courtesy of
Dance Magazine

first published
October 1957


     Here are some miscellaneous technical suggestions to dancers and choreographers:

     Whenever possible have a musical overture before the curtain opens.  It is much better than having the curtain open with the dancer discovered on stage before the music starts.  All too often something may be wrong mechanically with the amplification system, the volume may be too high or too low, the tape may break, or the sound man may even be playing the wrong record.  If the curtain is closed, adjustments can be made.  But if the curtain is open the situation can be most embarrassing – indeed the dancer may be forced to improvise a new dance.

     Do not choreograph ballets that require an open curtain with complete blackouts for set changes, costume changes on stage, or entrances and exits during a blackout.  Complete blackouts are rarely possible because there is always some light spill from the orchestra pit, the exit lights, or the worklights off stage.  Anything you have done in a blackout must be “performed” as though the audience can see the action, for they probably can.

     Do not choreograph ballets that require quick cross-overs behind the rear curtain.  But if you do, be sure to have “alternate staging” for those times when crossovers are impossible, as they sometimes are.  All to often you will find it necessary to go outdoors through a window, or through a basement, to reach the other side of the stage.

     In technical and dress rehearsals be very firm in you chastisement of the dancers who hit or brush draperies, who drop out of character before they are completely off stage, who prepare to enter in view of the audience, or who smoke in the wings.  Any one of these can be most distracting to an audience, but are easily unnoticed in rehearsals.

     If you do not wear your costume at the lighting rehearsals, be sure to wear rehearsal clothes of a similar color.  Otherwise, come performance, you may find the lighting too bright or too dim (there’s a great deal of difference between the intensity required for a black costume and the intensity required for a white costume).  Following this line of reasoning a little further leads us to a trick you can play on your lighting designer if you think he tends to “underlight”:  wear black to all rehearsals, but lighter color for performances.

     Have a friend in the audience whose judgment you can trust come backstage after the first ballet to tell you or your stage manager if everything is all right.  Sometimes the volumes set at rehearsals are completely wrong when the auditorium is filled.  The pianist may adjust his light just before the curtain goes up so that it shines in the eyes of the audience or spills onto the stage.  Sometimes a rope or cable is hanging in view of the audience, or a spotlight is spilling out into the auditorium.  It’s almost impossible to catch all of these things unless there are many consecutive performances in the same theatre, and a good stage manager will be grateful that someone is helping the performance run smoothly.

     Rehearse the curtain calls carefully so that both you and the stage manager know what the sequence of bows will be in any eventuality.  A stage manager’s ear is carefully attuned to the subtle meanings of applause as it builds up or down.  Trust him, and remain in the wings long after what you consider the final bow in case he feels another is warranted.   If you do not trust him, however, be sure to establish and rehearse a series of signals so that he will understand when you want the houselights turned on.  No one backstage should applaud or chatter during the curtain calls.  It is essential to listen carefully to the applause so that you will know immediately when it starts to fade.

     After the performance is over, keep the stage door closed to absolutely everyone for a few minutes while costumes are removed and hung up and props are gathered.  Otherwise you’ll be in the theatre for hours after the performance looking for pieces of costume or a stray hand-prop.  Naturally you will want to greet anyone who is courteous enough to come backstage, but even the husband or the wife must be kept away and performance tension maintained until these details are taken care of.  This is particularly important on tour. 

     Be sure your stage manager arranges signals with the ushers so that the audience may be hurried at the end of intermission.  If there is anything more annoying than discovering that the houselights are out and you have to find your seat in the dark, it is to put your cigarette out after two puffs, hurry to your seat, and then have to wait for ten minutes.  All this because the stage manager either hasn’t checked to find out if the dancers are ready or because he has no signal system with the ushers.

     Learn as much s you can about the different kinds of spotlights and their uses, about gelatine colors and their effect on your skin and costumes, about angles of light beams and what they will do to your particular face or body.  In other words learn to take care of yourself.  If you have definite ideas of how you want your ballets lit and staged, think of specific ways of communicating your ideas to your designer the first time he sees a rehearsal.  If you have invited someone to design your lighting, you must give him the opportunity to be creative in his own right.  If he knows what your ideas are he can build his design from there and you’ll both be happy.  If you don’t tell him what you want you may find that he has marvelous creative ideas.  On the other hand, come lighting-rehearsal time you may find that he will stubbornly stick to his own preconceived ideas and tell you that yours are impossible, that the equipment is not available, or that it’s too late to make changes in the “set-up.”

     Allow your natural personality to shine through to your stage crews in specific ways, like bringing them containers of coffee, helping carry something of helping to tie a drapery, and always be thanking them for their help after the performance is over.  Their friendship is essential to you during the performance, and although their love may not bring extra bookings (it often does, however), it will certainly make you welcome when you return.