Where To Watch Ballet in London
Last Updated: 5th September 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:
SPECIAL MENTION: Dance Umbrella Festival returns for a 40th year this October with ground-breaking new choreography at venues across London. Expect work from Merce Cunningham, Boy Blue and Mythili Prakash (Akram Khan’s ‘choreographer of the future’), alongside a vogue ball and a parkour show narrated by Sir David Attenborough. FIND OUT MORE
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: Manon, a heart-breaking romantic tragedy with spine-tingling music by Jules Massenet and the original choreography by Kenneth MacMillan (2nd October – 6th November); Cross Currents, three pieces celebrating the legacy of the radical choreographer Merce Cunningham (10th & 11th October); and The Sleeping Beauty, a lavish, Christmassy production with Tchaikovsky’s music (7th November – 16th January).
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: Scheherazade/Chopiniana, the UK debut of two new ballets performed by the company of Kazakhstan’s oldest theatre (17th November); The Nutcracker, which returns for a three week run (11th December – 5th January); and the Ballet Icons Gala, a showcase of some of the world’s biggest names in ballet, from renowned international companies (26th January 2020).
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: The return of Akram Khan’s critically acclaimed Giselle, hailed as a ‘modern masterpiece’ and performed by the English National Ballet (18th-28th September); or Dada Masilo‘s radical reinvention of the same, transported to South Africa and featuring traditional Tswana dance (4th & 5th October); a medley of classical, contemporary and new pieces danced by Natalia Osipova (22nd-26th October); a critically acclaimed production of new and existing works by Carlos Acosta and his Cuban dance company (18th-23rd November) and Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale and set to a romantic Hollywood-era soundtrack (3rd December – 19th January).
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 “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 it’s worth noting that there’s going to be a dance show based on the songs of Sting opening next year.
Address: Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, WC2A 2HT | BOOK TICKETS
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