Rothbart!

It’s all over. Last Saturday I danced Rothbart in Swan Lake for two performances and I’m still on cloud nine from it. Here’s a round up of the last few weeks:

3 weeks to go

With less than a month to go, rehearsals were in full swing. Alongside two class/rehearsals during the week, Saturdays now contained long rehearsals with the ballet school (Act I Scene I and Acts II-III) and Sundays were rehearsals with the youth ballet company (Act I Scene II). I’d finally learnt all my sections:

  • Act I Scene II (Owl Rothbart): opening variation, confrontation with Siegfried and Odette and Coda
  • Act II (Man Rothbart): Entrance with Odile, lead Spanish, a couple of bits in the Black Swan Pas de Deux, mime and exit at the end of the scene
  • Act III (Owl Rothbart): Entrance and capture of Odette, confrontation with Odette and Siegfried, final fight with Siegfried and my (delightfully dramatic) death.

I finally got my hands on my cape for Act II which turned out to be a bit more stressful than I thought. When I enter with Odile I present her to the queen and leave her to seduce Siegfried whilst I quickly whip off my cape and immediately start the Spanish dance. Unfortunately on my first attempt in a rehearsal I completely failed to undo the cape, resulting in me having to awkwardly lift it over my head and headdress/crown-thingy and run to make the start of Spanish… Oops!

We also had a photographer come to one of the youth ballet company class/rehearsals to take some promotional pictures for the show. Rather than in costume like the last ones, these were action shots during class and there were a few of me that I’ve put in the little gallery below. I’m quite pleased with them, especially my grand assemblé, but it pointed out that I’ve still got loads to work on! All the photos were taken by John Hudson LRPS (www.jahphotography.com).

1 week to go

A week before the performance was a the Easter break and I still hadn’t met the dancer playing Odette. Along with the guy playing Siegfried, she was staying in Bristol for the week leading up to the show and so my teachers suggested I come along to daily class/rehearsal with them – I jumped at the opportunity!

So every day I would turn up at a little dance studio outside Bristol for anywhere between 2 and 5 hours of rehearsals at a time. There were only 8 of us: my two teachers (both ex-principals), the two guest dancers, three pre-professional students (from Elmhurst/Royal Ballet School) and me. Needless to say I felt a little out of place but I tried to make the absolute most of it. Each class went along at blistering pace and pushed me harder than ever before: one of the most amusing moments involved my attempt at an exercise involving grand pirouettes switching from a la seconde to devant and then through to attitude derriere (I wasn’t too successful!). I could feel myself improving each day though, and it was so inspiring to take class with such amazing dancers. I think my happiest moment came on the final day of class when my teacher had the guys doing pas de bourée, chassé, tour en l’air across the floor and much to everyone’s surprise (not least of all my own!) I managed three double tours en l’air! They weren’t the cleanest tours ever, but I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, my teacher now won’t accept single tours in classes anymore!

The second part of these classes was lots of rehearsing. The guest dancers had only met once before and everyone needed to work on partnering and spacing. It was amazing the progress in just a week though – and it was such a pleasure to watch the professionals rehearsing their parts. It was good to get to grips (literally) with the partnering sections and much of the week my teacher had me working on the characterisation. Obviously Rothbart is quite a distinct character and he wanted me to make sure every movement conveyed this. I lost track of the number of times I got told I needed to stride out more, take more time, and make every movement more deliberate. It certainly helped, and I definitely felt my dancing improved hugely over the week. I alo got some great tips on partnering – shifting my hand position according to which jump I was assisting, using my plié more, etc.

1 day to go

With one day to go, my mum arrived to stay with me and watch the performance. She’s never seen me dance (or seen a ballet whatsoever) so it meant a lot to me that she came down and was really excited for to see what I’d been working on for the last few months. I left her shopping in Bath on the Friday though as I headed for the dress rehearsal.

This was our first chance to see the size of the stage, have a complete run through and space everything out. The stage was ever-so-slightly smaller than our rehearsal space so we had a few minor collisions, but otherwise things went pretty well. The only thing left to do was head home and get a good night’s sleep ready for Saturday…

The Big Day!

All of a sudden it was time. Six months of hard work was to culminate in two performances and I was a bag of nerves.

Arriving at the theatre 2 hours before curtain, we ran through a couple of the more crowded bits on stage to ensure people didn’t run into each other. My teachers reminded me to just mark everything and definitely not to jump as I needed to save my energy (by the time the day was over I’d be very grateful!).

Heading down to the changing rooms I got into my Act I/III costume. My teacher came over and worked on my stage makeup – he had danced Rothbart in Russia so was recreating what he used to have. Standing for about 15 minutes whilst he worked on it, I had no idea what it was going to look like – I got a bit of a shock! I’ve put a picture of it below along with some of the stage before the performance. Reckon I look evil enough?!

So how were the performances? Pretty amazing! The start of Act I Scene II had me crouched in a red spotlight on a dark stage, with smoke blowing across the stage – couldn’t have been more dramatic! The variation went without a hitch (even the nasty en dedan attitude derrière pirouette) and all the bits with Odette/Siegfried went well.

Then it was a run downstairs to get changed for Act II whilst the audience enjoyed wine and cake (totally unfair!). My Act II entrance was so much fun (a chance to look smug and disdainful with Odile) and this was followed immediately by Spanish. I think this was my favourite dance in the show as I knew it well enough that I could simply enjoy every second. The audiences also seemed to enjoy it as me and my partner got some nice cheers at the end of it! Then it was standing around in character during the other national dances before the Black Swan Pas de Deux. Whilst I didn’t have too much actual dancing in this (except for a couple of small segments) there was plenty of acting to remember: gestures to Odile, hiding Odette and directing Siegfried. This was followed by me tricking Siegfried into swearing his love for Odile (including a silent evil laugh!) and running off stage.

Then was my really quick change (no interval!) back into the Owl costume for Act III. After Odette tells the swans what has happened I appear and remind her who is in charge (lots of partnering) and Siegfried appears. A quick breather in the wings and then it was time for the finale: a fight to the death with Siegfried. It’s kind of strange but I can’t remember this section from either performance. I guess the music and character swept me away and it’s all a bit of a blur until I’m lying on the ground with a wing ripped off pretending to be dead!

Finally, the curtain calls were amazing – I got my own bow just before the lead couple and I got a mixture of applause and pantomime booing. Was kind of awesome just to soak in the applause. It was even more special knowing that my mum and a load of my friends were in the audience. Most of my university friends had never seen a ballet before and they all really enjoyed it. It meant a lot to me that so many of my friends had made the effort to come and watch and share my performance and even more so that my mum did. I was also lucky enough to get some wine from my Spanish partner and some flowers from a friend to say congratulations.

Here’s a few pics that my mum managed to snap during the performance:

After both performances (with only about half an hour between them!) I was absolutely shattered. Making sure I thanked my teachers just one more time and promising to keep in touch with the guest dancers, I finally drove back home to talk through the performance with my mum, get some well earned sleep and then drive her to the airport the next day.

What’s Next?

So now it’s all over. I can’t believe it to be honest! I’ve still got a few performances coming up in the next few months. Ballet Bristol (the adult group I dance with) are doing a summer gala in June which I’m dancing quite a bit in: Coppélia Wheat Pas de Deux (as Franz), Sleeping Beauty Jewels suite (as “Gold”), and another variation (either Franz Wedding Pas de Deux from Coppélia or my Rothbart opening variation). On top of this, there is a gala nearby for the Sue Ryder 60th Anniversary (a national charity) and both of the groups I dance in will be performing! I’m not sure what I’ll be dancing (I think the youth ballet company will be doing the “Danse des Forbans” from Le Corsaire).

Sorry for the long post but hope you enjoyed reading! Have you been performing recently? How did it go?

Until next time, keep on dancing!

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