Relaxed Ballet  

Birmingham Royal Ballet will be offering its second relaxed performances in early 2019 – a specially adapted production of Beauty and the Beast at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton and Birmingham Hippodrome. Here, dancer Jonathan Payn describes his involvement in the planning of this special production.

Please introduce yourself for us:

I’m Jonathan Payn, First Soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB). This September, I celebrated 25 years with the company, receiving my commemorative medal in a small ceremony in a dance studio.

What was your involvement with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s relaxed performance of The Sleeping Beauty in 2018?

I had been asked to introduce the performance onstage, so my earliest involvement was to write the script for the presentation. I had to find out how we were adapting The Sleeping Beauty and how to tell the story without giving too much away, but whilst giving an indication of what was going to happen. I decided to present the script in character to begin with, as Catalabutte, the master of ceremonies in The Sleeping Beauty.

What adaptations were made to the relaxed performance of The Sleeping Beauty?

The biggest adaptation was that we cut Act 3 from The Sleeping Beauty to make it much shorter. Also, as I mentioned before, I introduced the story at the start of each act. Apart from that, the integrity of the ballet stayed the same. The house lights were turned up so that people could leave the auditorium as and when they wanted to. The Hippodrome staff wore sparkly hats so that they were easy to identify, and they also installed a sensory room for people to relax in.

What was it like to perform in the relaxed performance?

For me personally it was very different because I had to concentrate on delivering my lines, which, as a dancer, I’m not used to. It’s interesting because we expected to notice more differences, but actually it didn’t feel any different from an ordinary performance. I think that’s how it should be; the important thing with relaxed performances is that the audience are getting the full theatrical experience, just introduced in a different way. Therefore, everyone involved is committed to giving the same quality of performance that we would give for anything else.

Do you think ballet as an art form is particularly suited to relaxed performances?
There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be different to any other art form. There might be a challenge in that it can be hard to understand the story, so we have to focus on how we introduce it and ensure any literature we provide is very clear. Also, I think there can be an expectation that you’ve got to remain silent during the performance. However, as I said in my introduction, “if you want to clap at a certain point, clap at a certain point. If you want to cheer or boo, that’s absolutely fine.” On the other hand, I do think ballet can appeal to a very wide range of ages and experiences, and therefore I think it’s ideal.

Are you looking forward to the next relaxed performances of Beauty and the Beast?

I am because I’m doing a bit more of the planning and have more input into the adaptations that will be made. I will be introducing it again, so I have another script to write; I will be in character as the Woodsman this time. What’s particularly nice is that I have to think about the story from a different angle. When you’re dancing, you learn the choreography and go straight onstage to perform it, but now I have to see it from every single character’s perspective and, most importantly, from the audience’s point of view.

What have you learnt from BRB’s first relaxed performance that you would like to apply to Beauty and the Beast?
I think we were a little cautious and warned people about things almost too much. I’m looking forward to finetuning the introduction, so we include essential information in a welcoming and encouraging way without overwhelming people. This time, we’re also producing a video to send out to carers, teachers and anyone who’s bought tickets. It will be about 3 minutes long and include a description of how the theatre will look and feel, as well as a mini introduction from me. I will probably be in full costume and make-up, so people know what I’m going to look like onstage.

What do you hope that audiences take away from the Beauty and the Beast relaxed performances?

That theatre, especially ballet is completely accessible. That there are no rules and regulations or expectations about it, and that we are a welcoming company. Ultimately, I want them to enjoy it sufficiently to want to buy tickets again and to feel equally comfortable to attend any of BRB’s performances.

For further information about BRB’s relaxed performances at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton on 1 February and Birmingham Hippodrome on 28 February, please visit