Studio to Stage

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Rep

Being a ballet dancer in a leading company is a bit like being a swan, gliding serenely across the water, or performing majestically in a dancer’s case, with all the hard work under the surface out of sight and, for the viewer, often out of mind.

And as part of its week’s residence at Birmingham Rep, Birmingham Royal Ballet gave audiences a chance to peek below that surface, starting off stage where much of the work for any ballet is done.

Rachel Pizzillo, a First Artist, and Miles Gilliver, an Artist, along with Engagement Manager Kasia Kraus, were on hand to talk about the costumes and shoes used in performance - BRB has about 60 pairs for each of its ballerinas who can go through an average of 10 pairs a month! Men, with canvas shoes, and no pointe work, last longer. There are also props from swords to radio controlled rats and costumes from Mediaval Verona to a beast.

Then there are the wigs and make up with Fay Johnson, deputy head of wigs, along with Principal Character Artists Rory Mackay and Jonathan Payn showing how Don Quixote and Gamache from Carlos Acosta’s ballet, Don Quixote, were created.

With a little knowledge of what goes on technically behind the scenes comes the hard work of dancing with not just a demonstration but a full 90 minute class on stage, the routine start to every day for BRB dancers, the equivalent of daily warm up and training for footballers.

The class was taken by BRB’s director Cuban superstar Carlos Acosta, who still shows the easy, effortless moves that made him a world ballet icon as he demonstrates the exercises and steps he wants his charges to follow. Class is designed to build up stamina, skill and technique as well as strength.


Miles Gilliver, an Artist and Rachel Pizzillo, a First Artist dressed for the occasion

That’s just for starters. Just a warmup for the rehearsals to follow and for that enter Dominic Antonucci, a former dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, a leading Principal then Ballet Master with BRB and now its Assistant Director.

With Soloist Max Maslem and First Soloist Beatrice Parma, both having just been through a 90 minute class incidentally, he showed us the subtle adjustments to shape and position that are needed as he rehearsed the pas de deux from Sir Peter Wright’s Coppélia.

They are changes the average punter even in the posh seats would hardly notice perhaps, the angle of a leg here, a body square instead of angled there, but the aim is not to be near enough, or that will do, it is striving for perfection. And ballet is not along in this. Professional theatre demands hours and hours of rehearsal for each performance. The old adage is amateurs rehearse until they get it right, professionals until they cannot get it wrong!

The evening ended with Soloist Yu Kurihara and Principal Brandon Lawrence dancing the pas de deux from Will Tuckett’s Lauzuli Sky, a modern ballet to demonstrate a contrast to the classical, Coppélia and finally the return of Beatrice and Max, in costume for a pas de deux once more from Coppélia, with both pieces showing, to a limited extent the enhancement added to a productions by lighting.

A mention too for Jeanette Wong, one of three company pianists, who play music at the required tempo for classes and then play for rehearsals in a full day at the keyboard and an essential, and usually never seen, member of the company who provided all the evening's music in a masterful performance of accompanyment.

This was an evening of insight while An evening of Music and Dance at the Rep on Friday and Saturday, 13-14 May, will see what studio to stage achieves.

Roger Clarke



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