October – January Diary 2004
by Cassa Pancho
The Long Overdue Diary
I thought I’d never get ‘round to doing this diary, but here it is! The following is all about the good and the bitchin’ stuff from the last Ballet Black performance and things to come…
Have I told you lately how much we love rehearsing at the Opera House? We staked out the Clore Studio as our own and re-created a mini Cochrane theatre within an outline of chairs swiped from the staff restaurant and a huge amount of pointe shoes kindly donated by Deborah Bull (the Clore is a vast cavern compared to the Cochrane). There’s nothing like rehearsing whilst stage calls for the main stage float over the air. My favourite so far has been the serene voice saying, “Will the stage dresser please bring Mr. Spencer’s bloody rags to the stage? Bloody rags to the stage please.”
Back to da rehearsals. The closer we got to the show, the more I enjoyed rehearsing, as this was when the musicians and designers were around in full force – and may I say, with a full team of designers working on my ballet alone, we had more Japanese people working on this production than black! How d’ya like that?!
The costumes for Denzil’s ballet were to remain pretty much as they were at the Fundraiser (December 2002) but needed to be fixed to fit Silvestre, Denzil and me, who were replacing the old cast. That wasn’t a problem, and neither were the costumes for my ballet (by Yukiko Tsukamoto). I said “Glamorous, shiny and black” and that’s exactly what she did, with a bit of bling and colour thrown in too. We ran into a bit of trouble with Patrick Lewis’s ballet, Pas de Trois (for Florence, Denzil and a chair). The designer, Nobuko Maruyama designed a great, fluffy red tutu for Florence with fabulous lime green pointe shoes. Unfortunately the first tutu was a wee bit too full to accommodate all the sliding in, under and around the chair (think innocent charm, not striptease) and layers of net kept getting caught in the chair legs until it looked a bit like a massacre backstage at a performance of The Sleeping Beauty. That was fixed by removing a few layers of tutu and was NOTHING compared to the hassle we had with the costumes for Stephen Sheriff’s ballet Elégie, with music by Poulenc. The music was written as a tribute to a musician friend of Poulenc’s who died in a car crash (I’m sketchy on details, but that is the general gist of the story). Stephen used the theme of death very loosely – with lots of jokes about the Jaws of Life thrown in – and he wanted each dancer to remove a bit a costume at the end of the ballet (sleeves for the boys’ and top skirts for the girls’) to leave a “pool of blood” on stage. Great idea in theory but in reality it was an absolute bugger to do. The boys’ sleeves were attached by poppers that made for lots of arms coming loose before time and the girls’ skirts were buttoned on, equaling lots of frantic undoing whilst dancing to get the bloody things off. From one extreme to the other. It kind of worked on the night but I think we might need to re-think that trick. Sorry Stephen…!
Jake Nwogu, Celia Grannum and Denzil Bailey (Ballet Black’s poster image)
© Richard Bolton
I also loved every minute of being in the theatre. From arriving extremely early to watch the technicians and our lighting designer David Plater (on loan from the Donmar Warehouse) set up the stage to the actual performance – it couldn’t have been a friendlier place. About one month before the show, I hesitantly called the Box Office to ask how ticket sales were going. It wasn’t good. We had sold eight. EIGHT?! Aaaargh!!! And that was over BOTH NIGHTS! I swore to myself I’d never call and ask again. Two weeks later I phoned back (I know, I have no willpower) and they had sold forty tickets. OVER BOTH NIGHTS!!! (By the way, the theatre seats three hundred and fifteen or six hundred and thirty over two nights).
I was so upset I decided not to check anymore. It only worried me and what was the point of upsetting myself?
So, one week later I called again and now they had sold eighty seats. After long chats with Denzil and Richard (da Physio) I resigned myself to performing to hardly anyone. Everyone told me that that was a great number of seats to have sold for an unknown company with no advertising budget, blah, blah, blah. Personally, it annoys me to take that attitude. Why shouldn’t you aim for the best, even if it’s unlikely that it will happen? The only reason we’ve come this far anyway is because we took risks that most people advised us against (and am stepping down off soap box riiiiiight…..now.
Anyway, where was I? Okay, the lights were up, our baby grand piano had been delivered (eek!) then our sound engineer Paul Hussey (brother of Ivan from Celloman) arrived to do the sound check. As we were having all the musicians onstage during the ballets, we had to find the best way for dancers and musicians to coexist in peace. The running order meant that the baby grand was off for the first piece, on for the second, off for the third ballet and back on for the last! It’s a good thing it was on wheels. There was so much that could go wrong (or just take ages) but we had a great stage crew in our old friends John Cavalli, Graham Woodward and our stage manager Chun Yen Chia, plus Chris and Kim Cochrane of the Cochrane Theatre, (in lieu of their actual surnames). The musicians also pitched in to help everything go quickly. SO! With that done, we had our warm up class with Raymond Chia, accompanied by the Ballet Black Jazz Quartet who improvised us a very groovy ballet class. After that we flew through a dress run, had a break and before we knew it, it was time for the first show to begin.
The first ballet was Denzil’s, and, petrifyingly (I know it’s not a word but you know what I mean) enough for me, it begins with Denzil and me onstage. As the curtain was wheeled up I took a very quick peek into the auditorium and was shocked to see that those forty seats we had sold had actually grown to the ENTIRE AUDITORIUM!! Where had all these people come from? Bugger!
Cassa Pancho’s The Boogaloo Room
© William Potter
(By the way, it’s clear to me now that there are three things in life that every girl needs; a supportive mother, a good Physio and a Box Office.)
The rest of the ballet passed in a bit of a hazy orange blur for me, then it was time to get back to the dressing room, rip off the false eyelashes, put on real clothes and run round to sit in the audience and watch the rest of the show. On closer inspection, we had sold all but about the last four or five rows at the back of the theatre. I sat there with an enormous grin on my face as each ballet was received well and, huge relief that they didn’t hate it -Denzil and Flo even got a laugh for Patrick’s ballet (yes it was supposed to be funny) and a “Bravo!” for Jake during his solo in my piece. We even had a visit from Deborah Bull (whistles, cheers!) who came backstage during the interval with a lady who shall remain nameless from the Arts Council (boo, hiss!) but both were enjoying the show. When the curtain came down, the whole company; dancers, musicians and designers alike went to the bar for a well-earned drink.
The next night passed in a similar fashion, but this time we were sold out! The theatre staff said that it was the first time that an unknown company had done that in the history of their theatre – blimey!
Over the next couple of days, we had some good reviews with positive comments and realistic feedback that I really appreciated. In the programme, I let people know that we only got the chance to work at the weekends, not to try and excuse any flaws or weaknesses but to let people know where Ballet Black is at the moment. The loudest thing to come through from the reviews is that we need to keep striving for technical strength and we need MONEY! For us this has always been our chicken and the egg situation. We can work full-time if we can pay our dancers and staff, but some funding bodies are reluctant to help until you’ve “made it”. How can you do one without the other?
The outcome of doing well at the Cochrane means that we are (in their words, not mine!) “back by popular demand” in February! We will be performing the same programme with updates on the 21st and 22nd – so be there! Silvestre, our gorgeously long-legged dancer has sadly left us to go back to school (well, sad for us and great for him) so we have two new dancers, all the way from New York thank you very much, from the Alvin Ailey company and the Dance Theatre of Harlem School!
So, a huge thank you as always to Denzil, Patrick, Stephen and all the dancers, plus our new trustees; Susie Cooper, Kate Hall and Lady Nita Jackson AND William Sieghart for making sure the show did go on. And sorry to Bruce for taking so long to finish this!