by Lisa T. McNeill

If you think contemporary dance is confusing just try wrapping your head around classical ballet! It lasts for hours, costs a fortune to make and watch and makes about as much sense as Boris Johnson* winning an election. Never the less, millions flock to see it, well......... millions gently trickle to see it over a very long period of time, and it's lasted for centuries, so there must be something to this ballet lark then eh?

Why?

Nobody is really sure why ballet came into being or what they though they were doing when they invented it. Suffice to say that it's here and it's not going away anytime soon so you might as well get used to it.

France

Many will be relieved to find out that when it comes to pointing fingers we can point them firmly in the direction of the French. Classical ballet's roots lie in the royal courts of France during the latter half of the 17th century. During this time, France, to put it mildly, was a very unpleasant place indeed. Revolutions, starvation and much chopping of heads was all part of a days work. Once can only imagine that ballet was used to quell the riots by means of completely befuddling the great unwashed into submission.

Russia

From one crazy fun place to another, ballet leapt, probably literally, to another continent in order to really get things moving. A lot went on in Russia before the arrival of Marius Petipa (see below) but nobody can remember what or who or why! Suffice to say that when Petipa arrived on the scene, in the mid 1800's, all hell broke loose and 'Swan Lake' was the result, amongst others. Such was the importance of this work that it has been repeated several million times by every ballet company all over the world.

Because the communist Russian government of the time was utterly useless at important things like infrastructure and growing food (much to the delight of the Americans) ballet in the USSR fell apart when the cold war ended and Russian companies are now stuck in a world of never ending touring just to pay the bills.

Marius Petipa

In some photos he looks a lot like P.T. Barnum but with a beard and without the weight. French born dance maker who fumbled around in France for a while before jumping ship and making it big in Russia circa 1846.

Loved/reviled (depending on your point of view) for creating 'Swan Lake', 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Don Quixote' amongst others for the Kirov Ballet (although it wasn't called that at the time).

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Vaslav Nijinsky

Russian dancer renowned for being able to jump very very high, although there is no documentary evidence of this since cell phone cameras didn't exist at the time. Spent most of his life being confused about his sexuality and went completely mad toward the end of his life. Most famous for his appearances in many Fokine ballets like 'Spectre De La Rose' where he performed dressed as a giant flower. And the mystery as to why he succumbed to schizophrenia is solved!

Rudolph Nureyev

Born on a train in Siberia, Russia and had a chip on his shoulder from that point on. Much maligned for being long on personality and short on technical talent to say nothing of being a bit of a narcissistic brat. Made a run for it from the Soviet government whilst on tour in France. Presumably because of their inability to grow potatoes!

Became a 1960's playboy (whatever that means) and formed a slightly bizarre relationship with Margot Fonteyn. Also collected carpets, on purpose!

George Balanchine

Along with Lincoln Kirstein invented the New York City Ballet. To this date the company remains manacled to his work like a Mafia snitch and concrete shoes. Russian born but wanted nothing to with the 'Swan Lake' types. Much preferred story-less ballet which he believed was vastly more entertaining. Nobody had the heart to tell him that it wasn't! Created 'Jewels', 'Prodigal Son' and 'Apollo' amongst others.

Worked a lot with Igor Stravinsky. They were to ballet what Merce Cunningham and John Cage are to contemporary dance and just as annoying.

(Sir) Kenneth MacMillan

Scottish born dance maker who worked a lot for the Royal Ballet. Plucked Darcy Bussell from obscurity to slightly less obvious obscurity at the aforementioned company. Best known to us, here in TheLab™ because we had to sit through 'Mayerling' for what felt like a lifetime and for that we can't forgive him. Died in 1992, ironically or tragically depending on your point of view, backstage at the Royal Opera House during a performance of 'Mayerling'

Much like New York City Ballet and Balanchine the Royal Ballet is in the iron grip of Lady MacMillan, Mr MacMillan's wife. Ross Stretton, a recent AD of The Royal Ballet, singled her out for particular criticism after his own death. Talk about spooky!

Ticket Prices

Universally extortionate when compared to things like buying a car or paying the mortgage. Ballet companies justify the prices because, they say, of the lavish costumes, exquisite set design and phenomenal dancers. If you believe that then clearly you have never been to the Scottish Ballet!

Point Shoes

For ballet demi-pointe just wasn't enough so they forced the girls/women to go full point on a pair of 'blocks' for reasons that defy explanation. Vast numbers of injuries, shredded feat and ear splitting screams have failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the art form to torture its own protagonists.

Balletomanes

Humourless, individuals that love classical ballet with little or no exception and will not tolerate, under any circumstances, a dissenting point of view from the great unwashed (see France above). The average balletomane is 145 years old, in either mind, body or both, and usually smells of furniture polish. Can often be seen hanging around the stage door waiting to have their colostomy bag singed by Darcy Bussell, unaware of the fact she is retired and lives in Australia where she spends her days tending to orphaned kangaroos (probably).

Buns

Sadly not nice things covered in icing and currents but the standard hairstyle of ballerinas. When done properly they have a habit of making even the most beautiful women look like they're doing an impression of Michael Keaton in 'Beetlejuice' (don't say it three times!)

Ballet Boyfriends

You can spot them a mile off at the theatre. Dragged along to the show by their better half for an evening of "culture". Dressed in white trainers, faded jeans and a t-shirt from River Island, (sometimes with a faux dress jacket) they sit, looking forlorn, vacant and, sometimes, deceased, hoping beyond hope that the show will end soon because 'Monster Truck Madness' is on ESPN later.

They only go to the ballet because they "love" (cough, cough, choke) they're girlfriend/wife and if they let them go alone they're bound to meet someone with an IQ in double digits and cultural sensibilities developed beyond sports and the latest season of 'Spooks'.

Such relationships are of course doomed to failure because anything built on a lie, or in an earthquake zone, usually falls apart pretty quickly.