Backstage with Birmingham Royal Ballet

By Jade Aitchison

The sound of costume steamers and an air of preparation fills the production corridors of the Birmingham Hippodrome as fellow dance ambassadors Joanna and Kelly and I, are taken on a tour by Kasia Kraus (Community and Schools Engagement Officer), round the newly-refurbished home of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Coppélia may not be a new production for the company but this year marks the 25th anniversary of Birmingham Royal Ballet making their move to the Hippodrome. The building seemed filled with celebration of their journey and the refurbishment breathes new life in to the centre of Birmingham.

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Upon arrival we were surprised to find out that we would be involved in a walk around the stage and interview with Diana Childs, filmed by an Arts Reporter from BBC Midlands Today. (Click here to see the Youth Dance Ambassadors having a backstage tour on BBC Midlands Today >>>) Naturally all our thoughts immediately jumped to assessing our appearances after having sat on a train for an hour and a half, but having the chance to meet Diana was one of the highlights of my day. Diana Childs, Senior Stage Manager of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, has been with the company since before their move from Sadler’s Wells in 1990 and her passion regarding the company is inspiring so we were all excited at the opportunity to be personally shown around backstage.

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Photo Credit: BBC Midlands Today 24.02.2015

As Diana walked us across the stage through the hand painted wooden door of Swanilda’s house, we came across a steep set of steps up to the balcony of the house. Diana explained to us, so as not to miss her entrance through the front door the lead ballerina did not have enough time to run down the stairs safely, so would jump from the top steps in to the arms of a male dancer and then appear as if by magic through the door on to the stage ready for her solo. This backstage insight in to the production had me anticipating a small section in Coppélia that I had never considered much before and as we sat and watched Swanilda disappear from the top balcony in the orchestral rehearsal, the thrill of whether she would appear through the door in time was ignited and left me in awe of the ballerinas unnerved agility as she reappeared two seconds later on to the stage.

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This wasn’t the only hidden secret backstage! After having a look through all the props and stage pieces for the Second Act, that created Dr Coppélius’ spooky toyshop, we came across a black cat! No… unfortunately not a living cat but a stuffed bear perched within all the scenery. Diana explained to us that the cat had just appeared backstage when they first moved to the Hippodrome and so now they hide it within set pieces of each show as a tradition. A prime example that not all the fun happens on the stage. I must admit I did try to see if I could spot it in the afternoon rehearsal from the first circle, however the cat is hidden very well and you find yourself distracted by the captivating performance of the dancers and the beauty of the set transformations. This black cat crossing their path definitely has not lived up to the bad superstition and has provided Birmingham Royal Ballet with years of good luck as they continue to expand and grow as a company.

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The orchestral rehearsal shed new light on the ballet Coppélia. Seeing the performers in their rehearsal/ warm up clothes made them appear more real but did not make the ballet any less magical. Instead of escaping in to the story of Coppélia, as you usually would when watching a production, I found a new appreciation for the dancers dedication, interpretation and exploration of their characters. They weren’t just characters in a story they were highly skilled performers exploring the stage, reacting to the live orchestra and mentally/ physically preparing for the opening show. Having the chance to see them change the set between acts exposed the hard work and commitment of the backstage crew in creating a flawless production. The changing of the backdrop, rigged set and prop pieces was an agile choreography in itself and highlighted the preperation that goes on behind the scenes, to result in such an outstanding ballet production.

Birmingham Royal Ballet have reignited my love for a traditional, childhood favourite. Coppélia with it’s beautiful score, intricate set design, flawless performance and comic nature grasps your attention from the very first note played to the final bows. I would recommend any budding ballerinas, families, or even just anyone wanting to escape the regularities of everyday life to go watch Coppélia and have a night off to experience the beauty and talent of Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Coppélia is at The Lowry this week! (Wed 4th – Sat 7th March) For more information and to book your tickets, click here >>>

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