World Ballet Day, 2 October 2018 – an insight into what The Royal Ballet will be doing

World Ballet Live - 2 October 2018.
World Ballet Live – 2 October 2018.

World Ballet Day – 2 October 2018

Link to recording of RB’s segment

On YouTube and last 5 hours


This piece concentrates on the Royal Ballet as part of WBD, but many, many ballet companies across the world plan spin-off coverage and you can get some idea of all that is happening from this WBD page on BalletcoForum (+ an earlier forum page).

Jann Parry talks to The Royal Ballet about what’s happening on World Ballet Day this year and just what it means for some of those involved… Kristen McNally, James Hay and Assistant director Anthoula Syndica-Drummond.

Long gone are the days when ballerinas preserved a glamorous mystique, and only a handful of fans were ever allowed backstage.  No outsiders could witness company class – a private ritual of striving for perfection. I well remember the surprise when visiting Russian companies raised no objection to critics watching class, still an absolute ban by the Royal Ballet in the 1980s.

Now companies are eager to open up their once-mysterious activities to curious onlookers, partly to gain new audiences but also to dispel the myth of etiolated dancers suffering silently for their art. By letting the cameras in, ballet institutions can show what it takes to put a production on stage: the physical hard work by performers and staff, the infinite pains taken to get things right. The dancers are athletes and artists, more than capable of speaking for themselves.

October 2nd 2018 is the fifth World Ballet Day co-hosted as usual by the Royal Ballet. This year, the other hosts are the Bolshoi and The Australian Ballet, who start the day early. (In earlier years San Francisco Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada have also hosted segments but they have dropped out this time because of scheduling commitments.) The Royal Ballet’s contribution begins at 12pm with company class in the Clore Studio. There are five camera operators, plus assistants, directed from a control centre in the basement of the building. That starts to hint at what a big undertaking it all is.

Assistant director Anthoula Syndica-Drummond has prepared an outline script of what will be happening during the five hours’ filming up to 5pm – see the bottom of this page for an idea of where plans stood last Friday. After the daily class, shown in full, come rehearsals of upcoming works and interviews with performers, coaches and choreographers. Slotted into the schedule are pre-recorded films by other UK companies and ballet schools, featuring their productions and interviews. ‘They’re showing us what they are up to and inducing viewers to check out their live streams on social media’, says Syndica-Drummond. ‘If you miss the insert of a company you’d like to see, you can catch up on our Facebook for up to 30 days, or find it on YouTube, if they’ve posted it there.’  The many international companies taking part in World Ballet Day screen their contributions via their own social media channels.

Of course, not everything goes to plan, so the responsibility for smoothly linking the different segments lies with Kristen McNally (Principal Character Artist) and her co-presenter, Alexander Campbell (Principal dancer). ‘Alex and I are on our own this year’, says Kristen. ‘Before, it’s always been one of us partnered with a non-dancer who questions things in a way to help those new to the art form navigate through the day. I think it’s a nice change and hope it brings a more intimate feel. We are both basically talking to our friends all day!’

They intervene to introduce or explain what’s happening during the filming. Kristen explains: ‘I have an earpiece linked to the director. If I need to comment more (or less) they can let me know. It’s live and things can change without any notice. Sometimes I’m speaking to camera and the director is in my ear giving me a new instruction and I’m half concentrating on them, half thinking about what I’m saying and it can get a bit tricky! Or sometimes things aren’t quite ready in the studio and I’ll have finished what I have to say but just have to keep talking until things are ready. It feels like forever!

Kristen is skilled by now at being the informal insider who can take viewers on a journey through the workings of the (Royal) Opera House and Royal Ballet company. She’s a natural communicator, at ease with the cameras and the director’s whisper. But five hours constantly on the alert, keeping in touch with viewers’ questions and comments, must be a big task? ‘Three hours in and I’m exhausted! At five hours I’m exhilarated!’

Do the dancers and coaches and pianists mind the intrusion of the cameras in what was once their private domain? ‘Not any more’, says James Hay (First Soloist). ‘We’re quite used to them from Insight sessions and live stream performances. Mostly we try to pretend they’re not there. Yes, in class on World Ballet Day, some people embellish their usual outfits and push themselves a bit harder to show off for the global audience, but otherwise you do what you need to do to prepare yourself.  You can always go to another class happening simultaneously if you want privacy.

The Bolshoi Ballet (here tweeting) and Australian Ballet are also hosting segments of the day – more at worldballetday.com

Is there a hierarchy in company class where certain people have their regular place? ‘Not in this company – we’re easy going, though long termers do keep their usual spot at the barre. In the centre, it depends on what you need to work on or whether you might need to leave early for a rehearsal.’

Do you pay attention to comments posted about dancers during WB Day? ‘I tend not to, because we’re not giving a performance. We’re giving viewers an insight into what goes on behind scenes to prepare for a production. I think people prefer to see a genuine rehearsal, with mistakes and corrections, not a ‘staged’ one. We’re quite used to revealing the human side of ourselves on social media, in photos and snippets – it’s a different kind of outreach beyond the ballet world.’

This year’s official WBD outreach to audiences for a grand finale is an invitation to send in a pirouette, preferably performed in an interesting location, via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or whatever, using hashtag #royalballetday. The best, selected from all over the world, will be shown in a compilation film at the end of the day. That should make for a dizzying climax.

Royal Ballet Schedule for World Ballet Day

Note: This was the coverage plan as at 28 September 2018 and is given as a good indication of what should happen on the day between 12:00 and 17:00. But plans can change and flex and this list will not be updated – look to the links at the top of this feature for the web pages which will hopefully reflect the ever changing reality on the day. Also here is an RB Facebook page about the plans

  • RB Class
  • Interview with Principal Marianela Nuñez, along with First Soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Soloist Nicol Edmonds, First Artist Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani and Artist Francisco Serrano
  • Charlotte Edmonds jojo with Joseph Sissens
  • Bayadere – Lauren Cuthbertson dancing Nikiya’s 1st solo, followed by Natalia Osipova as Gamzatti with Vadim Muntagirov as Solor in the Pas d’actions.
  • Birmingham Royal VT –  Rehearsals of two of our dancers as they work on the male pas de deux from The King Dances. The second half will be a brief conversation with Artistic Director David Bintley as he prepares to leave the company and will feature excerpts from his created rep over the past 20 years as well as conversations with notable dancers and colleagues (Marion Tait, Ruth Brill, Iain Mackay etc.).
  • Mayerling – Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb perform the roles of the ill-fated lovers Crown Prince Rudolf and Mary Vetsera with Laura Morera as Countess Marie Larisch with the rehearsal taken by former principal Leanne Benjamin.
  • Crystal Pite VT – A look at Olivier Award winning ballet Flight Pattern.
  • Interview with Marcelino Sambe discussing working with Crystal Pite.
  • Interview with Kristen McNally discussing her new piece for The Royal Ballet
  • Draft Works – Dancers here at The Royal Ballet are encouraged to develop their talents and choreographic skills. Throughout the season we are given the opportunity to do this through the Draft Works program. Erico Montes is up first with Meaghan Grace Hinkis and David Donnelly dancing, followed by Valentino Zucchetti with dancers Chisato Katsura and Hannah Grennell.
  • Royal Ballet School – Second year students work on their Pas de deux partnering technique
  • Interview with Natalie Harrison, First Artist with the Royal Ballet and choreographer about the new Month of Sundays Festival
  • Scottish Ballet VT – A sneak peek into a brand new ballet which will premiere as part of thier anniversary season. They are not announcing the title of the work until 10 October, so audiences will have to wait until then to find out what the work is, or perhaps comment on the live stream with their guess…
  • Winter Dreams – A one act ballet, by Sir Kenneth MacMillan with music by Chopin. Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s play Three Sisters. The Director of The Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare will be taking the rehearsal with Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares dancing.
  • Northern Ballet VT – Artistic Director, David Nixon talks to Leading Soloist Hannah Bateman about the exciting projects they’ve been working on.
  • The Unknown Soldier – A new work for the Royal Ballet to commemorate the centenary of the ending of World War I. With new Principal Matthew Ball, members of The Royal Ballet with Director and choreographer Alastair Marriott taking the rehearsal.
  • Aletta Collins VT – A look into her latest production with The Royal Ballet as part of New Work New Music. This will be the Royal Ballet’s first appearance in the newly-refurbished Linbury Theatre, consisting of five world premieres set to music never before used for dance.
    Aletta Collins rehearsal – In Aletta’s absence Sian Murphy rehearses Mayara Magri.
  • English National Ballet VT – We take a first look at their new production She Persisted, a trio of ballets by female choreographers that will be staged at Sadler’s Wells in April.
  • La Bayadere – Kingdom of The Shades rehearsal with full corps. Rehearsal taken by Samantha Raine.
  • UGC moment VT– a look at some our favourite pirouttes sent in over the day


About the author

Jann Parry

A long-established dance writer, Jann Parry was dance critic for The Observer from 1983 to 2004 and wrote the award-winning biography of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan: 'Different Drummer', Faber and Faber, 2009. She has written for publications including The Spectator, The Listener, About the House (Royal Opera House magazine), Dance Now, Dance Magazine (USA), Stage Bill (USA) and Dancing Times. As a writer/producer she worked for the BBC World Service from 1970 to 1989, covering current affairs and the arts. As well as producing radio programmes she has contributed to television and radio documentaries about dance and dancers.

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