innopac

Stage Flooring for Ballet

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Could someone write something about the surface of the stages of different ballet theatres?

A friend of mine has read that one of the great Russian theaters has a grooved floor which makes it easier for the dancers and helps to prevent them from slipping. She also commented that in the dvd of the 1972 Tennant/Nureyev Sleeping Beauty there are mats on the floor of the stage.

Is it correct that different kinds of stage flooring -- grooved, canvas, mats -- all have been used for ballet?

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Floors, in the US were wooden for a very long time, centuries I believe, now most stages are covered in a soft plastic surface, known by many different names. When I lived in St. Petersburg from 1993-1995, the Mariinsky and the Maly stages had been covering their very special Russian wooden floors in a muslin carpeting/matting, as had been the practice for centuries. I do not know the name of the wood but I had extensive conversations with my Russian language teacher about the floors because they were different from any I had seen. They were of course, unwaxed, but they were very rough, unfinished wood. I would not describe them as gooved however. The same floors were used in the Vaganova Academy. As for slippage, dancers fell as often on stage and in the Academy, as everywhere else in the world. The sound was a low, hollow thud unlike the crack one hears on today's floors in the US.

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I've heard (or read somewhere) that the rehearsal studios in Russia are slightly raked to match the rake of the stage. Is this true? I've always been curious. I've danced on a raked stage in South America and it was very challenging when you are not used to it! :sweatingbullets:

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I do not know the name of the wood but I had extensive conversations with my Russian language teacher about the floors because they were different from any I had seen. They were of course, unwaxed, but they were very rough, unfinished wood. I would not describe them as gooved however.

Doesn't this make multiple floor turns more difficult?

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.

I lament the passing of the wooden stage floor at Covent Garden for various reasons. I find modern floor coverings un-theatrical and even unaesthetically cold to look at. I think, but I am not positive, that something in the quality of movement has been affected with the push off and landings with synthetic flooring, but this may be my imagination. vrsfanatic is quite right to point out that the sound of landings has changed. Of course synthetic is more cost affective, as wood floors in venues where opera and ballet are performed get damaged over time and are expensive to replace.

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The floors of both Vaganova Academy and the Mariinsky studios are mostly raked. There are theatrical reasons for this but also technical, balletic reasons as well. Not to get headed down that road, but much of Vaganova schooling is also based on a raked floor. There are/were a few studios used mainly for pre-ballet that were not raked.

Being of the generation that began studying ballet on wooden floor, performed on wooden floors and then had to adjust to "marley", a linoleum, yes is was more difficult to turn, at first, but the adjustment was made quickly and with little thought after the first few days.

When I find myself on wood occasionally, it is actually difficult to turn because the turns are so much faster.

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I lament the passing of the wooden stage floor at Covent Garden for various reasons.

Could you say something about the wooden stage floor at Covent Garden during Fonteyn's time? I have been told it was composed of long wooden planks, laid in both directions, mixed with large square pieces? Is this correct and was this for aesthetic or practical reasons?

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Could you say something about the wooden stage floor at Covent Garden during Fonteyn's time? I have been told it was composed of long wooden planks, laid in both directions, mixed with large square pieces? Is this correct and was this for aesthetic or practical reasons?

I believe the timbers were laid out in a manner to bond and retain shape rather than for any aesthetic patterning. As they were generally quite worn from use of both the ballet and opera

stagings, they ended up a greyish and a distressed fairly pale brown colour. At the front of the stage and over the orchestra pit they ran lengthwise to the proscenium. The stage floor was then laid in

lengths of about 3 to 4 foot lengths front to back with a cross-banding about 18 inches wide running from wing to wing. There was of course a number of 'traps' whose outline was discernible if you knew the position of them. The floor which was in situ when the Sadlers Wells Ballet first appeared there in 1946, was possible relaid some 3 or 4 times by 1990 as I remember it being replaced twice between 1960 and 1990. From early photographs, it looks like the timbers may have been shorter in parts. I think in later times there was an appearance of squares but I am not goint to trust my memory as once the stage was used for a number of months the patina changed and all of the timbers melded into one dullish colour.

I am sorry to offer a rather boring description of the stage flooring, but then I think there was always something happening on the stage so that the floor seemed to disappear.

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Thank you so much for your clear and detailed response. I have been puzzled as to "the how and why" the floor was made. It is difficult to tell from ballet videos.

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I find modern floor coverings un-theatrical and even unaesthetically cold to look at.
I believe the timbers were laid out in a manner to bond and retain shape rather than for any aesthetic patterning. As they were generally quite worn from use of both the ballet and opera stagings, they ended up a greyish and a distressed fairly pale brown colour.

Am I correct in thinking that the current marley (or similar) flooring seems to take on -- or reflect back -- color variations depending on the lighting? I have been astonished at how different the same floor can appear in different ballets on the same evening. This means that the floor sometimes becomes a major part of the stage design.

It seems to me that the older floors were more neutral in appearance and did not have this quality. They tended to disappear at best. Is my memory correct?

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Am I correct in thinking that the current marley (or similar) flooring seems to take on -- or reflect back -- color variations depending on the lighting? I have been astonished at how different the same floor can appear in different ballets on the same evening. This means that the floor sometimes becomes a major part of the stage design.

The marley used on stage floors always looks black to me, except for the recent ABT Sleeping Beauty. It looked like they used something to make it white and shimmery.

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I've heard (or read somewhere) that the rehearsal studios in Russia are slightly raked to match the rake of the stage. Is this true? I've always been curious. I've danced on a raked stage in South America and it was very challenging when you are not used to it! :lightbulb:

This is what Li Cunxin says in his memoir about his experience with a raked stage.

After he defected from China he went to Russian for a competition....

For the competition in Moscow we competed on the historic Bolshoi stage. It was huge, but it was also raked. When I jumped up the stage it felt like I was pushing uphill. When I did my turns my weight fell towards the audience. Becoming accustomed to this type of stage takes two to three weeks but this entire competition only ran for two weeks. American stages were all flat. Most European stages were raked but the Bolshoi was famous for its very steep rake and it proved disastrous for me. Two minutes before the curtain went up on my first round, I slipped just as I was taking off for a grand jeté. My body crashed to the floor and I landed hard on my back.

[He had at two herniated disks in his lower back.]

Mao's Last Dancer

by Li Cunxin

Viking, London, 2003

page 386

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The marley used on stage floors always looks black to me

Marley flooring can be made in whatever color a designer would like. As with most things, it is only a question of money. :( In the 1986/87 (?) Baryshnikov production of SB for ABT, the floor was a different color for each act. It is a wonderful aspect of staging when the floor compliments the set design.

Does not the MacMillan R&J use a parquet design for the Ballroom seen? Maybe my memories are of the Lavrovsky! :wub: I have not seen the MacMillan in almost 20 years! :mad:

In the Mariinsky, the floor changes color according to each act, but as I stated before they use a carpeting of some sort.

As for the rake of the Bolshoi, it is quite a rake, but many non-Russians have successfully navigated the terrain! Sorry to hear of Mr. Cunxin's troubles. :lightbulb:

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Thanks, vrsfanatic, for that information.

I've just come across a good video example of the use of lighting to change floor color. On the Kultur DVD of POB's 1994 performance of "Le Train Bleu" the floor changes color in accordance with the change in story line.

The setting is a seaside resort in the 20s. For the beach scene, the floor is sand colored; when a tennis player takes center stage, it takes on the color of a clay court; then, in becomes golf-course green for the solo entrance for The Golfer.

In one of the more charming bits, Nijinska has 4 women in Chanel swimsuits perform a version of the crawl towards the audience as they are supported by their male partners. A second group of women does the breast stroke. The floor has become bluish gray. Suddenly you notice that the white marker lines hae popped out -- becoming lane lines in a swimming pool.

Quite a versatile floor!

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Old Fashioned Posted Jul 3 2007, 02:33 PM

The marley used on stage floors always looks black to me, except for the recent ABT Sleeping Beauty. It looked like they used something to make it white and shimmery.

The floor for the ABT Sleeping Beauty was black marley that had been painted. When I walked on it, it seemed very sticky and not as smooth as unpainted marley.

I was with a group that was given a back stage tour after one of the Southern California performances. The person giving the tour stated that painting marley was becoming more common. I had never heard of that before. It would be interesting to learn what type of paint was used, and if it has to be repainted.

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I disagree with Julie Kavanagh's assessment of Simon Robinson's book A Year With Rudolf Nureyev as "sharply observed", "amusing and poignant". I wouldn't praise it quite so highly myself. However, here is a passage from Robinson's book that I found interesting and thought that it might interest other non-dancers as well.

"One of the first things Rudolf did when he went into the theatre at Verona -- or into any theatre -- was to walk the stage, every square foot of it. To the audience, a stage is a stage. To any good dancer, a stage is a minefield. Rudolf demonstrated this. Some boards are good and some are not. The bad boards are stiff, the good boards springy. 'Dance on bad board, you don't get any air. Dance on good board, you get extra six inches.' So he found out the geography of the stage and shifted his performance accordingly. He also had a keen eye for dust." page 124

"Blue" [simon] then goes on to describe the importance for Nureyev that the stage was swept from the centre out to the wings to really clear the dust. Nureyev wouldn't tolerate the stage being swept by starting in the wings and working across to the opposite side. He was concerned about the dust causing a slippery spot for the dancers.

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