I’ve never seen ballet. My sister and I have danced in our youth. She still does. This means trips to small local theatres to watch Mummy’s precious little darlings stand and do nothing in frilly tutus or the older generation in an ill-fitting leotard wince as they go on point. This was my experience of ballet until a friend informed us of live theatre screenings! Did I know that was a thing? I did indeed. Would I see ballet? I paused. I was aware that there were screenings from the Royal Opera House but it had never crossed my mind to go and see one. My background and knowledge only extended to theatre. I didn’t think I would be able to appreciate it. Then I thought fuck it, carpe diem, and yolo. You’ve got to try everything once, right? So for the first time in a while, I had company to the cinema for a Royal Opera House screening.
My first ballet was to be Manon. Thankfully, like the NT Lives, there was an introduction by Darcy Bussell. She quickly become annoying, it was like the Darcy Bussell show. “I’ve done Manon, I’ve been Manon. Sure, let’s watch this performance but I doubt it will be as good.” What I can deduce from what the actual ballerinas told me is the movement is like the script, it hasn’t changed from Kenneth MacMillan’s original choreography forty years ago. Not sure about the other roles, there was someone in charge of staging and a ballet master and mistress. I’m not going to pretend to understand these roles, but I will say they did an excellent job because it was a good ballet that I totally understood!
Basically, it’s that old chestnut: love versus money. Manon is a beautiful woman on her way to a convent when she meets a handsome young man studying to become a priest. Now, I believe in love at first sight but I don’t think they ever held much respect for the church if they dropped their pants that quickly. Despite their ‘I’m so in love with you’ dance, Manon is pressured by her older brother to choose the wealthy man. She seems happy until, especially during the ‘I’m so rich, here’s something sparkly for you’ dance. But seeing her lover at a party, she realises she has made the wrong decision. That ‘I’m so terribly lonely’ dance was pretty convincing. I won’t tell you the ending, but it’s similar to any great tragedy, everybody dies.
I thought I would struggle; without dialogue, I thought I’d have no hope of following the plot. But the dancing was so expressive, coupled with the score, it was more than capable in portraying love, betrayal and desperation. It helped that there was close ups. I wouldn’t have been able to watch it with the same ease in the theatre at the back, the only area I could have afforded tickets. I may not fully understand the traditions, history or logistics of a ballet, but I won’t let that stop me from seeing one again. This is helpful as my friends and I did a job lot and we’re seeing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in December!