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A backstage tour of the inner world of ballet


Thecatsmother
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Given the post about the male experience of partnering a dancer in a tutu, I thought it might be of interest to start a thread about the things you don't see from the auditorium.

 

I shall expand upon this later but things like the smell of costumes, flooring, theatres etc. The dancer who is seen to leap effortlessly across the stage with the a huge smile on her face and then dissolve into tears in the wings only to repeat the process again. The pranks that get played on stage during a long run of the same ballet. Amusing stories, costume malfunctions, set mishaps etc.

 

I am sure there is much of interest to be shared by those on the forum.

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I was watching my ds in the first run/rehearsal of Alice Adventures in Wonderland at the ROH when Lauren Cuthbertson came on and Christopher Wheeldon was telling her what he wanted and all of a sudden one of the screens came down and hit her on her head. We all heard the thud! Lauren turned around and said 'Sorry that was my fault, I shouldn't have been stood there!'

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The first time I performed on a stage I was struck by the fact that i was in a space with no walls - audience in front and wings/curtains on the sides.  There was nothing to orient to.

 

Learned quickly that "exit" signs across the back and sides of the auditorium made good spotting for pirouettes.

 

Get a friend to stand in the wings for traveling  turns that exit into the wings.

 

Learned how to deal with the brightness of a follow spot.

 

Loved the warmth of a spotlight.

 

An apple makes a perfect before performance energy food - it also supplies liquid, compact to carry.

 

Always check and re-check those shoulder straps on the costume.

 

Always check and re-check the ribbons on the shoes.

 

Have duplicates of everything: shoes, tights, hair stuff, makeup, etc.

 

Don't think of the flutters as "nerves" think of it as "excitement."

 

The music is all.

 

Never leave a beloved sweater in the wings - it won't be there when one gets off stage.

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You do not often see the sweat spraying off male dancers when they do tours on stage in costume under the lights. The lighting does serve as a way of disorientating particularly when lifted in a back bend or doing turns into the wings.

 

I do remember a wonderful teacher/dancer who sadly is no longer with us who relayed the story of how as a student he was required to lie on a plinth in the crypt scene of Romeo and Juliet covered by a white sheet. Being an overtired student he managed to fall asleep only to wake up in the middle of the scene and of course not remember he was a dead body on stage so he sat up. You can imagine how amusing that must have been to watch.

 

I am sure many others know of this story but I never feel comfortable discussing others on the forum by name so tend to prefer to anonymise unless I know they would be happy for information to be shared. This did occur at ROH though to set the scene.

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Not ballet, but theatre - I went to see a friend in her drama school graduation show, and one of the actors smashed her head against the hard floor in a fight scene. Actual tears flowed which matched her character's emotions at the time, so everyone was left wondering how hurt she was and what was acting. Afterwards I found it they very nearly replaced her with the understudy, so bad was the fall, but her professionalism and grit kept her going not a breath out of place.

 

As for me, this one is not backstage I'm afraid as very obvious - I became so engaged with my monologue that I walked of the front of the stage completely! I remember the audience gasping loudly but I was so nervous and embarrassed that I gave a little giggle, climbed up and simply carried on! I cringe just thinking about it!

 

And I suppose this is an example of the opposite - those on stage not knowing what those off could see! At my local dance school when I was a youngster, in our annual shows I remember girls often wearing their shimmer or tan tights underneath their ballet pink tights, which, under the stage lights, of course, looked horrendous - rather like baked beans under a film of milk!

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The swearing in the wings was the first thing my son noticed (much to his amusement) when he was performing with JAs at the opera house!

Mine said the same. We were Sat with Clare Culvert and her husband Ryoichi Hirano at a dinner. ds was chatting away with Ryo when Ryo got up and said I will be back in a minute. Clare saw ds was looking out for him when she said 'he's gone for a cigarette, he'll be back in a minute' she saw the ds look at me and she said 'he gambles too!'

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Then there was the time I had a costume malfunction during a jolly group dance so the company danced in such a way as to whoever ended next to me had to take steps to preserve my modesty until I could safely retreat backstage.

 

My ds has reported trying to do up fastenings on girls tutus whilst dancing with them. And I have seen him remove an annoying collar, totally in character- in a flambouyant gesture, I thought the move should be kept in!

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As I'm currently in Sunderland watching BRB's Sleeping Beauty, I remember watching one performance where a fairy attendant's halter neck came undone much to the amusement of the fairy cavaliers she was dancing around! I've noticed since then that those costumes also have "invisible" shoulder straps now.

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Story of the day. In the days where footmen were rather more formally dressed at ROH, one that I know relayed the story of when he walked onto to stage to present a dancer with flowers not knowing he had the end of an entire loo roll attached to his shoe. You can guess the rest...

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In rehearsals of Alice Adventures in wonderland.

Ds is ginger and so is his friend.

Ed Watson, ds, df and Steven McCrae sat together.

Ed said 'this is the Ginger Corner'

Steven said 'I brought my kids to work'

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Sleeping Beauty

One of the men from the Corps du Ballet did a tour en l'air with the other men.

Everyone landed facing the auditorium except himself, he was facing the back of the stage and said 's**t!', ds was highly amused!

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Amateur play in local village hall - set inside a cottage with windows and door in the back wall.

 

We were in the audience, and during the interval there was the intriguing sound of drilling and loud banging coming from behind the curtains. As the curtains opened for Act 2 we could all clearly see the very large and shiny bolt which had just been attached to the inside of the door...

 

It turned out to be rather vital to the plot!

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At a performance of NB's Romeo and Juliet, in the tomb scene:  when Romeo killed Paris the dagger flew up in the air and landed on top of the pillar.  When Julied awoke she could not find the dagger and ended up finding some poison left in Romeo's poison bottle.  Amazingly quick thinking, especially as it was the young lady's debut in role.

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During my final performance with my dance school (aged 18) my trousers started coming undone on stage. I tried desperately to do them / hold them up whilst carrying on until an appropriate bit in the piece when I ran off stage, did them up again and then sneakily came back on stage by doing a rather long backwards hop into line! All caught on video, of course!

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Oh that has reminded me of a BRB performance of Slaughter on 10th Avenue.  The dancer dancing the role of the Hoofer suddenly realised that his flies were undone and very cleverly (given the comedic element of the work) zipped them up.  If you hadn't known you probably would have just thought it was part of the action.  (He didn't have the luxury of dashing off stage to do them up).

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I think one of the most famous unfortunate stage blunders was in a nationally televised LIVE performance of Natalia Makarova and Kevin Mackenzie dancing in ABT's Romeo and Juliet.  

 

When the curtain opened to the final scene in the tomb, Mackenzie had forgotten to take off his warmups that he had pulled on over his tights during the intermission.  There was no way for him to get off stage and so he danced the entire scene with his warmups.  When Juliet awoke - the look on Makarova's face was unforgettable.

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In the 1970's the Bolshoi Ballet came to San Diego and danced the full length Swan Lake.  

 

The orchestra played the introductory music to the act which opens by the lake and the swans are arranged in different groupings.  

 

As the orchestra is playing the curtain opens - and there walking among the groups of swans is a gentleman wearing a business suit - re-arranging a head of a dancer here, an arm there.  He continues going from group to group.  When somone in the audience began to laugh - the man looked up - saw the curtain had opened and with utter horror on his face walked off as quickly as dignity allowed.

 

The dancers, too, must have heard the laughter - but they never moved.

 

That lake truly does have magical qualities - it attracts princes, ogres, and men in business suits.

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A friend just messaged me and it took me back to a time when I was a student doing work with a company when one of the stage hands came into what was a tiny dressing room at Sadlers and placed dry ice in the sink. Somehow at the time it did not seem that much of a surprise but looking back I can see how much humour is a great tool to get through mundane aspects of a dance career.

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