On the day of a show, as parents gather in the auditorium and students wait excitedly in the wings for their entry on to the stage, it is easy to forget the long and detailed process that has gone into creating a large scale production. Even the teachers and staff immerse themselves fully in the day without looking back at the past year of music choices, costume designs and production, administration, and of course, teaching and rehearsing choreography – a long process that the audience is not even aware of. It all comes together in one seamless performance. To really appreciate the show, however, it can be interesting to look at the building blocks that create the performance. Here’s a quick guide to what goes into creating a ballet production (and click here to find out why your child should participate).
We hold our productions biennially – two performances once every two years. The first performance, held in September, includes our pre-primary, primary and grade 1 students, as well as our jazz class and National Youth Ballet. In December, our show includes students in Grade 2 and above, as well as the National Youth Ballet company. The photos here are from September shows.
Before anything else takes form, the teachers will discuss a theme for the show. This usually begins at the start of the year for shows that happen in September and December, and sometimes even at the end of the previous year. In this discussion, teachers will take into consideration the groups of students participating, shows from previous years, as well as what is popular among the students and around the world at that time. At times, a decision will be made within one or two meetings; at other times, it can take weeks to make a final decision.
Like the choosing of the theme, the casting process is entirely on the teachers. As soon as the theme is decided, the teachers will begin choosing the roles of different classes as well as main characters. This is usually a quicker process than the theme decision, and is often concluded in one or two meetings with the teachers.
Music choices and editing
Once the characters are chosen, the process of finding music for each piece/character begins. If the production is a well-known classical ballet, original compositions are often used. In that case, the process of choosing the music is more straightforward. We often choose to create our own stories, however, which demands musical choices made by the teachers. This process extends for several weeks, and sometimes for months, as the story of the show unfolds.
Once the music is chosen, it often has to be edited to work with the rest of the show. Teachers will do this part, too, ensuring that each piece of music is perfect both for the show as a whole and for the individual group performing to that piece.
The costume design process begins as soon as the characters of the show are chosen. This includes the teachers, our production team, the executive director, and of course the designer. In the process, many variables are taken into consideration, such as the suitability of the design for dance, the feasibility of making the costume within budget and the availability of fabrics and other materials. Props for each costume are designed at this time, too.
Once costume designs are finalised, measurements are taken of all the students in the class. Then we begin production. It is a multifaceted process involving several tailors and production houses as well as the inhouse team at TLFCB. Each design is made into a sample and approved by the directors before the tailors begin making the full set of costumes. Simultaneously with the production of the costume, props are also being made both by the TLFCB team and at production houses.
Planning a performance on the massive scale that we do takes an enormous amount of administration. From parent messages and letters to digital media (including stage backdrops), financial planning, rehearsal and show venue bookings, volunteers and interns, the list is endless. The administrative planning for the performance begins as soon as the teachers begin talking about the theme, and it continues all the way to the show day, where parking, green room allocations and managing all the different classes at the venue are just some of the tasks at hand. The team plans during the entire year to ensure that the show runs smoothly on the big day.
This is the largest part of the process of the performance. It takes place in the studio and is perhaps the most important for the students other than then show day. Learning choreography is not just about putting the steps together as taught by the teachers. It is a process of creativity, artistry, team work, building proprioceptive awareness, strengthening technique and physique, and learning about the stage and the process of being part of a large show. It is an important part of performing arts education that spans across many months and culminates in the performance. It is also a process that is honed and refined over the years as the student participates in more performances.
The rehearsals are a vital part of the preparation for the show. They bring the entire cast together – every student who will be dancing on the stage is there. The benefits of these rehearsals are manyfold. The students truly understand the structure and size of the performance by seeing all the other dancers, and how important it is that they stay focused and on task throughout. They understand their entries and exits on and off the stage, and how their choreography ties together with the rest of the how. They gain insight into the importance of the part that they as individuals and groups are playing in a much larger whole. This is an incredibly important lesson to learn both in the performing arts and in life in general. It also allows the students to watch each other – something they will not be able to do on the day of the show since they will be backstage.
This is also a time when students learn to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. They are strongly encouraged to participate even if they are not feeling their best on the day of the rehearsal (or show). This discipline, teaching students to continue working towards their goal through adversity, is a life skill that they will carry with them throughout their lives. To read about dancer Tanvi Mavuri’s experience with dancing through adversity, click here. (*Please note that we do not encourage children who are seriously ill to participate).
In addition, the rehearsal is the time when class volunteers familiarise themselves with the running of the show. They will play an important role during the performance!
The teaching and administrative team plan the venue in detail before the show. Firstly, a venue is selected based on the size of the stage, the stage floor (very important for dance!), the size of the audience, the location of the auditorium, sound and light equipment available, and the availability of green rooms for the students and parking for parents. The selection and confirmation of the auditorium can take time, and we always book it as early as possible to ensure we get the best possible venue for the students. Once the show day comes closer, additional planning is required in terms of green room allocation, parking planning, checking restrooms and other amenities.
Show day – technical rehearsals
On the day of the show, the sound a light crew will arrive at the venue in the early morning, before technical rehearsals begin. During the technical rehearsals, all students have a chance to go through their dance on the stage with – this includes placing on the stage to ensure formations are correct, going through the oppiece with the music, as well as entrances and exits off the stage. The help of the class volunteers is vital here, as they will be in charge of ensuring that students come to the correct side of the stage at the correct time during the show. This takes up the entire day for the teachers, all the way up until the show.
The administrative team is equally busy at the techincal rehearsal time. They ensure students arrive on time, sit in their allocated areas and are ready when they are called to the stage. They also set up green rooms with chairs and other important tools and accessories, and allocate special seating in the auditorium. They liaise between parents, students, teachers and the rest of the team, and prepare the area outside the auditorium for welcoming the parents. They also ensure students have time for snacks and water – click here to find out what to eat on a show day, and click here for a general insight into nutrition for dancers.
This is the part where the audience arrives and enjoys the show, never knowing all that has gone on behind the scenes months in advance of the performance. Unless they have read this article, of course.