I hope you are all well.
David asked me if I would share with you all, my contribution as Rehearsal Director for the recent ‘Back on Stage Gala’.
Well, here goes. The process for me started by having a meeting with Kevin to talk about which members of artistic staff will be rehearsing each item in the Gala.
For this Gala I rehearsed Diamonds, Within the Golden Hour, Elite Syncopations and taught Carousel. I have been the Ballet Master/repetiteur on Diamonds since we first performed Jewels. With Within the Golden Hour I had staged the ballet the last time the Company performed it. As for Elite, I’ve been rehearsing/staging this ballet since I became Ballet Master back in 2001 and I’ve also rehearsed Carousel since we first performed it.
When I start the rehearsal process, the thing I personally like to do first is to make sure everything has been taught and that the dancers have the correct version in their heads. For the Gala I started by teaching all of the pas de deux first. With Carousel, once this had been taught I passed it over to Gary to rehearse.
When I’m rehearsing a pas de deux I usually start off with rehearsals of about one and a half hours long. To slowly go through the steps and timing, correcting the style and technique of that particular piece. Then as we get closer to the performance the rehearsals become shorter, usually half an hour long. This is when I get the dancers to run the pas de deux. It helps give them the stamina that is needed. I then give notes and see if anything needs repeating. Apart from the dancers having to wear masks and being tested this process was pretty much the same as always.
The rehearsal process for the finale of Within The Golden Hour is quite straightforward, in that you rehearse the three principle couples and the four soloists couples separately, then rehearse them together before you hit the stage. The time spent in these rehearsals is making sure of the accuracy and unison of the dancers, while maintaining the speed and technique required. All of this while wearing masks!!!
With Elite, the Opening, Finale, Cascades, Hot House Rag and Stoptime Rag, things had to be done a little differently than before.
For Cascades and Hot House Rag it was just a case of making sure that a social distance of 2 meters was kept at all times. Luckily the choreography allows for this and of course the wearing of masks!! There were a couple of occasions when a dancer ran out of the studio to gasp fresh air at the end of a run only to return a couple of minutes later apologising. With Stoptime Rag I rehearsed Yasmine alone up until the end of the week before the first stage call. I then included the four men that join her during the solo. By then they had also been tested and were wearing masks of course.
That’s when the fun started, the rehearsing of the Opening and Finale. There were many problems to overcome here. We had twice as many dancers involved (in fact every dancer from Soloist down to Apprentice that was available). I needed to breakdown both sections into groups of no more than 16 - 18 dancers at any one time. This is the amount we are recommended to have in our studios while maintaining good air quality and social distancing. I worked out that I could split the dancers into three groups for the opening and three for the finale. I then needed to see how many couples I could have that would actually be able to touch each other. I knew I definitely had three, these being the Elite ‘dancers bubbles’ of Sweet Heart’s, Tall & Short and Bethena Waltz but ideally because of the choreography it was important to have more couples if possible. I then took into account anyone sharing a flat and any social couples. I ended up with about ten couples in total that could actually touch while dancing onstage.
The challenge was how to have everyone involved, mostly dancing alone but without losing the integrity of the original choreography and the atmosphere of Elite Syncopations. The ten touching couples were a mixture from all ranks of the Company. So, I thought it best to have them mixed in amongst all the other dancers rather than in one group, unless for any choreographic reasons. That way hopefully not drawing attention to any one dancer, either dancing alone or holding onto someone.
There was one more thing to do before going into the studio for the group rehearsals. I made sketches of floor patterns. These were of certain points during the opening and finale. I wrote down the dancers names and if they were in a dancers bubble or not. I split the groups into Downstage, Middle and Upstage for all the studio rehearsals. Once the steps had been taught it was important to get the high energy and fun needed for this ballet. On this occasion it was very easy, in fact the studio was overflowing with energy, enthusiasm and of course Masks! It really was great fun to rehearse.
This went on right up until our first stage call. Then finally the whole cast got to see each other for the first time. For the Apprentices, this was also the first time since joining in September that they would have seen the rest of the Company together. Even the daily Company class had been split up into five or six classes depending on each day’s rehearsals.
At last, here we were after a long seven months, back on the Royal Opera House stage. It seemed huge with no set, just lighting booms, chairs and a glitter ball. It was a mass of colour from those wonderful bright Lycra costumes by Ian Spurling. There was such a buzz with so much excitement and for the first time NO masks. Hard to believe this was the first stage call after all this time. We were now so close to the performance.
When Gala night finally arrived I felt so much emotion inside, mostly pride. Pride of seeing how much hard work, dedication, discipline, courage and passion that these wonderful dancers of The Royal Ballet had shown during this testing time and how incredibly they performed at the Gala. It was an amazing feeling to have been part of it with them.
Thank you all for the wonderful support you give to The Royal Ballet.
Please take care, stay safe and see you all soon.
President of The Ballet Association, Rehearsal Director of The Royal Ballet