Our Royal Opera House – through the looking glass

Nutcracker Mouse Mask

The time I first ran out onto the main stage of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden I was spellbound by the magical beauty of the auditorium. We were rehearsing The Nutcracker battle scene and although I was only a mouse, I was bubbling over with excitement thinking of all the famous dancers who had performed on that same stage before me. However, my attention was soon focused on making sure I was following the choreography, re-sheathing my sword while semi-blinded by my mouse mask and making sure no one trod on my tail.

Corrections were given by Monica Mason who held a microphone and observed from the auditorium, her voice seemed to echo through the Theatre before reaching you. Sneaking through the corridor behind the orchestra pit to get into position for the battle scene as the music rises to a crescendo was another unforgettably thrilling Nutcracker moment.

In that first year I remember being awestruck when finding myself queing up next to Jonathan Cope in the Staff & Artist’s Canteen and also when travelling with Leanne Benjamin in the lift. We had been told never to speak to these VIPs unless they spoke to us first, but just a smile from them was enough.

I recall thinking too that the auditorium seemed small compared to the cavernous backstage area. As students, we usually enter the Opera House by way of the beautifully twisted Bridge of Aspirations from our Upper School. Once within the ‘House’ we travel down four floors to the stage level. There are constant announcements over the PA system and it is exciting to hear “Carlos Acosta please call 395” or “Marianela Nunez to the stage please”. Below stage level there are another four floors of endless corridors with what seem like hundreds of closed doors – what could be behind them all?

In addition to the amazing backdrops and scenery created at the Royal Opera House workshop in Essex, the Covent Garden site employs a wealth of talent to support a production schedule presenting on average six performances every week. Ballet, opera and orchestra rehearsal studios, lighting and scenery, prop and pointe shoe departments, costume and wig-makers, medical and physiotherapy suites, cleaners and maintenance staff.  Artistic and financial planning offices, publicity and educational departments, the ‘front of house’ ticket office, shop, restaurants and bars. The Royal Opera House is a bustling walled town nestled within a corner of Covent Garden. It reflects the very best of our dreams and aspirations, both past and present, and I feel incredibly special every time I perform there.

Produced by the ROH, the following film clip offers a fascinating behind the scenes view of this world-famous ‘House’.

Wikipedia notes – Royal Opera House:

The Royal Opera House Covent Garden is the home of The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Originally called the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, it served primarily as a playhouse for the first hundred years of its history. In 1734, the first ballet was presented. A year later, Handel’s first season of operas began.
The current building is the third theatre on the site following disastrous fires in 1808 and 1857. The façade, foyer, and auditorium date from 1858, but almost every other element of the present complex dates from an extensive reconstruction in the 1990s. The Royal Opera House seats 2,256 people and consists of four tiers of boxes and balconies and the amphitheatre gallery.

Mara the Firebird

Mara Galeazzi as the Firebird

An early New Years treat will be a family outing to see The Firebird in a triple bill at the ROH on December 29th. Mara Galeazzi and Edward Watson are cast in the lead roles and I am looking forward to seeing this unique ballet come alive after watching it with interest on DVD. It will be one of Mara’s first performances following the birth of a daughter earlier this year.

In 2010 we went on a school trip to see Edward and Mara perform Romeo and Juliet in Macmillan’s interpretation of this classic. I remember being completely enchanted by the emotional Balcony Scene, which to me is the most stunning Pas de Deux ever created.

Mara was born in Brescia, Italy and trained at La Scala in Milan before joining the Royal Ballet where she was promoted to Principal in 2003. In 2007 she established the charity foundation ‘Dancing for the Children’ and in 2009 she was awarded the Cavaliere del Lavoro knighthood by the President of Italy.

Visit Mara’s official website for beautiful pictures and more.

Vogue tribute to Australian Ballet


Amber Scott and Adam Bull Photo by Will Davidson Styling by Jill Davidson for Vogue November issue

Here’s a look behind the scenes of an amazing photo shoot Australian Ballet dancers undertook on Maroubra Beach in Sydney as part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

More details and photos from Australian Ballet plus a video clip.  Wet pointe shoes anyone?

R.A.D. Advanced 1 Examination

In 2006 I attended a Summer School at the Royal Academy of Dance, a nine-year old Italian girl staying overseas for the first time without her family. When I think back to that week the two things that come to mind are dancing during a heat-wave and the interesting English breakfasts; my first introduction to baked beans!

Today, with eight girls from my year group I travelled the seven miles from White Lodge to the Academy’s Headquarters in Battersea to sit the Advanced 1 Ballet Examination.

Eighteen months ago I was happy to attain a distinction in the R.A.D. Intermediate Examination. Those of us who pass with the same top grade today will be eligible to compete for the coveted Phyllis Bedells Bursary next March. More importantly these qualifications are widely recognised throughout the United Kingdom and in many countries worldwide. Advance 1 is also an important step towards the R.A.D. Diploma in Dance. [Results update 26/10/12: Passed RAD Advanced 1 with distinction, so happy!]

The Royal Academy of Dance qualifications are accredited on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) as follows: Award (1-12 credits), Certificate (13-36 credits) and Diploma (37 or more credits).

Qualification title Abbreviated title Credit Value
R.A.D. Level 3 Certificate in Vocational Graded  Examination in Dance: Intermediate (Ballet)   Intermediate   [Passed 2011]   28
R.A.D. Level 4 Certificate in Vocational Graded Examination in Dance: Advanced 1 (Ballet)   Advanced 1     [Passed 2012]       33

Earlier this year, world-renowned Prima Ballerina Darcey Bussell CBE was elected President of the Royal Academy of Dance, becoming only the fourth President in the organisation’s 92 year history.

Entranced by Swan Lake at Covent Garden

After months of anticipation, yesterday we went to see Swan Lake with Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares. It was absolutely magical. Even before the curtain went up I had goose bumps from the building menace of the prologue music.

Marianela and Thiago make the most stunning partnership as Prince Siegfried and Odette/Odile. Their emotional connection is tangible and the entire Opera House audience was enchanted. Added to this were the beautiful lines of the Corps de Ballet and dynamic character divertissements; the Spanish and the Neapolitan dances in particular.

At school we are learning the first solo from the Pas de Trois in Act I and I certainly have something to aim for now. It was also interesting to see Odette mime her story early in Act II as we have recently been taught this by ex-Royal Ballet Principal Anya Linden.

I left the Opera House dreaming of the day that I will not just ‘perform’ the part, but that I can BE Odette, feeling and expressing her every emotion through dance. I still haven’t come back down to earth.

If you only go to see one classical ballet in your lifetime, this should be it. Those of us who live and breathe ballet thank our lucky stars for dancers like Marianela and Thiago. That they are happily married is the icing on the fairytale cake. You can catch a glimpse of this special partnership in what I consider Swan Lake’s most beautiful Pas de Deux from Act II.  Enjoy.

Dancer Nutrition


A valuable guide for any dancer who takes their art seriously and wants to make good nutrition a priority.

From calculating individual calorie requirements, reducing body fat, performance preparation, nutrition for a younger dancer, recovery from injury, recipes and stock cupboard ideas, this book provides invaluable snippets of advice to dancers.

Recommended by our School’s Nutritionist, let’s hope an eBook version will be released soon.

Nutrition for the Dancer by London-based freelance health writer Zerlina Mastin.

Publication Date: 25 Feb 2010 | ISBN-10: 1852731354 | ISBN-13: 978-1852731359

Motivational Classes

Watching the senior classes at our Upper School is inspiring. It is interesting to note the differences between the newly arrived first year girls and those two years ahead who have almost completed their eight years of professional training.

The first group appears more disciplined, their intense exercises executed with precision. I can see the link from what we have been working on, progressed into this next year at the Upper School. They are a strong class and work together like a corps de ballet. Yet some of them stand out and I appreciate once again that extra ‘something’ which makes a captivating dancer.
Unfortunately we cannot stay to watch their centre work as we must move on to our next treat; the graduate girls class.

Although this group seems more laid back, the standard is very high. We are reminded that most of them are involved in Swan Lake and a few are coping with injuries. These girls reveal individual qualities that offer a tantalizing glimpse of the soloists they could become.

Returning to White Lodge I am fired with energy, ready to dance and to face the challenges ahead.

The Royal Ballet School Defilé 2012


Most readers who follow The Royal Ballet School will know that we close each academic year with a performance on the main stage of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The best of both the Upper and Lower School is showcased to the general public and the event closes with our Grand Defilé performed to Karl Czerny, Études arranged and orchestrated by Knudåge Riisager.
For the first time last July a good quality recording was made of this spectacular finale where more than 200 students from both Upper and Lower Schools flow onto the stage in an exuberant climax.  I happily provided a YouTube link here and many of you enjoyed watching it … but unfortunately, the video clip has since been withdrawn. In it’s place I have re-posted this photo of us all on stage at the end of the performance.
Students from the School July 2012. That's me; 4th row from left, 7th girl back.

Students from the School July 2012. That’s me; 4th row from left, 7th girl back.

Ashanti Charity Gala 2012


Last Sunday evening we went to see the Ashanti Development A Dream of Africa gala performance at The Britten Theatre. It constantly amazes me how many wonderful venues there are in London for live performances and this one tucked inside the Royal College of Music and ‘next door’ to the Royal Albert Hall is another perfect example.

Introduced by Nicola Tranah and Wayne Sleep the evening’s programme presented music and dance performed by artists giving their support to the Ashanti charity which works to combat extreme poverty in central Ghana. Supporting a worthwhile charity by performing in a gala is one way those of us who have perhaps benefited from funding during our training can in turn give something back to those who live less fortunate lives.

The ballet pieces were performed by dancers from the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet. My favourite choreographies were Into the Woods by Tamara Rojo and Jazzy Time Riff, by Nancy Osbaldeston.

The music was beautiful, the Petit Suite piano duet played by Henry Roche and Oliver Davies in particular. Wayne Sleep brought cheers from the audience with his tap-dance routine, although I’m not sure if it from the excitement of his turns or from our relief that he did not spin off into the orchestra pit.

We travelled home discussing the evening’s highlights and also what had perhaps not reached out to grab us and why, such as a lack of chemistry between dance partners. New to studying pas de deux, this was a valuable experience for me.

Visit Ballet News to see photos taken by Martin Bell during the rehearsals for this event.