Have you ever had one of those weeks where you think nothing exciting could possibly happen and then you’re catapulted into a string of days filled with mayhem and excitement? Well, a few weeks ago I found myself in a very unexpected situation which turned out to be one of my most treasured experiences as a professional dancer. Honestly, you never know what each week will bring.
Two weeks before our mid-season break my timetable was quite easy with not too many rehearsals. We had a performance of ‘Anne Frank’ on Sunday so I was preparing for my usual role as Anne’s Mother. However, the girl who was cast for Anne was off sick and as the days ticked by the question was being asked what will happen if she can’t dance.
It was never planned to change the casts in this ballet and therefore the second casts are not prepared. This is obviously quite a risky decision in case situations like this come about – a principal dancer unable to dance, with no one to jump in if required. Unfortunately, the show could not go on and this would be a disappointment not only for the ballet company but especially for the Theatre, and the audience due to attend.
So as Friday came with rehearsals planned, all of us, including the choreographer Reginaldo Oliviera, a dancer in the company, were still uncertain if we would perform. Trying to find a ‘plan B’ Reginaldo quietly approached me and asked if I would be able to learn the role of Anne for Sunday. Without hesitation, I said yes. Of course I said yes. How amazing would it be to dance such an enjoyable yet meaningful role? The yes came from my heart before my head had time to register the insanely short time scale I would have to learn a whole ballet, having not been previously cast for the role at all. That realisation didn’t come till later.
After talking to our director and learning the first cast could not dance, he suggested his plan B to her and returned to the studio saying, ‘We will have a new Anne for Sunday, and it will be Harriet’. My heart pounded and my stomach flipped. What had I just got myself into? I had to immediately regroup – change from a mother to a thirteen-year-old girl with a whole new ballet ahead of me.
Due to full studios, my rehearsals could not begin until 3 pm so I started getting anxious, realising not a moment could be wasted. I grabbed one of my partners of the evening and we immediately started watching videos and figuring out my steps. That day I worked with various helpful colleagues and a very motivating ballet mistress from 3 pm till 10 pm. In total, I had 8 solos, 12 pas de deux and 3 pas de trois and all the mise-en-scène to go in between. By Friday night, I only had 3 things left to learn. That night I lay in bed with the ballet constantly playing on my retinas. I didn’t get much sleep.
24.5 hours later it was done. I could not for the life of me tell you how it all stayed in my head. How one piece didn’t fall out, as I soaked up the next I will never know. I was so focused on doing it, I did not have time to doubt that I couldn’t. Sometimes the best way to dance a premiere is to be thrown into it – no time to question anything and if it goes wrong you have a good excuse. However, I think my strength in dance is my ability to learn fast and take corrections without realising, even if they aren’t meant for me. It has happened before where I learn something just from being in the room while it is rehearsed. This was a moment where this strength was put to the test and I was not going to let myself or my company down. I said I would do it so I was determined to do it well.
On Saturday afternoon we had a run-through where I could get a feel for it all and see which points I needed to work on or recap. I made one mistake. Somehow I miraculously managed to remember everything. What a relief, I could relax a little bit. I still got my corrections but they were followed by hugs and pats on the back from my friends and colleagues which were a confidence boost. I just had to do it like that tomorrow.
But I was exhausted. My muscles were so sore and my skin so bruised I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed the next day let alone do it all again. The role has quite strenuous movements and a lot of throwing yourself on the floor, so after 2 days of learning, repeating, learning, repeating I was feeling the need for my holidays already.
Inevitability, Sunday evening arrived. Makeup was on, hair freshly dyed for the role (which seems to be a habit of mine) and the 5-minute stage call was being announced. Showtime.
I was strangely not nervous. I was just really excited. From her first bouncing entrance to her first kiss at the end of Act 1, I was Anne. It weirdly felt like I had always been her, she came to me very naturally. I had so much fun. Then with the huge transformation into the 2nd act, it was a whole different story. By the end my body was exhausted, the feeling was so real. I could barely stand. The ballet is so well choreographed that the feeling of losing her whole family, being treated so cruelly, beaten until she can’t stand anymore, just felt real. The last moments were heartbreaking, but they are the ones I will remember forever.
Anne’s story finishes with a haunting pas de deux between her and the character telling the story, her diary ‘Kitty’. He manipulates and moves her body willing her do go on but she doesn’t have the strength. Weak all over, tears running down my face, a golden spotlight surrounded by darkness, Kitty’s cheek against mine. It was overwhelming.
This whole experience had been overwhelming. But I would willingly do it all again tomorrow, and the next day. This performance was personally one of my greatest. It was a true privilege and a great honour and I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the people who gave me the chance to do it. I confessed to Reginaldo that I could retire a very satisfied dancer after being part of Anne’s story.
I jumped at this opportunity before considering the reality. Because of someone else’s misfortune, I got the chance to dance an unforgettable role and used my strengths to do it. It shows that you don’t have to be technically the best or the most beautiful or the one they picked first. You may even be the one who never got considered at all but through fate, your moment comes.
So, my friends set the bar high and work your hardest to achieve something great, not only for yourself but for others also. A week may start off being ordinary, almost boring, but by pure chance, it can become one of your greatest yet.
Header photograph by Admill Kuyler