I still can’t quite believe it. Last weekend, I danced in the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company’s production of Cinderella at Stockport Plaza. Not only did I get the chance to perform in front of hundreds of people to raise money for a fantastic charity, but I also got to share the stage with two of the country’s greatest dancers: Elena Glurdjidze and Arionel Vargas.
This was my second full-length performance with the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company following Swan Lake last year. I had enjoyed Swan Lake so much (I mean, it’s not every day you get to be an evil owl-sorceror, right?!) that when the directors had announced they’d be putting on Cinderella on, I signed up straight away! We would be performing it twice: a charity performance at Stockport in February followed by an encore performance at Weston-Super-Mare in May.
Rehearsals started last summer, just after the summer intensive. We learned a few group segments (we performed the Waltz coda at a gala last summer) and then the casting was announced. I would be sharing the role of the Dance Teacher in Act I with another dancer (I would perform the role at Stockport; he would dance it at Weston-Super-Mare) and I would be dancing the King in Act II. I was really excited – the Dance Teacher had a really fun piece in Act I teaching the stepsisters, and the King had some hilarious bits in Act II (mainly with my male teacher as the stepmother!).
It was around this time that we found out that the principal roles of Cinderella and the Prince would be danced by English National Ballet‘s Senior Principals Elena Glurdjidze and Arionel Vargas. To say that it would be an honour to share the stage with these dancers would be the understatement of the century. As well as being truly phenomenal dancers, they proved to be two of the kindest people I’ve met (always willing to give advice to dancers) and such an inspiration to work with. Elena and Arionel would be rehearsing themselves in London (alongside their ENB schedule!) so they wouldn’t join us in rehearsals until later on – so we had a few months to get the rest of the choreography sorted!
So rehearsals started. As we neared Christmas, rehearsals became more frequent and once January came around we were rehearsing most Saturdays and every Sunday. I think compared to Swan Lake, I personally found the choreography harder to retain. I think this is partly due to Prokofiev’s score – the musical cues are less clear than in Tchaikovsky’s music and there are quite a few sections (for example the second half of Act II when the King, Prince and Minister search for Cinderella) where the same musical theme is used but in a slight variation (and with very different choreography!).
It also became quite tricky to fit rehearsals in with my work: my PhD has stepped up about twenty gears since the start of the year and I’m currently writing the first chapter of my thesis, co-writing 4 papers, teaching a course at University and trying to find a job! In some ways though, rehearsals helped keep me sane – having time when I couldn’t stress about work, and had to put all my concentration into my dancing was nice ‘time off’ for my brain.
And then, quite suddenly, it was only a few weeks until the performance! We started to have rehearsals with Elena and Arionel (I felt so priviledged to be able to watch them work) and it was full steam ahead for Stockport!
Following an early Sunday morning start we all got onto a minibus to make our way up to Stockport (excepting Vargas who had been performing with ENB in Le Corsaire in Manchester the night before). We arrived around 11.30am and got our first chance to look at the theatre – it’s stunning!
Whilst the stage hands got the scenery sorted (including a massive, working, clock!), we all found our dressing rooms, got costumes organised, and started working on our hair/wigs and makeup.
After a warm up in our dressing rooms and a barre in the theatre (using the orchestra pit rail as a barre!) we headed to stage for a full dress rehearsal. It was a little disorientating to start – not only had we lost the security of a mirror to dance in front of, but the stage was a slightly different shape to our studio (shallower and wider) and raked! We had known about these differences for a few months but it was still a bit of a shock having to change your spacing and get used to the rake.
In case you don’t know what a raked stage means, it is where the stage is at a slight angle so that the rear of the stage (farthest from the audience) is higher than the front. This is so that the audience can see the back of the stage clearly and actually led to the terms ‘upstage’ (at the back where the stage is higher) and ‘downstage’ (at the front where the stage is lower). Most of us had never danced on a raked stage before and it took some getting used to – your centre of balance is slightly different to normal and when doing grand pirouettes a la seconde I found myself slowly moving towards the front of the stage!
A mixture of nerves and a new stage meant the dress rehearsal didn’t go particularly well. I messed up a couple of bits and just felt I could do much better. But I just told myself there’s a reason for that saying – “bad rehearsal, good performance”. And I had no time to worry, the dress rehearsal finished 20 minutes before curtain and I was straight off to get changed into my other costume and stay warm for my Act I entrance.
So how was the performance? I may be a little biased but I thought everyone on stage was amazing! I was pretty pleased with how my bits went (didn’t mess anything up and it went better than I could have hoped for) and the audience seemed to enjoy themselves.
I enter Act I when the step mother calls in the Dance Teacher to tutor the stepsisters in a gavotte. Walking onto stage and taking my pose, I did a petite assemblé down stage and stepped into a passé retiré posé. And then I spotted the audience. I knew the theatre wasn’t full, but goodness me it looked like it from stage. The front of the stalls and balcony was full of people and I suddenly realised how numerous 500+ people really are! In this split second realisation I told myself not to panic, and gave myself a mental kick to start thinking of the choreography rather than the people. It somehow worked and my nerves disappeared – I was in business!
The Dance Teacher segment was the first bit of Cinderella I had learned and remains one of the most fun. There are lots of fun little steps and I get to dance with the two stepsisters who I’m good friends with from Youth Ballet. I definitely tried to go for a bit of flamboyance (when my costume included a coat fringed with a light pink faux-mini-tutu how could I not!) and I seemed to get a couple of chuckles from the audience at the right bits. This section also included my hardest steps though, like grand pirouettes a la seconde whilst the stepsisters posé turned around me, and I was glad to get through it relatively well (and unscathed!).
As the curtain closed on Act I, everyone was full of excitement as they changed costume for Act II. Changing tights and wig, and being literally sewn into the warmest costume ever (complete with huge fake fur collar) I got myself into my King character and walked through bits of the choreography. The King is a bit bumbling and gets worked up into a fuss over very little things – trotting around after the Prince when he disobeys him (I took my inspiration from the awesome Bennet Gartside of the Royal Ballet as Gamache in Don Quixote – we even had similar costumes!).
Act II was a complete blur: the initial ballroom scene, Vargas entering and ignoring my pleas that he should find a wife, the stepmother throwing herself at me multiple times, and even a fake fainting spell. But then Glurdjidze arrived to the Ball. The lights dimmed, Prokofiev’s delicate music spread across the auditorium, and it felt like magic was in the air. As Elena bouréed forward to present me with a bouquet of flowers, and to meet the Prince, I had a sudden moment of realising just how lucky I was. When I looked in awe at Cinderella, and then the pair as she starts dancing with the Prince, there was no acting required. Leaving the two of them on stage, the entire company slowly walked into the wings where we paused to watch Glurdjidze and Vargas dance their opening Pas de Deux.
Even after seeing them dance in rehearsals, they took my breath away and I found myself welling up off stage. They danced with such fluidity and grace, executing the most difficult of moves with ease. Following this there was a slightly nerve-wracking moment where Mr Time and I throw (in the most literal sense) Glurjidze at Vargas, and quite a bit of running away from the step mother chasing me around the stage. Then (having shaken the stepmother of my tail) I walked onto stage, and asked Cinderella if she’d like a dance. This was one of the parts I was most nervous about, mainly because I can’t waltz…! It’s just something I never feel comfortable doing, but luckily I had the best teacher ever – Elena had helped me during rehearsals and I was waltzing away by the performance (although I have a feeling I used the wrong arm – but I’m not really sure!).
As Elena and Arionel gave a masterclass in perfect Pas de Deux, the clock struck midnight and Cinderella was whisked away to the most dramatic part of the score. This led to the Prince, Minister and myself searching ‘the world’ to find the girl who fit the glass slipper (or, in ballet terms, the sparkly pointe shoe!). Starting in Spain (danced by my Le Corsaire partner from last summer’s gala) we headed to India (featuring a six-legged goddess consisting of three of the girls from the YBC!) and ended up in Cinderella’s home.
After both stepsisters (and the stepmother!) were unsuccessful with the shoe, Cinderella’s true identity was revealed and the lovers were reunited. Receiving my blessing, they left (to get ready for the final section of Pas de Deux) and I forgave the stepsisters – before leaving the stage arm-in-arm with the stepmother!
And then it was over. I couldn’t quite believe it. The performance had flown past and I had had the time of my life. As the curtain rose for our curtain calls we all had huge smiles on our faces and it was amazing to hear the applause from the audience. As the curtain fell we gave some gifts to the professional dancers and our teachers to thank them, took some group pictures, and it suddenly dawned on me that we had done it! I don’t think I’ve come down from the ‘Ballet High’ since then…
After quickly getting out of my costume (not particularly simple when you’re sewn in!) and wiping the bulk of make up off, I headed up to the theatre to see some friends who had come to see me. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jane from the Terpsichore blog who had come to see the performance. It was so lovely to meet her after talking to her on Twitter and she said some really lovely words about the show, which were really appreciated. She’s since written a review of the show – thank you Jane for such lovely and kind words, it’s so lovely to have such a nicely written account to remind me of the performance for years to come. There was also a critic from the Dancing Times there so hopefully he’ll have nice things to say too!
The whole reason we did this performance was to raise money for a truly fantastic charity: Reuben’s Retreat. Reuben was a young boy who tragically passed away just before his second birthday due to a tumour. His family have since been raising money to create a retreat in the north west countryside for children with life limiting or threatening illnesses, along with counselling for their families. It’s such a worthwhile charity and I’m so proud to have been able to help raise money for them. It was lovely to see his family enjoying the performance and when I later read a blog post they had posted about the day it brought a tear to my eye. I hope I can continue to support the charity in the future.
I still can’t believe last Sunday happened. I can’t believe I got the chance to dance in front of so many people and share the stage with such amazing dancers from the YBC and the guests principals. I was honoured to be part of Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company and was so very greatly inspired by Glurdjidze and Vargas. If you’d told me three and a half years ago, when I took my first ballet class, that I would be doing this one day, I’d have thought you crazy.
I guess ballet dreams really do come true.
P.S. There’s no footage of the performance but if you want a glimpse of how amazing Glurdjidze and Vargas are, here’s a clip of them in the Bedroom Pas de Deux from Manon: