Where To Watch Ballet in London
Last Updated: 6th February 2019 | Main image: Mayerling/Helen Maybanks
Wherever you go to watch ballet in London…
…the dancing will always be en pointe.
There are four specialist ballet theatres in London; three in Covent Garden and another a little further east in Clerkenwell. Each see an impressive slew of both home-grown talent and international ballet troupes pass through their doors throughout the year.
If you’re short on time, or want to see behind the scenes of it all, the bigger theatres offer open rehearsals, where you can sit in and watch the dancers practise with the choreographers (and they’re usually only about a tenner to watch). But sometimes you just want to immerse yourself in a full, bells-and-whistles production, with hand-painted scenery, elaborate costumes, big chorus numbers and a full orchestra (including bells and whistles).
Here are the best places to do that…
Royal Opera House
Possibly London’s most grandiose theatre, the Royal Opera House is home to year-round ballet and opera productions from its two in-house companies, the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. Some of the world’s most famous dancers have graced the stage here (Margot Fonteyn reopened the theatre as Sleeping Beauty in 1946), and you can expect global companies to drop in between the Royal Ballet’s longer seasons.
The opulent, velvet-clad main theatre space offers the quintessential ballet experience – especially around Christmas when glittering classical productions take to the stage with breathtaking fairytale sets and costumes. But it’s not all traditional ballet; you’ll also find more experimental and contemporary work staged in the smaller Linbury Theatre. Either way, you can wet your whistle nicely with a glass of Champagne in the main bar, with its soaring curved glass ceiling.
Book now for: Onegin (until 29th February), a stunning and intense love story set to the music of Tchaikovsky; Dances At A Gathering/The Cellist (17th February – 4th March), a show of two halves pairing a minimalist staging to Chopin’s music and a new piece of choreography inspired by the life of cellist Jacqueline du Pré; and Swan Lake (5th March – 16th May), a ballet classic with glittering sets and soaring music.
How to get cheap tickets: You’ll have to be quite quick in booking, but there are £5 and £9 tickets for every performance in the Amphitheatre and Balcony (the highest tiers in the auditorium).
Address: Royal Opera House, Bow Street, London, WC2E 9DD | BOOK TICKETS
Equally ornate is the Coliseum, home to the English National Opera and a number of visiting ballet companies throughout the year. Ringside boxes and seats bring you right into the thick of the action, but as the largest theatre in the West End, there’s a lot of fairly priced seats, too – you can usually find somewhere up in the gods for £10 or £20. Performances lean towards the more traditional ballets, staged with elaborate sets and costumes – and the Nutcracker returns every year for a snow-dusted Christmas run.
Book now for: Only operas for a while – ballet season returns later in the year. You can see Paul Merton in Hairspray, though, which is nice.
How to get cheap tickets: Access All Arias is a free membership scheme for under-30s and full-time students that gives you access to pairs of £10-£30 tickets in good seats. Secret Seats are open to everyone, and allow you to book a £30 ticket for a seat you’ll only find out 72 hours in advance – but it’ll be in a seat worth £50 or more (so probably in the stalls or dress circle, with a good view). There are also concessionary standby tickets and £10 seats available for most performances. Find out more here.
Address: London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES | BOOK TICKETS
Swan Lake/Nicholas Keegan
Sadler’s Wells started out as a ballet and music hall back in 1683, with the bonus attraction of a nearby well full of supposedly healing waters. There’s nothing special about the tap water there today, but the venue is entirely dedicated to dance in all its forms, and is particularly renowned for its avant-garde and progressive productions. Both the Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Opera had their origins here, and it’s also where Matthew Bourne’s famous all-male production of Swan Lake made its debut. Now, you can catch radical new shows either in their (relatively intimate) 1,500 seater auditorium, and the smaller Lilian Baylis studio.
Book now for: Bluebeard (12th-15th February), a UK premiere for the Pina Bausch production about two obsessive, toxic lovers who dance on a stage scattered with dead leaves; and Creature (1st-8th April), a world premiere of the new ballet from Akram Khan (whose Giselle was raved about) and the English National Ballet, inspired by gothic, tragic tales like Frankenstein and Büchner’s Woyzeck.
Address: Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Rosebery Avenue, EC1R 4TN | BOOK TICKETS
The Peacock Theatre is said to be haunted by the ghosts of two dolphins, who were kept in tanks beneath the stage for their (clearly necessary) appearance in ‘The Great International Nude Show’. But when its halls aren’t echoing with – and we quote – “spectral squeaking”, it acts as the more central offshoot of Sadler’s Wells. This means that the shows here tend to be more pizzazzy and universally appealing than boundary-pushing stuff you’ll find over in Clerkenwell, and they’re also less frequent since the theatre doubles as a lecture hall for LSE.
Book now for: There are no ballet shows currently programmed, but they are staging Message In A Bottle (6th February – 21st March), a dance show based on the music of Sting; and Ballet Revolución (5th-23rd May), a passionate fusion of ballet, Afro-Cuban styles and street dance set to music from the likes of Coldplay and Calvin Harris.
Address: Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, WC2A 2HT | BOOK TICKETS
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