Whether it's a wardrobe malfunction or a spectacular, opera-house–sized fail, onstage mistakes happen to everybody. See how these four professionals survived their worst mishaps—and what they took away from them.
Arja in Jerome Robbins' The Cage. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet
While still a corps member at Miami City Ballet, principal soloist Nathalia Arja learned that tried-and-true advice can sometimes lead you astray. During a Giselle performance, she was the second Wili in line during the Act II pas de deux. The dancer in front of her settled into B-plus on the wrong foot right before the pas began. "I knew she was wrong, but I was like, 'I have to follow the girl in front of me.' That's what being a good corps member is." At the very last second, the leader switched feet—leaving Arja as the only Wili in her line on the wrong leg. As a result, she was looking in towards the stage instead of out towards the wings.
It was too late to switch legs, which Arja thought the long, white tutu would help mask, but she knew that her head position was more noticeable. "I thought, I cannot allow this." As imperceptibly as possible, in utter slow motion, Arja began turning her chin to look towards the wings like everyone else.
"The girl behind me was giggling. She said, 'Nathalia, oh my gosh, stop, stop!' " Luckily, the spotlight was on Giselle. Other than the dancers in the wings and those behind her, no one seemed to notice the "drunk Wili" onstage, Arja jokes.
The Lesson: The corps is the most revealing place to make a mistake, and all you can do is try not to make it worse. "In Swan Lake, La Bayadère, all those lines when you stand there forever framing the principals," Arja says, "you have to look at the whole picture." Correct a mistake if you can, but it's best to blend in as much as possible and not draw too much attention to yourself.