In my newsletter on Monday, we discussed how to prepare for an upcoming role. Today I want to expand on that subject and dive further into topics that can enhance your preparations for spring performances.
A reputable ballet school or conservatory should feature regular performances or other production opportunities for students to demonstrate their skills. Many schools have the resources and options to create and present full-length story ballets, bring in innovative choreographers, or work in other ways to enhance students’ experiences.
Not only are these productions great opportunities to grow as dancers, but they provide us with the necessary experience of the stress and hard work that comes along with preparing for a big role. Today I have a few tips to help you prepare yourself for a leading or principal role, a small solo, or even a marathon corps de ballet role. It’s important to remember that whatever the size of the role or however many rehearsal hours you have, even a smaller part has value to the ballet as a whole. Also, the harder you work, the more your directors will see you (even if you are in the back corner the whole time).
Cleaning Your Choreography
Obviously, it’s important to think about pointe shoes and costumes, which come to mind immediately. But, many dancers often overlook the most simple things when preparing for a big role, like: technique. Often principal roles don’t get cleaned, because there is no need for perfect coordination between dancers (there is only one). So, it’s important to clean your steps on your own. You should try and find some empty studio space to practice. Here is a checklist for your cleaning session:
- Go through the entire piece without music and figure out all of the counts. When you know all of the counts and also mastered the musicalities, add the music back in and go from the top.
- Do the entire section with just upper body. Focus on your arms and head and the lines they are making. This is an excellent moment to clean up any shaky port de bras, too.
- Start over, but this time do it with only your lower body. Pay special attention to orientations: are you croisé, en face, and which corner are you facing? These are all important questions to answer to make a dance look more exact and thus more professional.
- Now, apply all of your discoveries from your previous work and do the dance with music, focusing on artistry and musicality. Which steps are stressed or unstressed? What is your facial expression, and which steps should be more extenuated? How can you make the dance look less robotic and more alive?
- The following is your revision step. Go back through your notes and make corrections, notes, and remember arm positions. Now that you have a comprehensive version, film yourself and save it on your computer so you have a reference to the exact choreography. If you ever need small details, refer back to the work you just did!
All of these steps should end up taking you about an hour, so make sure you have sufficient time in the studio to get it done right. Now that all of the steps are clear and defined and your artistry is in place, we can focus on individual steps and working to improve them.
Working Out the Difficult Areas
This is the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the process. Choreography always contains a few tricky steps. It’s important that you work to get around them and make your dancing achievements more successful. This is the process I suggest:
The first step is to make a list of all the difficult steps in each section of choreography. For example, I’m working on a role for the ballet Thumbelina right now. I have a lot of difficulty with attitude turns, arabesque turns, saut de chats, and double piqué turns. All of those tricky steps in the choreography require repetition and practice, but also a clear plan to perfect them.
To make this plan, identify the muscles involved and note the coordination needed. Bring it to the barre and work on those individual aspects of the movement. For example, I have decided to practice my balances in attitude and also work on exercises for my back and supporting leg to make those attitude turns happen. I advise you to make two lists: one for barre, one for conditioning. Put all of your exercises into those columns to organize yourself, and then get to work!
Here is an example of my role preparation t-chart:
Every exercise or practice step I have put in my chart has a purpose to help me improve the steps for my role. I advise you to do the same – it really helps you focus and make the most of the time you have to prepare.
This seems obvious (and I sound like a broken record) …but eating healthy is key to making the most of a short and condensed rehearsal period. Eating natural and whole foods that allow your body to function how it was designed is important to get the most out of every single rehearsal. You will find yourself dancing better, having increased ability to avoid injuries, and having much more energy.
Some of my favorite snacks and foods for rehearsal periods are:
- Grape nuts: A deliciously healthy cereal that is very fibrous and non-refined. They are sugar-free, and you will find yourself feeling nourished and full.
- Smoothies: Rehearsal periods are very insane with little time, and smoothies are the healthy fast-food. It’s super easy to grab one with lots of great ingredients on the way out the door, and then find yourself feeling great for class the next day. Make sure you have some ready in your fridge.
- Plenty of vegetables: After a day in the studio, I often find myself needing something fresh and wholesome. Vegetables are my favorite choice: I love a basic, but plentiful stir-fry with some fruit …it’s amazingly healthy for you!
I hope this helps you get ready for a big role coming up, and congratulations on your awesome casting! Make sure to share this post if it helped you using the buttons below.