Falling in love with opera and ballet

Royal Ballet star Gary Avis. Photo: Roger Barcham at BMS Imaging

Royal Ballet star Gary Avis. Photo: Roger Barcham at BMS Imaging - Credit: Archant

Ballet and opera lovers will be digging out their beloved recordings this week as they celebrate World Ballet Day and Opera Day.

Liam Scarlett rehearsing Swan Lake with Yasmine Naghdi. Picture: BILL COOPER

Liam Scarlett rehearsing Swan Lake with Yasmine Naghdi. Picture: BILL COOPER - Credit: �Photo_ Bill Cooper

This week sees both World Ballet Day (February 7) and Opera Day (February 8) ? what most people might consider the high end of the performing arts.

Some might even say elitist - but it’s really not.

The extraordinary talents of the few can be enjoyed by the many and with West End musical prices nudging £250 for top priced seats, the cost of a ticket to the ballet or opera is comparable... sometimes. On the Royal Opera House website, tickets for some performances of Ipswich-born choreographer Liam Scarlett’s acclaimed production of Frankenstein range up to £125 from as little as £8.

Tickets to The Lion King on a Wednesday matinée, from Ticketmaster (not the most expensive performance) range up to £147.50 from £35.50.

A blue plaque in the town in Great Yarmouth, in memory of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, ballet dancer and c

A blue plaque in the town in Great Yarmouth, in memory of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, ballet dancer and choreographer. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2013


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I think that probably knocks the elitist argument on the head.

Meanwhile top ballet, opera and drama performances are increasingly beamed live into cinemas for the price of a ticket. The ballet Don Quixote, for example, is £18.80 in Ipswich on February 19.

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But maybe I don’t need to tell you that ? bearing in mind how steeped in the classical arts we are in East Anglia.

Some of the 20th century’s greatest operas have been composed on the Suffolk coast by Benjamin Britten. Born in Lowestoft, educated at Gresham’s school in Norfolk, his masterwork Peter Grimes, evokes the East Anglian coast.

The house in Sheringham where composer Ralph Vaughan Williams Lived. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

The house in Sheringham where composer Ralph Vaughan Williams Lived. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Ralph Vaughan Williams too was entranced by the region. He wrote The Norfolk Rhapsodies in the first decade of the 20th century. They were based on folk songs Vaughan Williams had collected in Norfolk, in particular the fishing port of King’s Lynn in January 1905. Only the first rhapsody survives in its entirety.

But it is in ballet that East Anglia embraces so many great names. Between them, Royal Ballet choreographers Sir Kenneth MacMillan, who went to school in Great Yarmouth, and Sir Frederick Ashton, who lived in Eye, created the choreography for most of Covent Garden’s 20th century classical ballets.

The Royal Ballet Company regularly performs Ashton’s Les Patineurs, Facade, Symphonic Variations, Cinderella, La Fille Mal Gardée and many more. MacMillan’s Sleeping Beauty, Mayerling, Manon and Romeo and Juliet (on this season’s programme) remain firmly in the repertoire.

But the East Anglian ballet dancers and choreographers are not resting on their classical laurels. Suffolk’s Liam Scarlett, only in his 30s but already a leading choreographer with the Royal Ballet, has re-imagined Swan Lake for the 21st century and his new ballet Frankenstein gained critical acclaim.

Peter Grimes on the beach at Aldeburgh. Picture: Gregg Brown

Peter Grimes on the beach at Aldeburgh. Picture: Gregg Brown - Credit: Archant

Many people will know the Royal Ballet’s Gary Avis, a principal character artist and ballet master with the company. Awarded an MBE in Queen’s Birthday Honours, in 2018, for services to dance and charity, the Suffolk-born dancer has done much to bring classical dance to his home county, having presented two sell-out charity galas in his home town of Ipswich. He has also danced on Strictly Come Dancing and toured with Darcey Bussell and mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins - proving there is no ivory tower wherein the ballet dancers and opera singers reside. Today all dance and music genres are accessible.

Royal Ballet first soloist Helen Crawford is also from Suffolk. She, Gary Avis and Liam Scarlett trained at the Linda Shipton School of Ballet, in Ipswich, an establishment that has produced many respected professional dancers over the years.

You might ask - so do we really need a ballet day and an opera day?

Having been to live screenings and performances of opera and ballet, I would say yes. Just as I probably need to find out more about hip hop, garage and jungle, there must be many people who would enjoy finding out more about the more classical forms... after all, they were the modern music and dance genres of their time.

The grave of Benjamin Britten in the graveyard at Aldeburgh Church. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

The grave of Benjamin Britten in the graveyard at Aldeburgh Church. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

You don’t have to speak like Jacob Rees Mogg or own a tiara to enjoy ballet and opera. I should know, I talk like a bumpkin and have only a woolly bobble hat but it doesn’t stop me liking Carmen and Madama Butterfly; Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet... especially with Gary Avis as, respectively, Rothbart and Tybalt. You will note, all of these end in tragedy (although Swan Lake does have versions with a happier ending). That’s because, there is nothing like a good cry and ballet and opera do it better than anything else... with the possible exception of The Sound of Music...

Royal Ballet dancers Gary Avis and Helen Crawford (in Manon) backstage at the Royal.Opera House. Ph

Royal Ballet dancers Gary Avis and Helen Crawford (in Manon) backstage at the Royal.Opera House. Photo: Gary Avis/Andrej Uspenski - Credit: Archant

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