An Invitation to the Ballet Theatre

An Invitation to the Ballet Theatre
Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Helen Shoesmith
Welbeck Editions

At this time of year especially, an invitation to participate in a special VIP tour of the world of the ballet theatre, particularly when it culminates in watching a performance of Swan Lake on stage is very enticing. This invitation enables the reader to go on a virtual outing to the world of ballet that begins with an empty auditorium capable of seating over two thousand people. Next comes a look at what happens in the costume department where, beneath a gate-fold, there’s a designer fashioning a ball gown for the dancer who is to play the part of Cinderella in an up-coming show, as well as other people hard at work. 

I never before realised that there is a ballet-shoe manager responsible for checking that every dancer’s pointe shoes fit properly and that the right ones are always available. We explore the crucial warm-up routines, the clothes worn for training, see the various ballet positions and movements being practised in a morning class and then watch what happens in the rehearsal studio where the dancers spend a fair part of the day. 

Those of us who just go and enjoy a ballet performance don’t stop to think about the considerable amount of stress, both physical and mental, that dancers are under, nor about the importance of a dancer’s diet. These aspects require expert support to ensure the performers stay healthy in mind and body. To that end there is a healthcare suite wherein we see dancers working with weights, gyrotonic equipment for stretching and toning, doing Pilates exercises and consulting the experts available.

We also visit the orchestra pit, and the make-up room: I was surprised to find that most ballerinas apply their own make-up prior to going on stage; this involves accentuating features to make sure they are seen clearly under the bright stage light no matter where members of the audience are sitting.

Produced in consultation with English National Ballet’s Ballet Futures programme, this terrific, highly informative, beautifully illustrated book, is one to include in classroom collections, to give to youngsters who aspire to be become dance performers, or indeed to any child who is going to a visit to the theatre to watch a ballet.

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