Contributing writer Emma Gibbs uncovers what it was like to be behind the scenes at one of Duchy Ballet’s dance rehearsals.
The Duchy Ballet will be performing The Snow Queen and Stepping Out to Gershwin at the Hall For Cornwall on the 11th and 12th of March.
The Duchy Ballet is a non-profit organization that helps inspire and engage Cornwall’s youth into the world of dancing. Although they mainly perform ballet, they also have a wealth of other talents and dancing styles to bestow, such as tap and musical theatre. Duchy Ballet was set up in 1997 and offers a performance every year. And this year they’re offering two very different, but equally spectacular, performances all wrapped up into a single show-stopping production.
Last week I was treated to a glimpse behind the scenes of Duchy Ballet’s upcoming production of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairy tale, The Snow Queen, and 1930s musical theatre performance, Stepping Out to Gershwin, inspired by George Gershwin’s melodies. Having been a ballet dancer through most of my childhood it was a nostalgic experience to discuss ballet with some of Cornwall’s finest and aspiring ballerinas.
With a warm welcome from marketing director, Judith May, I was introduced to some of the most prominent figures of the Duchy Ballet and upcoming production. Among the dancers adjusting their costumes, styling their hair and excitedly chattering, I caught a glimpse of the Artistic Director of Duchy Ballet, Kay Jones, who helped found the Hong Kong Ballet – one of Asia’s most prestigious ballet companies!
I spoke to the Duchy Ballet’s choreographer, Terence Etheridge, and asked how it feels to put together such a large-scale, professional production. ‘It’s daunting from beginning to end, but also incredibly rewarding,’ he replied.
Etheridge’s experience of teaching and choreographing extends not just to Cornwall and the English National Ballet, but all across the globe. ‘I’m also currently working in Cyprus,’ he said, ‘and I previously worked with Hong Kong ballet as Artistic Director.’
Etheridge previously worked on a unique production of The Mousehole Cat with Duchy Ballet, inspired by the much-loved children’s tale of the same name by Antonia Barber, which featured an original score commissioned by Ian Hughes. Other productions include two of the classics, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, the latter being Duchy Ballet’s first ever production back in 1998.
Over a short lunch break I managed to have a chat with the Snow Queen herself, Laurie Miners, who started dancing when she was just three years old. ‘We have been practising every weekend since November,’ she said. I asked if she ever feels stage-fright to which she said, ‘No. Not really anymore. Although this time is a bit different because I’m the lead role! In my first performance of the Snow Queen when I was much younger I think I was a lavender flower.’
Another of the lead dancers, Bryony Walker, shared her experiences of joining a professional ballet school in London, London Studio Centre. ‘I was there for three years,’ she said, ‘and it was very intense – a typical day would be from 9 in the morning to 6 at night. Looking back, I don’t quite know how I managed it but it was definitely worth it.’ Alongside her performances with Duchy Ballet, she also trains aspiring dancers. She spoke fondly of Kay Jones, the Artistic Director of Duchy Ballet, who has been her life-long ballet teacher since she was just three years old.
Most of the senior dancers have completed their Cecchetti style Advanced 1 which is an Italian form of ballet. ‘I completed Cecchetti style Advanced 1 about nine years ago now,’ said Bryony.
Duchy Ballet also supports younger dancers ranging from six to older teen years. Fourteen year old Alarna Langslow from Newquay is a passionate dancer at Duchy Ballet and, as part of a school performance titled ‘Cornwall’s Finest Show’, choreographed her own dance sequence as a solo piece. This performance was organised to raise money for an expedition to Ecuador to help marine life and Alarna plans to go out there to help build schools and create better facilities for poorer communities. Together, the school raised £900 to go towards the expedition which is due to go ahead in 2017.
Last, but certainly not least, I spoke with the ladies in charge of costume design, all enthusiastic volunteers who help keep the production running smoothly. Pippa, the organiser of the costumes, spoke to me about the struggles with the notorious ‘quick changes’ backstage. ‘We have a total of 280 costumes for this production,’ she began, ‘and some of the dancers can have more than five changes for one performance, so it’s my job to make sure that the right costumes are ready at hand when they come off stage.’
There was also Barbara, Annie and Linda, who showed me some of the beautiful costumes – some of them made from scratch. ‘These are made from chiffon,’ Linda said, handing me a beautiful set of intricately designed pink wings which were to be attached to the back of a dress for The Snow Queen. ‘They were painted by someone who specializes in painting surfboards,’ she added. Behind her were mountains of other dresses and black and silvery outfits in keeping with the 1930s style of Stepping Out to Gershwin. I was really inspired by all the craftsmanship and talent that went into ensuring that the costumes were nothing short of spectacular.
I asked Pippa how they were all feeling about the big night: ‘Actually on the days of the performance we take more of a backseat – I mean obviously we’re there if something needs any last-minute sewing, but most of our work happens in the run-up to the show.’
Among all the chaos and stress of putting such a huge production together, there was certainly a lot of commitment and passion from all the dancers, Duchy Ballet staff and volunteers and it was great to be a part of the excitement, even if it was just for one day.
This year’s performance looks to be fantastic and I wish all of the Duchy Ballet team the best of luck with the performance!
The Duchy Ballet are set to perform The Snow Queen and Stepping Out to Gershwin at the Hall For Cornwall on the 11th and the 12th of March. To book tickets you can call the Box Office on 01872 262466 or visit Hall For Cornwall’s website: www.hallforcornwall.co.uk
If you would like to sponsor Duchy Ballet you can get in touch with the Friends of Duchy Ballet co-ordinator: Friends@duchyballet.co.uk
Photography by Oliver Berry.