|AK-BK Students in Contemporary Technique Class|
Unfortunately, for freelancers, the above case of comfort and expectation just doesn't exist. I learned this the hard way after dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet for 7 seasons. After experiencing this company's very functional way of running, I found myself struggling to adjust (and sometimes handle) to the multitude of environments in which I was dancing. For instance, the first time I was brought in to dance with Festival Ballet Providence for their production of Swan Lake, I was at a loss for words when I walked into my first rehearsal. I was standing in the middle of the studio preparing to learn the waltz in the first act of the ballet. Due to circumstances, I was only able to enter the studio after most of the company had already learned this piece of the ballet. My assumption, based off of previous experience, was that teaching me the choreography and filling in the gaps would be the priority of this rehearsal. Instead, I was partnered up with another dancer who already knew the choreography. Before I knew it, the music started. I stood staring at my partner, following her around for about 16 counts before I walked off the floor and raised my hand. Instead of the, "Oh, we forgot that we had to teach it to you," response I was expecting, the director told me that he would teach it to me another day and to just stand beside my partner and follow her around for the next hour. If I remember correctly, I left rehearsal and texted my husband, "I'm really concerned about what I have signed up for." This may be an extreme example of the point I am trying to make, but after asking around the studio if this was a common practice, none of the dancers were even slightly phased by what happened to me. This was not an uncommon practice for them.
Throughout most of my freelance career, I have had a different experience with each company I danced for. Fort Wayne Ballet left my Juliet and myself in the studio with a DVD to learn all of a full-length Romeo and Juliet without a ballet master. We had the freedom to make decisions and they trusted that we would make the right ones. Company C Contemporary Ballet wanted to rehearse a 20-minute one-act ballet that I had learned in a flash almost immediately. Other companies I worked with rehearsed 3 hours a day (instead of the 6 hours I was accustomed to at PNB), docked your pay if you missed company class, and even requested dancers perform on public transportation. Instead of experiencing the restricted choices of a unionized company contract, I found myself panicking that these practices were going to injure me or take away from the integrity of my work that I felt I had built during my years dancing in Seattle.
|Performing Romeo & Juliet w/ Fort Wayne Ballet - Dancer: Lucia Rogers (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)|
My greatest suggestion to any dancer that finds themselves struggling with working in differing company cultures is to remember that there is no perfect way to run a rehearsal, treat a dancer, or lead an organization. Of course, there are things that should not be done; like treating dancers poorly, changing rehearsal hours without care or additional pay, etc. But keep in mind that all directors and ballet masters/mistresses have come from a different background and a have had different experiences in and out of the studio. If you were put in the same position to lead the dancers standing beside you, you may find that they dislike how you approach running rehearsals. Yes, there are more and less efficient approaches to teaching. But until you are in a position of leadership, it is actually your job to remain mostly submissive.
Now, if there is a point where you feel that you or your peers are being put in legitimate danger, it is your responsibility to speak up. But, in order to maintain a professional relationship, you may want to wait to speak to whomever is leading rehearsal until after that rehearsal has ended. If you feel that you are being put in immediate danger, of course, you must speak up. But it isn't extremely common to find yourself in a situation where something needs to be addressed at that exact moment in the studio.
One of the most beautiful parts of our dance world is that no company is alike. There are differing reps, a plethora of dance artists, and a range of styles. In the same way, there are many ways that a company can choose to function. Do your best to remain submissive and lead through example. If you become a leader in this way, you may actually be asked to help influence a clearer rehearsal process. Stay true to yourself and speak up if absolutely necessary, but keep in mind that it is leaderships choice how to run a company and its rehearsals. Think of it this way. The first time you learn a role in a ballet, dancers often feel that this is the correct way to perform this piece. If someone comes in a few years later and asks for steps to be executed on different counts or in a different style, the dancers who have already performed the work will say that what is being taught is wrong. But in reality, it is only a different viewpoint of what the work was before. There is no right or wrong, unless it is endangering one's safety or health.