In Spring 2018, I had the opportunity to photograph behind the scenes on Ballet Central’s tour show. As part of their final year of study, students from the Central School of Ballet take a show on tour through the UK. On it, they gain valuable experience not only performing, but rigging lights, selling programmes, packing the van – you name it.
Company Manager and Choreographer of one of the pieces, Jenna-Lee, asked me to come to Birmingham to shoot behind the scenes images of the dancers – and so that’s what I did. I documented my experiences not only through photographs, but also through the accompanying text. Some of this might not be 100% accurate, but that’s artistic license. Let me bring you into this world. Enjoy.
From the moment I arrive, I’m in the eye of the storm.
“You’re alright on your own aren’t you Drew?” says Jenna, handing me my pass. It sounds like a question, but it’s definitely not. “Sure” I say, “why what’s up?”. “We’re running late,” she replies, “we’re also down a dancer so I have to re-jigg everyone – I’ve been up since 5am”. “Why did- how-“ I start, but Jenna’s gone – striding away through the backstage area of the theatre, and I’m struggling to keep up. “You can store your kit in here – here’s stage left – here’s stage right – I’m going out front – catch you in a bit!” And then she’s gone.
I loosely follow her, squeezing my way through the very tight backstage area, until I find myself standing in the auditorium, only to see Jenna sitting next to Christopher Marney (Artistic Director the company) – they’re running the tech.
I disappear off to the dressing rooms to shoot other things, to try to find more photographs, and when I get back I hear Jenna before I see her.
“Get one of this Drew!” she shouts from somewhere – I go onstage and she’s mopping the entire stage, as the Olly the tech finishes hanging a dress from the gods. “How many company managers do you see doing this!!”
What feels like 30 seconds later, and the show is on. Jenna is side stage – her face a mixture of pride, and focus. She’s watching every move every dancer makes like a hawk.
Dancers come and go, onstage offstage, into the wings out of the wings, whilst Jenna is still, scanning the performers, her face illuminated by the stage lights.
One of the dancer’s costumes is loose, and the zip up the back of his top is opening at the top. Jenna is frantically gesturing him. I see a glint in her mouth, and she has maybe four(?) safety pins in her mouth. Suddenly, I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, as he tears offstage. I have no idea if he’s supposed to be onstage or not, but it doesn’t matter – all that matters if that Jenna can get him done up and back onstage in the fastest possible time. He’s sweating. A lot. His eyes staring out onto the stage – he’s counting. I snap three frames, and then he’s gone. I look around and so is Jenna – all I see is a black cloak around the corner of the door to the dressing rooms – she’s off to solve more problems.
“Oh this is just CLASSIC Roshann!”
I’m in the girls dressing room. It’s maybe, 10 minutes before curtain up. You can hear the audience chatter coming through the PA system, being pumped into the dressing room. The dressing room is pretty quiet, apart from one voice.
“I just had them,” Roshann says, “this is classic Roshann” she repeats. She’s lost her pointe shoes. 8 minutes to go.
“Did you check side stage?” I ask, struggling to know what to say. She’s already out the door. 4 minutes.
It’s later in the show, and she’s watching. Waiting. You get this with dancers – this ability to just switch – one minute happy and smiling, the next minute totally focused.
I’m watching Roshann from the wings – watching her watch the show. She couldn’t get much closer to being onstage unless she was in a spotlight.
We’re back in the dressing room. The tension of earlier has completely dissipated. She’s chatting, she’s relaxed. It’s Act 2, and from what I can gather, she’s got a little bit less to do this time round, but there it is again – that focus.
It’s the final act – and she’s supporting her friends by watching from the wings. Any second, she’ll be out there, not just dancing, but becoming a performer.
When I was down in London in January (or was it February?), that’s when I first photographed Ayca. She’s the Black Swan in the show tonight, and was in the rehearsal for this show that I shot in the months prior to shooting her tonight.
When I walk into the changing room, she’s a typical teenage girl. She’s laughing with her friends, she’s taking selfies, she chatting away to people, seemingly without a care int he world. Then slowly, she starts to transform.
I whisk myself off to see the lads, or explore side stage, hunting for photographs. As I leave, Ayca starts to do her eye makeup. I watch her apply it, take it off, and apply it again. When I get back to the dressing room, I realise nearly twenty minutes have passed – and she’s still doing her eyes. One of the other dancers sees me watching Ayca. “This is seven”, they say to me, without looking up from their phone. “Seven times…?” I ask – yes is the answer. Ayca has really spent the last 25 minutes doing her eyes. This apparently is not uncommon, according to the person next to Ayca. I look over, and Jenna is now here. She’s doing Ayca’s eyes. As she’s doing them, I realise she’s just speaking to Ayca, softly, saying something I can’t make out. But Ayca doesn’t see anything – she just sees her performance.
I motion for her to look down the lens.
And then she’s done.
We’re in the wings. It’s tightly packed in here – I can’t move. I’ve put my camera bag down somewhere and I can’t remember where. I’ve got my eyes on Ayca, and she’s watching the show, waiting for her cue.
I know when she’s due on – I shot the rehearsal – it’s close. Ayca’s watching the show. She takes a big step towards me – surprise surprise I’m in the way – and then something happens – she holds her breath. She closes her eyes. Click.
Thanks to Jenna for inviting me along to the show, and Ballet Central for having me. It was brilliant.