The first time you go to the ballet, it’s a revelation. The crackle of expectation running through the crowd as the orchestra tunes up. The hush that descends as the lights go down. The intake of breath as the Principal dancer launches into her most difficult variation.
She has to be sweet and light as a feather, all while performing turns and extensions that would test an Olympic gymnast. Only up close can you appreciate the strength that goes into this - which is what makes a big screen broadcast unique.
You also get to see the beautiful clothes and sumptuous scenery in pin-sharp detail: all the things that make a night at the ballet such a feast. We hold a magnifying glass up to the world’s most lavish dance shows to give you a taste of what to expect:
Fairytale designs, dazzlingly intricate embroidery - the Royal Ballet makes some of the most beautiful garments in the world. It takes a department of 112 full time people to keep the standards this high.
Clothing rail © ROH 2016. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke
It’s here that the exquisite tutus that feature in storybook ballet Swan Lake are painstakingly pieced, gathered and stitched, each one taking 40 hours of work.
Swan Lake. Marianela Nuñez as Odette. © ROH, 2018. Photogrpahed by Bill Cooper
DID YOU KNOW...Ten cameras are used to film a big screen broadcast - so you can see every sequin on a ballerina’s bodice.
ROH Swan Lake
1978 dance drama Mayerling might not be your usual classical ballet – it tells the story of the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary and his suicide pact with his teenage mistress – but it’s just as ornate as any other Royal Ballet production. The period clothing evokes the grandeur of the Viennese Court and was inspired by historical portraits. This staging features over 300 costumes; it takes from nine to 12 months to make them from scratch.
Steven McRae as Crown Prince Rudolf in Kenneth MacMillans production of Mayerling for The Royal Ballet (c) ROH 2017. Photograph by Alice Pennefather
A dancer’s most important accessory. The Royal Ballet gets through over 6,000 pairs of pointe shoes per season.
Sarah Lamb in rehearsal, The Royal Ballet © 2016 ROH. Photo by Andrej Uspenski
DID YOU KNOW… The first ballerina to dance en pointe was Marie Taglioni in the title role of La Sylphide, one of the oldest surviving romantic ballets. Her admirers reportedly got hold of a pair of her shoes and ate them (!)
Abigale Lewis in the ballet shoe room, The Royal Ballet © ROH 2016. Photograph by Sim Canetty-Clarke
The Royal Ballet shoe department stocks lots of different types of footwear – check out these ballet boots from Mayerling; they’re individually tailored to each dancer's foot, and most dancers need a different pair of boots for each act.
Prince Rudolph's boots from Mayerling © ROH, photographed by Lottie Butler
One of the most challenging sequences to perform comes from 19th-century Russian ballet La Bayadère, specifically its Kingdom of the Shades Act, in which a group of dancers wearing identical white tutus dance across the stage in perfect unison. Ballet Mistress Samantha Raine told the Royal Opera House: “they need to breathe and dance as one. It’s beautiful when you see it and looks stunning when all of the girls appear from behind the cloth.”
Artists of The Royal Ballet in the 'Kingdom of the Shades' scene. (c) ROH Tristram Kenton (2013)
At Christmastime, the world’s two premiere companies, the Bolshoi and the Royal Ballet, get ready for their stagings of festive family fixture The Nutcracker. Each has their own take on the classic, and on the big screen, you can compare and contrast the athletic, extrovert style of the Bolshoi to the precise, storytelling English style.
Nutcracker © Damir Yusupov
The Nutcracker. Artists of The Royal Ballet as the Snowflakes. ©ROH, 2015. Photographed by Tristram Kenton