My Unforgettable Debut as Giselle

Finally I am sharing my wonderful time returning to The Hammond School to be a part of their 100 year anniversary production of Giselle

You may all know from my post ‘A Chance to Return to The Hammond School’, that during May I spent a week in England at my childhood dance school, The Hammond, as I had been invited to take part in the school’s 100-year anniversary production of Sir Peter Wright’s ‘Giselle’. My years as a student there were so wonderful I couldn’t wait to return to where it all began. And of course, it was even more memorable than I could have imagined.

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First day back at school with Flavio (in my original Hammond uniform)

Arriving to the school, I had butterflies in my stomach. It was so strange to be back. How the school has changed in ten years I have been away, with its own in-house theatre and brand new studios replacing the portacabins I danced in. However, once my dance colleague, Flavio Salamanka and I found our way into the theatre and spotted my old ballet teacher, Miss Jane Elliott, working with her pupils, the familiar, friendly atmosphere I remembered was still ‘in the air’. Being introducted to her pupils as ‘my Harriet’, Jane had me feeling like I never left.

After a warm welcome, we got straight to work with the students; throughout the week I really enjoyed dancing with everyone, and getting to know them individually.  Flavio & I were able to help some students with their solos and roles, and I offered the same advice to the Corps de Ballet that I had been given, years before. I think they really appreciated us helping and seemed eager to hear any tips we could share.

II Act rehearsal of Giselle

Not only did I get to meet the students of the school, but a great part of my week included reuniting with past teachers and matrons, whom I had not seen since leaving.  None of them had changed, and their reaction to my return was so welcoming – who knew teachers could be so nice.

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After the final performance with Jane & Flavio

Miss Elliott was amazing.  She was so involved in the entire production, yet always remained jolly and positive.  Most precious to me, was how moved she seemed to be by our performance, telling us what a great partnership we had and how genuine the emotions we portrayed, in our scenes together, were.  Her pride in my achievements was clear to me; to think that this lovely lady, who had taught me so much, and guided me for half my life to this point in my career, was proud of “her Harriet” made me quite emotional, in a warm joyous way.  I will be eternally grateful to her.

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At dinner with Flavio, Sir Peter Wright & Jane Elliott

We had the chance to dance for Sir Peter Wright himself, when he joined us in the theatre to critique his production before the first performance.  I had never met Sir Peter before, but Flavio had worked with him a couple of times so they were like old colleagues, and as he and Miss Elliott were good friends, despite the nerves, I slotted in fine.  Sir Peter was delighted to be there, and told us he really enjoyed our interpretation of his ballet – again I was so flattered.

Despite the hard work, meeting such an honoured guest, and with my debut approaching, I was quite calm and confident.  Even though I felt a cold coming on, I managed to stay relaxed.  Being in such comfortable surroundings, and having rehearsed privately (just Flavio and me) before our arrival, helped me feel both positive and excited.  Nervousness was outweighed by eagerness to dance.  As the rehearsal days ticked by I knew I did not want the week to come to an end.

Finally, costumes were fitted, music was cut, and even trees from the school grounds were pruned to create the set.  Everything was ready.  Flavio and I shared the 5 performances with two dancers from ENB, with us personally dancing two evenings and a matinee. This tough schedule was a little worrying but feeling the way we did, it proved to be a joy.

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II Act pas de deux reheasal

The premier was a success.  I did feel a little weak in Act I from my cold, but with medication and energy drinks during the interval (not usually recommended together!!), Act II was a dream – I had no idea I was going to enjoy it so much.  The atmosphere created by the music and staging, the emotions portrayed by the choreography, the calm aura from my fabulous partner made the whole experience just wonderful.  With my parents in the audience, my Giselle debut was magical.

Each performance seemed to improve, and for the final one, I was lucky enough to have a “coach party” of 20 family & friends as guests in the audience, most of whom have never seen me dance professionally – this was the cherry on the top of my Hammond School cake.  I can’t even describe how much I enjoyed the last show, and I hope I remember those feelings forever.  After many photographs, goodbyes to our fellow performers, and fond farewells from all the staff, we packed up and headed to my family home, on the coach, for a well-deserved party.

I was so sad to leave and realise my lovely week was over.  Saying goodbye to Jane was the hardest.  I can’t thank her enough for thinking of me and giving me this opportunity.  I am so grateful to her.  Not only is she the wonderful teacher I was lucky enough to have in early training years, but I have now come to know her as a lovely lady with a vivacious personality, and extraordinary career.  I admire and look up to her, knowing I can and always will learn from her in my own future career and life to come.  Thank you always Miss Elliott.

I send my gratitude to everyone who was involved in the production and for welcoming us so warmly to the school.  Thank you to Head Mistress Maggie Evans for her hospitality, and to Kevin Williams for his relentless hard work.  Thank you to Sir Peter Wright for taking the time to visit the school and pass on his wealth of advice and knowledge – something I will treasure.  Thank you to all the staff & matrons for their help, generous words and encouragement, to all the students we worked with for their hard work and kindness to us, for the many cards, gifts and flowers, and to everyone who supported the school by watching the performances. I must also thank my Ballet Company director, Frau Birgit Keil for allowing Flavio & I “leave of absence” from our normal work schedule.

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And that’s a wrap – the whole cast & Jane after our final bow

And of course one last, heartfelt thank you to my, as always, perfect partner, Flavio Salamanca.

It was another great memory made for me in a place I keep in my heart always. Well done The Hammond School, I am so proud to have been a part of your 100-year history.

 

With love,

Harriet

 

 

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