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A first-timer’s guide to attending the ballet

Words by Jessica Over

Images via The Australian Ballet/Jeff Busby

Hints to help you on your way.

Melbourne isn’t called the cultural capital of Australia for no reason. Between the music scene, the sporting matches, and the thriving arts community, you’ll never be at a loss to find something new to experience.

For me, that something new was ballet.

Despite the constant vague plans to experience a ballet performance, I never quite made it happen. For that reason, I was eager to attend the opening night of The Australian Ballet’s interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – and left the show with a newfound passion for the beauty, creativity and poise of such an expressive and impressive art form.

If you’re attending the ballet for the first time, here are a few hints to help you on your way:

The beauty is in the detail

When you’re able to tear your eyes away from the dancers, you’ll notice the intricate details woven into the production that make the performance the unforgettable success it is. In Alice, the costumes are one of the first aspects to draw your eye. The Mad Hatter naturally steals the show in that department, while the playing cards, Queen of Hearts, and Alice herself are works of art on stage.

I’d also highly recommend taking a moment or two to acknowledge the incredible set and lighting design when you attend the ballet. Sometimes it’s the details that register on a subconscious level that are the most impressive.

Opposing characteristics suddenly become complementary

In life, we’re often told you can be one thing but not the other. You can be bold or you can be reserved; you can exude confidence but must hide any displays of vulnerability. Ballet laughs in the face of this assumption. The dancers in each production, and certainly in Alice, are pictures of every opposing characteristic, blended seamlessly until it makes perfect sense. They are strength and they are grace, in the most effortless way possible.

Ballet isn’t just about dancing

Acting is an important part of Alice. While there’s no dialogue, there is still a story that needs to be told. Not only do the dancers execute incredibly difficult choreography, but they do so while telling a story purely through movement and expression. It’s an incredible feat to witness, and one you’re not likely to forget.

A performance is more interactive than you think

When it comes to showing your appreciation for the sheer excellence taking place on stage, ballet encourages the most beautiful spontaneous applause. After witnessing the artists complete flawless scenes, perhaps the best word to describe the audience would be awestruck. Follow the lead of those around you and when the whole theatre descends into applause, feel free to join in. There’s no doubt the performers have earned it.

You’ll never look at a story the same way

I know Alice in Wonderland. I’ve read the story time and again. I’ve watched the films and I know Lewis Carrol’s tale as well as any story I’ve read, but after seeing its ballet interpretation, I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Alice in Wonderland the same way again. I mean, sure, the films were great. But where was the dancing? How can you possibly tell this story without ballet after seeing this performance? It just won’t make sense to me without a pirouette thrown in here and there from this point forward.

The live element is not to be underestimated

James Corden hosted The Tony Awards this week and presented an opening number that paid tribute to the live aspect of theatre. His words rang true, particularly after attending the ballet. There is something unmistakably special about being at the theatre and witnessing months of rehearsals come to life. Each show of a certain production may tell the same story, but each night is undoubtedly unique in its performance. That’s the magic of live art.

There’s just something about ballet

Prepare to leave with the absolute certainty that you’ll be back again. Seeing the ballet is a reprieve from the ordinary happenings of your daily life and offers a glimpse into the extraordinary, if only for a night.

The Australian Ballet’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will grace Melbourne’s Arts Centre from Saturday June 8 – Sunday June 22. For more information, visit australianballet.com.au.

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