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Guest Stage Manager Experience - Bayadere - May 25 (Long)

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I had what I regarded as the opportunity of a lifetime to be backstage at the Met on May 25th as a “guest stage manager.” (Purchased from http://www.mastercar...cities/newyork/)

A bit of background info – I’m a lifelong balletomane since seeing my first Coppelia in Palm Beach when I was 8 – was it the ballet or the fancy dress and shoes I got to wear, followed by an ice cream sundae at Schrafts, that made me a fan? I’ll never know. And no, I was never a ballerina wanna be – I’m a marine science librarian in Florida – not skinny, not coordinated, not athletic – just your basic ballet nut.

Anyway, I had a ball! It was an incredibly interesting, fun evening with one thrill after another for a lifetime balletomane. I thank all the ABT people who made this possible, particularly the 3 stage managers who gave their time to show me what their jobs entail. I’ve been on 2 other trips since then, so haven’t had the chance to write this up till now. Have been rolling around the evening’s events in my head and have jotted them down as I thought of them – thus the (Long!) disjointed posting below.

The most striking thing I noted during the entire evening was the dichotomy between the “just another day at the office” attitude of the stagehands, stage managers, and even some of the dancers, alongside the formalities, niceties and traditions of the ballet world.

The dancers initial a list when they arrive at the theatre. Then, 30 minutes before starting time, they are expected to check in with the stage manager. The principal dancers did not officially check in (we all know who they are and they are warming up onstage), but the corps and soloists all stopped by and gave last names to be checked off on the list.

Vishneva was ill (I was informed via email that morning by ABT) and replaced by Part (she’s lovely and thinner than I recall her) Of course I was disappointed by the absence of Vishneva – had Osipova cancelled, I might well have just thrown myself in front of rapidly moving taxi on Broadway.

Osipova was warming up on the stage when I arrived. Yes, she’s phenomenal from a distance, she’s phenomenal up close. ( I’m sure they all got sick of me saying WOW !! every time she or Gomes moved) More on Osipva later.

I accompanied the stage managers as they verified that all the props were available – the fans, the dagger, the battery operated lights for the corps dancers in the last act, etc.

The conductor came on to the stage about 15 minutes before the start and conversed with the principal dancers. I was told this is traditional for him to “bond” with the dancers, so that he knows who is dancing that night and he can conduct the orchestra to meet the variations in timing of the different dancers.

Gillian Murphy was also practicing onstage although she wasn’t dancing that night. I was told that many of the dancers do that to get more “stage time.” Such pretty RED hair.

When you walk on the stage you can feel the “give” and spring of the special flooring (harlequin?) that is placed over the Met stage. The ramp for the Kingdom of the Shades act is decidedly unglamorous – a metal ladder leading to the ramp that is covered with a slightly padded, somewhat sticky covering to keep them from slipping. The scrim in front of it allows them to light Nikiya’s brief appearance at the top of the ramp. (And yes, I climbed up the ladder and walked down the ramp and managed to resist the urge to lift my chubby thigh in an arabesque!)

I never saw ANYONE sweat, even after the most arduous solos! Also, if the dancers are nervous – they hide it well – only a few of the corps dancers were visibly nervous.

An elaborate control panel is located stage right at the place where the dancers enter and exit downstage. There is a monitor that shows the stage and another that shows the orchestra. The stage manager consults a paper script where literally every ten seconds of the ballet is spelled out as to who is entering, exiting, the lighting cues etc. My big role at this panel was to push the button that rings the chimes in the house to call the audience back from intermission. Felt like a 4 year old, but it was cool! I wore headphones for the first 20-30 minutes to hear all the calls being made, but quickly got sick of it because I wanted to concentrate on the music and the dancing.

It is surprisingly quiet backstage – the sound from both the orchestra and audience is very muted.

Part is a beautiful dancer and I enjoyed seeing her, though I felt that Cojocaru (the night before) was a superior Nikiya. Also, let me mention that Vasiliev was phenomenal as Solor that same evening. I felt he might be a better Golden Idol than Solor – I eat my words.

Gomes – gorgeous, charismatic, beautiful dancer – what more can I say – he was bundle of energy backstage – constantly moving, dropping to floor to do pushups, etc.

Gamzatti’s very quick costume change between scenes 2 and 3 of Act 1 - from the ankle length gold costume to the gold tutu - takes place in a booth right off stage left.

Vasiliev was backstage in jeans and a t-shirt and was very attentive to Osipova, kissing her forehead, clapping a couple of times as she made her first entrance. He has a much more handsome face than the camera shows – I had only seen him in pictures and videos and the camera does him no favors. But those thighs! Unmistakeable. (Loved the headline in one of the London papers reviewing Osipova and Vasiliev’s Don Q at Convent Garden – the headline was THIGHS AND DOLL.)

Osipova – tiny physique, exquisite little face. Her jumps are astonishing (borrowing that word from the NY Times dance critic.) In Act 1, Scene 3, her final grand jete landed behind the curtain in the wings. She looked upset, shook her head and said in Russian (I was told) “This stage isn’t big enough for me.” Is there a stage big enough for her? Good Lord – how does she fly into the air in such an apparently effortless way? She seemed very serious the entire evening (concentrating, nerves?), until after the curtain calls when Kevin McKenzie kissed her cheek and then she smiled and laughed. Vasiliev came up to her, lifted her over his head and spun her around. What a sight! (I said to my husband later – “well, THAT never happens at home!”)

I didn’t get to see the Kingdom of the Shades from the wings. The stage manager explained that they clear the wings for that act (and there are lots of people back there to clear our). The reasons she gave were – it’s the most difficult act in all of ballet, people in the wings are distracting, it’s traditional to clear the wings and there are superstitions surrounding breaking this tradition. The corps dancers form a circle and link pinkies in a “we can do it” bonding moment before the second act. I watched this act from the lighting booth at the back of the orchestra. It was interesting to hear all the lighting calls and see how subtle changes in lighting make such a difference.

Yes, the Golden Idol is actually painted gold. Apparently, the paint doesn’t allow the skin to breath at all and is quite dangerous. He is painted right before the last act and showers it off right after the curtain calls. He has a few little pieces of costume, but basically he’s spray painted.

During one of the intermissions, the stage manager pointed out that I had just been standing next to Natalia Makarova. WHOA! She’s very tiny with a regal carriage, but to see that she walked liked an older person with aches and pains made my heart clutch and my eyes tear. We all get old, but it pained me to see a dance legend who has lived such an intensely physical life move that slowly and carefully.

The stage manager calls how many times the dancers go out for another curtain call. She said that despite the muted sound of the applause backstage, she has enough experience to know when the audience is going nuts and begging for more.

The flowers presented during the curtain calls are beautiful roses, each one at the peak of opening. The one easy to retrieve, thornless rose is marked so that the ballerina can pull it out and give it to her partner. Later, offstage, out of view, Gomes and Part gave one another big hugs – a beautiful moment in an evening of beautiful moments.

One of my favorite scenes in The Turning Point is when Emma (Anne Bancroft) reflects in her dressing room “but there are moments when it all comes together – the lights, the music, the costumes, the dancing.” This was definitely a full evening of those “moments”.

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It sounds like it was so much fun! I think I would have done an arabesque on the ramp anyway! It would have been awful!!! But I ran up the library steps in Philadelphia like Rocky even though people laughed! So I wouldn't have been able to resist making a fool of myself on the Shades ramp! LOL You should have done it!!!! LOL

Visited Cuban Miami Boy this past weekend to see Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami, and we did some quasi arabesques and hopes en pointe in the ocean! LOL The Ballet Gods got back at me for this by having a jellyfish sting me though!


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Thanks to all for your comments (and for reading my rambling posting) - I would have killed to see where they store all the costumes, the dressing rooms etc. I used to sew, many decades ago. I was lousy at it, unlike my sister, who is an artist - but still, would love to turn those costumes inside out to see how they're constructed. Well, maybe that will be another "priceless New York" offering in the future. They did offer the opportunity to see the makeup artist do up Von Rothbart, but that one didn't sing to me like the stage manager opportunity. Forgot to mention, any number of the dancers sat down on the dirty floor in their costumes! I was shocked, but didn't say "do you know how much that costs?!?"

Special message for Bart - yes I probably should have danced down the ramp, I'm sorry to hear about the jellyfish problem - and after meeting CubanMiamiBoy briefly on Thursday night, I'm sure a good time was had by all no matter what you did in Miami - he's full of life and in another posting I need to ask him why the annual Miami International Ballet Festival is such a screwed up semi-disaster every year - but that's another topic. Merde! (By the way, I NEVER heard a single dancer say that)

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I would have killed to see where they store all the costumes, the dressing rooms etc.

The general tour of the Metropolitan Opera House -- which is a great experience -- includes visits to the principal dressing rooms and the costume workshop, among many other stops.

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Nanuska - That backstage tour of the Met that I took maybe 15 years ago is what made this backstage opportunity so irresistable - I recommend it to everyone - I went during opera season and saw the wig room, the opera costumes (a bit larger than tutus!), but I'd love to see more!

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Kristen, I've read your post several times. Thanks for those beautiful verbal snapshots of dancers we often only know from the perspective of the audience, video clip, or p.r. release or article.

As I get older, I find that watching dancers in class, in rehearsal, and backstage (the few tijmes I've had that privilege) is often even more emotionally powerful than the performance itself. Or, rather, powerful in a different but equally valid way.

Your post has, for me, the quality of the informal back stage and rehearsal photos that Martha Swopes and Steven Caras took at New York City Ballet during its glory days.

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Thanks, Bart and to all all others, for your posts. (Seeing the number of views versus actual replies makes me determined to post more often how much I appreciate everyone's reviews! I pretty much operate as a lurker and so love reading what everyone posts.)

I did forget a few things - got to glimpse two other luminaries backstage - Irina Dvorovenko and Susan Jaffe - I was a huge Jaffe fan - saw her in January 1982 in Miami Beach when she was 19 dancing Swan Lake for the first time with Baryshnikov - all the way to her retirement night at the Met, another very special evening. Her (way too short) partnership with Carreno was wonderful.

And Bart - as much as I adored this backstage experience, it has its drawbacks - like running from the front wings to the back wings trying to keep up with the dancing as it moves downstage and upstage - then having to move out of the way for the blue tubs that provide the mist. Having said that, I'd do it all tomorrow again.

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As I get older, I find that watching dancers in class, in rehearsal, and backstage (the few tijmes I've had that privilege) is often even more emotionally powerful than the performance itself. Or, rather, powerful in a different but equally valid way.

One of the big perks of working as a critic is the chance to watch rehearsals from time to time -- I love sitting in the studio and seeing people work it all out.

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It is surprisingly quiet backstage – the sound from both the orchestra and audience is very muted

I am a very occassional lurker. My daughter was a super in Romeo and Juliet this season. She mentioned the same thing, but she also mentioned that the dancers carry on conversations in their normal speaking voices while on stage in those large group scenes such as in the marketplace, etc. She was shocked the first time one of the company members came by and spoke with her during a performance! She is used to whispers, if anything, while on stage.

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