On Sunday afternoon the final curtain came down on performances of Swan Lake here in Tokyo.

Capacity audiences were ecstatic with the world-class performances given by the company over three days here at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, as displayed by the masses of ballet fans waiting at stage door following curtain down waiting for autographs and photos.

As the dry ice faded and the towering gothic set was dismantled, the magical starry skies of Cinderella were being erected leading us to opening night tonight!

Final rehearsals are taking place on stage as we speak and last minute preparations are being put in place by the costume, wigs and shoes departments.

Take a look at some of the final touches in the gallery below…

 

 

 

Over 20 hours since departing our Birmingham home, the Birmingham Royal Ballet company arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday evening.

After a day of adjusting to the eight hour time difference, we are now populating the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan theatre with hundreds of costumes, wigs and shoes as well as scenery filling the docks and rehearsals taking place throughout the building.

Add to that photos and interviews with the Japanese press and its safe to say that the company are back to working flat out ahead of the opening performance on Sunday.

Full run-throughs begin tonight with a piano rehearsal as we progress to the general rehearsal in costume and makeup with a full orchestra tomorrow evening…updates to follow! In the meantime, take a look around backstage of our Tokyo home (look out for some vintage signed BRB posters…)

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.

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.

The day before opening night, after settling into the company office Paul Grist explained what was planned to happen throughout the day, he also explained that these were his famous last words!

The first job was to liaise with the Salford Actors who were arriving at 10.30am, meet them at stage door, show them to their dressing room and collect their proof of right to work as well as provide them with acknowledgement letters stating the BBC would be filming parts of Wednesday evening’s performance for their documentary (I mentioned in my last post). This allowed me to explore the backstage area further as I made myself familiar with the dressing rooms.

Cast sheets were up next. These are checked against the casting bibles and printed every day, they are then provided online as well as in a smartphone format (e.g. white on black), 2 of which go to Stage Management. Vicky (Publications) arranges the printing of these locally in each venue. All the while morning class was taking place in the studios, which in turn provided us with lost dancers who needed direction.

As well as staying on top of cast lists, stage calls etc. rehearsal times can always be altered and then all the relevant people need to be informed. For example, the actors’ stage call was brought forward half an hour and it was no longer necessary for them to be in costume, they would be in full costume later in the day for the General Rehearsal.

Over the next 3 months I will mainly be working on the Nutcracker performances and particularly concentrating on the involvement of the 18 children; Elmhurst Year 7’s, Elmhurst Associates and Royal Ballet Junior Associates. I was starting to make myself familiar with the relevant documents e.g. master spread sheet, rehearsal and technical schedules etc.

As the day continued there were many scenes that could have been suitable for comedy sketches. Paul and myself checking the cast sheets against the bible; considering there are 16 nationalities in the company the pronunciation of a lot of the names were a guessing game on my part. Although I did find this exercise helpful in terms of learning the dancers! The Lowry’s photocopier put up a bit of a fight and I potentially used a third of BRB’s allowance in attempts. Every time Marion used a ballet term (which was often!) whilst reciting her rehearsal notes for Paul to transcribe resulted in a French spelling lesson. We spoke about the rules of presenting flowers for debut performances, the use of radios and where they live backstage, this is where I was introduced to flight cases Vic and Bob who hold all things electrical, Vic is also the home of an important first aid kit.

As I mentioned before, we visited Front of House and discussed programmes, merchandise, special effects, latecomers and upcoming events such as the attendance of BRB Friends at tomorrow’s stage rehearsal, students watching company class on Thursday morning and how many people would be attending the Family Fun Day that had been organised by BRB’s Director for Learning; Pearl Chesterman that was set to take place on Saturday.

Plenty of information to take in but I then had to go to the airport to say goodbye to my brother who was going to Australia for 7 months! No envy, I much preferred being in Salford surrounded with the wonders of ballet!

I’ll start with a quick introduction! I am Lauren and I currently take on the role of LIPA Dance Management Intern whilst I join Birmingham Royal Ballet on their Autumn Tour 2013 of Sleeping Beauty and Penguin Caf√© Triple Bill, followed by their Christmas production – The Nutcracker! I’ll be blogging at least every week so stay posted to see what I get up to!

Commencing at The Lowry works well, I know the building and people suitably, it is one of the places I toured to with Heather Knight, it is the theatre where I have watched many shows since I was a child and I have also worked there as a Regional Representative within Merseyside for their Young Dance Ambassador Scheme, which has allowed me countless opportunities over the past year. Not to say I was still nervous, unaware of what to expect from this company in a touring environment.

I arrived at Stage Door, found my name on the BRB staff list (something that caused a contained ‘fan girl’ effect), ticked myself ‘in’ and made my way to the company office. An office that I would be sharing with Chief Executive – Christopher Barron, Director Laureate (ballet extraordinaire) – Sir Peter Wright, Director – David Bintley, Technical Director – Paul Grace, Company Manager – Paul Grist, Communications Director – Keith Longmore and Lighting Design Consultant – Peter Teigen. In my view, my name simply didn’t match up to these leading professionals.

When everyone began to arrive it appeared organised chaos. The magic flight case belonging to the company office had already been delivered during the get in that began the day before. It carried everything you could think of and saved me when a dancer asked for a pair of scissors two minutes later. I was shown the Fire Roll Call and the evacuation procedures and of course the tea and coffee section! The safe and its code were introduced to me; every drawer and removable box was explained. Our TV was turned on and I was happy to see the image of the stage appear where it showed the set that the crew had been busy building. I didn’t have anything to unpack, sitting and observing felt helpless. When asked to deliver sign in sheets to Stage Door (the desk of all knowledge!) and explain current situations I was more than happy to do so.

Later, Paul, and myself made our way to the hotel to check in. I used this opportunity to pick his brains about the week ahead and gather potential information for my assignments.

The 4 official Casting Bibles (of which I had been trying to make sense of the day before on the intranet) were situated in the company office, the dancer’s notice board, wardrobe and the wigs department. If there were to be any changes, the ballet masters would note them on these 4 bibles.

Even though this was the first day it was nonetheless eventful. Stage rehearsals began at 4pm and finished at 10pm with an evening break in between. A first aid situation occurred, a sewing machine caught fire, my first experience of excel during this placement and the BBC were filming for a documentary about the War time ballets; “When Britain fell in love with Ballet”. I was taught about contracted ‘comp’ tickets and we spoke about the following day where my main role would revolve around the Salford actors, I was looking forward to it!

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