Royal Ballet: Ballet Spectacular – A children’s guide to ballet and an insight into a magical world
Publisher: Carlton Kids
Published in hardcopy at £14.99.
Ballet Spectacular is just released – a book targeted at children who love and want to know more about ballet but actually also a terrific read for dance lovers of all ages. Its secret is that it covers all aspects of how ballet performances come to be – from training to touring, to ballet notation, tutus and theatres, the pit and front of house, even. You want to know something, it will be in Ballet Spectacular, presented in a concise way that you can easily dip into.
A key to the book’s success is that it’s based on talking about one company – the Royal Ballet – and that makes all the information so much more real and immediate. Royal Ballet dancers and staff also contribute short sections of text on various aspects of what they do, and three of them – Lauren Cuthbertson, Yasmin Naghdi and Marcelino Sambe – were at the book launch in central London. Waterstones Piccadilly host lots of talks about books but I fancy few are accompanied by a selection of tutus and pointe shoes hanging about the place. The discussion was led by Bonnie Jerrard, the Ballet Learning and Participation Manager at the Royal Opera House and she neatly drew out of the dancers what they do and the breadth of content in the book.
It so happened that Lauren Cuthbertson penned a few words for Ballet Spectacular about recovering from injury – based on her own experiences a few years ago. But here she was looking radiant as she talked about the best job in the world, while her foot was to be seen in a cumbersome support boot – she is injured again and won’t be dancing for a while. Cuthbertson is a great ambassador for ballet and spoke movingly about injuries but also with the resilience and determination that makes her a top ballerina in a top company.
In the book Naghdi and Sambe take readers quickly through a dancer’s day – just reading what they do makes you exhausted of course. And Cuthbertson spoke about her day being individually coached in many principal roles and the joy coupled with mental strain of creating something new like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with the endless mind loops of creating steps, then erasing them and creating better ones. Rinse and repeat. Another name that people might recognise is Kristen McNally, who talks briefly about creating those steps: choreography. She starts, “One of the wonderful things about being a choreographer is that there are no rules…” Never was a truer word spoken – McNally is as fresh and offbeat as they come and doesn’t follow rules at all.
Ballet Spectacular is broken down into 5 broad sections: History of Ballet, Creating a Ballet, Life in a Ballet Company, Ballet School and Famous Ballets. Each of these sections is further broken down, so Creating a Ballet has subsections on Choreography (including those words from Kristen McNally), Music including the layout of the pit and some brief thoughts from Barry Wordsworth. And there are pages on Sets, Costumes, the tutu, Pointe shoos, Hair and Makeup. All these subsections are presented as 2-page spreads with a mix of succinct words, well-captioned pictures (all dancers are named, for example), terrific graphics and a spotlight area often highlighting dancers’, or others’, thoughts or details of former stars like Sylvie Guillem, Irek Mukhamedov and Darcey Bussell.
It’s a full-colour book, at 300 x 250mm larger than usual, and every few pages, to break up the information and remind us what ballet is all about, there is an impressive double-page picture spread of an iconic ballet moment. For £15 it’s a bargain of a hardcopy book and a great gift for children, particularly if they have seen the Royal Ballet, either live or at the cinema. But I think at that price it’s also a good book for older Royal Ballet lovers – almost as a full record of what the company is about in 2014 (but not being just about one year as the excellent Oberon Royal Ballet Yearbooks are) and how it does what it does. And if you want to know the difference between a physiotherapist and a soft tissue therapist this book will tell you – in the section on dancers’ fitness – and in very short order too!
Lisa Miles, the author, and the production team at Carlton Kids and those responsible within the Royal Ballet have done a particularly fine job – if you didn’t realise already, I’m most impressed. I suppose this enthusiasm will confirm many suspicions – that I’m just a big kid at heart. Whatever, if there is a young (Royal) ballet lover in your circle this really is a good present for them.