17 May 2016

The Art of Etiquette - ballet

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 17 May 2016

Art is in the eye of the beholder, but how do you go about showing your appreciation? Upbeat's new series The Art of Etiquette, helps make art accessible for those who are unsure of what to do.

Is it okay to wear jeans to the ballet? Or boo at your favourite opera villain? Can I eat at an art gallery or go get an ice cream during an outdoor performance? When should I give a standing ovation?

We've gathered a number of experts to help walk us through the etiquette of ballet, opera, visual arts, musical theatre and beyond.

Sir Jon Trimmer has been on stage for more than 50 years, performing in ballets around the world. He's currently on tour with the Royal New Zealand Ballet's The Wizard of Oz. He takes some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about what to do if you're new to the ballet audience:

Royal New Zealand Ballet - Wizard of Oz

The Royal New Zealand Ballet performing The Wizard of Oz. Photo: RNZB

Interview highlights

What should you wear when you go to the ballet?

Sir Jon Trimmer: You have to be comfortable going to the theatre, but it's such fun dressing up. Putting on nice clothes and looking gorgeous is just divine.

What should I wear if I'm going to opening night?
Sir Jon Trimmer: One should dress up on opening night. You are being seen as well as the people on stage.

Can I wear jeans?
Sir Jon Trimmer: Yes, to a matinee as it's casual.

Ballet legend Sir Jon Trimmer

Ballet legend Sir Jon Trimmer Photo: Supplied

Is ok to turn up in costume?
I think that's rather lovely. We've had a few witches here and there and an occasional Dorothy, no one as Toto yet. There have also been lots of red shoes. Even on gentleman.

What time should you turn up?
You have to be early. So often the curtain has been held up because of people still trying to get into the theatre.

What happens if I turn up late? Is it true you get locked out if you're late?
Yes. Sometimes you'll have to wait one scene, or an entire act. And it's not the usher's fault if you get locked out. If you want to complain talk to the manager.

Once we are in the theatre, is it ok to keep our phones on?
Oh no! Come into the theatre with it turned off. Switch it off as soon as it rings if you forget.

Can I take pictures of the performance?
No. They are worse because of the flash. You can see them from the stage in the darkness. Occasionally it does still happen. We are trying to concentrate and as a dancer it's on your balance. If you're distracted it could be nasty. There is a danger factor. The eye is quick to catch something going on in the auditorium.

So you can actually see the audience?
Yes. About three quarters of the stalls and the front rows of the circle. You can tell if a person is bored or enjoying it. It's a joy to see people having a good time.

Does it adversely affect you on stage if we are looking a tad disinterested?
Being a performer you don't let lots affect you, but it can be worrying. Sometimes between movements you think "why is that person unhappy?!".

And you'd also see the children in the audience. How young is too young?
That's a difficult question. Babies can be unpredictable, but children love seeing performances. If they are well behaved and the parents can keep them in check then it's ok to bring children. And know the show before you arrive. Kids can get bored easily and we don't want that!

If we are enjoying the ballet, when should we respond with applause?
An enthusiastic response at the end of the show is good. And if a dancer is doing pirouettes or jumps that you like clap loudly because it's not distracting (to the performer) and can push a performer onto even more.

What about standing ovations?
Standing ovations are lovely. Seeing the faces of young dancers when there is a standing ovation; it fires them up again. It's so lovely to see that you're being acknowledged for your hard work.

What's some advice for those who have never been to the ballet before?
Don't go in thinking "I won't like this" or "why am I here?". Be relaxed, sit and just enjoy. Don't worry about making sense of what's happening as story lines (in ballet) are usually rather abstract. Just enjoy the movement and the music, because without the music there would be no movement.