Araminta Wraith, Scottish Ballet soloist, is a DanceTabs guest blogger during the companies 50th anniversary season. This is her third blog and all about the creation and premiere of Helen Pickett’s The Crucible…
While most other UK companies are either on break and lounging about on various coastlines or already getting in shape for their new season, up in Scotland we just had our last push of the season at SB headquarters and the Edinburgh International Festival before we escaped to sunnier pastures.
It’s a funny thing when you get so close to the end of a season. People are wrapping themselves up with Kinesio tape (imagine Sellotape but for dancers) and trying not to count down the days, while at the same time welcoming back Helen Pickett and James Bonas to get this juggernaut of a new production of Arthur Millers The Crucible ready for the cultured festival crowds of Edinburgh.
Being involved in a new creation is always exciting but this has definitely had some serious hype and more research and development than any of our other productions, so the pressure is on. It’s a seriously well-known play and old school ballet mime just isn’t going to cut it for this. To help tackle this harrowing story, SB have hired not just choreographer Helen to produce the steps but RADA trained dramaturg James to help lift the show into a hybrid play / dance epic.
This can be challenging as a dancer, especially playing one of the pivotal characters, Elizabeth Proctor. I have to make sure I can pick up (and nail!) the steps as quickly as they are coming out of Helen’s mind while simultaneously ensuring I am making the right choices of how I convey the emotions in each scene. I am so lucky that they give my partner Nick Shoesmith and I the freedom to choose how we want to play out our characters and it’s always a relief when they comment on how believable the choices are. Some days in the rehearsal studio we might even have them in tears but there is no room for egos and you always have to be ready to adapt. One day when we really thought we nailed a scene, Helen and James stopped us afterwards and said something along the lines of ‘were just going to do that scene again, as none of the intentions are quite fitting.’ This process, challenging as it can be, is incredibly rewarding and fun to explore. It makes me remember how far I’ve come from my super classical corps de ballet days as a teen.
Something you might not know about me – I’ve also been taking acting classes in my spare time at Acting Coach Scotland and my teacher Tharan has taught me so much about this world. Working on scripts and screen work has been a real eye opener and learning how to act without relying on my body and throwing myself about is somewhat of a challenge. It’s been great to be able to bring a lot of these new techniques into the ballet studio too. There are some pretty awful things that happen to my character in The Crucible and one of the main things my acting coach taught me was something called an ‘as if’ scenario. It’s where you take the scene and imagine a similar setting with something similar happening in your real life. It sounds obvious but as soon as I started practising scenes in this way it made the emotions so much more real and therefore much more emotive for the audience.
As a dancer, when you get to the theatre after rehearsals in the studio you are generally pretty much ready to open the show, but it’s a whole different ball game for the creative team. Everyone needs their fair share of time to finesse their part of the show and it can be a struggle with just two days to prepare in the theatre before opening night. The composer needs time to rehearse the recorded soundscapes with the now live orchestra who have just arrived, the technical team are tweaking lights and the two creators are trying to see if what they created in the studio actually works on stage. Meanwhile up on stage for the first time since our spring tour, the dancers are still adjusting. The walls feel like the floor and the floor feels like the walls and the music doesn’t sound the same yet. Much of this time is designated technical rehearsals, which means you could do nothing for two hours and then suddenly need to run your pas de deux.
The Crucible was set to open the dance programme at the Edinburgh Festival, the world’s biggest, with literally thousands of other shows, and every man and his cultured dog come from all corners of the globe to get a taste of it. As you can imagine, there was a lot riding on this premiere. In true Scottish Ballet style, everyone pulled together to get our ducks in a row in time for a smooth dress rehearsal. Then we just need to bring in the audience. The company commuted back and forth to Edinburgh from our base in Glasgow each day, and by this point I could not be more grateful for the extra room in my parents’ Airbnb down the road from the theatre. I’m no diva but I’m also no fun when my sloth like mornings are taken away.
Opening night arrives and you just need to trust that your hard work will pay off. There are things you can control in life and things you can’t, and it was an exhilarating moment to get such an amazing reaction from the audiences. Standing ovations with the creative team, conductor and orchestra really was the icing on the cake after such a demanding process to get this show on stage. To call it a team effort doesn’t even scratch the surface and cheesy as it is, I’m always so proud to be part of our eclectic gang up here.
After two more incredible nights on stage, The Crucible is taking a well-earned rest until it hits the road in September, and so will I! It will be at least a week before I move from the sun lounger that I’ve booked in Spain. In fact, I might even be writing this from there now…