November 25, 2012

Ballet, Unplugged

The Big Ballet Studio of the Finnish National Ballet.
Photo credit: mine.

A few weeks back, I had another opportunity to watch company class at the Finnish National Ballet, always a fascinating experience. This time there was a huge bonus treat: after class we got to observe the principals' rehearsal for Kenneth Greve's new ballet Snow Queen, with choreography still in the making! It's one of those fly-on-the-wall moments you dream of.. Seriously, I would be more than happy to hang around the Opera building for the entire day. I could do laundry, fill water bottles, collect stray hairpins, write more blogs, whatever.

We were met at the personnel's entrance half past ten by one of FNB's coordinators, and duly escorted to the big ballet studio. I would have known my way around already, but you gotta follow protocol and stick with your group. We got to class just as the dancers were moving to the center. There was a guest teacher; the charming, energetic and suitably strict Mr. Sandor Nemethy. There were, however, fewer dancers, as Saturday is a voluntary training day (unless there's rehearsal afterwards). Those dancers who are performing later in the day have of course their own warm-up class in addition. But, I was happy to sight familiar (and favorite) principals and soloists and up-and-coming corps dancers, all amazing artists with distinctive qualities of their own. I don't know how happy they were to have an improptu audience, but at least I couldn't sense any discord. On the contrary, some seemed to enjoy the extra attention, giving us a full-out performance! To anyone of you dancers (Mira, Tiina, Salla, Wilfried..) reading this: thanks for making my day!

You know what I like so much about watching company class, aside from the mad skills and gorgeous ballet-bodies? You get to see the dancers work on their craft, in plain view, without all the glamorous accroutements of a staged performance. It's ballet's equivalent of MTV Unplugged. The other reason I like to observe pros in class is kinda obvious: I try to watch every move they make, and soak it all up. The refined épaulement, the port de bras, the linking steps and all that happens in between. Seriously, you learn a lot from watching other (professional) dancers. You also learn that they are not perfect either, make mistakes, take risks, fail at pirouettes - and they get corrections just like us. Another thing I observed is that when the pianist is playing, the dancers are dancing! If the exercise ends mid-diagonale, you either run out of the way or stand still and trust your fellow dancers not to knock you over! The energy is just awesome, and every time I get to observe I want to join in so badly.. Not that I could ever keep up. It took me about four diagonals to pick up the brisé-exercise which they all got after verbal instructions alone.

After class, six dancers remained and it was time for rehearsal. When the choreographer (and Artistic Director) Kenneth Greve explained that there were still minutes of choreography missing, I was way more pleased than if it had been a rehearsal of ready-made steps! How cool to see the creative process in progress..

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