On 19 October, we’ll be opening our doors for the eighth annual World Ballet Day, sharing the fascinating (and sometimes surprising!) details of our working lives. We'll be taking you into class and rehearsals, visiting the costume department, and giving you an insight into the day-to-day lives of our dancers. Here's a peek at what we'll be doing on the day.
Our dancers take morning class six days a week, year-round, except for a short mid-year break and a longer one over summer. They also spend a lot of time in the gym preparing and strengthening their bodies, which is great for preventing injury and readying themselves for the demands of different repertoire, and some of them do additional exercise outside of the 'office' (for instance running, swimming or yoga), but morning class is essential. For many dancers, this long-held routine is a form of meditation, a way to check in with themselves at the start of the day and assess their energy levels, physical niggles and headspace. And, of course, the format of the ballet class - centuries old and the same all over the world - is the best way to warm up the body and keep it in great shape for dancing. Work at the barre is followed by adage (slow, controlled movements) in the centre, followed by faster combinations, including turns, and building to petit allegro (smaller jumps) and grand allegro (the fireworks!). All this keeps our dancers' strength, fitness, flexibility and range of motion in optimal form for the stage.
Our dancers speak about their experiences in and connection to morning class. WATCH
FAQ: Why do so many dancers wear their tights over their leotards? It's more comfortable, keeps the leotard from riding up and gives the men a bit of extra grip when they're partnering.
THE COSTUME DEPARTMENT
Next up, our costume department - a treasure trove of silks, sequins, ribbons and buttons. Here is where our team of highly specialised artisans, led by the Head of Costume Department, Musette Molyneaux, work their magic as they create, embellish and refurbish our costumes. An in-house costume department is relatively rare in the ballet world. Usually, our artisans would work intensively on our upcoming productions, but in the case of Harlequinade, which is a co-production of The Australian Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, the costumes were at ABT, where it had its world premiere. Harlequinade is a revival by Alexei Ratmansky of a 1900 ballet by Marius Petipa, who created so many of our 19th-century classics, including The Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote. Musette will be taking you through some of the dazzling array of Harlequinade costumes (there are more than 250 designs!). Their designer, Robert Perdziola, studied the original Harlequinade costumes, which are held by a musuem in St Petersburg, as inspiration.
Watch out for: The elegant Lark tutu, worn by the heroine Columbine at her wedding, with its pink and grey feather motifs.
FAQ: How long does it take to make a tutu? It depends on the complexity of design, but it can take up to two weeks of solid work to make one tutu.
To the studio! We'll be rehearsing the Lark Pas de deux from Harlequinade. Alexei Ratmansky worked from a notation of Petipa's choreography held by a Harvard university - so what you're seeing is in essence what the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia saw in 1900. Enjoy the view from the Royal Box! The passage we'll be rehearsing comes at the end of the ballet. After a lot of commedia dell'arte antics and some help from a Good Fairy, Harlequin wins the hand of Columbine in marriage. At their wedding, they enact a light-hearted pantomime: Harlequin is the hunter, and Columbine is the Lark; he has to catch her. They are framed and echoed by a corps de ballet of Columbine's friends, all dressed, like her, in the Lark tutu.
Watch out for: The fluttering fingers of Columbine as the Lark. Petipa used a similar technique for the Canari Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty.
FAQ: Who's dancing the lead roles? Principal Artist Brett Chynoweth is Harlequin, and Principal Artist Benedicte Bemet is Columbine.
I NEW THEN REHEARSALS
We're rehearsing Johan Inger's 2012 work I New Then, a contemporary piece by the Swedish choreographer, who danced with the renowned company Nederlands Dans Theater. It's a new language for our dancers to get their head around: raw and exuberant, loose-limbed and humorous. The dances are partially inspired by experiences in his youth, and the interactions of the dancers in the ensemble cast reflect this in their sensuality, awkwardness and innocence. Van Morrison songs form the soundtrack.
You may not know: Because of the pandemic, Johan Inger couldn't join us planned to oversee rehearsals of I New Then, so he talked to the dancers about his work over Zoom.Jarryd Madden. Photography Kate Longley
ROMEO AND JULIET REHEARSALS
You're about to see a very special moment - the moment when Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, at a ball given by Juliet's parents. Romeo has followed his crush Rosaline to the ball, but as soon as he sees Juliet, he realises what true love is. This scene also contains what is perhaps the most famous piece of music in the whole of Prokofiev's score: The Dance of the Knights. This stately piece of Capulet pageantry establishes the family's pride and power, its closed ranks. There are some lovely pieces of very human behaviour - such as when the teenage Juliet enters in all the pride of her first ball dress, and her Nurse tries to arrange the folds. Overcome with embarrassment, she pushes her away.
Keep your eyes on: The small cushions held by the Capulet men in the Dance of the Knights. At the climax of the music they will drop them to the ground and fall to their knees before their partner. In the production, these cushions are black velvet with golden tassels.
FAQ: Who is dancing Romeo and Juliet? It's Principal Artists Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo. In real life, they're married, so the acting comes easily.Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo. Photography Kate Longley