London Diary

A week of performances in London—through the eyes of a corps member
Published in the April/May 2005 issue.

My name is Amanda Schull. I am a fifth-year corps member with the San Francisco Ballet. During my time with the company I have been lucky enough to travel on tour to several different countries. This past September, SFB stopped in Athens, Greece, before heading to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, England.

This tour was one of the most intense I had experienced with the company. By the time we got to London we had already been on tour for 10 days, and the schedule planned was daunting. We opened three different programs in three days, a total of 11 ballets. I knew our seven shows would be memorable so I documented the experience in a diary. 

Wednesday, September 15
The company arrived in London today. Arriving and checking in is always hectic on tour. We got to our hotel tonight at about 11:30 pm and all 51 of us scrambled to get our luggage from beneath the bus and then made a mad dash to the hotel lobby for our room keys. Adding the element of hunger to the mix, we were a lobby full of cranky dancers. 

Room service was closed, so we wandered the streets in search of sustenance. A group of us found a small Middle Eastern take-out place and wolfed down our falafels before going to bed, because tomorrow morning we start work. 

Saturday, September 18
We can’t get into the Sadler’s Wells Theatre until the day of the first show, so Saturday and Sunday we rehearse in the Royal Opera House. This morning, The Royal Ballet took class in the studio next to us. Their class started after ours, but once we realized they were next door, a bunch of us crammed in front of the viewing window and ogled their class. Sylvie Guillem stood in the corner. I think she is the only female dancer I know that men marvel at just as open-mouthed as women do. It’s crazy to see our principals so starstruck over another dancer. I wonder if any of The Royal Ballet dancers feel that way about us. 

I think one of the most interesting parts of touring is using other companies’ workspaces. Getting to see other professional dancers in class and rehearsal is both educational and relieving. No one looks perfect in class (except maybe Sylvie), and knowing that this is true for other professionals puts many minds at ease. 

Today and tomorrow are long workdays. Because our rep is so ambitious for this tour, SFB flew in our company chiropractor. We also have our physical therapist and massage therapist with us, so what little downtime we have is often spent on body management. I know it sounds like we’re spoiled, but the physical demands are great and it’s hard to take care of injuries while on tour. We don’t have the regular comforts of home, and we spend a lot of time lugging our bags everywhere, so we’re all thankful for the extra therapy.

Monday, September 20
Program 1: Square Dance, Continuum and Le Carnaval des Animaux

Tonight was opening night at Sadler’s Wells. We had class at 11:15, then dress rehearsal from 1:30 to 4:30. I was in Square Dance. After the dress, we got our notes onstage. The artistic staff seemed a little anxious. Opening night in a city as culturally aware as London means we need to be at our best. 

Then Helgi [Tomasson, SFB artistic director] gave us an inspirational “just go out there and dance!” talk. It’s relieving to hear that he is aware of our stress level. By the time you get to opening night, if you don’t already have the technique, it isn’t going to happen in the next couple of hours. 

Dress finished at 4:30 and there was just enough time to grab a snack, collect our thoughts and do it all over again for the 7:30 curtain.

Backstage, our crew sets up small tables with everything we could possibly need for the performance, including emergency sewing items (needles and thread of all colors), safety pins, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Advil, colored markers for costume camouflage, tissues, hairpins, hairspray, toe tape and a box of rosin.

Before each show, the girls usually congregate around the rosin box and discuss the upcoming ballet while we put on our shoes. Tonight we discussed our collective nervousness. Balanchine’s Square Dance is one of the most demanding ballets—both physically and technically—any of us has ever performed. The guys seemed calmer. I don’t know if they really were or if they just wanted to appear macho. 

Throughout the ballet, my partner, Garrett Anderson, talked to me onstage. He knows I like the verbal encouragement. It seems silly, but it really helps to have someone cheering you on when you feel you are reaching your physical limit. 

Whenever possible, I try to connect with the other dancers onstage. We are each other’s support system, especially when we are away from home. Tonight when I looked at my fellow dancers, I was humbled. Everyone looked great, especially Tina LeBlanc; she danced like she had lightning bolts shooting through her feet. 

We hit our final pose and the audience roared on the blackout. Square Dance is so technical that it sometimes doesn’t come across to an audience unless they understand ballet. This audience did. Whenever I question why I do what I do, I am reminded when I bow. Perhaps it is the validation or the confirmation that all we put ourselves through is appreciated. Today we put ourselves through a lot.

Back in the dressing room, the corps girls spent at least 15 minutes dissecting the ballet from top to bottom. We broke down each little section and imitated ourselves doing every step, each one of us exaggerating our flaws more than the last. After exerting so much energy I think we all needed a little comic relief. 

After the performance, one of our principals and resident choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, asked me if Square Dance was “hard.” What? Hard? That doesn’t even encompass it. He said we all looked so calm and controlled. That is a huge compliment, considering we all felt as though we were going to die of exhaustion. 
There was a reception in the theater lobby after the performance. Everyone there was very complimentary about the show, but the party didn’t last very long. We have to do it all again tomorrow. 

Tuesday, September 21
Program 2: Ballo Della Regina, Concerto Grosso, Study in Motion and The Four Temperaments

Like yesterday, class was followed by dress rehearsal onstage. I misjudged the amount of time I had to get ready for Balanchine’s Ballo Della Regina and ended up doing rehearsal pretty cold—not good for a jumping variation.

Because of that, I was disappointed with how my rehearsal went. After Ballo, a couple of the corps girls who had been watching from out front complimented me. It’s funny how much a peer’s praise can lift your spirits when you need it. 

I returned the favor by watching The Four Temperaments (also choreographed by Balanchine) from the house. When I went onstage afterward, everyone was hungry for corrections and advice, especially the girls. Sometimes on tour, the little things get overlooked because of time constraints, and we often rely on each other for feedback.

Wednesday, September 22
Program 3; Allegro Brillante, Paquita Pas de Trois, 7 for Eight, and Rush 

I feel like I’m living in the movie Groundhog Day. Again we had class, dress rehearsal and then the performance. I danced in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush . During class, Tina LeBlanc slipped and twisted her ankle. She dances so much on this tour, she is the last person we need going down. She performed through the pain, but after the show she was pretty uncomfortable. 

Tomorrow we repeat Program 1 again. No more dress rehearsals!

Saturday, September 25
We’re done! The final stretch was pretty rough, but surprisingly, for a tour this intense, there were very few incidents. 

Tina ended up having to take off a show because of her ankle, so Vanessa Zahorian stepped in for her in Square Dance. She and her partner, Guennadi Nedviguine, hadn’t even touched each other since last season, six months ago. She had one rehearsal the day of her performance, but she remembered all of the choreography and nailed the show.

I think everyone is ready to go home. Before the performance tonight I saw three of the moms in the company, Katita Waldo, Kristin Long and Tina LeBlanc, do a huddle and cheer, “We’re almost there! Tomorrow we get to see our babies!”

It made me realize how much these women sacrifice for their work.

After we finished, Helgi bowed onstage with us. When the curtain came down, he gave us a little “congratulations” speech.  He was really pleased with our tour, which of course made all of us happy.
After the show a group of us went out for a “tour-well-done” dinner and toasted ourselves—how egotistical—but we deserved it. It was finally time for vacation!


Amanda Schull is a member of the San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet.