…and they don’t even get to see the dance

As the annual Russian Ballet Icons gala approaches, Charlotte Kasner spares a thought for the orchestra – the English National Ballet Philharmonic.

It’s that time of year again when we can look forward to another Russian Ballet Icons gala, but how many of the audience will spare a thought for the musicians?

Some of the music will undoubtedly be recorded as it is not suitable to be played live, but as ever, the English National Ballet Philharmonic will be filling the pit for the remainder.

The ENB Philharmonic is not a full-time orchestra, with members being contracted per performance. As well as playing for ENB, they have provided their services for various galas, festivals in Bath and the City of London and for the RAD’s childrens’ grades as well as playing for school visits and workshops.

Rehearsal time is of necessity limited, with dancers and orchestra not meeting until the dress rehearsal, although conductors will familiarise themselves with the production, choreography and needs of the principals in terms of tempi.

The Russian Icons evening, as with many other galas, is particularly pressured for the orchestra as they may often be playing for unfamiliar dancers and for a guest conductor. This year at the Coliseum they will be under the baton of Valeriy Ovsyannikov, music director of the Vaganova Ballet Academy and guest conductor of the Lithuanian National Opera and Mikhailovsky Theatre. Much of the material will be well known however, including Firebird, Spectre de la Rose, Petrushka and L’apres-midi d’un Faun; Sauget’s La Chatte maybe less so.

Luckily for the musicians, scores will be pre-marked, reducing the amount of precious rehearsal time taken up with the mechanics. Pencils will probably still be in hand though. The dancers in many galas may also not have had much rehearsal, especially when unexpected changes such as those due to illness and injury entail last minute changes. The nature of the beast means that the orchestra have to deal with sudden changes of style, with no opportunity to work through a whole ballet (except for very short works) and pace themselves more naturally. This also means quite a bit of juggling of music (or instruments for the percussion) in what is often a rather cramped pit.

All in a day’s work of course for these consummate professionals, but, as they take their well-earned applause, maybe think a bit about how much goes into their performance and remember, they do not even get to see the dance.