Crazy Gala Times…

Life has been pretty crazy recently (hence the lack of blogging – sorry!) but last week it got even crazier.

I dance with a group of adults (there’s about 20 of us, including 2 other guys) near where I live, and for the past few months we’ve been preparing to put on a gala: an evening of ballet for friends and family. Most of the performances we do are for small audiences (at hospitals or care homes) so it was really exciting that we’d have a bigger crowd. I was to perform in 3 pieces: the “Precious Stones” Pas de Cinq suite from Sleeping Beauty, my opening Rothbart variation from Swan Lake, and the Wheat Pas de Deux from Coppelia. I’ve posted some videos below of the variation in Precious Stones and the Wheat Pas de Deux so you can see what I was getting myself into!

So last Wednesday was the final class/rehearsal before the show. We had a slightly speedy class for around an hour to warm ourselves up then we planned to run through the whole gala on stage for the first time.

However, as we were running through the final grand allegro exercise there was a sudden crash as one of the dancers fell to the floor. Whilst doing the exercise he had landed badly on his ankle, and a physio who dances with us said they thought he had ruptured his achilles. It was horrible to see and everyone was a bit in shock – one minute he was happily dancing and the next in agony and unable to walk. We got his ankle stabilised and he called a friend (luckily a surgeon!) to come and pick him up. Although he had indeed tore his Achilles I can happily say that the surgery to reattach it (on Friday) went very well and hopefully he will have a speedy recovery!

Whilst he was lying on the floor with his ankle aloft, the dancer turned to me and said, matter of factly, that I could sub in for him in the Swan Lake Pas de Trois. Wait. What?! It turned out he wasn’t just in shock and that he indeed meant it, and the two other dancers in the piece agreed. I’m not one to back down from a challenge so agreed to do it – what had I gotten myself in to?

Suddenly it was all hands on deck – we had 1 hour of rehearsal left before getting kicked out of the theatre. Whilst the others ran through bits of the show on the stage, me and my two partners went into the corridor to learn the piece. Thankfully, I’ve danced with both of the other dancers in the Pas de Trois before, and get on really well with them, so we just dove straight in. We walked through the opening adagio segment (the longest bit) a couple of times and tried to get it in my head (along with some scribbled notes to remind me what goes where). We ran through it a couple of times in the corridor with music before getting one chance to go through it on stage to see spacing – it felt surprisingly ‘secure’ in my head but we didn’t have any time to run through the coda.

That night there was lots of frantic messages between the three of us, trying to organise a rehearsal and updating each other on how the injured dancer was doing. Needless to say I didn’t sleep particularly well with all that choreography going around my head! We managed to find a studio that we could all get to (we live about 50 miles away from each other) for the Friday morning for two hours – I just had to learn all the choreography by then! Thankfully we were working off a YouTube video that I could watch and learn from – ABT’s version with Cornejo, Reyes and Cornejo. The girls had pointed out that if I was learning the adagio and coda I may as well(!) learn the variation too so I worked my way through that too. Usually I would have booked the studio at Uni to practice in, but seeing as they had demolished it (for a rebuild) two days earlier that wasn’t possible!

Heading to the rehearsal on Friday morning I felt like I just about knew the adagio and kind of knew the variation, but was finding it tricky getting the coda to ‘stick’ – I kept getting the sections muddled up. Although we worked (really) hard in that two hour rehearsal it was possibly the most fun I’ve had in a ballet studio. We all worked hard but also decided that we really just needed to “enjoy it” – there wasn’t any pressure to get it perfect, but if we didn’t enjoy it that the audience certainly wouldn’t. By the end of the two hours I was feeling much better about the piece – not confident, but not quite so clueless.

On the day of the performance we had morning class before a complete dress rehearsal. Unfortunately one of the other Pas de Trois dancers was teaching in the morning so we couldn’t run it during dress, although I got a shot at my variation and my other two pieces (I wasn’t doing Rothbart anymore). This was followed by a nervous hour or two waiting for the audience and my other partner to arrive. Luckily she arrived about quarter of an hour before the doors opened so we got to practice a few bits and pieces on stage with them en pointe (we had rehearsed in flats on Friday to save their feet). In particular we ran through pirouettes: I haven’t had much experience with assisted pirouettes and find them pretty tricky (I often feel like I’m “putting on the handbrakes”) – and the coda had loads of them! My two partners were awesome though and I got a feel for how they both turned.

Then all of a sudden it was time to perform! First up was Sleeping Beauty to open the show. It felt pretty good, not my cleanest run of the piece but I managed to not mess up, and my double pirouette to the knee went smoothly (unlike in the dress when I ended up falling into the wing!). One thing I did notice during the piece was that the injured dancer had managed to make the performance (in leg cast) and was sitting in the front row – great to see him there, but definitely added to the nerves for the Pas de Trois!

The Pas de Trois was closing the first half and, following a group hug, we took our places upstage left and waited for the music to kick in. The next 10 minutes were a blur, but I enjoyed every second! The adagio went pretty smoothly and as the first dancer started her variation I tried to get my breath back and went over my variation in my head. I really like the variation and, for some strange reason, think I prefer it and know it better than the ‘Gold’ variation from Precious Stones I had been working on for a couple of months. I guess it plays to my strengths – lots of big jumps! It went pretty great on stage – even though I started the entrechat quatres early (I guess I don’t jump as high as Herman Cornejo!) so ended up doing 2 sets of 8 of them! I had also swapped the final manege for a diagonal of “tombe, pas de bouree, sous-sous, tour en l’air” and managed to brave a double for the final one! Recovering in the wings we only had the coda to get through now – not the trickiest bit in terms of steps, but I found it easy to get it muddled up in my head. Thankfully I made it through unscathed (even remembering a stupid soutenou I had forgotten in all the rehearsal runs!) and the pirouettes were pretty good: we got a nice round of applause midway through for our string of doubles and triples, and even though the final turn was a bit dodgy we managed to recover to the final pose nicely.

We had done it! As we took our bows I think my grin could have powered a small village – such an amazing feeling! The Pas de Trois is undoubtedly the hardest piece I’ve ever performed on stage and my legs and lungs were burning by the end, but it didn’t matter. Whilst I could never expect to be as good as the injured dancer (ex-Scottish Ballet) would have been, looking over to see him clapping the hardest out of the audience I knew I hadn’t done too badly.

No time to ponder on the piece though, after an all-too-brief interval the gala restarted and I got ready for the Wheat Pas de Deux (with one of the girls from the Pas de Trois as Swanhilda and myself as Franz) which was closing the performance. This was the piece I was probably most comfortable with but, ironically, was probably the one I was least pleased about on the day. It didn’t go badly, just not as well as we usually do it – maybe it was just tiredness creeping in. It didn’t really matter though – I had enjoyed every second of the performance and it felt amazing to take the final curtain call with everyone else.

So that was probably the craziest performance I’ve ever done! I’ve got another performance coming up on the 13th July – a charity gala day at a local stately home. I’ll actually be performing with two groups: the Russian Youth Ballet Company and the adult group. I’ll not be doing anything new with the adult group (some bits from Sleeping Beauty and the variation from the Pas de Trois) but am doing lots of new stuff with the YBC. I’m reprising Act III Spanish from Swan Lake (with my partner from the show) and then have learnt the Dance of the Pirates from Le Corsaire, the Waltz from Cinderella, and a new contemporary piece created for us to Dustin O’Halloran’s “Quintett N. 1″ (a gorgeous piece of music). Most terrifyingly however, is the fact I’ll be dancing the adagio from the Corsaire Pas de Deux. I’m lucky to have an amazing partner to do it with, but it’s still pushing me (and my partnering skills) to the limit. Here’s Maria Kochetkova and Daniil Simkin showing how it should be done!

I’m off to America though in the meantime – I’m presenting a paper at a big conference in Boston followed by a few days in New York seeing friends. Needless to say I’ll be taking plenty of ballet classes whilst I’m out there! When I get back there’s another conference (here in Bath) that I’ll be presenting a paper at before the gala. Then I’m hoping to be able to do at least a week of the Summer Intensive run by my Russian Ballet teachers – it all depends how work is going though.

After this summer though I’m going to have to cut back on my ballet for a bit. My PhD has ramped up over the last few months (for good reasons though – we’ve been getting research published) and I don’t think I’ll be able to last much longer juggling ballet and academic work! I’ll still try to take class as often as I can, but I’m definitely going to have to cut down a little – maybe down to a couple of hours a week. Add to this that I’m in the final stages of sorting out a three month internship at a research company in Canada next spring (yay!) and I’ve just got a bit too much on my plate! Don’t worry though, I’ll still be blogging – just perhaps a little more sporadically…

Until next time, keep on dancing!

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P.S. Some of you will know that I’ve been a Student Ambassador for the Royal Opera House for the last year. A few weeks ago at the final session of the season I was told that I’d been selected for one of a pair of week-long internships at the Royal Opera House in September! I don’t know which department I’ll be working in yet (hopefully Digital Development, Outreach or Education) but it’ll be an awesome chance to work at my dream workplace – where else can you walk out of your office and see some of the top dancers in the world rehearsing?!