Silver Swans perform in Swan Lake Dreams with Birmingham Royal Ballet: A Diary
Fiona and Linda take Silver Swans classes in Bury. They were recently thrilled to perform as The Queen (Fiona) and a Lady in Waiting (Linda) in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s community production, Swan Lake Dreams, on Sunday 23 February. Follow their journey and read about their journey through excitement, exhaustion, doubt, exhilaration…and pride!
28 October 2019: First Intensive
“Today I learnt the first part of my Act 1 repertoire. The timing is so difficult because I am acting and doing mime rather than dancing. It is not clicking easily. I am also learning what is to be a small part of a large ensemble. Our teacher has played the role of the Queen for BRB and she said she‘d send me her notes – what a privilege.
I am exhausted tonight, not because it has been a hard day physically but I think because of all the nervous anticipation and excitement. I am sure it will get easier once we settle into a rehearsal routine. It is definitely a long road to get us to the performance but bring it on!
The best part of today was watching the younger dancers: they learn so quickly and have limitless energy. It is going to be a joy to see them dance.”
29 October: Day 2 Intensive
“I have to be honest that I am feeling a little disappointed because I learnt nothing new today. There was so much going on we never quite got around to going over my mime again. I could not get over how much all the dancers had improved after just the second day. I am in awe of how quickly they learn. It made me reflect that their knowledge is so much more extensive than mine is but as I have only been doing ballet for 2 years having never done it before I am not going to beat myself up.
Without doubt, the best part of today was trying on costumes. I have a very regal, dark green velvet dress that feels quite gothic but I did love it.
The other lovely part of reaching the end of this weekend rehearsal has been getting to know the other older dancers. Everyone wants to take it seriously but thank goodness, we can have a laugh. I have no doubt that as if at Silver Swans, it is going to be a supportive little group.”
13 November: First evening rehearsal
“Hurrah! Linda was back from her holidays so we could travel together – so much more fun.
This rehearsal put a lot of very specific detail onto what I had previously done so although I did not learn any more I felt happy that I was moving forward. I have some very clear notes to work on and I feel sure that my Silver Swans teacher, Johanna Hadley will not be surprised that they are mostly to do with arm positions!”
“I was very excited to be going to my first ever rehearsal with Birmingham Royal Ballet but also apprehensive because I missed the first two and wasn’t sure what to expect. I need not have worried because the teachers were lovely.
We ran through the first act and I soon picked up where to stand etc. I enjoyed the first rehearsal, still did not feel real that I will be dancing on stage again even if a tiny part!”
End of 2019
“Really looking forward to my 2nd rehearsal, I have been practicing steps to keep fresh in my mind with the help of my Silver Swan teacher, Johanna Hadley.
It was a full call for Act 1 tonight and all dancers were present for a full run through which was manic but exciting. I managed to come on time with my steps and felt more confident overall.
We were amidst excited children talking about Christmas! I also tried on my costume for fitting; it is a red velvet dress with gold trim and long arms. Very regal! Also had a shoe fitting for character shoes. Never had any before let alone dance in but I am sure it is just like dancing in heels like those that I used to do a very long time ago!
“Being honest, as we moved toward Christmas, the fortnightly rehearsals brought nothing new or exciting: travel felt like a chore; we often did very little at rehearsals; I genuinely wondered why I was doing it. It sounds very grand being the Queen but in terms of what I actually do, it is not a lot. I do not think I would have persevered if I did not have my fellow Silver Swan, Linda to share the driving to Birmingham. More important than taking turns with the driving, however, is having a friend with which to share the experience. We have definitely managed to keep each other going.
We had a long break from rehearsals over Christmas and New Year. My husband and I managed to fit in a ski holiday which boosted my spirits enormously so starting back in January I was definitely more positive and rested.”
“It was lovely to see everyone after a few weeks off, and the reality dawned that the actual performance was going to happen. Without doubt, the most exciting thing of all was confirmation that next week we would finally meet the Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers who were going to be our principals.
22nd January was not a disappointment! Our three principals, Alys, Alex and Rory were introduced to everyone and to my surprise; I was introduced individually to them. What I experienced at that rehearsal ranged through excitement, unexpected nerves, exhilaration and sheer awe. We attempted a full run through of the whole ballet and suddenly, my role started to make sense. Although Rachel had been standing in for the Prince, Rothbart, etc. that comes nowhere close to interacting with the actual character. To my utter relief, as I moved towards the rejection scene feeling very uncertain, Alex turned to the front and asked for a walk through as he was unsure too. Rory, as Rothbart, made sure I was where I needed to be and again helped me see how the whole thing fits together.
The biggest thrill of the evening was of course, watching the professional dancers up close. I spend most of Act 3 on my throne so I have a front row seat to see Siegfried and Odile do their solos and pas de deux. Everything seems effortless and the beauty of their movements is just a privilege to see. Rothbart is mesmerising without seeming to try at all; he has such a powerful presence.
When I became a Silver Swan, I could never have imagined that I would end up experiencing anything like this, let alone in the studios of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Once again, I did not sleep very well when I got home but this time it was because the buzz of excitement just would not die down. I know the next few weeks are going to be incredibly special.”
Excited to be back for first rehearsal even if very tired from Christmas! I remembered the steps thankfully although a bit rusty.
I was excited about tonight! The Birmingham Royal Ballet cast were joining us for first time, the conductor, and other staff! I must admit I was very nervous too and that must have showed as I missed doing the first curtsy because in awe! We ran through the whole of Acts 1, 2 and 3 without stopping. It was so quick could not believe it! I loved watching the BRB dancers; they were amazing and so nice helping the children too. It was an exhausting night but brilliant!”
As the performance day got closer, rehearsals ramped up to twice a week, which was physically demanding. On 16 February, ballet teachers were invited to watch and I knew Johanna was going to be there. This certainly gave impetus to the morning run through and all the younger dancers were noticeably more focused. When we went through to the studio, we discovered that Johanna had brought two more Silver Swans with her, Agnes & Pauline. It was such a lovely surprise to have them there supporting us. The final midweek rehearsal was uneventful – I wanted it to be the performance but I didn’t want it to be over while at the same time I was so exhausted I wanted it all to be finished so life could get back to normal!”
“I wasn’t feeling well due to a flare up of Fibromyalgia. I didn’t do a warm up but took the opportunity to watch the other dancers which was amazing, just sitting listening to the piano music and watching the lesson cheered me up and I did feel like I was still learning even if not actual participating. On 16 February, everyone was very excited because we had the BRB dancers with us and our teachers were coming to watch in the afternoon! We did another full run through with the teachers watching, two of our fellow Silver Swans had also come to watch which a lovely surprise was!
I have been taking on board my teacher’s advice to keep my chin up and appear aloof! Hope I can remember this for the actual performance!”
22 February 2020: Final rehearsal
I travelled by train to Birmingham on Friday for what proved to be a real highlight of the process. I met up with some of the other women and we went to the Birmingham Royal Conservatoire to listen to an orchestra rehearsal. I have heard orchestras play Swan Lake before but these musicians would be playing live for us on Sunday, which made it incredibly special. I allowed myself to be swept away by the rich sound without really thinking about my performance.
That evening we had tickets to watch BRB’s Swan Lake at The Hippodrome on the very stage that we would be using on Sunday. It was a brilliant performance, which I loved, but it finally hit me right between the eyes: I was going to be on that stage in 2 days. How it is possible to know something is going to happen yet not appreciate the reality?
The dress rehearsal went well, perhaps too well. I was told that my performance was the best they had seen me do. Instead of inspiring me, I was worried. All I had ever heard was bad dress rehearsal = brilliant performance on the night: did that work in reverse?
“We had a full warm up at the barre, which I took part in but didn’t do too much in case I tweaked my back again. I felt quite emotional because I knew this would be my last class with BRB. I think I have enjoyed the classes so much because it brought back memories of lessons as a child! We had a full run through all the acts in costume which was amazing and I had a tear in my eye, the children were so beautiful in their tutus!”
Sunday 23rd February: The Performance
“Performance day was finally here. We took a short tour around the stage and we had a chance to soak up the atmosphere. I think it was at this point that I became completely overwhelmed and found myself sobbing. I do not know where the tears came from but I could not stop crying. I think I had been holding in my nerves and the emotion had to escape.
Yijing Zhang, a BRB soloist who I had watched playing the role of the Queen the previous evening, came over to congratulate me on my role. I could not quite believe what I was hearing but before I knew it, we had found a quiet place to talk and I was getting advice from the real Queen. She could not have been more encouraging or positive; I felt incredibly special.
Looking back on the performance is strange. Yes, it was magical and breathtaking. I did not make any mistakes and was pleased that I had done a good job. However, it felt like I was on some sort of autopilot, almost as if it was not me doing it. I do not say that in any negative way, I am just trying to capture how I felt. The evening passed far too quickly and suddenly we were doing our bows and curtain calls. I was elated but definitely felt as if I was watching what was happening even though I was in the thick of it. Perhaps it was just too much to take in.
I slept most of the way home. My family who came to watch had really enjoyed the performance, which had hugely surpassed their expectations. They were clearly proud of me.
What happened and what I achieved is slowly sinking in. With a few days perspective I am starting to process my feelings of deep, intense pride in myself. I have been living to a soundtrack of the beautiful Swan Lake music and yes, I find myself breaking into dance at unexpected moments! Performing a solo character role on the Hippodrome stage alongside the BRB soloists and a cast of immensely talented youngsters is more than I ever dreamed I could achieve and to do it in the year I turn 60 makes me grin. It was definitely worth all the rehearsals and long hours of travel.
I expected to feel deflated when it all finished but I am not. I am, however, wondering where my next ballet adventure will take me. One thing is certain: being a Silver Swan is never dull!”
“We were allocated dressing rooms and taken to them which was so exciting to find our costume hanging ready for us and our names on the door! I found the huge stage mesmerising. It was daunting at fit with the curtain up but once the stage lights were on we could not see the seats. After we had finished our Act, we were very lucky and allowed to stand in the wings and watch! It was difficult to see much but still exciting.
Waiting in the wings to start was nerve-wracking hearing the audience clapping. I had butterflies again just briefly until our cue came then I was on stage and dancing! Once we had done our little walk, stood downstage felt a rush of emotions again, and nearly cried when the little swans brushed past me and started dancing. It was so unreal that I was stood there actually part of Swan Lake, it was magical and I did not want it to end. It ended all too soon and we were soon back on stage for final call to do our curtsy. It was an amazing experience; I loved every minute of it. Once the curtain came down we were all given a rose tied with a ribbon and hugging everyone, no one wanted to leave the stage I think because then we would know it was over.
I never thought I would manage to do anything like this and even though only a character part, just to have seen and be part of a big production has been fantastic. The fact that it was Swan Lake made it a dream come true for me!”