Author Topic: Ballet Blocking  (Read 557 times)

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Plabebob

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Ballet Blocking
« on: Jan 08, 2019, 11:51 am »
Hi Everyone,

I'm looking for some advice on ballet - I'm likely going to be covering rehearsals for a national ballet company in the UK as DSM & I've previously mostly done opera & drama with a tiny bit of modern dance thrown in.

Is there any difference in doing blocking for ballet - will have to learn dance notation or anything? With the modern dance I just made actual notes on the moves, but obviously ballet is far more formal. What's mostly concerning me is that I'm covering rehearsals for 6 weeks, but will then have to hand the book over to the house DSM to call the show from, so I don't want to mess things up for her!

Any advice on blocking, or any other aspect of DSMing ballet would be most welcome!

dance stage manager

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Re: Ballet Blocking
« Reply #1 on: Jan 08, 2019, 12:55 pm »
Hi Placebob,

I feel that stage management blocking notation for concert dance is less codified than for other forms of theatre.  Although there are formal notation languages used to record movement and choreography (such as Benesh and Laban notation), these systems require years of training to become familiar with them.  For the most part, a stage manager notating general blocking in dance is doing so primarily for their own purposes; they are creating or augmenting a linear chronology of information into which they can integrate production elements, such as cues, warnings, pages, etc.  This is different from blocking notation in text-based theatre, where the stage manager is documenting for the purposes of creating a reference that they will use to maintain the production.

I think it is fair to say that a dancer in a ballet company will never ask a stage manager for information on their specific choreography/steps, except in the most general sense when it involves spacing or a particular bit of stage business.  There will always be a choreographer/ballet master/rehearsal director who is responsible for the artistic maintenance of the choreography, so a stage manager is not responsible for this in the way they would be responsible for maintaining performers’ delivery of text.

There are several general systems of notation for dance stage management: some involve written descriptive text, some use drawn graphic representations of performers’ movement on stage on one or more mini per page.  If you are working for a ballet company, stage managers often use a piano score/reduction as the basis of their calling scores, as they would in opera.  Even if you have experience in creating your own notation, I would recommend that you ask for some direction from the DSM who will use your notes in performance – it would be a good exercise to create your notes in the format they prefer.

I have worked on a couple of co-productions with the Royal Ballet, and the stage management calling scores I have received from them have been very clear, and use a common system where the musical score is on the left side of an open book, with written descriptive notation on the blank right-hand page.  Each short written description (ie. “Romeo crawls on his hands and knees toward Juliet”) is accompanied by a number, and this number is also placed in the score where the action happens.

Some things to consider:

Is there a piano reduction or other musical score that can be used to structure your notation?  If so, make sure you get the definitive version from the music department.  Mark cuts, expand repeats, D.S. al codas as required.  If you are working with a rehearsal pianist, they are great resources for changes and updates.  Add timings if a reference recording is available.

Will the work be rehearsed/performed to a recording?  Can you add time code and track numbers to your notes?

Can you (or another member of the production team) make scene-specific minis for you to use for drawn blocking notation?

If you have a personalized shorthand or symbols you use in blocking notation, make a little legend so that a new stage manager will have no trouble determining your system

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Plabebob

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Re: Ballet Blocking
« Reply #2 on: Jan 09, 2019, 04:20 am »
Hey thanks for the thorough response, that's super helpful.

I largely work in opera & it sounds like the nuts & bolts of it isn't too different - working with a piano reduction etc.

When I get there I will definitely have a good look at their old books & try to mimic them as much as possible.

Really helpful advice, I feel a bit more confident now!

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