Scottish Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker has just finished its run in Glasgow and is going on tour.
Touring for Scottish Ballet is big business. It’s a massive task transporting a whole show around the country, because everything goes – lock, stock and barrel. From the lights, costumes, stage sets, props, right down to ballet shoes, pairs of tights and spare thread for any emergency repairs.
Oh, and dancers too, but they’ve got preparation to do. Every stage is a different size and shape. It’s important when you are dancer to know your space. Get it wrong and the results can be catastrophic. On stage, it all looks seamless, effortless, but there’s been hours upon hours of preparation and training. Everything has to be precise, measured and calculated but it also has to look natural and flowing.
Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker is showing at Edinburgh from January 8 – 12th, thereafter moving on to Aberdeen, Inverness, Belfast and Newcastle.
Meanwhile the dancers are getting the feel for the dimensions of the Capital city’s Festival Theatre where the stage is large. The floor in Scottish Ballet’s studio at the Tramway in Glasgow has been marked out to reflect its size and some of us bloggers and social media people are lucky to have been invited by the company to watch a sequence. It’s a Saturday morning, the studio is busy. Lots of dancers line the perimeter of the studio, which is always warm to ensure the dancers’ muscles don’t get cold. Dancers are sitting, lying down, waiting, chatting, some of them are limbering up and stretching, while some just simply move and swirl around the room.
We see rehearsals for the waltz of the flowers. It’s continual repetition with some pointers and tweaks from the instructor. Seeing the dancers in this setting gives you a different perspective. They are stripped back, wearing simple training gear, there’s no props, no make-up, nothing fancy, no carefully placed lighting to accentuate a foot or an ankle but somehow the effect is even more effective. And when you see the dancers this close you really appreciate how hard they work and train. Every muscle is honed and stretched. It’s a synthesis of grace, beauty, lightness, strength, determination and focus.
During a discussion we hear about the difference costumes, props tutus and even toes being en pointe can make to the dimensions of a dancer, and something a dance partner has to take into consideration during lifts.
We also talk afterwards with principal dancers Sophie Martin and Tama Barry. We hear about their life as a dancer and it’s an interesting insight.
They both insist they are just “normal” people who meet friends and go for pizza but also remind us that they have been training for this all their lives. A ballet dancer has probably been dancing since they were around five years old and often most come to professional dancing through ballet school, leaving home from around age 13 to study full time. So partying is off limits when a production is on. Once that show finishes however, the story may be different.
They also discuss the perils of props. Tama tells that at one point he almost got stuck inside his jacket during a Nutcracker scene where it was supposed to come off quickly and it didn’t. Sometimes props fall, something is lying on stage and the dancers can’t see it because the floor is covered in smoke.
And at all times, no matter what happens, they keep the show going in a slick professional manner. Thankfully any mishaps are few and far between and dealt with so professionally that the audience are oblivious.
But sometimes the audience themselves can be a distraction. It can be difficult to see much from the stage but Tama told us about an instance when someone near the front of a crowd was wearing a visibility jacket, which they could see shining. It was making them wonder if anything had happened in the audience.
We learned about the training the dancers do and sometimes the more unusual methods of learning new skills. For instance for one show, some of the girls got some pole-dancing lessons.
In the Scottish Ballet’s production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, which premiered last year, the dancers had extra acting training.
Tama spoke about the darkness of the characters he sometimes plays and claimed they are more fun. They are often easier because they are far removed from his own character and there’s lots of scope to really expand into the role.
Sometimes dancers have to get in character as children and Sophie discussed the difficulties of trying to reflect this through dance and expressions. Some of the more obvious emotions like happiness or anger are easy to portray but the more subtle emotions and characteristics of a child – like innocence and naivety are more of a challenge.
There’s aways a magical air around Scottish Ballet and there’s plenty magic in The Nutcracker. It’s all there, from an enchanted dolls’ house, a handsome prince, dancing flowers, snowflakes, an evil governness and plenty other scary characters too.
Jan 8 – 12, Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Jan 16 – 19, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
Jan 23 – 26, Eden Court, Inverness
Jan 30 – Feb 2, Grand Opera House, Belfast
Feb 6 – 9, Theatre Royal, Newcastle