I remember being taken by my Mum into London a couple of times when I was little to go to the ballet at Sadler’s Wells. So when I heard that the English National Ballet were putting on a production of The Sleeping Beauty adapted specially for young children, I decided it would be the perfect treat for a girlie day out, and so I booked tickets for the geekdaughter and me. She’s been getting more and more interested in dance, and I have her on the waiting list for a local dance class, so I was sure she’d enjoy the show. Couple that with the fact that it was in Manchester so we would get to travel on a train there and back as well – it was going to be great fun!
Truth be told I had very little idea of what to expect. I don’t know The Sleeping Beauty ballet at all, and I didn’t know how the English National Ballet were going to adapt it to make it appeal to younger children. So the geekdaughter and I set out on a bit of a voyage of discovery last Saturday morning. I’m not sure what she was more excited about – the ballet or her first proper train ride. Especially as I’d discovered one of her best friends from nursery was going to the same show and we’d arranged to travel together.
I had read on the website that kids were encouraged to dress up, and so the geekdaughter dug out her very best “Princess” costume to wear. On arrival at the theatre we bought what was described as a “storybook programme”, and she convinced me that what she really needed was a new tiara from the merchandising stand. Apparently a girl can never have too many tiaras!
We took our seats – I had fortunately booked early enough to get my favourite theatre seats right at the front of the circle, knowing that the view would be great, especially for a little girl. We had time to read through the programme before the curtain went up, and I was really pleased that it included a full synopsis of the story in toddler-friendly language, so I read that to the geekdaughter so she had an idea of what to expect. There were also some puzzles to keep kids quiet and a picture to colour in the programme, so I felt like it was good value for money.
Right on time the lights dimmed, the audience (which was almost entirely female with a very large spattering of pre-school or school-age little girls in pink princess dresses) ahhhh-ed and the show began.
It was magical. It was a real ballet. I am sure it was a shortened version of the actual ballet – again, as I don’t know the original I can’t comment on authenticity, but I didn’t feel like I was watching something that had been “dumbed down” for children in any way. The main concession to the kids was the introduction of a narrator, who explained what was happening throughout the show, and she was invaluable. As well as the geekdaughter being able to follow the story, I found it fascinating to watch – I knew from my ballet days that there is a kind of “sign language” used in dance to convey emotions or key words, but I’ve never been able to spot those movements before. With the narrator literally “translating” the moves I could finally appreciate some of the finer points of the ballet that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I felt like a little girl again myself, and when the geekdaughter leaned to me halfway through the second half and said “wow, this is brilliant” I may have had a tear in my eye…
There was a little bit of audience participation where we had to count the passing of 16 years for the Princess Aurora to grow up, and when we boo-ed the evil fairy, all of which was great fun. The only slight disappointment I had was that I was sure I had read somewhere on the English Ballet website that the kids would be encouraged to get up and dance, and that didn’t happen. The geekdaughter did ask a few times when she would be able to go on stage and dance!
The English National Ballet tour of My First Sleeping Beauty has now finished, but they did describe this as the first in the “My First…” series, so I very much hope there will be more adaptations of classic ballets to come. The tickets cost me £47, which I think is expensive for a couple of hours entertainment, but it’s very much in line with what you’d pay for any professional theatre production (and admittedly I chose expensive seats and there were cheaper options available). Both the geekdaughter and I loved this production, and I’ll be crossing my fingers for more “My First…” adaptations to come.