On Stagecraft

I have been on both sides of that story, and canÌt really state categorically that either is true. Try to tell that to the dancers that are steeped in those kinds of traditions though.

I do agree that the atmosphere of a performance makes things happen that might not happen in rehearsal. BUT!!

Rehearsing is as essential as class, or, as eating and sleeping properly.

Always take the rehearsal far beyond the physical needs of a performance, You create stamina, you find all those little things that can go wrong. You instil the choreography further in to your mind and body.

With Samsova, we ran the pas de deux, then broke it down, then did it again. The same with the solos and the coda — then we did the whole thing through from start to finish. Given some unforeseen slip, it went well, each performance.

There the dancers who say, “you see I am a perfectionist.” I laugh at that statement. So what is the pecking order — God, Jesus Christ, The Virgin Mary hen you?

Will it ever be perfect? NO! but keep on working

Flowers on stage? well it does have the practical side, but first and foremost it comes under the old superstition syndrome.

The look at the audience thing.

I begin by telling my students to look at themselves in the mirror during class. I have had students who have been told to never look in the mirror when they dance. I drag them to the mirror and say “look at yourself! If you don’t like what you see, change it”!

ÏIf you canÌt look at yourself, how do you expect an audience to look at you”!

My other saying “imagine that you have the audience in the palm of your hand, and say to them–LOOK AT ME! and keep watching me”!

How can you expect them to look at you, if you donÌt look at them.

I ask if the student or dancer has ever had a conversation with someone who looks everywhere but at you. You want to take their head and point it at you, and look them in the eye.

Eye contact although difficult for some, is essential for proper communication.

The whites of their eyes!


I personally hate this side of our profession, but if you think back, it has been instigated by choreographers and ballet masters(male or female), not by the dancers.

Kenneth MacMillan counted himself sick, and the trouble was, you had to follow and remember his counts, simply because he would say things like Ïwe will take it from the four sevens, the five and the sixteen” You had to know and remember every count in a MacMillan ballet.

While at the Royal Ballet, I learned, but never performed in, his Rite of Spring. Can you imagine the counts that were there?? The whole score was counted!

I have just now 20 years later, been able to listen to that music without counting. Kenneth destroyed a lot of music for me, through counting.

Phrase–phrase–listen listen, for fuck sake!

One of the senior dancers in the Royal used this description about light–“you smell where the special is”.

A favourite was to use glow tape on the stage so that you knew, even in the dark where the specials were. These are the times when I talk about peripheral vision and how you can see without directly looking.

I add to this– the dancer must have eyes on the front, the sides, and at the back of their heads as well. All corps de ballet girls must have this ability. Plus the rest of us. Did you get the chauvinist remark?

Talking? Well, if I had not talked on stage, one Melissa Hayden would not have made it through Swan Lake with the National Ballet.

I talked a dancer through Les Noces by Nijinska, at Covent Garden. One tiny problem, I was doing a different part than I usually did, and I was talking another boy through the part that I usually did. We did not have the same choreography to do. Good mind games!

I also talked Makarova through Serenade.

As von Rothbart I sure talked to Gerd Larsen.

It is when conversation has nothing to do with the performance that I strongly object.

Walking on stage must fit the type of character you are portraying. I remember being told off for walking on my heels in Peer Gynt at certain times. That is what he is like at that particular time I replied.

In Swan Lake there were certain times when I did walk on my heels.

The members of the Alberta Ballet well remembered one of my $5.00 lectures on walking, for both men or women, and the kind of walk that each person needed for a particular ballet. They had never thought about the things that I told them that day. Steps, only steps? NO.

Each character or each style of Ballet must also have a special way in which you make entrances and exits. The second you appear, you are painting a picture, a moving picture in the air. Unless you are going to prepare the audience with a lengthy programme note which tells them when to close their eyes and when to watch you.


There was a moment in Anastasia, by MacMillan, when Lynne Seymour was doing a big dramatic solo in the third act, I was to stand still and gaze out. Again the fact that I was still for so long made the audience look at me, and not Lynne.

Like Bob Ito in Coppelia act two, as the Chinese doll. Some people never saw the rest of that act because they were watching Bob, to see if he would blink. They did not know that he had painted eyes on his eyelids, he couldn’t blink. And, he did not move a muscle. If they had really known Bob they would have been amazed that he could actually go to sleep on stage sitting in that position, then wake up when he had to move.

In 1946 at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School, amongst others, classes with George Gontcharov. He taught me an important piece of stage craft. You finish your solo — you do not move, you stay — you look at the audience, you stay, you do not move — then, your smile gets bigger, and finally you get up and take a bow.

I never forgot his instructions in that area, I used them throughout my long career, and it worked every time, no matter where I was dancing.

I always say, when I see particularly a woman come on the stage, using all kinds of strange out of character moves with her arms and eyes, I say “oh oh it is going to be a tough show to last through”

Minimal — if called for!

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