In watching a professional ballet one doesn’t realize how much work is put into making the production come to life. Both the dancers and the choreographers put every ounce of energy and emotion into telling their story. It takes years for a ballerina to train for the labor that goes into becoming professional, however just weeks to learn a full-length ballet. Dancers can sometimes be put through months of sore muscles in order to train. Often ballet dancers are told to loose weight in order to look their part, or are only given a few minutes for break after hours of vigorous training. In the end it is all worth it though.
When I checked out Reaching for Dreams: A Ballet from Rehearsal to Opening Night, by Susan Kuklin out of the library I expected to read another boring drawn out diary. Amazingly this book was difficult for me to put down because I became so enthralled by the process of putting on a ballet. At the beginning of this book the author describes the dancers coming in on a rainy Monday morning to begin warm-ups and rehearsal. This of course is the beginning of their voyage to opening night. The dancers taking part in this production were from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
The ballet that they plan to perform in seven weeks is called “Speeds.” The choreographer of “Speeds” is a world-renowned woman by the name of Jennifer Mullers. This production contains a cast of eleven dancers and five alternates. “Speeds” is a modern ballet that explains how one moment in time is like no other, and how often things in the world change.
Throughout this book, Kuklin observes the life of a dancer. The typical day of a professional ballerina at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre consists of waking up around seven to be at rehearsal in plenty of time to warm-up. In dance warming up your muscles is the most important device to do before beginning, as it helps you stay clear of any possible injuries. After warming up Jennifer, the choreographer, teaches them the dance and makes sure that every move “flows” with the body of the person dancing it. She claims that “the dancers must be comfortable with the shapes that they dance.” After hours of strenuous practice the dancers receive a five-minute break to cool off and grab a bite to eat. Normally the meal the dancers would eat on break would consist of some fruit and maybe a small sandwich.
Jennifer would then announce “Okay breaks over”, and the worn out bodies would slowly, but surely get up and dance their hearts out until about one o’clock when they were allowed to leave. Often times some of the duets would stay after to rehearse more to make sure that everything was flowing together as if they were one. After seven months of doing this everyday one would think that it would become extremely repetitious, however to the leads, opening night is well worth the wait.Bright red curtains wave as the dancers file in back stage for the first showing of “Speeds” to start. The dancers are costumed in pure white linen to bring you the feeling of innocence. Everyone is extremely apprehensive about the show as the music begins to play and the curtains begin to be drawn open.
Jennifer whispers one last good luck to the group as they begin to perform. The show goes on wonderfully and nothing unexpected happens for the next few showings. The last night of the show comes very quickly to the dancers as if it has all been a dream. The show ends and the dancers come out on stage for their last bow. As they look out into the audience and see the crowd cheering they realize what the seven months of stressful practicing was for. For the chance to get the feeling of a lifetime that you will never forget, and to feel that you have achieved something wonderful.