Artists of The Australian Ballet rehearsing Firebird. Photo
One of the shortest ballets performed by The Australian Ballet is called Grand Tarantella; it is only seven minutes long. One of the longest is the full-length production The Sleeping Beauty, which has a prologue and three acts and totals 136 minutes long, plus intervals. No matter the length of a ballet, it will take many weeks, sometimes months, to get it on stage.
The first step is choosing the dancers. This is called 'casting the ballet' and is usually done by the artistic director, the choreographer and sometimes the repetiteur before rehearsals begin. If the ballet has already been created on another company, they will try to choose dancers who have a similar style and quality to the original cast. Dancers may also be chosen because of their different dynamics which could further develop the ballet, and sometimes because the role will help the dancer to develop their own qualities.
When a new ballet is being created on the company, the choreographer looks for dancers who have a particular physicality or movement style that will best suit the subject or mood of the work. It's normal to have two or three casts, which means two or three dancers are required to learn the same part. Once everything is decided, rehearsals are scheduled and the official casting is posted on the notice board for the entire company to see.
The amount of time required to teach a ballet depends on its length and how difficult it is, as well as the size of the cast. A full-length ballet takes between five and six weeks from the first rehearsal to the first performance, whereas a one-act ballet may take as little as three weeks. Creating a new ballet is often more time consuming because the choreographer starts with a blank canvas, and often spends time workshopping movements that may or may not end up in the finished ballet.
About a week before opening night, there is a costume rehearsal so dancers can get a feel for their costumes and make any minor adjustments to their movements needed.
Brett Simon and Amber Scott rehearsing Madame Butterfly. Photo Jess Bialek
Next the dancers move into the theatre and begin to space the ballet to the size of the stage. During this time they will also become familiar with stage props and any limitations that scenery may impose on their dancing.
There are normally two dress rehearsals for every ballet, the day before opening night. The Australian Ballet schedules them on the same day so that they can prepare two casts. During the dress rehearsals, dancers dance in full costume with sets and lighting, accompanied by the orchestra for the first time. This is a very important time, because it is the artistic team's first opportunity to see their production in its complete form – hopefully just as they imagined it would be!
The day of opening night there is a special rehearsal which is attended by the artistic director, ballet staff, the choreographer and his collaborators, the stage manager and some production staff, as well as the conductor and rehearsal pianist. Dancers are given feedback based on the dress rehearsals and there is the last-minute opportunity to fix any problems.
Then it's time to relax for a few hours and prepare for the evening's premiere.
Watch our online video about opening night at the ballet