It was the shortest 3 hours. Reawakened by the beautiful overture of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, The Royal Ballet finally came back to perform live on stage after nearly 7 months.
Instead of enclosing themselves in the orchestra pit, the socially distanced musicians were positioned to fill the huge emptied stall space of the theatre, where there used to be seats for audiences. They transformed the restriction to space expansion. This orchestra expansion actually emphasised the emptiness of the theatre, which made me feel sad, but also showed positively a possibility of usage of theatrical space.
The limited number of visitors, less than 500 instead of the real capacity of about 2,200, warmly surrounded the extended orchestra from the auditorium. Though they were fewer than usual, the actual number of viewers was unlimited because the show was on live streaming. This kind of online exposure and reach to more audiences are what the Company gained during lockdown: not everything was negative.
The gala programme was well-considered not only to maintain social distancing but also to represent the rich repertoire of the Company, from the works by legendary Frederic Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan to more modern Wayne McGregar, from well-known pieces to a new work by Cathy Marston.
It’s painful to imagine how much the dancers missed performing. During lockdown we saw some of the dancers appear in earlier streaming programmes or other projects such as DistDancing, but not the whole Company.
The dancer I missed most was Akane Takada. As a Royal Ballet fan I love all the Company dancers, but she’s special. She makes roles her own with her unique artistry and interpretations. I was looking forward so much to her Swan Lake in March, then the pandemic arrived before the date of my ticket.
My sheer disappointment by the cancellation was compensated as Akane appeared in this gala to perform an excerpt of Swan Lake, with Federico Bonelli as her Prince. Even though it was only one scene of the whole ballet, she transmitted deep emotion and narrative as intense as the full length version. I felt grateful that Akane’s ability of storytelling, expressions, beauty and delicate body lines were not lost at all.
Dancing at home
In fact, in the entire gala, none of the dancers showed any rustiness since the lockdown. It wasn’t only because of their hard work. It was apparent that they were genuinely enjoying themselves, appreciating the moments, living the dance. Their potential bloomed on stage.
During lockdown they had training from home through Zoom, where they had to worry about neighbourhood and spacing with their furniture. Back on the proper stage, they were finally ‘at home’ in a real sense.
‘Elite Syncopations’ was the perfect choice to close the gala to show the collective spirit and lively togetherness of the much loved ballet company. Even though I couldn't be in the venue, I felt happy witnessing their historic and heartwarming ‘at home’ performances.
The hope for arts
The selected invitees to this gala included Upper School students of The Royal Ballet, who aspire to become professional dancers. I hope they were inspired by the dancers they admire and saw a hope in the arts which they want to pursue: in the future they will become such dancers who inspire us.
The arts fill our lives and lift our spirits at difficult times. As the Royal Ballet has been reawakened, I hope many people will open their eyes to the potential of arts to our lives.
Royal Ballet: Back on Stage
(Available to watch for £16 until 8th November 2020)
Awakening 'The Sleeping Beauty' - Theatres Under the Spell