Dancers appear delicate and fragile, but they require more stamina and strength than footballers. They have to be strong and resilient in mind and body as, the demands are intense and they know that, at any point, injury might strike.
Dancers start their day with a ‘physical breakfast’, first at the barre to limber up (and no doubt, wake up).
TheEye is somewhat ballet obsessed, both with classical and contemporary dance.
The Royal Ballet
Standards at The Royal Ballet under the leadership of director Kevin O’Hare are at a peak and can be best judged by the corps de ballet which, even a few years ago, was often uneven and a tad clumsy. These days it matches Russian companies in precision. The only difference (and it does make a difference), is uniformity. In the Bolshoi and Mariinsky companies, dancers are the same height, with the same long legs. With the Royal corps de ballet, they can vary from short to very tall.
A Big Treat
Occasionally, The Opera House Insight programme offers a variety of behind the scene opportunities – rehearsals, talks and, most recently, a ballet class on the main opera house stage with most of the company participating from the most junior members to some of their current stars. TheEye was in heaven watching Andrey Klemm from the Paris Opera Ballet (and guest class teacher) putting the dancers through their routine.
A dancer’s day starts with a mandatory warm-up session and this means every day. No shirking, no hiding under the duvet with a chocolate digestive and a cup of tea. Dancing is disciplined.
In the same way that athletes warm up before a race or a game, dancers have to prepare their bodies for a grueling working day of rehearsals and performances. Even when they have performed the night before, they turn up at 10.15 a.m. to start their hour and fifteen-minute warm-up session (referred to as ‘class’). The class gives dancers the time to hone their craft and perfect technique through detailed repetition. Classes follow the same basic format, but each teacher varies the exercises slightly according to what they want to achieve that day and also according to what the dancers will be performing in the coming weeks.
Following class, dancers have several hours of rehearsal, lasting until five or six p.m.
When it’s the day of a performance they have a two-hour rest break before the show begins. During this, they will have time to eat, put on their costumes and makeup, and prepare themselves mentally and physically.
Although class starts gently working at the barre, it gradually progresses to some very complicated exercises. Complex footwork, jumps, and turns, amazingly high extensions of legs and, of course, perfect balance. No wobbling or tripping. And no one seemed out of breath. TheEye would be panting and sweating even if she were able to do the most basic of movements (no hope).
The class builds up in speed and complexity of movement, so fast at times, it can make even an onlooker feel dizzy and you keep asking yourself the question: ‘ How do they do it’?
The last part of the class is devoted to the leaps and bounds and pirouettes. Divided into groups of three, they almost fly across the stage. Thrilling.
The other advantage of watching a class as opposed to a rehearsal or performance, is the dancers are anonymous. No irritating audience applause when a ‘star’ they have paid a large amount of money to see comes on to the stage. It’s interesting to figure out if who you are watching is a prima ballerina, and who are novices in the corp de ballet and, most exciting, who stands out. TheEye remembers seeing a red-haired boy in the corps de ballet many years ago. She couldn’t take her eyes off him as he really stood out from the others and she knew this was a brilliant dancer who would go on to great things. Every time she saw a ballet, she looked out for him – noticeable for his hair, as well as his amazing technique.
Without appearing ‘too’ smug, she was right in her prediction, for the boy was Edward Watson, one of the company’s most gifted dancers.
Sadly, these public classes only happen infrequently. But TheEye can’t wait for the next one and she left the Opera House dancing on air (not a pretty sight)!!