Last year, I saw my first ballet, Romeo & Juliet, performed live on stage here in Columbus. Since then, I’ve gone to see a production of Swan Lake, watched a video online of Fall River Legend, based on the Lizzie Borden case (no need to guess why I looked up that one), and last night I went with my mother to see Giselle live on stage. And I have to say, after a year of watching/attending performances, I’m pretty much a committed ballet fan.

So if you’re keeping count at home, I’m a Jewish horror writer who’s openly bisexual, who enjoys nerdy things like superhero movies and anime/manga, reads plenty of scary stories, collects dolls and figurines, enjoys Buckeye football, has attended heavy metal concerts and listens to a lot of 80’s music, is on the autism spectrum and advocates for disabilities, knows how to cook and bake and enjoys it, and also enjoys going to the ballet. If there’s a stereotype I fit neatly into, I don’t know what it is!

But back to ballet. How did I get into it? Well besides possibly having a thing for tutus (but come on, who doesn’t?), I’m not sure when my interest in the medium first arose. I think it might’ve been from an episode of Sailor Moon I saw when I was a kid back where the episode revolved around a ballet teacher (Sailor Moon, how many ways do you continue to influence me?). Before that, I’d dismissed ballet as for girls, but after that episode, I started to wonder if there was something to like.

And then of course, the desire to check it out went dormant, because the only filters I had for experiencing ballet were through my sisters and their direct-to-video ballet movies and specials. But I think the desire awoke again in college. I’m not sure what the catalyst was, but by senior year, I wanted to go see a production from BalletMet, Columbus’s premiere ballet company, and ballerinas started appearing in some of my story ideas (one of these days I’ll hopefully write most of those ideas). However, I could only really afford to see a show after I was employed long enough that paying for tickets wouldn’t break my bank account (turns out they’re actually pretty affordable compared to other forms of live entertainment, but I didn’t know that until recently).

Thus last April I saw Romeo & Juliet, and absolutely loved it. The combination of music, acting, costume and choreography to tell a story was beautiful and mesmerizing, and at the end, actually a little heartbreaking. I even had an idea for a ballet a day or two after seeing the show (BalletMet, email me! We’ll make an original production people will love!). It’s no surprise I’ve made a point to see more shows since then. And after watching a few shows, I’ve noticed some interesting things about the medium:

  1. It’s not just an art form, it’s also a sport. Ballet requires feats of the body that are similar to what athletes go through. They train for several hours a day, several days a week; some dancers need to build their upper body strength, especially for lifting other dancers; some leaps and dance moves look right out of a gymnastics or track and field competition; and dancers get some of the same injuries professional sports players get. It’s definitely a lot more involved than just twirling around on a stage and looking pretty, as some people might think.
  2. The stories are often simple. Not to say they’re stupid or without depth, but the stories in ballet are often a lot easier to understand than something like Game of Thrones, which is based a lot in various histories, plots, intrigues, mythologies, etc and would be difficult to convey through dance alone. They’re more often based in love stories or fairy tales, things everyone can get without much difficulty. And that’s good, in my opinion. After all, despite being considered “cultured,” ballet is supposed to be an art form for the masses to enjoy (ironic, given that the form first arose as a way to instruct Italian noble children on how to act in court). It makes sense that the stories would be aimed at the masses, rather than at only a tiny segment.

    The Willis at the end of Giselle last night.

  3. Ballet is a lot like watching a silent film. Because ballet is entirely without dialogue (with a few exceptions, like the first act of Fall River Legend), facial and body language is almost as important as being able to dance. Joy, rage or anguish, it’s important to convey how the character feels in any situation. In that sense, dancers are very much like modern silent film actors (without the make-up that makes them look like serial killers, of course).
  4. Filler moments. This is what I call moments when ballet extends certain scenes with dance routines not necessarily connected to the plot. As I said, ballet is sans dialogue, which would be used to lengthen plays or musicals. So instead they have longer dance sequences that may not be connected to the plot. In Swan Lake, there’s a sequence where Odette and Siegfried are offstage and the other swan dancers do a dance for a few minutes before the protagonists arrive back on stage, for example. It doesn’t really have much to do with the actual conflict of the story, but it’s very well done and extends the ballet so we feel like we got our money’s worth.
    Not that this is just something done to extend the show’s runtime. At times, it makes sense to have these filler moments. For example, Giselle takes place during a fall harvest festival. During the production I saw last night, there were various dance sequences in the first act where only male dancers would dance, then female dancers, then children, then lovers, etc. And this feels like something that would happen during a village harvest festival, various dances that different groups of people would take part in. This makes the illusion of the show feel more real and not just a performance.

    The main characters of Giselle.

    And at other times, filler moments allow for some amazing creativity and storytelling: in Romeo & Juliet, when Juliet is deciding whether or not to take the potion to fake her death, they actually show her struggling with whether or not to go through with her choice, and then is confronted by the ghosts of Petruchio and Tybalt, as if to remind her of what she’ll be apart of if she doesn’t take the potion. That’s not something you’d see in the original stageplay, and is something that could only be born from a performance without dialogue. Similarly, during the second act of Giselle, when we meet the supernatural spirits the Willis, we get some interesting dance moves that intimate to the audience that these are ghosts that act as one on a mission. It is really amazing.

As you can tell, I’ve gotten a lot out of going to the ballet. And with more shows out there to find and watch, I hope I can see them and get even more from them. The creativity, blending of music, dance and storytelling, and the devotion and work put into productions is why ballet has endured for so many years, and why it will continue to endure and evolve over time. And if you get the chance, I highly encourage you to go take in a show. You never know what you may experience.

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Comments
  1. Love this! I have loved ballet for years — and studied it aged 12 to mid 20s. So delighted to read this and see your love for it.

  2. Nut Cracker is the only ballet I have seen live, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. And yes! Tutus are awesome! Plus I love fairy tales the most of all stories, so… 😉

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