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Dress Rehearsals: The ABT Miracle is Real!

Scene from Swan Lake. Photo: John Grigaitis.

September 20, 2022
Dress Rehearsals: The ABT Miracle is Real!

By Nancy Raffa

For many productions, there is such limited time for stage rehearsals that we have to split the rehearsal up amongst several casts to give enough time to those debuting in a role. In an ideal situation, every artist would have a chance to feel what it will be like to get out onstage in a role, regardless of how many times they have performed it. At ABT, however, we cannot always make that happen.

Due to this lack of time, the Directors of Repertoire and dancers try to get in as much rehearsal time in the studio as possible. This way, the ballet is so ingrained in the dancers’ bodies and minds that when the lights, stage, and live audience hit, they are not completely disoriented or thrown off.

Most of the time, in a dress rehearsal, the audience is witnessing that exact moment of the unknown for the artist, as well as the adjustments that need to be made to dance in a new space. Very often, the dress rehearsal is the first time the dancers hear the music with live orchestra, and that changes things too. Needing a moment to get used to the stage is often why dancers make mistakes, fall off technical details, or are not absolutely in sync during the stage rehearsal.

The good news is that since the dancers know ahead of time that things will be hectic, they come to the dress rehearsal psychologically prepared for imperfections, and they know that it’s a moment for them to acclimate and make adjustments. The Artistic Director, choreographers, and Directors of Repertoire also need to discern what is being revealed and give feedback accordingly. Skill and experience are needed from both dancers and staff.

Sometimes in a dress rehearsal, the production crew is testing lights or fine-tuning set changes, adding more variables for the dancers to take into account as they acclimate to the stage. Again, the physical preparation in the studio is vital, and the psychological preparation can make all the difference.

When the actual performance happens, the dancers are revved up with their adrenaline flowing and their desire to dance their best. This excitement, along with their talent, cooperation, and support of one another, is what makes the ABT miracle happen, despite the obstacles experienced prior to showtime.

Many a time over my almost 18 years as Director of Repertoire with ABT, I have witnessed an imperfect dress rehearsal in the afternoon and an absolutely brilliant performance danced that evening. It is continuously rewarding and a fascinating process to witness.