Redeeming ‘High Art’

In a world where people would rather spend an evening with Netflix, makes the case for opera and ballet

Image: Rob Moore, Courtesy of The Royal Opera House

Image: Rob Moore, Courtesy of The Royal Opera House

For a generation defined by ‘Netflix and Chill’ (both the literal and innuendo meanings), a group that strives to spend the majority of its youth horizontal, a visit to the theatre is unfortunately not always on the cards. The cards are merely waiting for another tedious round of Ring of Fire. If that theatre production is in another language or, god forbid, has no talking at all, then the cards are already being set alight. To convince students to enter into the apparently elite, elaborate and expensive world of the ‘high arts’ may seem futile but it is a fight that I am eager to back and a preconception that I am going to smash.

If you don’t know what coloratura means or what a pas de deux is, the sensory effects of Opera and Ballet are immune to ignorance. For me – and I can neither fathom Italian nor reach my toes – both art forms present and represent the epitome of the human body and the peak of skill and hardwork. Opera has a way of making you unaware of the surtitles while Ballet creates lines and visuals that will affect you regardless of whether you can name the position – both open up emotions that we are increasingly trying to digitalise into 140 characters. However, that’s not to say that ‘high culture’ is out of date with the modern world; rather, it is the embodiment of collaboration and innovation.

A hedonistic world that nurtures artists, both past and present, who protest conformity (from Rudolf Nureyev to Sergei Polunin to Edward Watson), Ballet is stretching far from its archetypal image of young girls in tutus with the Royal Opera House’s Spring 2016 Season’s pioneering young choreographers such as Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett creating primitively powerful productions. Take, for example, Wayne McGregor’s recent modernist, abstract ballet Chroma featuring male model Eric Underwood with music by The White Stripes; the production is the essence of cultural combination – the climates of dance, music, fashion and art fuse in a brutal yet beautiful climax.

Opera is also climbing out of its traditional box. In recent years, ROH has hosted a variety of boundary-pushing artists such as Antony & The Johnsons and amidst the universally popular canon, this season alone sees the world premieres of Morgen und Abend (a minimalist soundscape of existential longing) and 4.48 Psychosis (a courageous and poetic exploration of the experiences of clinical depression) as well as the new opera Pleasure, set in the toilets of a gay club in the north of England.

Covent Garden may seem 200 miles away in both distance (it is) and in a more intangible sense of the phrase but you simply don’t have to be a rich pensioner in London to experience these fields of art. With their Student Cinema Scheme, students can see productions streamed nationwide for half the price of any other silver screen tickets, without having to leave York’s city walls. With direct trains from York to London becoming cheaper, a venture to the Opera House is more feasible than you may imagine; ROH also offer Student Standby tickets, Student Amphitheatre performances and even a performance of the new ballet Frankenstein on May 7th, filling the whole house purely with students in costumes, watered by themed cocktails – think Rocky Horror with a few less fishnets.

To grasp these opportunities and receive these benefits, sign up for free here: For something closer to home, start with one of OperaSoc’s or the Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s productions, visit York’s Grand Opera House or The Barbican, or even nip over to Leeds for a production by Opera North. Try something new, because you’re quickly becoming the student stereotype.

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