Find out more about some of the dancers that worked on Swan Lake and how they found the rehearsal process.
Read our Q&A with Resident Director of 2018/19's Swan Lake, Pia Driver. Learn all about her New Adventures journey with and her experience in the rehearsal room for Swan Lake
You first joined New Adventures in 2002 for that particular revival of Swan Lake and have now been with the company for over 15 years, initially as a dancer, before becoming Rehearsal Director and now Resident Director. Can you tell us a little about what that journey has been like for you?
As a dancer I had to learn different roles, often two for each production in a short rehearsal period of 4-6 weeks. As well as learning the choreography, time is spent on developing each character much like an actor. I had not done a lot of acting when I first joined the company, so this was a challenge. Performing two roles in one show, as well as the rest of the cast performing two roles means you get to work with everyone in different capacities and establish different relationships with each interpretation of the roles.
Progressing onto Rehearsal Director for Swan Lake, in 2009, allowed me to begin to impart my experience of performing in the show for each revival up until then to newer dancers and help to support the Resident Director at the time. This bridged the gap to this next progression of being Resident Director for the current revival of the show.
The difference between Rehearsal and Resident Director is now I’m overseeing the show as a whole, on the road, and liaising with each department backstage and Ian Wheatstone, our Company Manager, on a larger scale. With this comes the administrative tasks of the weekly casting and call schedules for the company. Watching, noting performances and ensuring the artistic excellence of the show instilled from Matthew Bourne is carried on throughout the tour. When watching the show, I also look out for anything odd that has happened technically with such things as music, lighting and set, relaying this back to each department as well as contributing to the show reports that Ian sends out following every performance.
Can you share an insight into what an average day looks like for you, during the rehearsal period and on the road?
During the rehearsal period I restaged the show along with the artistic team which included Matthew, Etta Murfitt (Associate Artistic Director), Kerry Biggin (Resident Artist), Glenn Graham (Rehearsal Director), Dominic North (Principal Coach and Rehearsal Assistant) and our two dance captains in the show, Katrina Lyndon and PJ Hurst. With this team we were able to delegate who taught each section of the show and if rehearsals needed to happen simultaneously across two studios. As it’s a four act show as soon as we taught one section, we ran through it and then went straight onto the next.
On tour I start with working through admin in the morning, which involves responding to any emails or updating schedules for the week. I will then head to the theatre for company class to check in with how everyone is doing, seeing if there are any injuries, which involves talking to our company physiotherapist Amy Bond, who is also on tour with us. If there are any injuries new that day this will then involve checking in with our company manager and amending any schedules or casting accordingly.
At the end of company class I give notes from the previous performance, which may lead to running through sections from the show. Up until watching the show I will then run between departments to check in on everyone. I then watch the show, making notes, which I feed into our show report along with Gary Wall (our Stage Manager) and Sammi Woollard (our Deputy Stage Manager). The show reports act as a log for each show, detailing when it started and finished, total number of people in attendance and if anything different happened during the show to the norm.
Which other members of the team do you work with most closely and how do you ensure that there is synergy between you all whilst working on a show of this scale?
In rehearsals, as mentioned, I work with the rehearsal team, who are all very experienced New Adventures members, to share the workload, which really helps in putting on a show of this scale. For example, with the Swan acts, we work with the four different swan groupings, Kerry and Katrina will take the Cygnets, PJ and I one half of the mediums, Glenn the other half of the mediums and Etta and Glenn the Bigs, Dom the Principals, and so on and so forth. We will be in constant discussion throughout the process in regards to when we move on.
When the show is on tour, I note the show with whomever is present from the creative team during that particular performance, for example Glenn (when he’s not performing as the Private Secretary) and these will be fed back to the cast the following day. Glenn as Rehearsal Director and Katrina and PJ, as our Dance Captains, will support throughout the tour, especially on their shows off by noting the show, running through material with people who are just learning new tracks or when there is an injury and we need to bring someone else in.
I am in constant contact with Matthew when he is not with the show and send him a weekly artistic update to ensure we are remaining true to his artistic vision. To ensure synergy between everyone on a show of this scale communication is key!
Are there any challenges that are particular to Swan Lake that impact your role as Resident Director?
Due to there being up to 40 cast members casting is complex and as mentioned everyone learns two or sometimes three tracks. We perform the show seven to eight times a week and on average a cast member may get two shows off a week, but they will be on call in case they need to cover injury and go on mid-show.
What is it about Matthew Bourne’s interpretation of it that has captured peoples’ imagination the world over?
The image of the male swan in our production has become truly iconic, especially the image of the swans flocking. It really is impressive, and I think Matthew adapting the original version with these images has captured peoples’ imaginations across the world.
The research and depth that has gone into the show since 1995 has made the way we put the production on, a technique in itself. There are clear motifs that I think people now recognise and the way the choreography is executed has been homed in, in such a way that makes it unique in itself.
The show is also very accessible, and I feel people can relate to the themes throughout the show. From The Prince’s strained relationship with The Queen to celebrity culture with the Palace Ball scene through to the Soho bar scene and how you’re ‘meant to behave’.
Those who have never been to the theatre come to see our production and I believe get a different perception of what they thought they’d be seeing and has created this culture with our productions that people then come again and again.
Do you personally have a favourite moment within the show, and if so what is it and why?
The end of the show is an emotional climax. The fly down, which is what we call this section, is when the swans are on and around the Prince’s bed and then move to surround him, it’s so powerful. Also, when you know the dancers and have seen how far they have come from the first day in the studio to their first performance, you can see how overwhelming the final scene is. You’re exhausted but feel exhilarated at the same time. It’s a real journey.
You trained at Central School of Ballet and during your second year you were awarded the coca-cola summer intensive scholarship to train at the Martha Graham School, in New York. Do you feel having both a ballet training and the opportunity to study contemporary dance in New York, was a good grounding for working with New Adventures; and if so how and why?
Definitely, having versatile training is key. New Adventures shows require a mixture of contemporary, jazz, storytelling and ballet technique. For example, with the ballet scene in Swan Lake the moth maiden performs en pointe and you can’t just do that if you haven’t had the training. The women in the show perform in Acts 1, 3 and some of 4, and within those acts they go from performing in ballet shoes to dancing in heels. It is not easy and requires a versatile performer. It is not an all male swan lake as some press may have you believe.
For anyone interested in a career with New Adventures themselves what advice would you give?
Watch as many shows as possible live and on DVD, take part in workshops and really research the company and keep training. You also need to be a creatively open person.
What would you say are the most useful skills you have developed over the years with the company – both from a technical perspective in terms of dance and performance, but also in relation to the personal attributes required for being part of such a large, busy and incredibly successful dance company?
You need to be able to work hard, especially together. The company has a real family feel which is so nice. From being a dancer to my current position I have gathered a range of skills and different perspectives of working in the company. I have also worked in the New Adventures office administratively on the annual auditions. I feel I have a real appreciation of the company, what it is and have seen it grow. As a person working for this company, and probably most others, you need to be reliable and consistent with having a strong work ethic.
You need to be able to tour too as it can be difficult moving somewhere new every week. Working in New Adventures you get to take on different characters in one show and also from show to show so you need to be open and adaptable. When I first joined the company I learnt a lot from watching Kerry and Etta and other members of the company, especially in terms of storytelling. You’re always learning in New Adventures and being nurtured to develop.
Looking back over your career with New Adventures, what would you say have been the biggest highlights for you, and why?
When I was studying in New York I attended a performance at New York City Center by Alvin Ailey Dance Company and was completely blown away. I went straight from class in my dance wear and it so happened to be their gala performance, the red carpet was out and everyone was wearing their best clothes. I snuck in and went to my seat at the top of the auditorium and was just in awe of the experience.
In 2010 I then had the opportunity to perform on that very stage with Swan Lake. It was such a personal achievement for me to perform on Broadway to an auditorium that I sat in with the knowledge of how it feels to be on both sides of the proscenium arch!
You took a break from work recently following the birth of your baby, and have now returned from maternity leave to begin work on Swan Lake. Can you explain what it feels like returning to the company after a period of absence, and how you are finding being such an integral part of the upcoming tour, as well as managing to still enjoy time as a mum?
In all honesty before I went on maternity leave, during the 2015/16 tour of Sleeping Beauty, I thought that I wouldn’t be coming back and was fine with that. My boyfriend, Dominic North, also performs with the company and I felt there wouldn’t be an opportunity for us to both tour with a child. However, during this period I did continue working for the company administratively, as mentioned, helping to manage the annual auditions.
When the opportunity of being Resident Director for Swan Lake did come around, I was surprised and honoured to be asked. Dom and I organised everything from the offset and planned our accommodation for the entire tour before we began. Organisation was key for this to work and to have digs by stage door allows us both to pop home easily and look after our child.
Upon returning I was worried that I may have forgotten everything, but it was as if I never left! There’s only been one contract since 2002 that I missed of Swan Lake so it really is in my body. It’s so lovely being back with my experience and the wealth of hindsight that I am now imparting on a young cast of recent graduates and it’s nice working again with those who have been with the company for a while too.
However, returning to the company I have realised I don’t need to sleep as much! There are lots of late nights and preparing emails and castings for the next day. It’s a juggling act but there is a wonderful support system in place. The company have made it so much easier than I thought it would be.
It’s also refreshing and rewarding to feel that there is faith and trust in me to deliver such an important role. I love a challenge and am so proud after every performance for all involved. The audience reactions are next to none and it’s not an easy feat, continuously performing to sold out crowds. These opportunities do not happen for everyone. I’m so happy to be back with the company, and especially with this show.