Sharni Spencer in class. Photo Teagan Glenane
Dancers begin to arrive at the theatre to start their day's work. Before going to their dressing rooms, they check the theatre notice board for the 'call sheet', or schedule for the day. Next to the call sheet is the cast sheet, which outlines which dancers will dance each role in that evening's performance. The notice board might also have lists of dancers required for costume fittings during the day, or publicity photographs or interviews.
Although the previous night's performance may have finished very late, some dancers will have already visited the company masseur or physiotherapist to check on any aches and pains they may have, or visited the swimming pool or gym.
In their dressing rooms, dancers will then change into their practise clothes. Dancing requires special practise wear: tights, leotards and ballet shoes. Their clothes must keep them warm but allow them to move easily, and they must be close-fitting so teachers can see their movement and help them use their bodies correctly. After changing, dancers head to the rehearsal room to warm up before class. Like athletes preparing for a race, each dancer will warm their body in their own way.
All dancers, from the newest member of the company to the most famous of principal artists, must train every day of their professional lives. Class allows the dancers to refine their technique and maintain stamina, while keeping their bodies flexible and in peak condition. They begin their exercising by holding on to a hand rail, called a barre, fixed to the walls of the room. After about 30 minutes, the dancers move into the centre of the rehearsal room to continue working for another hour. There the teacher begins to join the steps and movements into increasingly difficult combinations to test the dancers' skill and memory.
The dancers work to find their balance, to extend their legs straighter and higher into the air, to increase the number of pirouettes they can accomplish, and to jump with more height and ease. To help them do this, the company pianist plays music that encourages them to try that little bit harder.
The names of all classical ballet steps and movements are in French because, although ballet began in Italy more than 300 years ago, it was developed into an art in France. Dancers enjoy class and if for some reason they miss attending one, they soon feel out of condition.
After a short break to change out of their sweaty practise clothes, the dancers return to the rehearsal room to learn a new dance or to rehearse one they already know. If the ballet is being created on them by a choreographer, it can take an entire hour to invent just two or three minutes of dancing. Even short ballets take several weeks to create, while longer ones can take months.
If the ballet is already in the repertoire, the ballet master is assisted by the choreologist (a dance notator who records dances on paper using symbols) in teaching and coaching the dancers. The casting is usually done by the company's artistic director, who also chooses the ballets the company performs. The artistic director is also the person responsible for the dancers' careers and will encourage and guide them so that they can progress through the ranks of the company. Company dancers are divided into various ranks depending on their ability and the type of roles they are expected to dance: corps de ballet, coryphée, soloist, senior artist and principal artist.
3pm rest break
Lana Jones in rehearsal. Photo Teagan Glenane
By now most of the dancers will have finished rehearsing for the day. Some take the opportunity to have a light meal and then rest before the evening performance. Others will seek out one of the ballet staff for special coaching in future roles; some will go to physiotherapy for treatment or to the shoe room for new shoes. Female dancers sometimes go through as many as three pairs of pointe shoes in one performance!
Dancers appearing for the first time in a role will visit wardrobe to be fitted for their costume. Of course, dancers also use this time to relax, shop or hang out with friends.
While the dancers rest, wardrobe staff clean, iron and distribute the costumes to the various dressing rooms, the stage crew clean the stage and set the scenery for the night's performance.
6.30 pm Warm up
The dancers once again go to the rehearsal room to warm up for the evening's performance. The ballet staff give them light but warming exercises to help prepare their bodies for the roles they are to perform. It's essential that dancers take good care of their bodies so they can minimise injuries and prolong their dancing life.
6.55pm Half-hour call
The stage manager announces the half-hour call and the dancers go to their dressing rooms to put on their make-up and costumes. All dancers do their own make-up. They use special theatrical make-up because strong stage lights can make their faces look pale and flat.
Next, the dancers put on wigs or arrange their own hair into the correct style for the ballet, and finally dressers help them into their costumes. At 7.25pm the stage manager calls “on stage!” and the dancers hurry to take their places for the first ballet of the evening.
Some dancers like to go onstage a little earlier for a final practise, or to try a complicated pas de deux movement with their partner for that night. These last few moments before the curtain rises are always full of excitement. The dancers are alert and just a little nervous, but the artistic director and ballet staff are on stage to give them confidence and to wish them 'chookas', the ballet word for good luck.
7.30pm Curtain up
The audience have been arriving from 7pm and are now all seated and waiting expectantly. The auditorium lights are lowered and the music starts. The curtain rises on a scene that has taken many people months to prepare. At last, the results of all the training and rehearsing are obvious. The enjoyment the dancers gain from dancing infects the audience, who show their appreciation by applauding loudly. This is the time of day that dancers enjoy most.
10pm Curtain down
When the final curtain call has been taken and the applause dies away, the dancers, exhausted but exhilarated, return to their dressing rooms and take off their costumes and make-up. Sometimes the dancers attend a reception or a special sponsor party after the performance but usually they will go home for a quick meal and a well-earned sleep. In just a few short hours it will all start again!