https://twitter.com/jonnycag/status/464436498813972480

We open The Prince of the Pagodas in Salford this week, in which the heroine faces a string of challenges based upon earth, air, fire and water. To mark the occasion, here we look back at a few times when, as the UK’s largest touring ballet company, we’ve had to battle with the elements behind the scenes.

Earth

In the early summer of 2011, Birmingham Royal Ballet were due to perform in Japan. The Company had been developing a close relationship with the country following Director David Bintley’s appointment as Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Japan, and in March of that year David was in Tokyo overseeing rehearsals of his ballet Take Five when a vast earthquake struck the east coast, followed by an equally devastating Tsunami.

‘Music, singing and dancing, which can so often bring joy and happiness to the spirit, seemed inappropriate,’ said David, speaking two months after the event, ‘and the New National along with most theatres in Tokyo closed its doors as the people of Japan began to count the cost of the tragedy visited upon them.’

As the weeks passed, Japan began to rebuild, with – in David’s words – ‘a bravery and stoicism that has become the admiration of the world.’ However, fear of nuclear instability following accidents caused by the tsunami had already caused many overseas arts companies to cancel planned visits, and it was unsure as to whether or not Birmingham Royal Ballet’s tour would go ahead.

David, having witnessed first-hand both the earthquake and then the aftermath, knew of the overwhelming public desire that things return to normal as soon as possible. Not only did the tour go ahead, but charity gala performances were added to raise funds for the relief effort.


Air

Back in the 1970s and 80s, under the name Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, the Company used to perform in a touring circus Big Top, allowing us to appear in cities where the local theatre was either too small or completely non-existent.

However, while it solved the problem of performance space, it brought with it a set of unique, new obstacles to be overcome.

‘You could write a book on the “tent seasons”‘ says David Bintley. ‘It belonged to Fossets, the old circus. The circus had finished but they still had this old big top, so they decided to put a stage in it. It was fantastic, but it was like camping. I remember the orchestra sitting in two inches of water with plastic bags around their feet!




More dramatic was a trip to Plymouth, when a mighty gale threatened to bring the house down. Or rather lift it up, and send it away out to sea.

So forceful were the high winds that the trucks used to transport the sets and costumes were hurriedly corralled into a ring around the Big Top, to form a protective windbreak. While this technique thankfully did work, the weather was still deemed too great a risk, and the show was sadly cancelled.

‘We all went and played ‚ÄúPitch and Putt‚ÄĚ in the park next door’, remembers David. ‘Too windy to dance but not too windy for pitch and putt!’


Fire

Given the size of the theatres that we play, and the number of people that they hold, most of the venues have sophisticated air conditioning systems capable of ventilating the spaces within. In fact during stage rehearsals for The Nutcracker, the audience-less auditorium gets so breezy that members of the lighting crew can be seen sporting hats, scarves and fingerless gloves.

Naturally, the technical effects used in a large-scale show can put even the most modern temperature control systems through their paces. Pyrotechnics, and smoke and mist machines can all play merry havoc with the different sensors, requiring technical staff to monitor the isolation of different parts of the system throughout a show.

The Firebird

The only time there has ever been a serious problem was during a performance of – appropriately enough – The Firebird. This colourful one-act ballet, at the time the third in a triple bill, was just 54 seconds in when the alarms were triggered resulting in the venue’s first-ever full fire evacuation.

Thankfully there had indeed been smoke without fire, and the venue staff escorted everybody from the building swiftly and safely. While the show in this instance did not go on, the audience were treated to an impromptu photo session outside the theatre, as the dancers – all still in full costume – posed for pictures, including one with the attending fire fighters.


Water

Our final battle with the elements took place at our long-time home in the North East, Sunderland Empire. While in the auditorium audiences were enjoying the climactic shower of confetti at the end of The Sleeping Beauty, backstage staff had been presented with a slightly more dramatic downpour.

As Company Manager, Paul Grist, reported at the time: “The fun really started during Act II when water began dripping from the ceiling above one of the entrances to the stage.

Lovely weather for pas de deux

‘A spot of investigation quickly revealed that the source of the problem was in the sprinkler system pump room directly above. The local crew moved swiftly into action with buckets and mops during the interval, an emergency plumber was called and we started Act III without a great deal of concern.

‘However, a couple of minutes into Act III as one of the guys mopping up the leak turned the valve to stop the supply of water to the leaky pipe, the entire valve (and most of the pipe it was fixed to) sheared off in his hand unleashing a significant torrent of water! Having ascertained that we were safe to carry on with the show, every spare pair of hands was enlisted to keep the water at bay as it ran through ceilings and down staircases; it was mopped, vac‚Äôd, swept out of firedoors and every spare towel and blanket was assembled to form an absorbent dam across the doorway to the stage to keep the water away from scenery, costumes and shoes.

‘The performance finished uninterrupted with the delighted audience completely oblivious to the drama occurring backstage (unless they walked past the rear of the theatre on the way home and saw the water pouring out of the building!); Company and orchestra were directed out via alternative staircases and the emergency plumber had a very busy night.’

Everything was apparently fixed by about 1am, and by the following afternoon’s rehearsals, everything was back to normal.

Assuming, of course, that any of this can be considered ‘normal’…

Our newest heroine Princess Belle Sakura, faces up to the elements in The Prince of the Pagodas this week, at The Lowry Salford, Thursday 30 January ‚Äď Saturday 1 February 2014. Click here to book.

The vivid colours and unusual shapes of the Prince of the Pagodas costumes have been packaged up in cases and covers, and packed onto trucks now heading for Salford.

While there was little space to move in the Wardrobe Department yesterday, only the labels hinted at the unusual items stored away on covered rails and wicker skips.

‘SEAHORSE HEADS’, ‘PAGODA WOMEN – FRAGILE’ and an entire skipful of ‘SPARE FABRIC’ were all securely packed up, however one curious pair of eyes could still be seen peering from an open box…

WickerSeahorses

Cardboard

Rails

Yokai

Click here for details of our performances at The Lowry, Salford, Thursday 30 January – Saturday 1 February 2014.

After  11 weeks with only 1 week to go, an Autumn tour complete, half way point of The Nutcracker, one essay handed in, many technical schedules and cast sheets later as well as a HUGE amount of lessons learnt, my time on placement with Birmingham Royal Ballet is nearly up! In this post, I will attempt to summarise my intern experience with the company, on tour, during The Nutcracker and in preparations for the Spring 2014 season.

In order to help me reflect I nostalgically re-read my previous posts. Looking back to those first few weeks I have learnt an INCREDIBLE amount. Including the pronunciation of the dancers’ surnames, my attempts started as some sort of comedy sketch in Salford and some of which did take me a while. I’m also about 80% of the way there with their first names. Not only that, I can now put the majority of these names to faces, studying their profiles on BRB’s website after rehearsals and performances definitely paid off. As well as this, many logistical challenges were faced along the way, majority of those involved a photocopier/printer. However, ¬†armed with universal photocopier lessons I feel I could now take on the most complicated of their kind, although I shouldn’t speak too soon! It’s safe to say the result of my photocopying is at least better than the 11 blank pages I first produced!

Aside from these, I’ve learnt the importance of detail through child performance licence applications at a variety of different local authorities across England, China Visa applications (‘passport’ photos have a variety of different dimensions!) and all things technical e.g. schedules and crew calls. Gmail has become very familiar, I’ve learnt and experienced the usefulness and necessity of folders and ‘Bcc’! Leading on from this – organisation is key, particularly in the sense of time management and combined with a tidy desktop, both on the computer and physically.

Such lessons I can take anywhere with me and practice throughout my career – my confidence, eye for detail, stamina, work ethic and most importantly knowledge about the industry have all been massively developed.

On top of this, this placement has provided me with countless opportunities I wouldn’t have received anywhere else, I am incredibly grateful and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I’ve been able to watch a variety of dance, from traditional ballets (Sleeping Beauty/The Nutcracker) to contemporary pieces (E=mc¬≤),¬†whilst also being allowed a real insight into the everyday life of an extremely prestigious company, witnessing the workings of Wardrobe, Technical and Administration. As well as travelling to and spending time within many different theatres around the UK. All of which cannot be described as work for me, particularly those Department for Learning Family Fun day’s!

As I begin to attempt to summarise all what I have learnt and experienced in a portfolio and evaluation I leave BRB extremely grateful to every member of the company, in particular, my mentors Paul Grist (Company Manager) and Paul Grace (Technical Director) who have both been so fabulous! ¬†I gained exactly what I wished to and more from my placement.¬†I can’t thank you enough.

Monday proved to be a positively hectic start to the week. Arriving in my office, after a challenging train journey due to the aftermath of a British storm, I had plenty of emails to read through. Pearl Chesterman, Director for Learning, had sent through some brilliant pictures from the Activity/Family Fun Day. Paul Grist and myself were definitely competing for roles in The Nutcracker this year! Pearl had also sent through some extremely useful documents for my Organisational Analysis assignment following our chat in Sunderland last week. Paul Grace, Technical Director, had forwarded me some exciting emails regarding next year’s production of The Prince of the Pagodas.

I completed any outstanding tasks before checking I had all the relevant documents for the week ahead in Plymouth. Upon departure from Birmingham I landed on my feet as I bagged the luxury 6-seater Mercedez-Benz with Marion Tait, Assistant Director and Lorcan McGee, Physiotherapist. Our journey was quicker and I can imagine more comfortable as we zoomed past the 53-seater coach on the M5. Marion and myself discussed the theatre’s we had/were visiting, she informed me her visit to The Sunderland Empire was her 45th!

Standard procedure took place as Paul and myself unloaded in the company office, placed notices on the company notice board and handed sign in sheets for the week ahead to Stage Door. I signed out my own pass to get me between FOH and backstage, if not for anything important but so I had constant access to the cakes available in the café! Meeting Duty Managers, General Managers and House Managers had become routine at visiting theatres. I was particularly looking forward to meeting those in Plymouth, Paul had told me plenty of hilarious stories, particularly about Jackie who apparently demanded biscuits every time, she seemed like my type of person! I would have to wait till tomorrow for Jackie although I still met Jack, Theatre Manager and Jill, one of the House Managers.

During the evening Paul showed me around the Hoe, the Barbican and the direction of the ‚ÄėCity‚Äô. I had a good feeling about Plymouth!

The Travelodge I was staying in this week was directly behind the theatre, providing me with more time in the morning’s to get organised/laze around in bed! Upon arrival at the theatre on Tuesday, sticky note reminders were prepared, notices were placed on the board and emails were read/followed up. As I began to read articles on the Arts Professional/Dance UK website I decided today could be a day for me to tidy up some of my ongoing research for my Management Research Paper and Organisational Analysis modules.

Before it was decided that enough work had been done/it was long enough since breakfast to acceptably have a cake, Paul and myself had an extremely interesting tour around the recently refurbished Front of House. Jack, Theatre Manager, explained about feedback and how much more versatile the theatre now was.

Later in the afternoon, I had a lengthy discussion with Paul Grace regarding the performance measurement systems within the Technical Department. The moment later arrived for me to meet Jackie, House Manager, she was every bit as charismatic as I imagined.

Opening night came around, curtain went up, and curtain came down. During the performance questions were asked about the Activity Day; that was set to be extremely popular here at Plymouth on Saturday. The workshop with BRB had a signing up procedure, up to 1 hour before and was for 8+ years. Drinks with TRAC (Theatre Royal Applause Club) commenced after the show.

Wednesday began with exciting news, Anne-Marie, PR for Theatre Royal, made a trip to the office to tell us of the BBC News at 10 who were filming for Thursday night’s programme covering the redevelopment of the theatre. They were hoping to film within the auditorium, liaison began between the two Press departments and lots of suggestions began flying about.

As today was the last two performances of the Triple Bill it was decided yesterday that I would watch the matinee and Paul Grist would watch the evening. Speaking to Eliska, Deputy Stage Manager, at the post performance TRAC drinks it was arranged that rather than watching from the front I would pull up a seat behind prompt corner and watch her call all the manic transitions, flys and LX stand by’s. The time arrived, I grabbed a spare radio, borrowed a headset and tuned into the stage channel. By the end of the show I’d had the most fun! I was overwhelmed with the skill involved, particularly with a live orchestra/conductor and I learnt an incredible amount. A real satisfaction was gained and I now had a much better understanding on the ins and outs.

During the evening’s performance I swapped my spare radio for the Company Manager radio and donned the suit. Andy Wilson, Deputy Head of Lighting, introduced me to the faders, making me the 4th person in the company aware of this role – this seemed a pretty big deal to me, the faders took the sound from the microphones in the orchestra pit to the huge speakers on stage that then projected the sound out into the auditorium.

Wednesday saw the end of 2013’s Autumn’s Triple Bill however Thursday saw the return of Sleeping Beauty and therefore actors. I prepared to meet them at 11.00am, some of who would be familiar from previous venues. That evening’s cast sheet was double-checked and organisation for the Royal Ballet students continued. After another well-earned cake and hot chocolate break (Theatre Royal Plymouth’s cake selection was top notch!), I made developments with my LIPA work. A discussion I had had last week in Sunderland with Pearl, Director for Learning continued to transcribe. I also drew up a schedule for my lecturer‚Äôs (Jeremy Grice) upcoming visit; you can catch him in The Stage this week!

Usual procedure commenced as the performance did only this week I would have a short stint in the wardrobe department assisting them with the quick changes between Acts I and II. I also used my experience with the Nutcracker children shoe sizes to create a similar spreadsheet for the Nutcracker student shoe sizes.

With a late start on Friday morning I went for a satisfying aimless wander around Plymouth, taking in fresh sea air. Arriving in the office feeling extremely content I shared with my course a link to an extremely interesting ballet mime story the BBC had done with Marion Tait and Delia Mathews (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24508450).  Before familiarising myself with the Dressing Rooms at Theatre Royal Plymouth as I delivered printed cast sheets for next week.

Later, I had another extremely insightful chat with Pearl Chesterman, Director for Learning, before going for dinner with Eliska Robenn, Deputy Stage Manager (enough carbs were consumed to last us till at least the end of the week)!

Saturday was an early start as I checked out of my hotel and made my way to the theatre to prepare for the partnership of BRB’s Activity Family Fun day and Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Open Day. The costume rail and box, role play boards, and design materials were all set out in the preparation for the arrival of an estimated 1,000 people. Between 10am and 2pm I answered audience questions to the best of my ability, once again surprising myself at how much I knew and remembered. Marion Tait, Assistant Director and Laura Day, Artist, later did a make up demonstration in The Drum where I picked up more tips.

During the matinee I gave next week a thought when we would be back in Birmingham, making notes in my diary for things to remember. As the curtain went up on the last performance of Sleeping Beauty for this autumn tour a mix of emotions could be felt in the air. Fond farewells were said before embarking the coach! The half way point of my placement with Birmingham Royal Ballet, 6 weeks spent at 5 different theatres in 5 different cities and I had enjoyed absolutely every moment. Ready to tackle the next 6 weeks and welcome The Nutcracker!

The week in the office began on Tuesday, Sunday and Monday was spent at home after a busy week in London. Emails were still attended to on Monday in order to keep the ball rolling for certain ongoing tasks, including a lovely thank you email to Paul and I from Luke Foster, one of the London Actors in Sleeping Beauty. More documents supporting the Nutcracker license applications arrived making up a full house Рthe remaining could now be sent to their relevant authorities, two more authorised licenses were received.

Arriving in the office for 10am, I set up shop – turned my computer on, unpacked my bag and began to read my emails and check my ‘to do’ list. Today already felt like a busy day as I began checking Crew Calls for The Nutcracker before sending them to the relevant people and adding them to the necessary shared folders. I achieved high levels of satisfaction as I crossed things of my ‘to do’ list but I also added more for later in the week. Exciting new future projects were beginning to be discussed. The preparation of a Coach list for the outbound journey to Sunderland concluded the day.¬†My reading for the night was the Technical Administrator’s folder created by Amy Dolan two years before.

Wednesday, I was up and packed and in the office by 10.30am. I was sure to bring the Technical Administrator’s (TA) folder as well as pack my¬†Organisational¬†Analysis notes for the week ahead before completing the norm, checking emails, checking my diary and looking at my ‘to do’ list.¬†More Nutcracker licenses arrived, alterations to the coach list were made and awaited hippodrome passes handed in. As I wouldn’t be returning to my office till after Plymouth I made sure it was all set up for my return, including many reminder sticky notes.

The coach departed and four hours later we were greeted by a blustery Sunderland. Camp was set up in the company office and it was a free night to discover the High Street, especially Frankie & Benny’s menu. Paul and myself spent the evening gossiping about the dance world, our past experiences, plans for the future and filling ourselves up on carbs! Developments for my Organisational Analysis were discussed; I was to make a list of all the staff I would like to speak to by the end of the week so Paul could help arrange interviews.

Thursday arrived seemingly like what had become a standard day for opening night on tour. I walked down the freezing but sunny Sunderland high street and felt much better being up North than the week before in the busy streets and stations of London. As I arrived at Stage Door I asked for the key to ‘The Beatles room’ i.e. The Company Office and settled in. After preparing for the Actor’s arrival at 11am Paul and myself¬†completed a quick tour of the building, covering the essentials – actor’s dressing rooms, stage management office and how to get to the stage.¬†I also filled my desk with sticky note reminders for the rest of the week.

Upon the actor’s arrival, sign in sheets were filled out and costume fittings began.¬†As the day continued, cast sheets were checked, sent to print and uploaded online, notices were pinned to the already overflowing notice board and research for my Organisational Analysis and Management Research Paper continued. BRB news included the confirmation and announcement of the Arts Council England Capital Investment Programme Award – the renovation of the Thorp Street building was set to go ahead (http://brb.org.uk/7773.html). As well as a published article about BRB getting the UK”s first ETC EOS Ti console (http://www.plsn.com/international-news/12071-birmingham-royal-ballet-gets-uks-first-etc-eos-ti-console.html) – a technologically correct term for an unbelievably cool lighting system!

The stage rehearsal began and the talk of the company was Momoko Hirata, Principal Dancer, she apologised for doing ‘too many’ turns i.e. 5(!!!!!) – we all wished in envy that that were our biggest problem! House Manager of The Sunderland Empire, Karen, took a seat on our comfortable company office sofa before discussing the necessary logistics for Sleeping Beauty i.e. programmes, merchandise, latecomers, special effects, upcoming friends and special events etc. I also liaised with Natasha Massie, arranging a time to meet her on Saturday when I would be helping out with the ‘Family Fun Day’. I thoroughly enjoyed helping out at The Lowry in Salford and was looking forward to wearing my Birmingham Royal Ballet Ambassador t-shirt again!

As the evening’s performance grew closer, preparations took place. The Orchestra arrived and began tuning, ready meals were bought from Tesco and suits were located on the many rails and rails of clothes.

Before we could fill Friday morning with breakfast we swiftly made our way to the theatre to check the cast sheets for the matinee performance before sending them to the local printing company. On our return, call sheets for next week and a reminder about the clock’s going back were pinned to the notice board by Stage Door. The afternoon’s cast sheets arrived; I grabbed 4 copies and the delivery note. The rest of the day was filled with more cast sheets as that evening and tomorrow‚Äôs matinee¬†was amended before adding them to the Internet. Notes and questions were prepared for a meeting I was having with Pearl Chesterman, Director for Learning, regarding my Organisational Analysis assignment later in the day.

Paul organised the company seats for that evening, saving one as he planned to watch the performance. With the Company Manager radio in my hand the curtain went up and everywhere was filled with the magic of ballet once again!

Saturday, our last day in Sunderland, nevertheless still lots going on! The main part of the day was spent at BRB’s Activity Day/Family Fun Day. Set up for this began around 11am, costumes were brought down (past and present), stickers and story sheets and comedy picture boards placed. Just as it was in Salford and Birmingham the Activity Day was a huge success, the audience relished in having an insight into backstage as they held costumes, watched the reset and listened to Ruth Brill (Artist) as she spoke through doing her make up. During this time, I had an insightful discussion with one of the Friends of BRB as he told me all about a ballet he had gone to see based on the life of Charlie Chaplin.

Throughout the matinee performance I ran around the dressing rooms acquiring signatures from as many dancers as possible on a poster for the staff at The Sunderland Empire. I also completed any outstanding tasks, packed up my things in the office and prepared to depart Sunderland, a place I had become very fond of during my quick visit.

I arrived in the office early Monday afternoon, after spending the morning packing for London and fighting the wind and rain, ready to prepare for the task of Coach Monitor.

As departure time grew closer, the coach list I had printed only an hour earlier was now crumpled from the wind, sodden from the rain and heavily marked from all the changes. Once the whereabouts of everyone had been established the coach began to move and we reached the motorway. David Bintley and I thought it of particular interest that we uncooly wear our seatbelts as we were the first two seats. After helping one of the dancers solve them leaving their wallet behind I felt it was all clear for me to get to some shut eye in order to make this journey seem quicker. As we arrived at the theatre, everyone soon exited the coach and left for their free night in London.

Entering the theatre I was pleased I could remember my way around from my experience with Heather Knight during the UK Tour of Sutra. I unloaded in the Visiting Company Office where I met Paul Grist and filled him in on the shenanigans of the coach journey. Before using my novice map skills (I was thankful for my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award now!) to direct Barbara (Chaperone), Eva, Arabella and myself to our hotels.

Tuesday began with similar procedures – cast sheets were double-checked, errands to the Orchestra pit to provide them with their cafe discount cards were made and sign in sheets were delivered to Stage Door. As I settled into the office I was introduced to Richard Cross (Programming Coordinator) whom there had been many emails back and forth discussing logistics. There was more research into the Chinese Visa Applications for Iain Mackay and Elisha Willis regarding their upcoming Gala performances, paperwork was chased, visitors arrived, welcome packs were received and letters handed out. We also went to meet Marguerite to discuss Front of House logistics for this week’s performances – Marguerite seemed to have everything under control as we had a quick chat in the foyer!

As you can see from reviews –¬†http://www.theartsdesk.com/dance/bintley-triple-bill-birmingham-royal-ballet-sadler‚Äôs-wells¬†Judith Flanders, The Arts Desk – the company performed to nothing less than an exceptional standard, artistically and technically.

An early start on Wednesday meant I would have the evening free so after eating my ‘just add boiling water’ porridge in the hotel I made my way to Sadler’s Wells. I completed the standard procedure of checking my emails and diary whilst ticking off any tasks. As well as chasing my to do list and flagged emails. As the matinee performance approached comp tickets were allocated/organised and staff tickets were purchased. Curtain went up on time and everything ran smoothly from there. During the performance our minds were reverted back to The Nutcracker as we looked into performance allocation for the Blue and the Red team, attempting to meet the needs of everyone.

Hearing Thursday morning’s alarm and I was feeling a little deflated after a traumatic tube experience the night before – nothing serious, I’m just a wimp! The only way to lift my spirits was to surround myself with Actors as they arrived for their Costume and Shoe Fittings. It was lovely to see some familiar faces; one of the actors was the LIPA graduate I had recruited when we needed a last minute replacement. This evening’s performance would be a little different as I went to the box office to purchase tickets for some fellow LIPA students whose placements were in London, they were extremely looking forward to watching ballet, some of who it would be their first experience.

Ongoing tasks were slowly starting to come together. I booked on the 10.03am train for tomorrow, to make a quick trip back to Birmingham to collect documents that had arrived for the Nutcracker Child licence applications and for Iain and Elisha’s China Visa applications. Sam Eaves, Marketing Manager, had also arrived bearing gifts in the form of post; more Nutcracker licence applications could now make their way to the nearest post office to be sent special delivery.

As the rehearsals for that afternoon began I used the little knowledge of technology I had to turn on the TV in the Company Office so I could see if the Actor’s rehearsal was running smoothly. In the meantime, more cast sheets were prepared for that evening’s performance, smart phone versions were updated whilst we awaited the arrival of the printed ones to stage door. The curtain went up and I was extremely excited for my friends, hoping they enjoyed their first experience of ballet. I¬†met them at Front of House armed with cast sheets and programmes, ready to point out my name in the staff list. Ecstatic that they would get to see the incredible Marion Tait in action as Carabosse!

Friday’s plans were far from standard as I made my way to Euston – Birmingham bound. After collecting all of the necessary items I was on the return train to London after landing in Birmingham for less than 40 minutes. Arriving back at Sadler’s Wells there was no rest for the wicked as Paul checked Iain and Elisha’s visa applications for possibly the 37th time before catching the next tube to the Embassy. Emails I had received whilst on my travels were now receiving replies and tasks for that were noted in my diary were completed.

As the week was coming to a close I looked at scheduled events for Sunderland – catching up with a couple of actors whilst noting requests to pass onto Paul.

Similar routine began Saturday morning as I entered the theatre. The Nutcracker performances had been allocated and sent to all the parents who were understandably eager to get their tickets. This meant I could now complete a performance taxi schedule for the Elmhurst students. As I manned the office during class that morning I met guest attendants, chased outstanding Nutcracker paperwork and Actors whilst also arranging the flowers that had been delivered for that afternoon’s performance.

As the curtain went up Paul made his way to Front of House as I gathered my belongings for the train back to my hometown, Manchester. Before finishing off the remaining details for the Nutcracker taxi schedule and adding it to the shared dropbox folder.

The second Monday in the office. We were preparing for a similar week with a different show. Sleeping Beauty was taking over the Birmingham Hippodrome as the get in began on Sunday.

As I checked my emails there was a development with the Contemporary Issues and Arts Management module for LIPA, as well as notification of rehearsal change from Actors and emails from internal BRB staff. Regarding the idea of Hannah, Georgia and myself hosting Simon Harper, Media and PR Manager as our speaker, Phil Saxe (our Lecturer) was good to go. He seemed pleased with the idea, as did Hannah and Georgia so I arranged lunch with Simon for Friday to discuss the next stage.

Before the Director’s Appeal audiences were scheduled to attend the Orchestra Rehearsal, Cast Sheets were double checked and sent to print.

Tuesday began with the arrival of this week’s Sleeping Beauty actors. They were extremely eager and arrived early, allowing the wardrobe department to complete their costume and shoe fittings in advance.

Things went quiet in the afternoon so I kept myself occupied with the Crew Calls I had completed last week on all The Nutcracker schedules. As Paul Grace (Technical Director) had suggested, I added colour (got a bit too carried away) and removed colour. I also continued with research for my Organisational Analysis, interestingly I discovered specific Arts Council Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

As the day continued, cast sheets were checked, to do lists were made and taxis were booked. During the Piano Rehearsal Paul Grist enlightened me on how to manage my office speaker (i.e. turn it on!) and I was now able to listen to the sounds from the Orchestra Pit. As I ventured to get something for my tea (dinner to anyone not Northern!) the countryside girl in me realised the downsides to city living – the lack of Asda’s! However, my spirits were lifted when Paul and myself discussed possible topics for two of my University modules – Contemporary Issues in Arts Management (CIAM) and my Management Research Paper. The change from paper reviews to online and social media, something my potential CIAM speaker, Simon Harper (Media and PR Manager), would know plenty about as well as Rob Lindsay (New Media Officer). This also tied in well with my original idea to discuss the commercialisation of the dance industry and all the consequences and effects of this. Paul also pointed me in the right direction of staff members that could help with my Organisational Analysis module with and the KPIs I had recently discovered for the Arts Council.

Wednesday Matinee and I was acting Company Manager. To prepare I ensured I knew all FOH contacts, retrieved the radio and suited myself up with plenty of time to spare. During the first interval, as I made an appearance to FOH, one of the duty managers, Craig, passed on an audience member query about upcoming Strobe lights. Luckily, memory didn’t fail me and I recalled they were towards the end of Act I during Carabosse’s appearance. However, I double-checked with my notes and Stage staff who confirmed this. I also noted that during the Curtain Calls there was to be BBC filming for the upcoming documentary. This was when my responsibilities for this afternoon’s performance ended with the delivery of flowers to Diana (Senior Stage Manager) for Momoko Hirata who was debuting as Princess Aurora.

More life lessons with a different photocopier occurred as Paul taught me many more tricks of the trade, this time filling the photocopier’s paper trays!

I was lucky enough to watch Sleeping Beauty for a second time that evening. I used the opportunity to test my knowledge as I tried to match every dancer with a name, during the intervals I then checked back in my office on the BRB website (http://www.brb.org.uk/masque/index.htm?act=department&urn=117).

Thursday began with the effort to minimise tasks for Friday as that would be a busy day with 2 performances and a Nutcracker rehearsal! Also, tasks for Paul Grace (Technical Director) were completed as I sent Ben Leveson (Head of Stage) the Crew Calls for Nutcracker 13,  updated the General Technical Information and Requirements sheet that is provided to the Hippodrome and  designed a 2013/4 season header page for his mass folder of Technical Schedules. Paul approved of my splash of colour and reformat!

Friday arrived and disappeared. It went incredibly fast – it was an extremely busy day! My desk was taken over with sticky notes that lost their purpose as I no longer took notice of the sea of yellow paper surrounding me. I had an exciting meeting with Simon Harper who confirmed to be Georgia, Hannah and myself’s CIAM speaker.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Nutcracker parents and children, their enthusiasm was enriching and I was looking forward to attending Elmhurst School for Dance for the Saturday rehearsal. As many licence applications were completed as possible.

Before the rehearsal at Elmhurst I organised anything I may need over the weekend, acquired numbers for future Actor’s, printed paperwork, packed the Technical Director Assistant’s folder and a past Organisational Analysis essay. During the rehearsal at Elmhurst I watched the children pick up choreography quicker than I ever could and gathered information for Michael Clifford, Shoe Supervisor, as all the girls tried on Ballet Shoes during a break. Arriving back at Birmingham Royal Ballet I prepared my office for my return Monday morning before we would be jetting off to London – something I couldn’t wait for!

Arriving in Birmingham I was looking forward to the next couple of weeks at base. Not only would I get to witness a week in the eyes of all the departments I hadn’t had much interaction with yet (Learning, PR, Hippodrome Front of House, Orchestra, Notators etc.) but I would also get to watch the much anticipated Triple Bill.¬†Including the award winning production funded by the Director’s Appeal, E=mc¬≤. Then in contrast, the classical ¬†ballet Tombeaux. Finishing with a show I am particularly familiar with (even more so now!) after studying this work for my A-level Dance course, the “unforgettable” (The Sunday Times) Penguin Caf√©.

Monday morning began with the setting up of my office, judging how I was going to use my space as well as noting in my diary ‘to-do’s’ for later in the week. This was when my office phone rang for the first time, it was also the moment I realised just how northern my accent sounded in the Midlands – working within such a prestigious company maybe I needed to brush up on my Queen’s English.

Later there was a Full Call rehearsal, including children.  I met Eva and Arabella who were to play the Rainforest Child in Now Nothing during Penguin Café. I also got to meet the famous chaperone Barbara who I had heard plenty of good things about as well as carry out duties such as provide her with the girls upcoming schedules.

The sound of my lecturer’s voice filled Tuesday morning. A late start in the office gave me the opportunity to further clue myself up on the Organisational Analysis Module, in particular performance measurement analysis. Once inside the realms of Birmingham Royal Ballet I had a quick catch up with Paul Grist. His morning post had consisted of more contracts for the Sleeping Beauty Actors which meant I had less to chase (less practice of my Queens English on the phone!). As well as the Actors I gathered more information from the Nutcracker children, collating more shoe sizes. I would soon be able to send a completed spreadsheet to Shoe Supervisor, Michael Clifford.

The day continued with exciting technical meetings about future projects and concluded with the Piano Rehearsal. I was granted the privilege of observing the rehearsal and the many masters at work, Artistic and Technical Staff. Sitting behind the production desk in the Circle of the Hippodrome combined with my recent viewing experience from the wings of The Lowry Lyric stage, provided evidence of the expert craft, time, effort and talent that produces artistic excellence such as this Triple Bill.

The satisfaction provided from crossing things off a list was part of my Wednesday morning as I sent a completed Shoe Size spreadsheet for Nutcracker 2013¬†to Michael. The satisfaction continued in the form of organisation when paperwork for the Nutcracker Children was filed to prepare for their application of licenses and information regarding the Actor’s was gathered ready to go in the touring flight case safe for London, Sunderland and Plymouth. Liaison with Richard Cross, Sadler’s Wells Programming Coordinator, continued as all the logistics were confirmed (Risk Assessments, Dressing Rooms lists, Sign In Sheets, Running Times etc.).

Wednesday closed with the Director’s Appeal Audience observing the Orchestra Rehearsal. I had an interesting conversation with Paul Grace, Technical Director and Kaisa¬†Kraus,¬†Community and Schools Engagement Officer (maternity cover). We discussed the definition of a performances “success”, can it be judged on ticket sales or would this be the “success” of the Marketing and Press departments? Is the artistic excellence of the performance its “success”? If the performance had an impact on the audience e.g. applause, standing ovation, emotion, was it a “success”? All of which was reflecting my research for my Organisational Analysis assignment regarding the measurement of performance in Not for Profit Organisations. Artistic Director, David Bintley, made a speech to the Director’s Appeal audience about the upcoming Prince of the Pagodas performance, a production he originally revived with the National Ballet of Japan.

Thursday¬†began with a personal triumph as I used Social Media, extensive Facebook ‘groups’ and contacts developed through attending a Performing Arts Institute to find an actor for Sleeping Beauty in London. I also added all the necessary Crew Calls to the Nutcracker Technical Schedules, discovering the wonders of disobedient formatting on excel and liaising with Vanda Hewston,¬†Deputy Head of Wardrobe, on how many dressers were needed.

Tonight was opening night of the Triple Bill providing us with a Cast Sheet to be double checked against the Casting Bible, an exercise that accidentally taught me the use of ‘STET’ – “let it stand” used as an instruction on a printed proof to indicate that a correction or alteration should be ignored – I copied the markings of the red pen perfectly from the casting bible thinking “STET” was the latest addition to the company! As there was a show tonight it meant another night of suiting up. The 1/4 hour call arrived, Paul and myself made an appearance at Front of House before the 5 minute call where we waited by the side of the stage. As the curtain went up we made our way back to FOH in the case of any latecomers.

Friday began with emails, exciting conversations, phone calls, more Actor contracts and Nutcracker children paperwork, cast sheet checking and printing and preparation for the arrival of the Nutcracker children for their costume and shoe fitting and first rehearsal.

As the matinee performance began so did the usual procedure. Paul kept his radio close by but changed out of the suit to go and meet the Nutcracker children and parents. I collected more paperwork and Birth Certificates and filed them appropriately before returning them back to the parents, along with the children.¬†During the Company Manager’s duties for that evening the cast sheets were surprisingly popular and 300 more were printed and delivered to FOH ready for the next interval.

During¬†Saturday’s¬†administrative tasks I familiarised myself further with the BRB building, visiting the Publications Office to edit¬†the cast sheets and mobile friendly file with Paul and then find Diana’s (Senior Stage Manager) office to present her with two amended printed cast sheets before flying solo (near enough)¬†for the Matinee Performance. I suited and booted and hoped for the best as I made my way to FOH for the 1/4 hour call.

This autumn’s triple bill offers a rare chance to see three one-act ballets by Director David Bintley, all three of which have the potential to become your new favourite ballet. They certainly found favour with different critics last time each one was performed, as this selection of press quotes shows.

Tombeaux is a twilit counterpart to The Sleeping Beauty, with an Aurora ballerina in a delectable indigo tutu who dreams in Jasper Conran’s enchanted forest”, wrote Ismene Brown in The Telegraph, coincidentally referencing the full-length fairytale that we also dance in our current season.

“It is one of Bintley’s finest creations”, wrote Jan Parry in The Observer. “Jasper Conran’s velvety tutus, flaring into colour at the edges, are his best designs.” Meanwhile The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell – who also enjoyed Jasper Conran’s designs – noted the work’s “powered glamour and romantic simplicity”.

“Bintley reminds you that he has a very rare ability to create pure, classical ballet that’s alive with music and invention,” concluded Ismene Brown, before calling Tombeaux “one of the best classical ballets made in Britain in the last decade.”

Tombeaux

While he noted at the time the esteem that Tombeaux was held in by many, our 2009 performances of E=mc¬≤ found definite favour with The Observer’s Luke Jennings.

“The key to this investigation of Einstein’s equation is Matthew Hindson’s brilliant orchestral score,” he wrote, “to which Bintley responds with force fields of gleaming, pared-back dance.”

“A thrillingly constructed work”, agreed Judith Mackrell, who also wrote: “not only looks as urgent and brainy as the physics it evokes but is unlike anything [Bintley] has choreographed before”.

Debra Craine, for The Times, was also a fan of David’s choreographic experimentation, calling E=mc¬≤ “A stunning advance on most of what has gone before… Bintley has mined a fabulous new enthusiasm for structure and sense of pure dance. [E=mc¬≤] bristles with excitement and a light-hearted unpredictability.”

“Bursts on us with tremendous excitement”, agreed David Dougill for the Sunday Times. “A truly exhilarating achievement, and extremely moving”, echoed Alison Wright, for Nature Physics, adding: “It’s brilliant.”

EMC7002 copy

The strength of Matthew Hindson’s specially-commissioned score continued to be a common theme for critics.

“Bintley’s explosive talent is matched by composer Matthew Hindson’s writing one of the best pieces of new dance music this side of Stravinsky”, said Jeffery Taylor in the Sunday Express.

“A tremendously invigorating score”, wrote Debra Craine, while Graham Watts, writing for Londonddance.com, described it as “the most meaningful commissioned music for ballet I‚Äôve heard for years.”

The Telegraph’s Mark Monahan had mixed feelings, enjoying the score in places, but elsewhere saying “it sounds as if every member of the orchestra has binged on uppers and then picked up the wrong instrument. It’s a curious work overall, but I’d see it again.”

ECloseSquare

The Financial Times’s Clement Crisp is unlikely to pick our programme’s final piece as his favourite.

“Animals, under threat or otherwise, bore the socks off me”, he said in 2009, of ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Caf√©.

Thankfully, the ballet is a firm audience favourite, with the Great British public repeatedly proving themselves a nation of animal lovers.

Likewise, other critics were more taken with its charms, describing it as “tremendous fun” (Mark Monahan, The Telegraph), “unforgettable” (David Dougill, Sunday Times) and “another gem” (Viki Westall, Dance Europe).

Neil Norman, in the Daily Express, had a lot of time for the “boisterous and eccentric collection of creatures”. However while The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell called it “a fleet and funny response to Simon Jeffes’s exuberantly coloured score”, and wrote that “There is no denying the bravura appeal of this ballet” she felt that it had dated since its premiere 25 years ago.

Sarah Frater for the London Evening Standard disagreed, stating that it was “still an ingenious work” (also praising its brilliant designs), and Jeffery Taylor, writing in the Sunday Express, called it “as funny and provocative as ever”.

'Still Life' at the Penguin Café

However, with these triple bills, the intention is always to provide an experience for the audience that is much greater than the sum of the individual parts. Each individual ballet should provide contrast and context for the other two, and hopefully increase your enjoyment of all three.

As Ismene Brown wrote while discussing Tombeaux back in 1993:

“A good evening of ballet is all about variety of tastes and textures, and David Bintley, director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, is rather good at compiling the menu.”

Hopefully audiences will enjoy this rare programme of works by David himself, taking the chance to sit down with friends afterwards to discuss the pieces, and discover which are your own new favourites.

Click here for details of our Penguin Café triple bill, which we dance in Birmingham, London and Plymouth.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s website

Birmingham Royal Ballet on twitter

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 336 other followers