happening and a rather austere stage design. In others … well, it’s just a firework for the eye and brain (again, “Don Quixote”).

All in all, still new to me, but — so far — always a delight. 🙂

Do you have additional tips regarding visiting a ballet? If so, leave a comment.


(*) Don’t get me wrong, “Don Quixote” was highly enjoyable. But the overall story was mostly an excuse to provide a frame for others to dance. And waow, dance they did. Also, strikingly beautiful dresses. Main dancers had dresses that perfectly matched their bodies (e.g., hair color, skin tone, etc.). Perfect fit. Beautifully done.