Dance writer and critic Zoe Anderson’s new book The Ballet Lover’s Companion examines 140 of the most loved, influential and successful ballets, both classical and modern, of the past 150 years. A perfect guide to attending the ballet, the book is packed with insights and guidance for ballet aficionado or novice alike.
Anderson provides a wealth of facts, including information familiar only to dance world insiders, and considers such recent works as Alexei Ramansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy and Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale as well as older ballets once forgotten but now returned to the repertory. To celebrate the book’s publication in May, we’ve brought together six of author Zoe Anderson’s top tips for attending the Ballet.
1. Look out for ‘lost’ ballets
Up until recently ballet, like other dance forms, has often been passed down from dancer to dancer, generation to generation, in a manner equivalent to oral tradition. As a result, many ballets throughout history have been ‘lost’. In recent years Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia and Vasily Vainonen’s The Flames of Paris have both made very successful returns to the stage after years in the dancing wilderness. Look out for more like them in the future.
2. Spot local trends
Choreographers usually stick to one ballet company throughout their career. For example, some obscure works by the founder of the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine, are unlikely to be performed anywhere else. Ballet is of course also an international trend and more popular works by Balanchine, Apollo and Agon for instance, can be seen across the world.
3. Be prepared for something new
By the end of the twentieth century there was widespread concern for the future of ballet, due to the death of a generation of influential choreographers. In very recent years ballet has taken on a new lease of life, with exciting and innovative figures emerging; Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck and Liam Scarlett – to name but a few!
4. Watch out for different interpretations
In many cases there are multiple versions of the same ballet. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has formed the basis for a ballet of the same name by Felix Mendelssohn, as well as Frederick Ashton’s The Dream. The same applies for the classics Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella.
5. Discover the history
Ballet has a long and fascinating history, with roots dating back to the Italian Renaissance. This was a period when the classical past was being reexamined and rediscovered. Wealthy families such as the d’Este and Medici paid particular attention to the arts, including dance. The earliest surviving dance manual dates from around 1400, written by Domenico of Piacenza, who served the d’Este court.
6. Know the politics
The famed Russian ballet has had a chequered history. Despite censorship during Lenin’s Russia and the darkest days of Stalin, Russia can boast the Bolshoi and Kirov ballets, and numerous virtuosos, like George Balanchine and Leonid Yakobson. During the Cold War the Soviet state pumped lots of money into the ballet, regarding it as a symbol of national pride. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union many dancers travelled west. This, along with new European employment laws allowing greater freedom for dancers, created a diverse and international dance scene. During this period notable new ballet schools emerged in countries such as Cuba, China and Japan.
Zoe Anderson is dance critic for The Independent and author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years.