The Royal Ballet 21/22 Season Part II

A Temporada do Royal Ballet 21/22 Parte II - para portugues clique no menu de opções

A new production of Swan Lake was created at the end of our 17/18 season. Although many elements of it still felt familiar, such as Tchaikovsky's music and Petipa's influences, it was the company's first new take on the classic for 30 years, and a huge responsibility for choreographer Liam Scarlett.


This new version certainly didn’t make our jobs any easier, especially for the women. The dance of the swans in Act IV felt even harder than previously, the shortened tutus exposed our technique even more, and I felt that certain standing poses and angles felt uncomfortable and less than flattering. Besides, it was all happening near the end of a hard season, and we were all very tired.


But Liam's passion, enthusiasm and his love for dance and storytelling drove us together with him towards achieving something remarkable. It is undeniable that his production is so rich and fits amazingly well in our repertoire.


Swan Lake in June 2018

When Swan Lake came back to the repertoire this season, there was a big void to be filled. Liam’s untimely death had such an emotional impact on all of us who knew him or worked with him. I just wasn’t sure how this rehearsal process was going to happen; I feared it so much, but at the same time felt strongly that this could be my way of honouring him. I saw that I could either let the memories fill my heart with sadness, or use them to help me protect his legacy.


Even though he was no longer physically with us, I could still hear his voice in the studio and picture him demonstrating every step. I could hear him emphasise the syncopated rhythm he expected to see in the Act I waltz and polonaise, the exact arms, heads and shapes he wanted for the swans. All I had to do was let these thoughts and images guide me …


I also realised that I could be of help to new dancers trying to familiarise themselves with his choreographic style. I tried my hardest to do everything full out in rehearsals, so that they'd know what it was supposed to feel and look like, or at least a close guide. If one doesn't feel knackered, if your arms aren't tired and sore, you're probably not doing it right!


Photo by Andrej Uspensky, 2022

'Liam had an intensity about him as a creator.

Everything he did had a heartbeat behind it whether abstract or storytelling.

He had a great affinity to music and he used it as a driving force to all his creations.

He would often talk about everything relating to true human emotions which makes the work go directly into the hearts of the audience as they can identify and see an aspect of themselves or lives reflected in the work, even old classics such as Swan Lake.'


Laura Morera, principal dancer


This year Laura was on the artistic team, helping with rehearsals and the staging of the production. She was a constant source of inspiration and guidance for me. Since our last Swan Lake in 2019, however, the staff and corps de ballet have been through a huge shift. Our main repetiteur has been on maternity leave, plus many experienced members of the corps de ballet have taken redundancy.


Young members of the corps naturally rely on more experienced dancers and can learn a great deal from them. And to make matters more complicated, many soloists were off injured, meaning that the corps de ballet dancers were picking up soloist and first soloist roles, furthering the gap and leaving us with no choice but to rely on students and apprentices, some even leading at the front of the line.


But there is always a silver lining. Those dancers who got to do featured roles had a great opportunity to shine and show what they were capable of, and each and everyone – students, apprentices, and corps de ballet – did a marvellous job!


Photo © Andrej Uspenski

I led at the front of the corps de ballet for nearly twelve years, and it is very hard! The shortest are often the ones at the front leading the line, taking the biggest responsibility. We must take the exact same steppage every time, so that others behind you can predict how far you travel and end up exactly in line.


Being at the front is not just about standing in the right position and making no mistakes in the choreography. There are many ways in which one can help make it easier for those who follow. The less jerky you are, for example, the better. We use our breath as indicators of when to start moving or change positions. Our peripheral vision is sharpened so that we move and stay together. We all must move and breathe as one, at the same time retaining our individuality and being true to who you are as a dancer, your essence.


What I have learned from being in this company for seven and a half years is that we ALWAYS manage to pull things together, no matter what. Even when feeling very far from being ready for the stage. There is a confidence in each other and a sense of union that makes us help each other and face things together. When we feel like something is not working as it should, and there hasn't been enough time at the end of a rehearsal (as is often the case) we take matters into our own hands and work things out.


We always give our very best, no matter the circumstances. And somehow, as the curtain goes up on a show, I feel absolutely sure that we will be fine and that we are amazing professionals, ready for anything at all!


Last performance, June 2022.

Only a few days prior to the opening night, Russia stroke war against Ukraine, leaving us all in a state of shock and panic. Most of us will never experience war and never trully understand its devastating effects, but this time it actually hit a lot closer to home. I personally know several people whose parents and siblings’ lives were in danger, and I felt like I could do nothing but show them my support. Our orchestra played the Ukrainian national anthem at the start of performances, and opening night turned out to be even more meaningful.


One day I invited Zoriana, a very sweet lady who helps me with the house chores every now and again, to one of the matinées of Swan Lake. She is Ukrainian and lives in London with her husband and two kids, and she’d never seen a ballet. I thought it would be a nice gesture, so I managed to get her a ticket.


At the end of the performance, my phone kept vibrating with the sweetest messages...


‘I visited paradise.’


‘Isabella, I didn’t think it was so beautiful.’


‘I just can’t find the words.’


‘Lots of positive emotions.’


This is why we do what we do, I thought. I felt so grateful for being able to give her that joy and make her forget our hurtful reality. This is when I feel like our jobs matter. ART MATTERS! We can help make the world a better place.


At a later date, when Swan Lake came back for a second time in the season, we did a special fundraising performance that raised £267,000 of a total £456,500 for the Disasters Emergency Commitees Ukraine Humantarian Appeal.


Photo by Grace Filmer.

For me, Swan Lake took on the most amount of work and strength to get through this season, but there were many valuable performances in between and very exciting debuts. Crystal Pite's Solo Echo was one of the three contemporary works presented in our first mixed bill, a ballet I absolutely love. I feel something of a spiritual experience that connects me to every human being on stage and makes me aware of just how special our jobs are.


We didn’t have time to dig deep into it because it was being revived at the same time as swans, but all the work done last season prepared us so well for this come back. All we had to do was tap into our muscle memory to get it back in our bodies... and live it!


Repetiteurs Eric and Deidre gave us the space to listen and respect our bodies, doing as much or as little in rehearsals as we could, which makes the rehearsal process so much easier, efficient and more enjoyable. Quite the opposite of feathers and lightness, Pite’s work is grounded, working with tension and opposing forces, but all of it somehow helps me achieve more and feel freer in my classical technique.



The second mixed programme brought back three Ashton ballets. Stravinsky’s music was the biggest challenge, I couldn't stop counting even for a second in Scène de Ballet. One mistake can look disastrous with such precise and detailed choreography, with minimal sets and very elegant tutus.


A Month in the Country, a narrative ballet from the 70s, is one of the last works created by Sir Frederick Ashton for The Royal Ballet. A few years ago, I learned the role of 'Vera' and was most looking forward to performing it this time. She is such a character, so full of personality. The dancing speaks for itself, but I tried my best to be dramatic and act like a little brat! I would have done two performances, but unfortunately covid took one away.


Scene © Andrej Uspenski

A Month in the Country

And last in the season... the arrival of a brand new ballet! Like Water for Chocolate is a full-length ballet by Christopher Wheeldon that was meant to premier in 2019, had the season not got interrupted by the pandemic. During lockdown, I familiarised myself with the story. I read the novel, by Mexican writer Laura Esquivel, and watched the film.


Everything about it seemed so unusual to me, not what you would expect for a balletic plot. Set in Mexico in the 50s, it is a beautiful romance where the feelings of the main character Tita are transmitted through her cooking! I wondered how they'd turn it into a ballet performance, but the imagination and skills of our production team amazed us all and really turned the novel into a spectacle!


Dancers with Chris Wheeldon, conductor Alondra de la Parra, and writer Laura Esquivel.

The character I was impersonating is called 'Chencha', the house maid and friend of the three sisters. In the ballet, she is in pretty much every family scene, but she sort of became the bearer of bad news, going back and forth saying this one died, or that one died... If there was an Academy Award for ballet, maybe I could have been running for 'best supporting actress' (lol).


Although rehearsals felt a little frustrating for me, as there were a lot of props and moving sets to deal with and not enough dancing, I could see how important 'Chencha' was in connecting the dots and carrying the story through. Sometimes what feels insignificant can play a big role in the grand scheme of things, and can make all the difference to an overall performance and to the audience's interpretation of it.


"CHENCHA!"

When part of a new creation, you are there to witness, learn, and emanate the choreographer’s movements, you know exactly what the steps are (most of the time) and the intention behind them. You are an instrument of his or her vision.

Part of being a dancer is making the most of every role, however big or small, and bringing them to life, seeing them as tools to develop yourself as an artist and human being.


This season was about being grateful, living life gracefully, and celebrating every achievement, especially those which the public eye cannot see. It was about fighting my inner demons and feeling stronger and happier with every won battle.


One of my biggest achievements this season was, in fact, changing my pointe shoes. I know it seems such a small thing, but it actually makes all the difference to how I go up on pointe, how I find my balance, how light I feel when jumping and how elegant my feet look. It makes all the difference to how we dance. I had tried and given up many times, prioritising comfort and safety, and for nearly 15 years I wasn't completely satisfied with them.


But as I always say, there is a right time for everything. Once we are ready for a change and prepared to go through the zone of discomfort, knowing that deep down we will be happier, it's all worth it! With a goal and focus in mind, we can achieve anything! If we have a lot of patience and faith, we will become stronger with the obstacles we go through and the lessons we learn. What matters is not the final destination or how quickly we reach it, but how much we enjoy the way...


Photo © A Uspenski

#ballet #royalballet #showtime #behindthescenes


Find out more...


Learn about Solo Echo (blog written in June 2021)

https://www.isabellagasparini.com/post/echoes-of-love


Learn about pointe shoes (written in April 2021)

https://www.isabellagasparini.com/post/ballet-shoes


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