Studio 1. Small groups of girls in tutus stand around chatting. To the right, a couple of boys are at the barre. A ballet master is giving instructions to a few dancers in the middle of the studio, while a crowd of children in ballet clothes are being addressed sternly at the front. Two other ballet masters are deep in discussion. One or two principals are practicing some steps. And meanwhile, masks are being brought in. A wooden doll is set out, as are a cannon and some wooden horses. Some dancers come into the studio and others go out. There’s a real cacophony; I reckon there must be around a hundred people in Studio 1. I start to wonder what on earth they’re all doing. But then someone claps their hands and it suddenly falls silent. The pianist starts playing Tchaikovsky – and everything is transformed.
It’s Friday afternoon; the end of a busy week. I’ve just had my umpteenth meeting. It’s getting dark outside and the rain is lashing against the window. I suddenly lose all desire to go and sit at my computer again. Sometimes, you have to treat yourself. I think I’ve earned it, so this Friday I’m going to sit in Studio 1 and watch the first run-through of The Nutcracker & the Mouse King.
There are dancers, extras, ballet masters and over twenty children from the ballet school. Despite the huge crowd and apparent turmoil, it is actually organised chaos, as everyone knows exactly what they have to do. In the preceding weeks, various ballet masters have rehearsed sections of the ballet separately, and today all those fragments are going to be ‘stuck together’. This is the first run-through of the whole first act.
Everything falls into place. The dancers who appear to be just hanging around know exactly when it’s their turn and spring into action as soon as ‘their’ ballet master says something. The second and third casts stands in the corners rehearsing their steps or sit at the side listening to the corrections. Though they seem to be just hanging around, that’s not the case. Everyone is very focused on their work. Just like the kids from the ballet school, who give the occasional giggle if something goes wrong. But they, too, know when they have to be alert and when they can relax for a moment.
Robert, on duty at the piano this afternoon, gives it all he’s got. It calls for some strong piano playing to recreate the swelling orchestral music of Act 1 on just one piano. But the job’s in good hands with Robert.
Watching all this, outsiders like myself can’t help being overwhelmed by the impressive display of professionalism. Maybe that’s why this Friday afternoon Tchaikovsky doesn’t need a large brass section for emotional impact, while the incredibly complex battle scene is even more breathtaking when you’re sitting right on top of it. What an experience. Robert is going hell for leather on his piano. Mice storm in! The cannon is fired! And there are the soldiers on their horses! A sword fight! Once again, it’s a wonder that nobody bumps into each other this afternoon.
And then comes that wonderful pas de deux. The music dies down. Tchaikovsky eases up a bit, and then gives us what is possibly the most beautiful melody he ever wrote. A pleasant wave of romanticism engulfs the studio.
It’s still raining outside. People are biking home against a stiff wind. Autumn is doing its worst. But meanwhile in Studio 1, winter has descended. I see a wonderful covering of snow and the snowflakes are still falling gently. Warm, magnificent brass sections intermingle with sultry strings, festive percussion and poignant harps. The fire crackles in the hearth and there are presents everywhere. And can I really smell pine trees and hot chocolate?
Just another Friday afternoon under the bright fluorescent lights of the studio. Roll on Christmas time!