Wherever you go to watch ballet in London…
…the dancing will always be en pointe.
Especially over the festive period, when London’s dance troupes stage some truly magical performances of The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and, er, The Snowman.
There are four specialist dance 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
The Sleeping Beauty © Helen Maybanks
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, and world premieres from brilliant choreographers like Crystal Pite, Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon. 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: The Nutcracker (6th December – 14th January), a glittering, festive classic; The Sleeping Beauty (16th January – 6th June 2023), a classic, traditional ballet; and Spectrum (23rd – 30th January 2023), a showcase by Acosta Danza combining classical ballet and Cuban influences.
How to get cheap tickets: You’ll have to be quite quick in booking, but there are £4 and £9 tickets for every performance in the Amphitheatre and Slips (the highest tiers in the auditorium).
Address: Royal Opera House, Bow Street, London, WC2E 9DD | BOOK TICKETS
The Nutcracker © Laurent Liotardo
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: The Nutcracker (15th December – 7th January) makes its festive return, followed by the iconic Swan Lake (12th – 22nd January) set to Tchaikovsky’s music. The ENO’s also staging an operatic version of It’s A Wonderful Life (until 10th December), which has been well-reviewed. Finally, the annual Ballet Icons Gala (19th February) is a one-night only extravaganza starring principal dancers from some of the world’s most illustrious companies.
How to get cheap tickets: The Coliseum has plenty of discount ticket deals for operas, not so much for the ballet shows… but you can usually get tickets for about £15 if you don’t mind being high up.
Address: London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES | BOOK TICKETS
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
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: So many things, but stand-outs include Matthew Bourne’s vampire-laden Sleeping Beauty (29th November – 15th January); an inventive reworking of Coppélia by Scottish Ballet (2nd – 5th March 2023) set in a world of AI and robots; Creature (23rd March – 1st April 2023), a gothic-inspired ballet recently choreographed by the brilliant Akram Khan; and Northern Ballet’s glitzy take on The Great Gatsby (16th – 20th May 2023).
How to get cheap tickets: There are reasonably priced seats available for all shows, but the real hack for under 30s is to sign up for the Barclays Dance Pass, which gives you and a friend £10 tickets to any performance.
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: The Snowman (19th November – 31st December), starring a dancing Santa Claus and a lot of people in very hot-looking snowman onesies.
Address: Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, WC2A 2HT | BOOK TICKETS
Like the performing arts? Check out the best theatre shows playing in London right now
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