I leaned back against the front of the stage, and looked around at the empty seats. The house lights were back on, the stage lights off. I smiled to myself, taking in the sounds that hovered around me…
I heard the stage crew working in the wings, and the voices of a few parents out in the lobby. I could also still hear the echoes of applause hanging in the air. Wait -that’s not quite right; I could feel the echoes of applause still hanging in the air. And the warmth of the stage lights still lingered on my skin. Oh, those lights. I smiled again, turning back to look at the bare stage. The backdrop was gone, leaving just the scrim. I patted the stage with my hand, saying, “See you next time,” took one more look around the theater, made my way into the hall, and then out the Stage Door.
I had arrived at the theater about 12 hours earlier. And wow, was I in a funky mood then. Not because I didn’t want to be there, but because I had had one of the strangest 48 hours up to that point. A few highlights: I locked myself out of my apartment in the middle of a work day (requiring me to ride my flat-tired bike in a skirt and heels to my landlord’s house to get a key); that night, my cat woke me up every twenty minutes just to say hi; the next night, I got home from work very late and very tired but still could not sleep (my cat was snoring away that night of course); and finally, the morning of the performance, I was planning to eat leftovers for breakfast in my car on the way (I was running late), but the container decided to explode, leaving rice and veggie burger pieces all over me and the front seat. So I arrived at the theater that morning, reeling from the previous two days, extremely hungry, exhausted, and with a few stray pieces of rice clinging to my hair.
But as soon as I walked into the theater, waved at the Artistic Director of the school (my boss), and saw a group of little girls on stage sparkling in their costumes and giggling with excitement as they rehearsed their part one last time, everything else was forgotten. I took a seat in the third row, and just sat there grinning.
After the younger girls’ run-throughs were complete, it was time for me to teach the intermediate/advanced students their warm up class. Unlike the studio classes, warm ups in the theater are a little more laid back. Don’t misunderstand me; the steps still need to be performed correctly, but the students can wear t-shirts, shorts, leggings, etc. “Junk.” The goal is essentially to warm them up without exhausting them. This class is also the time to get the feel of the stage for the day, practice spotting into the audience, and get accustomed to the space. It is a very different feeling to have open space in front of you instead of a mirror. It is also very different to have stage lights glaring into your face while you dance.
Dancing on stage can be very intimidating; the bright lights and seemingly never-ending expanse of seats can make dancers want to drop their eyes and withdraw. I had seen this happen with a few of the students at the dress rehearsal a few days earlier. When we were giving the students notes afterward, I mentioned this to them.
“You guys really need to keep your eyes up, and stay lifted and forward. I realize that it is an adjustment to dance with lights in your eyes, and theater seats in front of you, but you have to look right out into it.”
I proceeded to demonstrate what I was looking for, my arms out toward the audience, my eyes up and open wide, “You have to reach out to it!!”
One of the girls called out, “Embrace the light!” We all giggled, and I said, “Yes, exactly! Embrace the light! You understand?”
They all nodded, smiling.
So, during warm up class on the day of the performances, I reminded them of this as I explained their pirouette combination.
“We are on stage, guys. It’s time to start performing, right? Look out into your audience; let the lights soak into your skin. Embrace the light, remember?”
They all nodded, smiling at me.
“Can you tell I love being on stage, and in the lights?” I said, laughing, as I demonstrated their combination.
They all smiled and nodded, a few of them saying, “Yes!”
I stood far back in the first wing, stage right. I had a headset on, which was my connection to the booth where the stage crew and the Artistic Director were. The curtain was down; it was almost pitch black on the stage and in the wings, and I could hear the bustle of the audience as they were settling in their seats.
“Are you ready?” I whisper-shouted. I had called places a few minutes before.
“Almost, Miss Jaime!!” I heard from the dark.
After a few moments, I sensed that the dancers had stopped scuttling around, so I asked again, “Are you ready?”
I heard a few yes’s; I hit the button on the headset and announced, “Dancers ready!”
“Dancers ready,” the stage manager replied. “Curtain, lights, music.”
The curtain opened, the dancers took their places on stage, the music began, and the show took off.
There are two ways to experience a performance, actually. It is possible to stay withdrawn, and dance the steps just as you would with no audience, emotionless, with a separation from the stage, the audience, the theater. Or, you can really embrace the light, look into your audience, see them, feel the steps, and send the energy of your performance out into the whole theater. Then, you let the energy of everything into you and into your performance; there is an exchange of energy. A connection is made. When that happens? Well, there’s just nothing like it. Because once you let the theater in, it becomes part of you. The magic stays with you.