Audience members take their seats, the lights go down, the curtain rises, and the magic begins. But what went on before to bring the production to this moment? It’s absolutely amazing how much goes into mounting a dance, opera, theater, or symphonic production. Of course, I can speak best about dance.
The artistic director, no matter what size the company is, is crucial. The artistic director is responsible for the overall aesthetic and artistic vision of the company and makes decisions relative to all artistic issues. Their responsibilities are to choreograph for the company, restage existing works, arrange for guest choreographers, decide which dances will be presented, as well as teaching classes and training the dancers, setting the schedule, coordinating touring schedules, raising money, public relations, marketing the company, and auditioning and selecting the dancers.
In the U.S., most artistic directors are the founders of their dance companies, and the companies are molded in style and choreography by their vision.
Highly trained dancers are another essential ingredient. Companies can vary in size from a small quartet to a company of 50 dancers. When I danced in The Zurich Ballet, the company had 50 dancers: 30 females and 20 males. Contracts vary with each dance company. A company might hire the dancers for a 20-week or even a 40-week contract. Salaries also vary with dance companies-from $250 a week to $750 a week for corps de ballet dancers. Some dance companies do what’s called "pick up." They only pay the dancer for the performances. Dancers are a large part of the budget in any company.
The board of directors are dedicated volunteers who work very hard for the life of the company. They consist of prominent members of the business and artistic community who oversee the budget, business operations, and, most importantly, they help raise money for the company. The board believes in the value of the art for the community at large.
Support staff are another essential ingredient. This is one of the ingredients that most arts organizations are short of, usually due to lack of money. The support staff answers the phones, sells season tickets and ads for the programs, writes grants, and helps raise money.
Volunteers are also necessary for the life of the company. Peoria is a town rich in volunteerism. Volunteers fill so many roles: support staff, costume designing and sewing, make up, back stage volunteers, and more.
Costumes are either designed for a particular ballet or rented for large productions. They accentuate the line of the dancer and enhance the choreography. In story ballets, they also help identify characters and illustrate the plot.
The lighting designer makes all the difference in how the ballet looks. Before lighting designers begin, they’ve met with the choreographer or director about her needs and come to several rehearsals. So much goes into dance lighting design to enhance the movement. They create a mood on the stage and give the dancer dimension and line. I’ve seen a fabulous dance look not so good because of the lights. Knowing which colors, which lighting instruments, and where to hang the lights is critical.
Sets or scenery aren’t always used. For a full-length story ballet, there’s a lot of scenery and props. But there are many dances that have no sets. The mood is created by the lighting designer.
Some dance companies have a musical director and orchestra associated with it, although this is usually for very large dance companies. Having an orchestra or a small group of musicians is incredible, but with so many budget constraints, often the music is from CDs. Sometimes a dance company can collaborate with a composer or musicians when special funds have been made available by either donation or a grant.
Because dance is only seen at that one moment, photos and films of the dance are critical for documentation. Filming has been such a wonderful development for bringing dance to a TV audience and in aiding a restaging of a production. To restage a production before film was an amazing process, with dancers themselves handing the steps to the next generation of dancers.
Like anything of value, a lot of time and effort goes into putting on the show. But, speaking for myself, it’s so worthwhile. AA!