My First Ballet
Swan Lake

A new production of Swan Lake invites children as young as three to experience their first ballet, with a narrator to help them understand the story

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A trip to the ballet offers audiences the chance to see music and choreography woven together to tell a story. It is an uplifting experience, watching dancers glide across the stage to classical scores all while witnessing the ups and downs of a dramatic plot. But with an average running time of up to three hours, including intervals, the ballet isn’t necessarily for young children.

In a bid to invite youngsters to experience the magic of ballet, English National Ballet and the English National Ballet School have collaborated on a new version of Swan Lake as part of the My First Ballet series. Adapted to an hour in length and with a narrator to help young audiences follow the story, it’s suitable for children as young as three. “Children are truly honest, which means they can be one of the toughest audiences,” says choreographer Antonio Castilla. “This means I also want to be truly honest – with both the story and the choreography. It’s a challenge but also very rewarding.”

Swan Lake traditionally tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse. Odette and the charming Prince Siegfried meet beside a lake, and Odette explains that she and her friends have been put under a spell. They have been turned into swans and only at night, when they are beside the lake, can they become humans again. The prince falls in love with Odette but is then tricked by the sorcerer, who turns his own daughter Odile into an exact replica of Odette before trying to force the prince to marry her.

The story explores themes of good versus evil, and this production challenges audiences to see the story through a different perspective.

“In this new version we have put the focus on Odile, rather than Odette, with the narrative following her journey and the difficult decision she must make, allowing us to explore important themes of friendship, forgiveness and honesty,” says Castilla.

The show is currently touring across the UK, with dates in Manchester and Blackpool starting next week. The My First Ballet series is performed by students of English National Ballet School, providing them with rehearsal and performance experience within a professional touring company.

Imogen Ginty, 18, is playing the role of Odette. As an aspiring professional ballet dancer, Ginty says she is looking forward to introducing young audiences to the same show that inspired her to pursue a life on the stage.

“I started ballet aged three as something fun to do,” says the dancer, who has an intense schedule of two ballet classes a day in addition to academic work, aside from rehearsals. “I didn’t always communicate well as a child, so ballet was good for me, I loved being around other children and dancing together. Seeing Swan Lake for the very first time was a turning point – I felt inspired by the glamour of the auditorium and the beautiful dancing.

“There’s a level of responsibility in that you want audiences to feel inspired and love ballet in the same way you do. It’s special for me as Swan Lake was the ballet that originally inspired me, and I’ll now be hoping to inspire other young people with this same ballet.”

My First Ballet: Swan Lake is at the Manchester Opera House on 28-29 April and Blackpool’s Grand Theatre on 5-6 May (

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