Ballet Bloopers – Berlin Ballet and Ballet West – Nutcracker – Transition from the Party Scene to a Blizzard
There are moments that stand out … because what can go wrong … will.
Scene changes are often fraught with difficulties.
Dancers are running off stage to change costumes, shoes, and headpieces.
Crew guys are moving scenery, sets are going up and down, objects need to grow or be removed. And often all of this is happening all at the same time.
In Nutcracker, while the women in ballet are shifting out of party scenes Victorian dresses, and into Snowflake tutus. The men are changing from the party scene clothes into mice outfits.
Depending on the size of the company that can be a few dancers to every dancer.
Berlin was a larger company and with 75 dancers we had more flexibility and often less of a rush.
This one particular performance of Nureyev’s Nutcracker was memorable for a number of reasons.
The scene moves from the party scene (which is very Victorian and proper), into a dream sequence where the tree grows into this huge Christmas tree and the presents become massive, and turn into huge boxes (that are made out of wood).
In that way, now the tiny mice are human sized, and the mice are all dancing with the toy soldiers (usually played by children in the Dance Academy).
At that moment, I am waiting in the wings with the other corps de ballet snowflakes … waiting for the scene to change again into the Snow sequence.
And as with all “live” ballet, something goes wrong as we shift into snow.
The massive boxes don’t get moved and there are some the size of a three-foot by three-foot square on stage right. But they are not all the way at the back but towards the center on stage right. And they are in the way of the dancers and this dance.
In the corps dance, we do a circle that is supposed to reflect the swirling snow and these boxes are where many dancers are supposed to be.
What we did not know was that some were made out of cardboard and others were made out of wood.
So, as we are dancing one of the dancers kicks one … and it goes flying safely into the wings. That gives another dancer the incentive to also do it. But the one that she kicked was made out of wood. As she kicked it … let’s just say it went nowhere and the kicking of it made a huge “thud” sound.
Thank God the end of point shoes are very hard, but she did hurt her foot trying to move it off the stage.
Then comes a quick adjustment as we all realize that this box is going to stay exactly where it is on stage and now … we have to dance around it.
Snow scene seems to be one that has many issues going on for a variety of reasons. First it is fast, and the dance steps are supposed to be like snow flurries. But slipping is a real problem with the paper snow falling.
In my first show dancing in the soloist position in Nureyev’s Snowflake scene, I went to go up into one of the difficult turns but as I “releved” into the turn … the toe of my shoe caught a piece of the paper on the floor, and I slipped and landed on my butt in the performance.
It was anything but graceful. I felt more like a snowball plopping into the snow that a snowflake fluttering in the breeze.
In another show, I was dancing the soloist position again with Charlotte Butler (as there are two lead snowflakes) when the boom that holds up the snow up is totally released …. And in one go … all the snow is on the floor.
In all theaters they have a system where two booms are holding up a net that has fabric with holes in it that will sift the snow … to flutter down softly.
Normally we get a rocking motion that allows the paper bits to filter out through the holes in the fabric.
But somehow (on this show) the person who is to press the buttons … to rock the fabric back and forth above us … instead pressed the button to drop one side totally.
The snow fell down like a blizzard in one big “Whomp!” on all our heads. The paper bits wafting out into the orchestra pit where they musician are trying to get it off their music so they can keep playing. The dancers are trying to not giggle and also to not slip.
The paper snow is slippery and if one gets the tip of a point shoe on the paper it is really easy to slide and fall.
At the beginning of the snow section in Berlin, the soloists do the hard turns at the beginning and get them out of the way before the floor is too covered with paper.
It was very kind of Nureyev to make that the case for us, as he was a dancer and understood how hard it is to keep footing with the snow scene.
But now, suddenly I am ankle deep in snow. Both Charlotte, and I search the floor for a clearer spot to do the turns. And we manage to get those turns done without falling.
In Ballet West, the same scene had a similar event. In one go … all the snow came down in a “Whomp!” and we are ankle deep in snow trying to dance. When suddenly one of the huge fans is blowing the snow from one side of the stage to the other so the dancers don’t fall. But it ends up in a drift on stage left. I believe it was the stage managers, decision, Steve Smith. And a good one.
It was very funny. We are trying to dance but we are facing (at times) into a forceful wind. It felt like dancing in a white hurricane.
I love these moments when the fantasy becomes very real. I love the ingenuity that manifests instantly as everything seems to go wrong.
We learn how quickly our mind can adapt when it needs to. We learn how to have a sense of humor and in those moments, let go of perfectionism.
It is funny how we remember fondly these moments rather than those shows that move perfectly.
It is our humanness that make us smile.