|San Francisco Ballet's home - War Memorial Opera House|
|Street advertisement in Walnut Creek|
After a desperate search for two local male dancers that could handle a Principal workload, they came up short by one dancer. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside when the company told me that four people (dancers and choreographers, local and distant) had offered my name to help salvage their production. While I couldn't pick up and fly west the next day due to previous commitments, I was able to leave a week later. And while I just escaped another winter storm in Philly, I was about to enter a storm of a different kind.
Being a professional pinch-hitter is not an easy task. Freelance dancers are often put in this position, as they are the only dancers that are not tied into a contract during most weeks. The moment I entered the studio, I could feel stress and panic vibrating intensely throughout the studio air. "Is this guy who everybody says he is? And, if not, we are really screwed!" Not only does a replacement dancer have to deal with the stress of entering a new environment, learning a large sum of choreography immediately, and adjust to a new partner; they have to bring a sense of calm to an already stressed organization. For me, I had to learn 20 minutes of choreography, cope with extreme soreness after only taking class and going to the gym for weeks prior, and remain healthy throughout this short process. While no dancer wants to get injured, knowing that you have been brought in to replace the injured is more stressful than imaginable. There really is no option to get hurt or go out.
As a replacement dancer, you must step far out of your comfort zone. I find that I must be more vocal about my needs when timing is tight. When filling in with little notice, one doesn't really get a chance to test out an atmosphere or to establish a tone within a work relationship. Things need to get done, and they need to get done fast. If a company's approach is slowing down your process of learning choreography or causing discomfort, the dancer needs to speak up immediately, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to do so.
|Our performance venue - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts|
This is quite against the norm in the dance world. A dancer should rarely dictate the way a director chooses to run a company. But this is one occasion where the process needed to be streamlined to the individual dancer. For the first time, I could say, "This is all about me," and not sound like a self-centered, selfish dancer. Not only was I trying to tell the artistic staff the fastest way to get me prepared for their shows, I was the only dancer who didn't really know all of the choreography. It was all about helping them out the best I could.
I was also trying to protect many other aspects of this engagement. The company paid a great deal to fly me out last second, find me housing, provide a rental car, and pay my fee. If they injured me, they would be losing that investment and, again, threatening cancellation of their performances. At the same time, having a lack of preparation and jumping straight into full-out runs of the ballets could lead to me injuring my partner. It also wastes time if I have to constantly stop during the run because the material was too fresh. Beyond all of this, I had to look out for my own well-being. If I were to get injured, the company would have no commitment to me. While their dancers have the luxury of worker's compensation, as an independent contractor, I have no access to those benefits. And if I get injured, I don't get paid. And if I get badly injured, I may not be able to move on to my next gig and continue earning a salary. For all of these reasons, it is important for a replacement dancer to have the ability and tact to respectfully speak up and maintain a vocal part of this expedited process.
With all of the stress of filling in aside, a handful of items can really be enjoyable when helping save the day/show. The treatment that a last-minute replacement dancer typically receives is great. Companies tend to be much more generous when caught in a pinch. Pay can be higher, benefits may be greater, and the overall attitude towards a dancer is much more gracious than normal. It is not common to receive such praise and positive feedback when dancing for a company regularly. You show up, do your job, and go home. In this situation, I received multiple compliments and constant shows of gratitude. In fact, I wish that there was this sense of camaraderie between dancers and artistic staff all the time. It was rather refreshing.
|An artsy shot I took of Jackie McConnell & Michael Galloway in Zhukov's Railroad Joint|