To the uninitiated, the ballet might seem a little daunting: an old-fashioned cultural institution that leads to a stuffy and expensive night out. But the ballet in 2019 is anything but old-world. Innovative choreographers, talented creatives and superhuman dancers are making work that is exciting and memorable.
“The great thing about the ballet is there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy it,” says Alex Wyatt, the senior artistic coordinator at The Australian Ballet. “People go for so many different reasons: you might just really want to hear the amazing music by whichever incredible composer has written the score, or the costumes are really beautiful, or the story’s really thought-provoking.”
Even just the spectacle of the dancers doing their thing is worth the price of admission, Wyatt explains. “Watching them, after having honed their craft for so long, this being their moment to shine, is so incredible,” he says. “But whenever you go, there’s going to be something you can appreciate.”
This is doubly true for The Australian Ballet’s latest show, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Wyatt says is “a really wonderful example of a really theatrical story-filled show, where there’s something in it for everyone”.
“There’s something like 350 costumes and 25 set changes, and everyone’s got a different coloured pointe shoe on. It just looks visually spectacular.”
As far as contemporary ballet experiences go, Alice might be one of the top choices for eager viewers right now. There are things that happen in the show that you don’t expect at the ballet. “There’s the tap-dancing mad hatter; and the giant Cheshire cat puppet that looks really amazing and is a beautiful opening to act two – the house just goes wild,” Wyatt says. “The caterpillar has 16 feet, in these Swarovski crystal pointe shoes.”
But if you’ve never attended the ballet before, you might still be thinking, “How do I approach this?” Here, Wyatt offers some etiquette points, while also assuring us that ballet – which “transcends languages” – is for everyone.
What to wear
Wyatt says it’s a myth that you must dress up for the ballet. “There’ll always be people arriving in jeans or something after a day at work,” he says. “And that’s fine.”
But who doesn’t love an excuse to dress in their finest? “You can get as dressed up as you like,” Wyatt says. “It’s a wonderful excuse to put on something that you maybe don’t usually wear and to make it an occasion.”
Wyatt has one important word of caution for fashionistas, though: “Do make sure that you’re comfortable!”
Sometimes ballets are long, he explains, “and there’s nothing worse than when you’re sitting watching something really amazing, and you’re overwhelmed by everything that’s happening on stage, and then you realise that your belt’s too tight, or your shirt’s really slim, or your heels are too high. Just make sure you’re comfy.”
Before the ballet
Once you’ve decided to attend the ballet, you’re going to want to make a night of it. Wyatt says the ballet can suit a range of different occasions.
“It can be anything,” he tells us. “Sometimes I go to the ballet with a bunch of friends, and we’ll go out to a bar for a drink beforehand and grab some really easy food and then see the show like that. Or there are times where, if I’m trying to impress a date, we’ll just go straight there.” It’s also a great activity for a “ solo night out”, he says.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is on at the Arts Centre, which is surrounded by a multitude of places to eat and drink. A night out with friends is always improved by pizza and spritzes, which you can order in satisfying volumes at DOC Southbank. But if you’re looking for something simple, fresh and elegant, try Long Chim, the perfect place for a quick curry and a cocktail with a date.
If you’re just after drinks, sink a drink at Cumulus Up Wine Bar across the river, which has just enough upscale intimacy for a date. Or, if you’re with a rowdier gang, you can try Garden State Hotel, a lively space that can accommodate larger groups.
And as Wyatt reminds us, “At the Arts Centre [in Melbourne] you can take your drink in with you, so that’s always good if you’re celebrating a night out.”
How to behave
Wyatt insists there isn’t a huge set of rules for attending the ballet, like many of us might imagine. “The number one thing to remember is to be on time,” he says. “Ballet waits for no-one.”
“The show starts at the time on your ticket. So, if you’re making a night of it, get there nice and early, hang out in the foyer. It’s always fun doing some people-watching,” he jokes, and, “if you’re in Melbourne, the foyers have a gorgeous atmosphere and are filled with beautiful artwork.”
Should you clap during the ballet? “I guess, take your cue from the rest of the audience,” says Wyatt. “But it’s not like when you see a symphony, where you can’t clap between movements or anything. If the dancers are doing something like lots of spins, or jumping really high, or look like they’re doing amazing feats of splendour, then go wild.”
Wyatt assures us that everyone on stage loves to hear a receptive and enthusiastic audience, so don’t be afraid to clap if something looks exciting.
“One of the aspects will always thrill you or excite you, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t get it,” he says. “Sometimes there’s nothing to get, what’s important is how you feel.”
Broadsheet is a proud media partner of The Australian Ballet.