So, I finally went to the ballet

Or rather, I went to see contemporary dance – strictly speaking what I saw wasn’t traditional ballet. Whatever, ballet’s one word, whereas contemporary dance is two…

When I wrote my original 2010 Firsts post, I included: ‘Watch live ballet (Matthew Bourne for preference)’. One of the comments that followed was from the lovely Jules, who is a dancer and therefore enjoys watching such things, who suggested I go with her. After 7 months, she took matters into her own hands and inside my birthday card I discovered a promise of a ticket to see Bourne’s Cinderella this Christmas.

You might be surprised that I’d managed to avoid ballet for over 29 years, given that I’m usually such a culture vulture. I’d wondered myself. True, I wasn’t shipped off to ballet lessons age 4 (the ballet teacher of classes in our church hall smoked cigars, my mother didn’t like her), but I did read ballet books voraciously – especially the Drina series by Jean Estoril. My sister somehow managed to rebel and finally got lessons aged 11, resulting in her taking both GCSE and A-level dance. [Yes, such qualifications exist and are not the dossy option they may sound. Like English you have set-texts; like Music you have to learn a whole new language of notation; and like Biology, you have to know a heck of a lot of anatomy.]

Anyway, I digress. The real reason why I never got to see ballet growing up was revealed when I was chatting to my mum en route to the theatre – apparently neither of my parents liked it, so they didn’t want to take us. Fair enough, and it may also explain why they never took us to musicals, instead finding willing friends who would.

So, Saturday was the day – exciting stuff, made all the more exciting with the frisson of danger provided by a mid-morning blizzard. Would I get to Sadler’s Wells? Would Jules? Would the cast be able to make it?  Would it snow more while we were in there? Would we get stranded in Islington? On reflection, walking to London Bridge was possibly an error, though certainly beautiful…

Reaching Islington (and with the snow no longer falling) we felt as though we were in a Richard Curtis film. One day, when I am married to a rich man and have children clad solely in Mini Boden, I will live on a street like this:

Apologies, I appear to have gone off on another tangent. Anyway, eventually we got to theatre, found our seats (and my GBF who’d taken up our spare ticket) and waited for the curtain to lift. I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t like it or that I’d be bored – but by the time the first scene was over, I’d pretty much got the hang of it.

“Got the hang of it”?? I know, it sounds odd, but really, the concept of a story told solely by dance with no speech (or singing) was really rather alien! It took a while to get used to the fact that no one was going to speak or explain what was going on. Plus, the stage was so full (at some points) of dancers doing different things that at times it was tricky to work out who you ought to be watching to make sure you followed the story.

In typical Bourne fashion, although this was Cinderella, it was Cinderella with quirks. Set during the London blitz it incorporated the bombing of Café de Paris and used the classic venue for the ball. There were no ugly step-sisters, instead there were two glamorous step-sisters and three step-brothers. The fairy godmother was a male angel and the prince was an injured RAF pilot. [In fact, there were considerable similarities with A Matter of Life and Death with dream sequences and a heavenly figure only certain people could see.]

The biggest quirk, as far as I (and GBF) were concerned was that Cinderella jumped into bed with the pilot and it was from there that she disappeared, leaving behind her sparkly shoe. To quote GBF as we left, “that Cinderella was a bit of a whore, wasn’t she?” – and I’d always thought that she was such a nice girl…

What else to say? The costumes were stunning, with gorgeous long skirts and evening dresses (though GBF felt that Cinders’ ball gown wasn’t sparkly enough) and the set design impressive and true to life. How many ballets include a large motorbike and steam train? Not to mention a scene set on an underground platform? The music was Prokoviev, which meant that it didn’t match the swing style dancing of the era, but this didn’t really matter and it all fitted. Knowing little about choreography, I probably can’t comment further on that aspect.

A Christmas trip to the ballet is traditional, but I was surprised by quite how many children were there. Bourne is known for having his risqué moments (as I mentioned, Cinders was a bit of a floozy) and there was a sex scene (discreetly done) with a prostitute as well as a weird foot fetish on the part of one of the step-brothers. But perhaps when you’re 6 and entranced by the music and sparkling lights you don’t notice such things?

One final note on Sadler’s Wells itself. It’s a thoroughly sensible theatre with plenty of toilets. This may sound like an odd quality to note, but it’s highly important. Do you know how many ladies loos a typical West End theatre has? Approximately 6. At the Savoy (home of Legally Blonde) there were 3 for the entire stalls, meaning a queue for the whole interval that wasn’t worth bothering with. At Sadler’s Wells our level had 12 very nice ones meaning you could go to the toilet and the bar during the same interval and still have time for a good chat.


  1. OOh, that sounds fantastic. I’ve seen a few ballets in my time and I greatly enjoyed them. Having done gymnastics for many years I know some of the technical aspects but really it’s about the music, the costumes, the overall spectacle. The modern twist sounds right up my street. Sadly I think all my Christmas and birthday presents have already been bought.

  2. Do you happen to have any of the Drina books of loanable status? We had one, which I love, but I’ve never been able to/got round to getting hold of any more.

  3. Becki, we had the complete set & they’re all in Belfast (i.e where I’ll be for the next week), but I doubt I’ll have room to bring any back. Maybe another time. I’ve had them over here once before & lent them to Ann who was super, super excited to have them!

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