I currently work for the Boston Ballet, and am privileged to work backstage with a wide range of amazing, professional people. It takes all types to make a ballet performance work. In addition to the dancers, there is an army of stagehands, child wranglers, dressers, electricians, and yes, musicians. I am sadly not one of the musicians in the pit, but at every rehearsal and performance I cannot help but conduct along or sing the entire score as I race up and down the stairwells.
We are currently performing our yearly, holiday classic, The Nutcracker. On a side note, you must come see the production! This year all the sets, costumes, and even some characters have been completely re-vamped! My role in making this production happen is that of a child wrangler. I spend several hours corralling children and ushering them from wigs, to wardrobe, to the stage, and etc. I have to listen intently to the orchestra to hear cues to take the children from one location to another. So while I’m not involved in the music making, I am firmly tied to music listening. My musical training has been crucial to my job performance. I have had some conversations with my fellow musicians in the production, but most have not been stellar or engaging interactions. While the superiors in the company know that I am a composer, I often feel like I’m working incognito. I have always wanted to write a ballet (and have already started one), so I often feel like I’m getting inside information to aid my future writing endeavors.
It is no surprise to me that the Boston Opera House has been packed for every performance thus far. Both the reputation of the Boston Ballet and The Nutcracker bring in crowds of people. People know the Boston Ballet for its dance and artistry, and The Nutcracker is known for the music. So which is it that brings people in? When I talk to my co-workers, they seem to love the music. When I talk to the dancers and children, they seem enamored with the movement. I myself am torn as I try to decide which aspect of the ballet inspires me the most. I have never studied ballet, but I have taken other styles of dance and been in the dance ensembles for many shows. Naturally, I am fascinated by the breath-taking movement and grace of the choreography. But I am also a musician. While Tchaikovsky’s score is somewhat of a cliché in today’s society, the music is simply fantastic. The rich orchestrations and memorable melodies stand on their own without the ballet the aid them. In the end, I really cannot divorce one element from the other. While both are tremendous entities in their own right, together they blend their various strengths to make a magical, musical experience.
The point behind all of this is the value I have found in the practice of collaboration. Music might stand well on its own, as dance may as well, but both find true power in the marriage of their qualities. Music provides emotion, ballet provides movement, and the union is life-changing. As we continue to propel our musical craft forward, and into a (hopefully) brighter future, the success of that goal will be achieved by our willingness to work with others. A concert hall is great, but when the varied media of the arts collide, we encounter a true expressiveness, and really begin to make world-changing artworks.