Working in Concert

“Dancers are instruments, like a piano the choreographer plays.”
George Balanchine

Working in Concert

I believe in team-work. Working in concert is more than that because it suggests that each knows what the other is doing. Like a heist movie; beyond the usual need for revenge of some kind, the excitement we get from heist movies is enjoying the illustration of people working in concert to complete a task.

A certain catharsis can be reached in this way yet that achievement can be incredibly challenging if that is the intention rather than the execution of the action or goal.

One of my own proud moments in the theater was when I was the stage manager for a production of The Nutcracker. It was a big show, with a union crew. We had at least six men on the fly rail.

Ninety percent of the time that you fly scenery in or out is behind a curtain and usually the focus is on safety and speed. So, almost everyone who is tasked with flying scenery in or out will grab their rope and haul on it.

But, The Nutcracker scene change is “au vista”, meaning that the audience sees it and is intended in this case to really notice it. We have two shifts; the growing tree and then the change into the Snow Queen stuff.

My challenge was to get these six men who were much older than me, their job was one of labor as they saw it: how to get them to make Art.

I talked to them. I told them to listen to the music from the live orchestra. I told them to “feel” the music and I was sincere about it. During the shift, I would talk to them to slow down or speed up.

I also talked about the magic of The Nutcracker. How little girls see this ballet and want to grow up to be ballerinas. The scene shift that these men were doing could be magical enough to change someone’s life and, yes, they could do it if they’d “feel” the music.

We worked at by taking the pressure off of the men with humor. This change must take about two or three minutes but it seems like forever. The tree grows; it is the expectation of one hundred years of this ballet to see this magical change. We see the tree at first as a big but normal Christmas tree. By the time we are done, we are seeing only the bottom of the tree because it has grown so big. The presents under the tree are huge. Even the walls (in our case, the side masking painted in perspective) are huge and we are looking up as if our star, Clara, is now very small and will dance with a toy called the Nutcracker.

It is like watching a jigsaw puzzle come together with all the pieces moving at once, beginning at once and ending at once with 100 individual hands; one hand on each single piece.

Imagine it: a forty piece orchestra with a conductor, six men in the fly loft, twelve men in the wings pushing presents, four follow spot operators, a light board operator and a stage manager who is following the conductor and directing all of these people. Plus the dancers; oh yeah, this is about dancers in a ballet.

I remember saying goofy things like, “Lets make a little girl sparkle tonight” to try and capture their imagination and heart.

Working in concert, when it all comes together it can be like magic.

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