Ballet set to break out as 2011's most exciting art form

Ballet is bursting with vitality, spilling beyond the doors of its traditional homes in the great opera houses in London, Leeds and Glasgow. Acosta, the Cuban star who can fill grand theatres, will be only the first in line to perform Romeo in the vast arena. He will be followed by Edward Watson, a British dancer with the versatility to switch between the white ballets of Marius Petipa – Swan Lake and Giselle – and work produced by the most contemporary artists, such as Christopher Wheeldon and the Royal Ballet's resident choreographer, Wayne McGregor.

Meanwhile, Lauren Cuthbertson, who can be seen everywhere on posters performing a grand jeté in the grounds of Christ Church, Oxford, advertising the Royal Ballet's programme, is appearing in next week's Royal Variety Show. And next month Black Swan, a film starring Natalie Portman, will open, riding in on a wave of good notices from the film festival circuit and the suggestion that Portman will be shortlisted for an Oscar. In March, the Pet Shop Boys will score a ballet with Venezuelan choreographer Javier De Frutos. March will also see screenwriter George Nolfi's film Adjustment Bureau, in which Emily Blunt stars as a member of a troupe. Crowds have been flooding into the exhibition Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes at the V&A.

Not only is there a huge amount of activity, there seems to be a growing audience to sustain it. The Royal Ballet has consistently seen 90% occupancy. In the 2008/09 season, its Swan Lake attracted more than 10,000 people who had not been registered on the Royal Opera House's ticketing system before.

There is intense discussion on what is behind the interest. Ballet does well in times of economic hardship, as the thunderous reception for the Royal Ballet on its tour of Cuba last year showed. Yet it is television which Watson believes holds the key. "Look at Strictly and So You Think You Can Dance. People get to hear people talk about what fun it is. It has become like the X Factor," he said.

This view is given a lift by the success of Streetdance 3D, a British film released in May which immediately went to number one in the UK box office (and number two in France). The plot tells the story of a group of street dancers who lose their rehearsal space and have to bunk up with a hoity-toity ballet company, ultimately combining in a group called Breaking Pointe.

Alistair Spalding, artistic director of Sadler's Wells, parts company with Watson about the causes of the revival. Sadler's Wells hosts everything from salsa shows to work by American dance genius Mark Morris and Spalding has increased its audience by 56% over the past six years, entertaining 600,000 people last year alone.

"TV is responding to people becoming more interested in dance, not the other way around," he said. "Historically, English culture has always been about text, about theatre. We are moving away from that, partly because there are people coming to London from all over the world who have dance at the centre of their cultures, but also we are now more visually literate. It is no coincidence that the two art forms which are growing are the most visual – the visual arts and dance."

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For details of Carlos Acosta in Romeo & Juliet at the O2 on June 2011 click here