Stage brained…

Our job is to make the hard stuff look easy. Elegance, grace, poise, power, agility, strength, stamina, musicality and on top of that, sparkling eyes and a smile. The moment you step onto the stage these are some of the things you hope to pass on to an audience. The unseen component is the mental process that occurs through a show. From the moment you wake on a show day there is a certain focus. A different energy exists. Ballet class and rehearsals prepare your body and maintain strength and ability before and during a performance season. A show day feels like a heightened sense of these rehearsed focuses. Having just performed in Dunedin, here is a glimpse into my mental process during our most recent show.

Whilst getting ready, makeup lights warming the dressing room and music sounding through my speakers, my mind is already on the show ahead. Thinking through corrections I have received from a previous show and steps I want to make more out of, or aspects of my character that I want to play on. I try not to spend too much time thinking on one thing though. I have learnt that thinking too much about aspects of the show can do more harm than good. Therefore playing music keeps me balanced. I will often sing along. It always keeps me calm during pre show prep. I will never forget during ‘Cinderella’ season when choreographer Christopher Hampson came to wish me good luck and I was singing at the top of my voice to Hunters and Collectors- ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’. An embarrassing moment but I was certainly in a good pre show mood!

Costume on and the announcement from stage management that the stage is set, I make my descent downstairs with my fellow dancers to stage. I try out a few steps, getting a feel for the space and lights. I like to keep my body moving during this time, keeping my muscles active. I am a big fan of positive affirmations. I have a few that I like to think about before curtain up. “Live what you love”, “no regrets” and “you’ve got this” crop up a lot in my mind right before I head out on stage. Not the most original of sayings but they really help along with a smile! I enjoy the little nervous/excited buzz I feel before I step out onto stage. I know that this adrenalin will help me power through.

The moment I first step out on stage my mind goes quiet for a second. It’s a wonderful moment, just taking in the audience and the instant in time. As I continue dancing I think about what I am trying to achieve with each step that I am performing. I remind myself to breathe when steps become tiring and it is in these moments when you really have to steel your brain and not give in to fatigue. The amount of times the thought “nearly there, you can do it” has occurred is innumerable. It is this combination of physical exertion and mental stamina that makes dancing so personally rewarding. Add to that an audience and artistic expression and it’s a feeling that is simply wonderful! Tomorrow we make the long bus journey to Napier! With my overnight bag packed for our 2 day visit I look forward to another couple of shows! Tonia 🙂

A glance behind the scenes!

With the curtain down on Coppelia in Invercargill, we bussed through the drizzly, South Island rain to find ourselves in our next performance destination, Dunedin. Thank you so much to the Invercargill audience. It was wonderful to receive such warm applause and it was a joy to perform this up-lifting ballet to an equally up-lifting crowd.

With 2 days off in Dunedin what mischief are we all going to get up to? Well, there is one door list that everybody is trying to get their name on- physio! We are fortunate enough to have one physiotherapist that travels to some of the main centres that we journey to. Our bodies are our tools, so maintaining health and fitness is a must to continue to perform at our best. Unfortunately there are one or two dancers maintaining more serious injuries this tour. For this reason there will always be backup casts and covers for every role in the ballet. Therefore, as well as learning the parts we have been cast to perform, we also will usually have between 2-4 and sometimes more roles to understudy in case of emergency. As the saying goes- the show must go on!

I have heard stories from friends in other companies of people waiting in costume and makeup side stage in case someone has to come off due to precariously performing on a nearly broken foot etc. Luckily, that is not the case this season. The prevention of this, however, is what is so highly beneficial about having physio available whilst on the road. I am probably getting irrationally excited about getting my calf muscle released tomorrow but it’s these body maintenance resources that help us continue to do what we love- perform!

As well as physio appointments, a day off is usually spent going to a café for brunch, window-shopping, hitting the gym and relaxing in front of the tv. Today I did all of the above (except the gym oops). Brunch to celebrate fellow colleague Maree’s birthday and my felafel wrap was delicious. Window-shopping turned into a search for the perfect ankle boot for fellow dancer, Lori, and may I say, Dunedin, you have some very chic shops! I then thoroughly enjoyed catching the latest episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ with a cup of tea and my motel roomie- Maree. Feeling very well rested. Looking forward to getting back under the stage lights soon! Until then, Tonia 🙂

From left to right- Clytie, Katherine, Alayna, Abigail, Maree and Lori. Out to brunch for Maree's birthday in Dunedin.

From left to right- Clytie, Katherine, Alayna, Abigail, Maree and Lori. Out to brunch for Maree’s birthday in Dunedin.

Dolly Dancing

What’s that sound? It’s the sudden thud of my long blogging silence being broken. Hello again everyone!

The past 7 weeks have been filled rehearsing for our current performance season of Coppelia. After shedding our winter woollies post USA tour it’s nice to be back in some slightly warmer weather (despite the occasional Welly horizontal downpour).

Ready to head out on tour!

Ready to head out on tour!

Coppelia is a ballet I have grown up watching. It was one of the first ballets I tottered along to see as a very young, aspiring dancer and it was the ballet I performed at the conclusion of my graduating year at the Australian Ballet School. 7 years later, using the Australian Ballet’s costumes (I found my name in one of them from all that time ago) we are revisiting this uplifting classic.

Without going into too much plot line detail, I believe that this version of Coppelia- reworked by the consistently inspirational Martin Vedel, has gorgeously developed characters and a touching twist particularly to the character of Dr. Coppelius.

Tonight hails an evening of suitcase packing before jetting to Invercargill tomorrow. I feel I can confidently say that after years of touring life I have my travel essentials very clearly established. As I learnt from my kiwi buddies, you should never go anywhere without a pair of jandals, sunglasses and shorts. Added to the mix are a dress and heels for post show functions and as always my travel candle and tracksuit pants are an absolute luxury to travel with. Naturally tennis and golf balls are perfectly normal things to carry in ones handbag when preparing for tour too? It may sound like packing everything but the kitchen sink but when it comes to post show muscle aches a golf ball to the calf is a miracle worker. Lastly and quite possibly the handiest item to take on tour is what is known amongst the dancers as “our tour bible.” This booklet contains all the timetable, travel, media calls, accommodation and venue information for the duration of the tour. So, bible packed, suitcase zipped and I look forward to blogging our tour adventures!

Tonia 🙂

Joy at the Joyce

I wanna be apart of it, New York, New York!- feel free to click on the links along the way!

Fashion, art, the hustle and bustle, the bright lights and big city, do a slow 360 and take it all in.

The cold shock hit hard in Minneapolis. Reaching -20 degrees celsius and lower there was no time for the usual tourist wander through the streets. It was agony to be outside for over a minute. But the locals have it all figured out. Each building is connected to the next through an amazing over ground closed walkway system. You can roam in warmth, looking out over the frozen city from building to building. This was the first snowy experience for many of the dancers, smiling with delight through the bitter cold whilst making snow angels. The winter wonderland is home to the fantastic Orpheum Theatre with a delightfully spacious stage. Pre show preparations proved quite entertaining when a few of us discovered that our makeup wipes had frozen solid, all part of the fun. The Minneapolis audience was absolutely magnificent. We were so warmly welcomed and the American people are so friendly and helpful it’s been such a joy to be here. Such incredible hospitality, thank you USA!

Landing late into NYC and my first impression was a greeting of a warm cookie in the lobby of the hotel. Oh heaven! Dancers trudging through the snow globing New York streets, negotiating the puddles and slippy, iced pavement, all the while with massive smiles of excitement, eager to explore this concrete jungle. With an entire day of shopping (it’s tiring work spending money) I came home with a whole new wardrobe after a very happy and successful day bargain hunting. New York is certainly a city that never sleeps. Late night wanderings to Times Square til 2am catching up with friends whom I haven’t seen in many years left me feeling very fortunate to have this awesome opportunity. To top off my sense of elation at being in the Big Apple the annual Westminster Dog Show was on at Madison Square Garden! So many stunningly beautiful dogs were being housed in our hotel- oh how I wish I could own a dog!

Of all the theatres I have performed in, the Joyce was a very unique one. It certainly has it’s own personality and it was such a marvellous little space. With 5 days of shows it was a dance packed week. I loved every minute of it. Our programme for NY included 3 different pieces starting with the classical, sparkling ’28 Variations’, neo-classical hauntingly beautiful ‘Of Days’ by our homegrown hero Andrew Simmons and then finishing with Javier’s barefoot and bold Banderillero. Salvation was found in Whole Foods on the way to the theatre each morning. A mecca of fresh, healthy food can be found in every form we could possibly want ready to fuel our busy evenings. FYI- I know I’m late on the trend but organic 100% raw coconut water is delicious. So nutritious and it really did help me maintain my energy levels throughout the week.

3 different pieces with 3 different styles and moods. A 15 minute interval in between each piece gave me enough time to whip my hair from a bun to two braids and back out to half up half down, a change of costume, a change of pointe shoes and a change in lipstick all the while thinking through spacing notes and mentally preparing my mind for the change in mood of each piece. “That’s places please everyone.” There it is- that line from stage management that sets off the last minute heart flutterings right before the curtain goes up. The audience goes quiet and we know that the lights in the auditorium are now out, everyone is anticipating the start of the piece. In this moment there is no more to prepare. It requires a huge amount of trust in yourself. The feeling of performing really is like no other. It’s so incredibly rewarding and it was an honour to perform in the US doing what I love. Onto the next season!

Tonia 🙂 – check out the hashtag #rnzbinusa for more pics from the dancers!

Old town charm in Santa Barbara

Strolling through Santa Barbara

Strolling through Santa Barbara

Take a stroll with the gang! We had a day off in Santa Barbara where the seaside and pretty architecture overshadows the slight chill of the weather. This is the cutest place. The building style here reminds me of the streets of Florence except instead of observing statues by Michelangelo and eating gelato I am sipping Starbucks and buying discounted makeup from M.A.C.

Staying right on the water front, my day off was spent exploring the shops with fellow dancers and treating myself to a bit of beauty salon time. In the evening we were all treated to the most delicious dinner at a divine Italian restaurant. Hosted by the lovely and generous Lew and Genevieve Geyser who indulged us in a most wonderful evening. I can honestly say that it was the tastiest and most mouth-watering steak I have tasted in my entire life.

Today was spent rehearsing pieces for our mixed bill coming up in Minneapolis and New York. After over a week of travelling and performing ‘Giselle’ it was very beneficial to have a little refresher on the pieces we will be performing soon.

Speaking of Minneapolis and New York, I have been privy to recent pictures of those areas and the snow is fresh fallen and I can feel the winter chill through the images. Brrrrrr.

Looking forward to our one and only performance of ‘Giselle’ here in Santa Barbara tomorrow night. It’s always exciting stepping onto a new stage and finding your way round a new theatre. It may sound strange but every theatre seems to have it’s own unique personality matching its history. ‘If these walls could talk.’ 😉 Time to get a good nights sleep before tomorrow’s performance. Goodnight!

Tonia 🙂

Giselle goes LA

Leaping for joy in LA

Leaping for joy in LA

Are nerves, muscle aches and stress tension keeping you up at night? There’s nothing like the opening night roar of appreciation from a 3000 strong crowd to set your spirits soaring.

Positive adrenalin coursed through our veins as the makeup mirrors reflected the image of quietly focused dancers, methodically hair spraying and pinning, getting stage ready.

We were excited and just a little bit nervous to be performing in a new country and theatre. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect. All we wanted to do was perform the best show and give our all.

Once our feet hit the stage something very special happened. Performing- there isn’t anything else like it. It was such an honour to be dancing alongside my friends and idols. Oh boy, it was so much fun!

Three shows into our LA shows of ‘Giselle’ and 3 standing ovations later I have loved every moment on the stage here. What an incredible experience so far! Performing our hearts out to an incredibly generous audience, I may be an Aussie but I had a proud Kiwi moment!

Image by Tonia Looker

Yang’s gigantic energy source to power through 4 shows

Tomorrow hails our last show in LA and a bus ride to Santa Barbara. I shall miss coming back to the hotel post show only to discover that the elevator is being used to film part of a TV series or the lobby hosting a Top Model event, the sun shining even in a US winter and the wonderful Music Center stage. However I look forward to exploring and performing in a new place.

Tonia 🙂

Alayna, sunshine and smiles :)

Alayna, sunshine and smiles 🙂

LA arrival snaps!

What day is it? What time is it? Time to explore LA! I spent my first day here busy navigating and attempting to use a GPS in a hire car with Alayna, Harry, Antonia and Laura. Receiving visual confirmation of my LA imaginings, Alayna bravely and very competently drove through the palm tree lined streets- getting acquainted with driving on the other side of the road. Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Hollywood Hills, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Rodeo Drive…despite getting lost a few times we had a fantastic day out! Celebrity alert! Name drop incoming. Dot-Marie Jones, known to me from the TV hit GLEE was within our reach as we enjoyed a late lunch.

Tomorrow brings an adventure to DISNEYLAND. It’s time to attempt to get a good nights sleep and recover from slight jet lag. Here are a few snaps from todays shenanigans. Cannot wait to perform here!

Tonia 🙂

Wellywood destination- Hollywood

The last sand is trickling through the ‎hourglass as I look forward to my remaining few days in Wellington for a little while. LA here I come! Having only ever passed through the hustle and bustle of LA airport, I am eager to see the city itself. I am imagining something out of a scene from HBO’s ‘Entourage’- sun tanned movie stars and TV actors, sunglasses reflecting the sunshine that glitters on a Hollywood lifestyle.

A phone interview I had a few days ago with led me to do a little research on what’s on in LA, further feeding my excitement to get there. Of course, what’s on in LA is the RNZB performing ‘Giselle.’ Go, kiwi, go!

With class and rehearsal and my favourite moment; performing, with any luck there may be time to squeeze a little trip to Disneyland in also. A place that calls itself ‘the happiest place on earth’ deserves a visit in my opinion!

As per usual my trusty camera will be coming with me and I look forward to writing and capturing our adventure, touring and performing in the U.S.A!

Tonia 🙂