The Australian Ballet has a world-renowned Artistic Health team that helps our dancers sail through difficult repertoire such as the shape-shifting Chroma, part of our Volt program. We spoke with Physiotherapist Sophie Emery about the demands of this ballet and how the team keeps the dancers Chroma-ready.
Why does each ballet need a different injury-prevention program?
Every ballet has unique requirements, in terms of the range and style of movement. The corps de ballet might have specific issues; for instance, in Swan Lake, the corps stand for long periods of the ballet while the principals dance, and that can cause problems, when you stand for so long and then you have to move. For other programs, such as Chroma, you’re just going the whole time and using every single bit of your body. We put in an injury-prevention program about six weeks before the dancers start rehearsing the ballet so they can target their exercise programs towards those requirements.
When it’s a ballet like Chroma, which entered our repertoire for the first time this year, how do you put together your injury-prevention program?
With Chroma we were lucky – we had video of other companies dancing it, so we could watch them and learn the choreography. But with a completely new ballet, like Stephen Baynes’ Art to Sky [part of the Chroma bill], we sometimes just have to base our program on our knowledge of what that particular choreographer does. For example, with Stephen, he likes to use a lot of arabesques, so we would put together a program for Art to Sky with that in mind.
When you're doing a ballet for the first time, how do you work out an injury program for it? So do you actually sit down with the video and work out, step by step, what the impact on the body of that choreography will be?
Usually we have videos of the ballet to watch: the Artistic Health team sits down and watches it together, and we work out step by step what the impact on the body will be. With Chroma, we were pinpointing moments that were like, “Wow, that’s hard on the hips” or that took the body to extreme ranges of movement. You write notes and then think about what exercises you could get the dancers to do that would protect the joints and muscles in that movement.
What kind of exercises did you recommend for Chroma?
Hips are a particularly big issue in Chroma. There are lots of leg kicks, lots of movements where you’re off balance and relying on your muscles to control you. McGregor’s movement also takes the spine through extreme ranges, both ways, and sometimes in a thrashing or snake-like movement. The dancers need thorough warm-ups beforehand and excellent stability in the core groups of muscles for those movements to be safe. We also recommend plenty of physio and myotherapy to target soreness and help them recover. The moment they get a niggle, we have a look and talk through it to make sure it doesn’t develop into an injury. Our seasons of McGregor's Dyad 1929 [also in the Volt program] were also hard on the hips, but none of that minor pain turned into injuries that affected the dancers’ schedules. It’s a tribute to the dancers really – they were phenomenal about sticking to their injury-prevention programs!