The Ballet from ‘Robert le Diable’ – Edgar Degas, 1876 – Wikimedia
“See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!”
~ William Shakespeare in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Prince 5.3)
Tonight I’m out to see a ballet for the first time. Not any ballet, but one of the prestigious classical ones, namely ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev created in 1935, based on the play by William Shakespeare. As I entered the shell like old royal theatre of Copenhagen, my eyes scanned the prestigious room, with the four golden balconies circling over our heads, one above the other, and the spectacular royal lodge down on the left, close to the stage. In front of us, hidden in the orchestra pit, the musicians were already according their instruments, and enveloped our expectation in a soft and pleasant cacophony.
I found my seat, and my gaze landed on a quote placed right above the curtain. It said in Danish: ‘Ej blot til lyst’, which means ‘not only for pleasure’, stressing that Theatre as an art was also created for learning. It reminded me that in India, the theatrical experience was created as a fifth Veda, for the humble people to whom the old religious texts could not be transmitted orally as was the tradition in these times. On both sides of the saying were two faces in relief. The one on the left was a sad one, and the other on the right was laughing. The ballet that was about to start could have adopted this passage from the ancient Indian treatise ‘Natya Shasta’, where the nature and purpose of the performing arts are described as follow: “Sometimes the law, sometimes gambling, sometimes wealth, sometimes peace, sometimes laughter, sometimes war, sometimes passion, sometimes violent death… Showing the ways of law, glory, long life and grace, strengthening the mind, this theatre will be a source of instruction for all.” As the room acquired silence and the lights slowly dimmed, I was ready to both enjoy and learn, maybe laugh and shed a tear, and if grace allowed, strengthen my mind. The curtain was raised.