Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

NYCB - how bad is fourth ring?

Guest LaraF

Recommended Posts

I moved to Philadelphia from Montreal last year, and have discovered that getting to NYC isn't as difficult or expensive as I thought. Then I started looking at the cultural websites, and found the NYCB's winter 2004 schedule which included weekend matinees. :)

I'm a newbie who's never been to a ballet, but is very interested. I'd especially like to see the classical works, aka Swan Lake/Sleeping Beauty/Coppelia, even though I saw on this site that there was dismay over these works being included in a Balanchine celebration. I'm a student without much of disposable income, so the fourth ring society sound like a terrific bargain. The problem is, I follow figure skating and I hate it when I'm not close up at a live event. I'm also the person who'll sit up front in class. For those who've been in the theatre, would being in the fourth ring really detract from my enjoying the performance? I don't think I'd be concerned if it was just an orchestra, but I'd like to see the dancers! Should I try for the student rush specials instead, or are the chances of my getting a better seat too remote?

Finally, I looked at the NYCB board and it doesn't sound like their Swan Lake is all that popular. Is it really something I should stay away from, or will it make little difference if I've never really seen any other versions? I know the PA Ballet will be performing it come June, but I'm not sure if I can make it then...or should I really make every effort to?

Thanks in advance for any input!

Link to comment

Welcome, Lara. What good questions you have!

There are a lot of people who post here who are enthusiastic members of the Fourth Ring Society, so please listen to them and not me, who is afraid of heights and would be miserable up there. You are far from the stage, but if you bring opera glasses, you should be able to see the dancers.

I don't know about student rush -- I'm sure someone else does.

"Swan Lake" is a problem. One could argue (and many have!) that there isn't a solid production of the ballet anywhere today. I think the objections raised here are from those who feel that Balanchine and Kirstein founded a company that specialized in dong innovative, one-act works and not the classics. Others, who are fans of the 19th century classics, think that NYCB's style and approach isn't what's called for in those ballets. American Ballet Theatre is more associated with the 19th century ballets -- although their production of "Swan Lake" has its detractors as well. We did a poll here, I think, asking people which they liked least. Most of the responses have been along the lines of, "Well, ours isn't as bad as theirs."

All of this is very cynical to a newcomber to ballet, I know, and please don't let us scare you off. What will matter most is the DANCERS and you're bound to find some that you like. Once you get hooked, then you can start comparing performances, and buying videos, and reading background material, and nit pick with the best of them :)

But it's absolutely great that you're going to see ballet -- we'll all applaud that, and encourage it. And adventurous of you, too! New York is a terrific city (I can say that because I don't live there) and there's lots to do and see.

Link to comment

If you don't mind using opera glasses, the fourth ring is ok, but it is very high up.

NYCB's Swan Lake is a very unusual production. It either replaces or modifies the traditional choreography, and the ending is unconventional. It's interesting to compare it to other productions, but for the "gold standard" Swan Lake, I'd try to see the Kirov-Mariinsky or maybe the Royal Ballet. I'm not too sure what other companies' Swan Lakes are like these days (except ABT's--very untraditional in many ways as well), but others can fill you in on that, as there may be some companies in the US (more accessible) with a good production of Swan Lake.

Hope this helps!

Editing to add: Sorry! Didn't realize I was writing while Alexandra was posting. Swan Lake is a bit like Nutcracker--nobody really likes absolutely everything about any version, but I've heard that there are a few decent productions out there. And as Alexandra said, reading will help a great deal :).

Link to comment

Second thoughts -- ABT is about to open a three-week season at City Center. They have weekend matinees, too, and though they're not doing any full-length classics this season, their triple bills will give you a taste of a lot of different styles of ballet, so you might want to check them as well. The season's schedule is posted over on our ABT forum.

I hope you'll be seeing Pennsylvania Ballet performances, too, and if you are, please post about them!

Link to comment


I belong to the Fourth Ring and I love it. It allows me to see the most performances, which I wouldn't be able to do otherwise. Because of that, we Fourth Ringers really get to know the company. It is true, it's far away - I've heard many people climb the stairs, look back and say, "Oh God." But if you bring some opera or small field glasses, as I do, seeing the dancers up close it not a problem. In addition, with Balanchine, it's great to see the patterns, something you won't get in the orchestra and the sightlines are great. The fourth ring is where the student and standing room seats are. You can move around after the program starts, but you can not go from the 4th ring to the 2nd, for example, without some covert action. The ushers at the lower levels have become more strict than in seasons past. However, I usually advise newcomers to the ballet to get tickets for 1 night at the best they can afford to see if they like it. And don't be lured by the lower prices for sides, it's often partial view. If you're going to NYCB, I would avoid Swan Lake, as it's staging is an acquired taste. I know the company is pushing the full-lengths during the Winter season under the guise of how it formed the basis of Balanchine's work (but that's a post for another time), but there are some very exciting triple bills and the full-length Jewels this Winter. The first two weeks has Scotch Symphony, Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, Concerto Barocco as well as others.

As for Swan Lake, I don't know how it will turn out but Penn Ballet is putting on a new production next June.

If "classical works" are your thing, ABT might be best, although I think the Balanchine/Danilova is Coppelia is the best around and Balanchine's Nutcracker is, well, the One IMO. The ABT Fall season is a little more experiemental, but this season they are doing some great older works we around here are always hankering for, such as Symphonic Variations by Ashton and Three Virgins and a Devil by De Mille.

One thing you should know, 4th ring society does not cover the Nutcracker. But Penn Ballet also does Balanchine's Nutcracker, so you shouldn't have to travel far.

Link to comment

Hi, Lara! I'm one of those 4th Ring Society members Alexandra mentioned. I actually prefer sitting fairly high above the stage, because the patterns the dancers make are often an important part of the ballet. It's not like figure skating, where whether the landing is on and inside/outside edge is so crucial. Opera glasses help, but I find I use them much less often than I used to. When I win many millions in Lotto, I will probably move to the third ring. The sight lines (except for the seats called __Ring Sides), are excellent.

NYCB does a lovely Coppelia and Nutcracker, and the Sleeping Beauty has some quirks, but I would advise avoiding their full length Swan.

A warning about ABT at City Center: the ticket prices are high -- the cheapest being $30. Sometimes, when the house is pretty fully sold, they open the upper balcony for $15 (?) per seat. Unfortunately, the only way to know this is at the last minute by phone or at the box office. The sight lines in that house are troublesome, too B) , but the chance to see a variety of pieces is a good way to dip your toes in, if you'll pardon my metaphor. :o (My personal recommendation for a well-rounded first time is the "Masterworks" program. :thumbsup: )

Editing to note that although Dale and I posted almost the same thing at almost the same time, we are not the same person. :D

Edited by carbro
Link to comment

Carbro, you know the saying about great minds... :thumbsup:

I'd second the thought on the City Center prices and the sightlines are awful - unless you are sitting first row Balcony, you might not even see the stage depending on the height of the person in front.

Being a Fourth Ring Society Member can make you spoiled - I get used to seeing so many performances for a reduced price and in a great space. I might be able to find away to get cheaper prices but the view isn't as good.

And I endorse Carbro thoughts on Sleeping Beauty, I think NYCB's production is very fine, especially with Ringer in the lead.

Link to comment

We took a chance on Fourth Ring seats last summer when we visited NYC. We were glad we did! Even though you are too far from the stage to see nuances and expressions, the ability to take in the choreography more than makes up for that.

My advice would be to try it. If you like it, you can see lots of performances very cheaply.

One other suggestion I have is to try a variety of ballets. I always thought I liked the story ballets best. When I got a chance to see lots of ballet in a short time (on that trip to NYC), I found that I very much preferred the more abstract works.

Link to comment

There is only one way to find out how _you_ will like the 4th ring, and that's to try it. I do vaguely recall being up that high and not liking the view _at all_--I also like to be right up front, even if I'm off to the side or have an obstructed view.

Do try the student rush specials if they have them (don't know anything about this)--the seats may well be closer, and of course if you're on the main floor, it is probably a lot easier to stealthily move up.

Another idea, if you can possibly afford it, is to get a subscription (maybe they have student subscriptions?) to the very best/closest seats you can. I did this in Boston as a graduate student and it was worth every penny.

Link to comment

Student Rush tickets are often better for seating--but at $2 cheaper than 4th Ring Society, not that much of a draw. You can generally get quite good Rush seats if you just get a single.....you can always ask and see what's better availability.

I am blind as a bat and love 4th Ring. Just use opera glasses or binoculars if you want particular faces or to count the hooks and eyes on the costumes.

Nutcracker tickets for standing room are only $5, don't forget.

City Center prices are steep--I'd say hold out til the spring and go to ABT at the Met, where you can get good standing room.

I heartily dislike many aspects of NYCB Swan Lake, but don't consider it at all worthy of boycott. Just close your eyes during the first act. (It balances out: ABT *has* no 4th act, to speak of......)

Link to comment

Well, LaraF, you've certainly gotten some wonderful encouragement here. Really, you have very little to lose by at least trying the fourth ring.

I had never been up there before but when Treefrog and spouse made their sojourn to NYC for a long ballet weekend, I joined them up in the 4th ring and my eyes were opened :yes: - I'd never have seen the intricate patterns of Robbin's pieces without being up high! And "West Side Story Suite" looked great from there too - but bring your binoculars for sure.

And please don't forget to report back here with your reactions! :grinning: Oh yes, and definitely go see the Pennsylvania Ballet right in your own backyard. :o They have quite a line up and if you look you'll find quite a bit about them in the American Ballet Companies forum on Ballet Talk. Or just click here instead! :thumbsup:

Link to comment

Like Carbro, I prefer the Fourth Ring at the New York State Theater, particularly when watching some of the more abstract Balanchine ballets.

The patterns are lovely, and you get a sense of the overall force of the ballet without being distracted by silly things that have less to do with the dance than the personality of the dancers - ie "What's wrong with his hair?" or "Oh, did she get engaged?"

Link to comment

For $12/ticket, you can't beat the Fourth Ring Society.

Yes, you're a bit far away, but the sightlines are great. I would, however, absolutely invest in a good pair of binoculars. Wide-angle, if possible.

Considering what movies go for, and what the "cheap" seats go for at most other ballet venues, it's a tremendous bargain. Sure, I'd like to sit in the front row center of First Ring every night, but until I win the lottery it's not going to happen.

Link to comment

Hi Laura! I would try the 4th ring - it's a great value! These days I prefer to sit closer to the stage but I sat in the 5th ring (sides) at the NY State Theater for the first several years of ballet going (a long time ago). Though I now prefer a more close up view I was certainly happy with those seats in the beginning, and the overhead view does give you a wonderful appreciation for the patterns that you never get sitting in the orchestra. :wink:

I think ABT's City Center repertory is wonderful this year. I'd try either the "Masterworks" or the matinee program if you can afford to buy orchestra, grand tier or mid mezzanine seats. The advice you've been getting about the sight lines is correct - some seats have horrible views. In addition to the balcony (gallery) beware of rear mezzanine seats. With the exception of the first row (row J) you lose most of the stage from many of the seats - really not worth going to City Center if you can't afford the better seats :unsure:

Re: Swan Lake - I would NOT recommend the NYCB version. Although the dancers I saw were wonderful I found the production's modern sensibility really detracted from my enjoyment of the performance. Since you've never seen Swan Lake I think it makes sense to start with a traditional version so you can see why it became a classic that is still being performed after over 100 years. I have never seen the Kirov's Swan Lake but I've heard that it's one of the 2 or 3 "gold standard" traditional versions. They will be performing it at the Kennedy Center at the end of December- beginning of January. I don't know how long a trip it is from Philly to DC, but I'm planning to take the train from NY and see 4 performances over a weekend...

Link to comment

Thanks everyone. You've definitely convinced me that fourth ring is better than nothing, so...where do I find a decent pair of opera glasses/binoculars? :unsure: Is one preferable to the other?

I'll definitely do what I can to make Coppelia, and hopefully Sleeping Beauty as well. Jewels sounds like something I'd enjoy, too - maybe a full weekend's in store! I only hope exams don't conflict. I guess I'll wait and see if I can catch the Philly Swan Lake, though I'll probably end up out of town then. :wink: I imagine there should be more chances to catch the NYMC version in the future.

btw, are there any good websites to know when ballet will be on TV?

Link to comment

nysusan - thanks for the heads up about the Kirov ballet! I'll check out the website and see if I can make one of the dates, if it's not sold out. :unsure: DC's a bit further from Philly than NYC, but certainly doable.

Link to comment


Another suggestion about student rush tickets...

Though the location and availability of student rush tickets does depend on the performance (always check, as they aren't always available), one tip in getting good seats is to buy as soon as possible. I found that if I was up late, it was well worth buying a student rush ticket online just after midnight.



Link to comment

Lara, the Kirov always sells out in DC, so your best bet is to try for standing room. I'm not sure when it goes on sale, but you have to buy it in person at the box office.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which gives very good accounts of Balanchine ballets, will be at the Kennedy Center in early December, and the Royal Danish Ballet, another world-class company (although not now very strong, from reports on this board) will be there from Jan. 13-18 with one of their signature works, Napoli.

Link to comment
where do I find a decent pair of opera glasses/binoculars? :unsure:  Is one preferable to the other?

Opera glasses are a very personal thing, and I would recommend buying them in person, as opposed to on line or through a catalogue. A Google search may help you locate a local merchant.

Great improvements have been made since I bought my opera glasses. My 30-year-old Nikons give magnification/field of vision of 8 X 24, 7 degrees, and that's pretty good for the Fourth Ring of State Theater, Dress Circle of the Met, and rear balcony of City Center. (I'm not sure what the degree figure signifies.) Some of my friends are happy with 7X magnification, which is likely what my next pair will be, as that tends to give a wider view of the stage picture. Also, some newer models offer zoom capability, which is something I might like. Don't know, have never tried. The one feature that is indispensible to me is an independent fine-tune for one eye, as my uncorrected vision is vastly different between my left and right eyes, and I have to slide my eyeglasses down my nose to use my opera glasses. :cool2:

Link to comment

The Kirov is selling online at the Kennedy Center website - and there are still great seats available! I got a prime orchestra seat (row G!!!) for the January 4th performance. :wink: I figure if I'm going to save on NYMC performances, I should splurge on this.

It says they went on sale Sept. 22 - luckily they haven't sold out yet, I guess because there's a fair amount of performances.


Yay! I'm really excited (and hope the weather cooperates!)

Further edited to say that I just found out that G will be the *front* row - unreal! :) I think I just got the last one. But I promise not to get too spoiled by it. :unsure: This will definitely be an amazing experience.

Edited by LaraF
Link to comment

The best binocculars I've found for viewing ballet are Bushnell "Xtrawide" they offer a 900 ft. field of view, so you can get the big picture, and yet they magnify in a big way as well - 4 x 21. They're made for performing arts or spectator sports...and in my opinion they're not too expensive, though at the moment I can't remember if they were about $50 or $60? They happen to sell them, or did last year, at the gift shop down beneath Lincoln Center, though you can probably get them at a good camera shop. They are auto focus, but believe me I wear progressive lenses (invisible tri focals) and I can wear them with my glasses on...and my non visually impaired husband and daughter can use them just as well. :unsure:

Have a wonderful time LaraF at all the ballets and keep us posted! :grinning:

Link to comment

For ballet on TV, go to pbs.org and click on your local PBS station's listings. Our local PBS station tends not to have the same schedule as the NYC stations. We usually have to wait a week or so.

Re NYCB's Swan Lake: I will swim against the tide and say, go ahead and see it! It was the first full-length Swan Lake I'd ever seen and I liked it. I had nothing else to compare it to at the time other than student productions. A few years later I saw ABT's Swan Lake. I like that too. They're very different from each other but that's what makes it all so interesting, isn't it? Although it's the one I really hanker for, I haven't yet seen Kirov's Swan Lake.

Link to comment

Good advice, vagansmom. :yes: I'm with you - see as much as you can from different ballet companies. You'll learn to appreciate different companies and their "styles"...and you'll broaden your ballet horizons, too. :unsure:

I happen to be looking forward to Christopher Wheeldon's version of Swan Lake with the Pennsylvania Ballet this spring. :huepfen:

Link to comment

My first time to State Theatre was this past summer and I sat in the fourth ring. I thought it was fine, especially if you're not aiming to see anyone in particular and are just viewing as a whole. Plus I thought it was better for viewing the patterns in large ensemble numbers.

As far as opera glasses...they don't have to be real expensive.... a moderately priced pair will do fine. Mine were only $20

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...