the daily column

The Ballet

So a friend is forced to drop out of attending a ballet performance due to work commitments, and she offers the ticket to me. I think to myself, “who me?”, but then I reconsider: “Why the hell not?” And thus it is that I found myself at Manon, performed by The Australian Ballet at the Sydney Opera House, which also marks the first time I’m actually going inside the Opera House, after all these years in Sydney.

My impressions?

  • The Opera House is… shall we say distinctly Modernist, even on the inside? It seems a little no-nonsense, concrete and clean lines in wood. From inside, it doesn’t particularly strike as an architectural wonder, nor quite as opulent and grand as one might expect from an “Opera house”… but then chances are I’ve been spoilt rotten by the three places I’ve seen stage-shows in London, all of which were grander than my imagining and had an old world charm. SOH comes out alright in comparison, but it appears to definitely be a building to admire from afar.
  • Ballet is essentially musicals without the lyrics, and better dancing. Also better music – from this all-too-brief introduction to the genre, the orchestra plays a role front-and-centre in the exposition in a ballet. As opposed to a musical, this allows you to focus more clearly on the music and the dance than let the lyrics and speech distract your attention.
  • More is the pity that the orchestra doesn’t play much of a more prominent role. Buried as it was in the orchestra pit (inevitably), I got the feeling that their role was underplayed compared to the dancers, when really the orchestra almost entirely construct and conduct the evening at their pace. I suppose it’s a compromise that must be made given that it’s a ballet, after all.
  • That said, full credit must go to the dancers and choreographer for bringing the various whims of a composer into context with the dance – abstract as it may be at times, it provides a visual counterpoint to a purely audio experience that could have been interpreted in all manner of ways.
  • There’s so much going on on stage that it’s easy to miss something – little wonder then that people go time and time again to the same show. While for the most part there’s a clear draw of attention, the dancers in the background never seem to let up, maintaining their stage personas and frittering around the edges.
  • When they call them “tights”, they really aren’t kidding!
  • These people are fit. Clearly not just in a we’re-dancing-every-day-so-we’re-skinny-as – the ladies stay up on their tip-toes for extended periods, and move around at a fair clip without appearing to break a sweat – no heavy-breathing was visible to me, even after they’d ran around a fair bit. And the men – some of the lifts were practically holding the women up in the air or waist-at-shoulder-heght on a single hand. This is while prancing around themselves enough to raise a sweat in any ordinary man. Maximum respect.
  • That all said, were it not for the trusty program guide handed to me on my way in, I would’ve been all at sea – clearly, I am not one to fully comprehend interpretive dance. On the other hand, I can follow the line of reasoning behind this – a certain level of intellectual snobbery, if you will, meaning that if you know the story beforehand you’re educated and cultured enough to belong amongst the intellectual elite.
  • Finally, some of the moves are damn suggestive – were it to be a more modern movie, say, you would’ve had to exclude many of the kiddies from attending. Or maybe that’s just me and my ingrained analyse-this-for-subtext from years of English.

All up, I think it’s definitely a cultural experience to be had, and the performers, dancers and orchestra both, are brilliant. The Opera House in some ways is a disappointment, but any complaints are well qualified with the fact that the accoustics still did sound excellent, and the modernist style is a refreshing change in many ways.

But… I think you’d struggle to drag me to another ballet performance without a helluva reason for attending =)

2 replies on “The Ballet”

Sounds like fun. sadly, the only ballet I’ve ever been to is the San Francisco company’s performance of the Nutcracker… which is actually pretty awesome – so I’m not complaining. I must get out more though.

I remember going to the opera house during an organ practice, and I thought it sounded great, but I don’t particularly remember anything about the interior. The exterior is impressive. I must then agree with you based on my limited memory hehe…

I really do have a lot of respect for dancers. It’s a difficult profession. Your comment about the background dancers reminded me of A Chorus Line, which I saw with my parents last year. Another reason such large-scale live performances are so amazing, everyone is working so hard to perfect their role, no matter how small, and worked hard to get there.

I guess they pit the orchestra so we don’t get distracted by them. I know I tend to, since I’ve had to perform musically in the past. The music in itself can be fantastic, but I guess it’s not the point of a ballet.

Yeah, it wasn’t too bad a night out, and now I have immense respect for ballerinas – I can just try putting myself in their shoes and realise the pain and effort they’d have to put in to get to where they are.

And re the music – I think I’ve got more of an ear for music than I have an eye for dance, so I guess I’d probably be better off at pure orchestral performances or smaller recitals. I was supposed to go see more live music this year, but ended up doing little =/

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