Behind the Scenes at American Ballet Theatre's Dress Rehearsal

Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg in "The Dream"

Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing American Ballet Theatre’s dress rehearsals of Frederick Ashton’s The Dream (based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Alexei Ratmansky’s fairly new The Tempest (also Shakespeare). The casts I viewed are scheduled to perform tonight—it's the closing week for ABT's spring season at The Metropolitan Opera House. I was impressed by the poise of dancers and staff at the rehearsal, which required juggling full costumes, an orchestra, massive props (including a fully moveable sunken ship) and scenery. No one was short on stamina, either: Herman Cornejo, as Puck in The Dream, must’ve jumped 100 times and completed something like 50 pirouettes. Cory Stearns, meanwhile, danced the lead in both ballets of the dress rehearsal.

Mistakes were fixed in two ways: A rehearsal director seated in the audience with a microphone announced spacing issues or minor, easily fixed slip ups (“Sarah, you need to be more stage left” was a correction I heard); bigger problems, like music cues gone awry or stubborn scenery, briefly stopped the run until the issue was fixed. Like the professionals they are, none of the dancers were distracted by these corrections or lost character.

Marcelo Gomes and Daniil Simkin in "The Tempest"


Presumably to conserve their energy (many of these dancers, including the corps, were scheduled to perform other parts later that night), the dancers would occasionally mark steps or skip big lifts. As a dancer myself, I was particularly intrigued by which steps they chose not to do full-out—were those just the most physically taxing? Or were they the more challenging moves that the dancers didn’t yet feel comfortable attempting in front of a (limited) audience?

By the rehearsal’s end, I found myself with a renewed appreciation for the ABT dancers' work ethic.


Photos from top: by Gene Schiavone; by Fabrizio Ferri, both courtesy of ABT

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