Behind the scenes with the Ballet Staff.
Anybody who has enjoyed a performance by Scottish Ballet can attest that the dancers are in peak condition, that they execute the choreography with the utmost energy, precision and passion, and that the ballets are well rehearsed, resulting in a clean, polished performance.
Ensuring that these high standards are consistently met is the responsibility of the ballet staff, who teach daily technique class for the dancers and coach them in rehearsals, provide a link between the dancers and the Artistic Director, and generally keep up morale
“Of course everyone is responsible for themselves during the rehearsals,” Ballet Master
But a good attitude isn’t the only thing that the ballet staff bring into the studio, and into their job. The position requires individuals with extensive experience and knowledge: they must be familiar with a wide range of styles of dance, so that they can train the dancers to be versatile, and also with a vast number of ballets, so that they can teach those ballets to the dancers accurately. The three members of the ballet staff - Maria Jimenez, Hope Muir and Blanc - certainly meet these requirements, having worked with a wide range of choreographers and performed with several companies around the world. These talented individuals apply this experience to the activities that make up their typical day. The three share the duty of teaching technique class, which, when the Company is at its headquarters, is held six days a week at 10am. After class, they go straight into leading rehearsals, which stretch from 11.30am until 6pm, as well as helping with casting and scheduling rehearsals.
When the Company is on tour, the ballet staff can be in rehearsals late into the evening, and on performance nights, they must watch the performance with a critical eye, ready to give corrections and suggestions to the dancers in the morning. In the little time they have outside of teaching and rehearsals, they must familiarise themselves with the ballets that the Company will perform in the upcoming season. Even with their impressive backgrounds, it is not unusual for the ballet staff to be responsible for rehearsing a piece that they’ve never performed: therefore, they often have to teach themselves an entire ballet, in great detail, from a video recording or notation.
“It’s not an easy task,” Blanc admits, “I try to break down the ballet: who’s doing what, the geography onstage.”
With such a busy schedule and so many responsibilities, how do the ballet staff manage it all? The key, it seems, is team work. With Scènes de Ballet, for example, Jimenez focused on knowing and rehearsing the ladies’ parts, while Blanc concentrated on the men, and Muir and Blanc worked together on the principal couple. However, they all try to know each ballet in as much detail as possible, and are always ready to help one another out.
“The very good thing within the artistic team at Scottish Ballet is that we all work very much together”, states Blanc. “And we have a really, really good sense of communication.”
When asked about any negative parts of the job, Blanc hesitates, but then admits that the rehearsal process can sometimes be frustrating and requires patience.
“It’s very tricky, because it’s a fine balance between pushing the dancers and motivating and showing that they can go beyond what they think they can, but at the same time it’s about being flexible enough to know that, when they are in pain or having a bad day, you have to go with that. You have to be really involved in the process with the dancers but at the same time keep a tiny distance, and don’t take things too personally.”
But if the job is occasionally frustrating, then it is all the more rewarding when things go right. “Let’s say that something is not working, but then you demonstrate or say something that clicks in the dancer’s mind, and translates on the body and in the technique,” he continues. “When this happens, it’s a small victory. That’s really good to see.”
What we see on stage, in one of Scottish Ballet’s performances, is the sum of all those small victories.
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