English Youth Ballet: The Experience So Far

First of all I’d like to say a big thank you to my fellow bloggers who wished me luck for my English Youth Ballet experience. Your words of encouragement really mean a lot to me, thanks again to all of you!

I haven’t had a chance to write at all since starting rehearsals – trying to juggle EYB three days a week plus normal dancing three evenings a week and my job which takes up four days a week has left me feeling pretty knackered to say the least. I haven’t had a chance to catch my breath, but I’m not complaining – I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity for the world.

EYB started three weeks ago, I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone by, and how much I’ve learnt already. Before it started I was as nervous as anything, but now I’ve settled into the flow of the routine I’ve been loving every second of it.

The Friday before the first weekend of rehearsals was a special day where the casting was sorted for Giselle and there was also a photo shoot for the newspapers.

Deciding who was to play which part took over two hours – yes really! The people who made that decision were three of EYB’s principal dancers, the creative director, the company manager, and finally the director and founder of EYB, Miss Janet Lewis herself. What a formidable line up!

We dancers went under a rigorous examination before we were told which roles we had. I was delighted to hear I had the part of a Lady in Waiting, which means I’m in the Hunt scenes in Act 1 and 2, along with three other Ladies in Waiting, four Hunt Ladies, three Hunt Gentlemen and the Duke and Duchess.

There’s many versions of the story of Giselle, I could have spent pages and pages writing about it but seeing as I’m doing the EYB adaptation I’ll let you read what they’ve written about it on their website – the areas I’ve highlighted in bold are the parts in the story which I’ll be playing: (http://www.englishyouthballet.co.uk/productionsgiselle.html)

Giselle

First produced at the Paris Opera in 1841, with Carlotta Grisi in the title role, Giselle epitomises the Romantic Ballet period. Originally set in rural Germany it is dramatically based on the legend of the Wilis, spirits of dance-loving brides who have died tragically before their wedding day. Led by the bitter Queen Myrtha, they perform their ghostly rites and evilly seek revenge on any man who crosses their path.

The production has been adapted for EYB’s large cast by adding extra music from other ballets composed by Adolphe Adam and setting it on an English country estate in 1912. Prince Albert is an army officer preparing for the First World War.

Act 1

Although engaged to Lady Bathilde, Albert is in love with Giselle and disguises himself as a Footman, a servant, in order to gain entry into the household in which Giselle is a governess to the aristocratic children. Giselle, who has a weak heart, loves to dance but her Father, the Head Butler, constantly warns her of her possible fate by relating the legend of the Wilis to the Servants and Villagers.

Suspicious Hilarion, the Gamekeeper who is protective of Giselle, and his girlfriend Lucienne, discover Albert’s true identity and try to warn Giselle against him. The Hunt Party arrive for lunch with Lady Bathilde and her brother, the Duke, and his wife, the Duchess. Giselle and Bathilde exchange confidences, not realising that they are both engaged to the same man. After Hilarion, Lucienne and Giselle’s Friends provide the entertainment the Hunt Party departs.

Seeing Albert and Giselle together during a celebration dance, Hilarion at last reveals Albert as an imposter. He confronts him with his ceremonial sword to prove his true identity, sounds the hunting horn and recalls the Hunt Party. Giselle is horrified and disbelieving to see Albert greet Lady Bathilde, his fiancée, with a kiss. She becomes deranged by the shock of being betrayed and, as a result of her weak heart, dies at Prince Albert’s feet.

Act 2

The Hunt Party visit Giselle’s grave to pay their respects. Giselle is initiated into the Wilis and the heartbroken Albert prays to see his beloved Giselle. She comes to him and although Myrtha, the Queen, condemns him to death, Giselle saves his life by sustaining him throughout the night and dancing with him until dawn. Wood nymphs taunt and condemn the Hunt Gentlemen and male Servants, and Hilarion meets his death by being driven into the lake by the revengeful Wilis.

Production Notes

The costumes designed by Keith Bish have been beautifully updated and cleverly retain a period feel as well as accommodating the ballet shoes. Giselle is a governess, a more sophisticated young woman, who has a protective Father instead of a widowed Mother. Hilarion, who has feelings for Giselle, also has a girlfriend Lucienne. By introducing new characters to the ballet it adds more dramatic interaction between them and by setting the ballet in the early 1900’s with the ‘upstairs downstairs’ theme, new life is injected into a very classic ballet.

As I was a reserve I had been expecting to be someone to fill in a gap in the corpse de ballet, nothing more, so you can imagine how happy I was when I realised I was in a small group with thirteen being the most of us on stage at any time. It feels apt being in the Hunt group, considering I live on a farm and have ridden horses and hunted in real life!

I know five other girls who go to the same dance school as me (Totnes School of Dance) who are also in Giselle, it’s great having friends there who I can talk to and have a giggle with, it makes the experience a lot more memorable and fun! Three of them are Wilis (Lauren, Charlotte and Chloe), one of them plays the part of a Friend of Giselle’s (Shona), and the other is the Duchess (Mia), in the same Hunt group as me.

Here’s the photo taken at the casting and photo shoot day, of all ninety six dancers in Giselle. Spot me in the back row, second from the left!

All the rehearsals are held in a school called Westlands, in Torquay, which is about fourteen miles from where I live. It sounds a long way away but it could be worse, I’ve spoken to several girls who travel down from Exeter, Taunton, Yeovil, etc, there’s even some girls who have to come up from Cornwall!

We have access to three rooms in Westlands, one of which is the Main Hall which is the only place we can eat and keep our belongings. We have a fifteen minute meeting in there every day first thing, where a register is taken and when Miss Lewis talks about anything specific which is happening on that day, like costume fittings or talks about how to tie pointe shoe ribbons, etc.

We then have a warm- up class, taught by any of the teachers/choreographers at EYB. We’re split into classes A, B and C, according to our age and what grade of ballet we’re currently studying – I’m 18yrs and am in the Advanced 1 ballet level, which means I’m in class C, along with the rest of the gang from Totters, and about forty other girls as well.

Spacial awareness is essential in those warm-up classes, if you don’t have your wits about you then it’s almost certain you’ll have a leg or arm whacked in your face. Yes, I speak from experience!!

Below is the list of EYB’s team, the names I’ve highlighted in bold are the people who have taught us in class:

Miss Janet Lewis – director and choreographer, and teacher

Ben Garner – company manager and marketing/publicity

Dominic Marshall – creative director and teacher

Julienne Rice-Oxley – principal dancer and teacher

Emma Lister – principal dancer

Oliver Speers – principal dancer

Trevor Wood – teacher

Lorien Slaughter – principal dancer and teacher

Amy Drew – principal dancer and teacher

Steven Wheeler – teacher

Brendan Bratulic – principal dancer

A different person takes us each time for class – it’s nice to have that kind of variation, to see how much their teaching methods differ. Also as it’s a non-syllabus class, whoever is teaching makes up the exercises as they go along, so it’s also interesting seeing who’s the most imaginative out of them all.

Miss Lewis is definitely the hardest person to please out of the lot, she’s only taught us once but I swear no one breathed in that class in case it annoyed her! I feel like I should curtsey and call her madam whenever I see her, highly strung is one word for it – having said that she’s a lady who’s done an incredible amount of good for young dancers, giving us an opportunity in a life time. For many of us this is as close as we’re ever going to get to performing with a proper professional dance company and for that fact alone I applaud her.

We’ve had Dom a couple of times now, if he’s in a good mood then it’s alright but if not then watch out. His passion can turn to frustration when we don’t grasp what he’s trying to teach us quickly enough or if he thinks we’re not putting 100% effort into our dancing. He’s worked with Miss Lewis for twenty three years so is like a male version of her. Mr Shouty is his nickname!

Julienne is a firm but fair type of teacher, she’s older than the other dancers and as such her knowledge of ballet is brilliant. She doesn’t stand for any nonsense in her classes so is strict but if she sees we’re obeying her then she’ll start to experiment and let us do more fun choreography. She’s playing the role of Lady Bathilde, Queen Myrtha, Lucienne or Giselle, depending on what day the performance is. All the female principals swap roles round so each has the chance to dance a different part. Imagine learning four main parts of a ballet, I’d get them muddled up for certain!

Amy is like a younger, livelier version of Julienne, I think for that reason I prefer her out of those two. She’s more daring with choreography and pushes us more, and gives praise where praise is due too. She also joins in our classes if someone else is teaching and helps out if someone is stuck on an exercise, without the other teacher knowing! She’s another principal who is playing all of the female roles in Giselle.

Steven is absolutely hilarious, he has a dry sense of humour and never fails to make us giggle. He’s tall and gangly and is like an elastic band – he’ll tell us how to do the perfect ponche then demonstrate it perfectly with his leg up past his ear – and expect us to do the same! He’s playing the part of the Duke in the Hunt scenes.

Trevor is definitely my favourite teacher out of them all, maybe I’m bias seeing as he’s the one who is teaching our Hunt group but he’s such a laugh to be around – his view is that rehearsals are the place for making mistakes, we can get it wrong however many times we like on his watch, so long as we get it right on the night that’s all that matters to him! He has a great sense of humour, put that with endless patience and you really couldn’t ask for a better teacher. Go Trev!! He’s playing the part of Head Butler, aka Giselle’s Father.

It’s taken us two weeks to learn the whole ballet, the last few rehearsals have been going over and over our parts in groups, then bringing the whole thing together at the end of every rehearsal day to smooth out any creases and make sure every detail is perfect for the performance.

It’s been twice as hard for our Hunt group to learn our parts, because we’re not just dancing, we’re dancing with props! We all have riding crops which we hold either under our armpit or out in front of us in both hands, like we’re holding the reins of a horse. Those damn crops have been dropped many a time, fingers crossed none of us lose our grip during the actual performance!

There’s also a section in our Hunt scene in Act 1 where we pick up goblets (fancy wine glassses) and get together in pairs and dance whilst lifting the goblets up, toasting the Duke and Duchess and then turning to the audience and doing the same – with the crops still under our arm, it’s a good job we girls are good at multi-tasking!

I’ve really got into our Hunt dance the more we’ve learnt and gone over it, the music is brilliant, it makes you feel like you’re out in the fields with your horse and are set for a day of good game (excuse the expression!).

Hunting horns are playing in our section and we have strong drum beats which we accent in our dancing, so it gives the impression of horses trotting. It works even better because our dance is en pointe, so the tap tap of our shoes really does sound like horse hooves!

We were all fitted for our costumes last week and they are absolutely gorgeous. The Hunt Ladies and Duchess wear a long tailored black skirt, a white blouse, and a fitted black jacket. The boys wear fitted black trousers with a bright red jacket, just like the pink coat a huntsman would wear in real life. We Ladies in Waiting have the best costumes, we wear a long skirt and blouse (the same as the Hunt Ladies, only no jacket) but we’re all in different colours!

One girl is wearing a silvery grey number, another is in a bronzey brown shade, the other is in a turquoise green colour and I have the most vivid combination of orange and gold that you’ve ever seen. Team it with my red hair and I’m an all in one ginge – I’m going to look like a dancing carrot on stage but at least you won’t miss me!!

We all have to wear black tights (boys excluded, obviously) and (here’s the part where I nearly fainted) black pointe shoes. Yes, I spent all last week with a permanent marker pen colouring in my pointe shoes. Forty pounds worth of shoes completely altered, all for the sake of one production! It’s worth it though, I know once we have our costumes on with matching shoes we’re going to look and feel the part and perform it like true dancers.

I’ve found a short promotion clip of Giselle on EYB’s page on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMSnfPZkSZM) It’s about a minute and a half long, twenty seconds into the clip you’ll see the beginning of the Hunt scene – it’s only a second or two long (blink and you’ll miss it) but it gives you an idea of what Giselle is about. All the costumes and scenery are amazing, from what I’ve seen so far they try to make everything as professional and true to the story as they can. I’m so happy I had the chance to be a part of it!

Yesterday was the last day of rehearsals, we had a complete run-through of the whole ballet at the end of the day, and the parents of all the children taking part were invited to come and watch it, for free. My parents came and said it was wonderful, my mum knows the story of Giselle but my dad didn’t have a clue what was going on, bless him!

The performances are on the 25th and 26th May, at the Princess Theatre in Torquay. We’re doing a matinee and evening performance on each day, for me Friday can’t come soon enough – I can’t wait to get on stage and dance. Hopefully it will be as brilliant on the night as it has been in rehearsals, I’ll let you all know how it goes!

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6 Comments

  1. avian101

    My best wishes for your performances Becky! 🙂

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  2. Thank you HJ! I appreciate the read and your best wishes 😀 ♥

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  3. this sounds like a great experience. a lot of work, but i’m sure it will pay off. thanks for sharing and good luck for your performances!

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    • Thank you! It’s extremely hard work but I wouldn’t want to change any of it. Thanks again! 🙂 ♥

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  4. What a truly awesome experience for you, Becky, I can hear your excitement through your words! Those upcoming performances, you go dance your heart out, girl!! Have a truly great time, I wish you the best!

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    • Thank you Donna, I’m going to dance like I’ve never danced before – this experience has been priceless. Thanks so much! 😀 ♥

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