Before a ballet is ready to be performed on stage, hundreds of hours of work take place behind the scenes.
Ballet dancers are a very elite group of athletes. They train for many years before becoming professional dancers and once they join a company their training does not end. Dancers' bodies need to be extremely strong and flexible to execute the demanding technique of ballet so they must practice and rehearse every day to keep their bodies in top physical condition. In daily ballet class, rehearsals and performances, a dancer's body is pulled and stretched in many different directions. When executing grand leaps and jumps, their feet, knees and backs are subject to further abuse by landing on very hard concrete floors. As a remedy, most dancers dance on specially constructed dance floors to absorb the impact of jumping. For every minute of dancing you see on the stage, there has been an hour of rehearsal.
The setting of the stage in a ballet helps to evoke the time, place or atmosphere of the production. All of the sets, scenery and props used by the National Ballet are made at the company's production workshop, a large building the size of an airplane hanger. From the initial drawings made by the set designer, scenic artists, carpenters and electricians work together to bring the setting to the stage. Lighting design is then added to enhance various aspects of the production.
Often the same person who designs the setting of a production will also design the costumes. The designer will start with a drawing of what they think the costume will look like and then the National Ballet's wardrobe department will make a pattern, choose material, sew it together, decorate the costume and finally fit it on the dancers. Ballet costumes have to be carefully reinforced so that the dancers can move easily in them and not worry about them coming apart while they are dancing.
Chris Read making costumes for Swan Lake. Photo by Cylla von Tiedermann.
When performing in a theatre, the National Ballet must transport all of its own equipment to the location including wigs, costumes, sets, props, lighting equipment and the specially designed dance floor. Many of these items are packed in wooden crates to keep them from being damaged during the trip. Very delicate items like tutus are packed in wicker hampers called "skips" for transport. All of these items are loaded into tractor-trailers and shipped to the theatre where they are stored backstage. Often items from several different ballets live backstage until it is time for the ballet to be performed.
When dancers rehearse in the studio a pianist plays the music for them. It is usually at the dress rehearsal that the dancers hear the orchestra for the first time. It is also at the dress rehearsal that the dancers have their final opportunity to try on their costumes, work with the props and scenery and practice the steps on the stage. Everyone's hard work is rewarded the moment the curtain rises and the ballet begins.
Artists of the Ballet from the wings. Photo by Bruce Zinger.