Preparations for A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev

English National Ballet has been busy this weekend preparing for the upcoming A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev triple bill. Dance is the Word writer Laura Dodge visited Markova House to see what was happening…
In the upstairs studio, dancers are stretching, changing shoes, chatting and rehearsing. Stina Quagebeur is working on her Hungarian arm and head movements, whilst Laurretta Summerscales is balancing en pointe in front of the mirror, perfecting her alignment.

The pianist starts playing and a long line of heeled dancers skip and stamp across the floor. Several of the company’s artistic staff are watching and though they don’t stop the run-through, they continuously whisper to each with other suggestions for improvements, as well as giving occasional corrections to individual dancers. This is Act III of Raymonda, a ballet choreographed by Rudolf Nureyev in 1964.

Soon Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentova take centre stage. Both are such an inspiration to watch and the other company members cheer loudly as they complete their solos. Muntagirov seems to have boundless energy, jumping and spinning effortlessly around the room. Klimentova’s choreography is much more understated and elegant, but equally beautiful.

I chat to Quagebeur after she finishes the Hungarian dance. Does she like being out of her pointe shoes? “It’s nice to be in character shoes for a change. There’s so much style in Raymonda – much more than for the character dances in other ballets like Swan Lake – so it’s fun to do.”

The Saturday Songs of the Wayfarer session has been cancelled as it’s going so well that extra rehearsal time isn’t needed. The company move onto Petrushka, a ballet Nureyev performed many times during his career. The studio becomes a hype of activity as stage managers arrange the many props and scenery items that are required. ENB’s Youth Company also come in – they will be onstage with the company at the Coliseum for Petrushka crowd scenes.

Dancers then perform what seems like a chaos of numerous small scenes taking place simultaneously. Every performer has a unique character and dancers are encouraged to keep focused on their individual stories: “The corps are not being presented together. You all need to have different activities. That’s why Petrushka was a revolutionary work in its day.”

Once rehearsals have finished, I speak to stage manager Kerry Lewis about her last-minute preparations for the show next week.

“For me, the last few days before a show are about getting really familiar with cue points and seeing as many rehearsals as possible. On Monday, we have the ‘get in’ at the Coliseum, where I need to check stage plans, organise dressing rooms and set up the follow spots for individual dancers.

Photography courtesy of English National Ballet Archive

Petrushka is the hardest ballet for the backstage crew. There are lots of scene changes so we have to make sure they happen in time. There are also loads of props – luckily, at least as the ballet is first, we have plenty of time to put them out and check they’re in place. The third difficult thing about Petrushka is the music – it’s by Stravinsky so incredibly difficult to count and most of the cues are on specific beats.

Petrushka also has heavy snowing. The snow is made of crepe paper and needs to be in a very specific size so that dancers don’t slip. This means cutting it by hand! We have some snow from Nutcracker but not quite enough, so we need to make more.

“For Songs of the Wayfarer, the biggest challenge is that I haven’t seen it yet! There is a new lighting design but I’ve only been able to see an old DVD of the ballet. At least after watching the DVD, I am now familiar with the choreography and music.

Raymonda is nice and simple in terms of stage management. There is a large, complex set so the interval changeover will be tight, but the rest is fairly easy.”

English National Ballet performs A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev at the London Coliseum this week. Tickets are available from £10: click here

Laura Dodge