Ballet Backstage | First hand account of the Olympics Closing Ceremony

August 14, 2012

Backstage

Backstage at the Olympics Closing Ceremony & rehearsals with the ballet dancers

ballet dancers at olympics closing ceremony

Elysia is in the middle

So, what does it feel like to dance in front of an audience of 26 million people ?

Last year one of the Olympics casting directors asked me to help them find hundreds of ballet dancers who could dance very strongly en pointe, and in October 2011 I published an article asking for Ballet News readers with the right experience to apply. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of applications; some even came through long after the auditions had taken place, which was a shame.

What happened to those successful auditionees who went on to rehearsals, over 11 months ago, and the final massive Olympics Closing Ceremony on Sunday evening ?

Just what does it feel like to be standing in Vom 5 wearing a flame Mohican, next to a roller skating nun ?

16 year old Elysia Warner (former student at Drusilla Duffill Theatre School and pre-senior at Central School of Ballet) has been en pointe since she was 11, and takes us through the mind-blowing process of making the best party in the world, and her words will touch you.

Warner was in great company – besides Darcey Bussell and her four male dancers – Gary Avis, Nehemiah Kish, Edward Watson and Jonathan Cope – additionally, professional ballet dancers joined the ranks including some from English National Ballet – Begona Cao-miranda, Jenna Lee, Chantel Roulston, Désirée Ballantyne, Sayako Tomiyoshi, Stina Quagebeur, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Laurretta Summerscales, Araminta Wraith, Kei Akahoshi, Jennie Harrington and Ellie Sharpe.

Elysia says :

“I found out about the audition through Ballet News, on facebook; the age limit had been lowered to allow 16 and 17 year olds to try out. I thought I might as well give it a go, seeing as it was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. I auditioned in February, and after I was successful, rehearsals started in May. The rehearsals were exhausting, often over five hours long, but never boring. Most of the time was spent perfecting our technique, step by step, and later, getting our formations just right. Our taskmasters were from The Royal Ballet: Cindy Jourdain, Jonathan Howells, and Alastair Marriott. They were unbelievably friendly, patient, and encouraging. Our initial rehearsals were held at 3 Mills Studios in Bow, but we later moved to a 1:1 scale venue in Dagenham, where our beautiful costumes and shoes were introduced, but not without problems : at the first dress rehearsal, about fifty people’s shoes came off! Our pointe shoes had Swarovski crystals on them, in the shape of phoenixes. I’ve attached a photo of one. The rehearsals were amazing – you never knew which celebrity you might see next, from the Spice Girls (complete with David Beckham), to a very smiley and chatty Russell Brand.

I was focusing on the audience that mattered the most to me – the athletes all around, the medal covered superhumans who, for that moment in time, wanted only to watch us. It was crazy, but at the same time, inexplicably, it felt like the most normal thing in the world. Many of the athletes were filming us, and a lot of them were crying.

On the day, the 206 of us arrived at the Olympic Park at 11am, and the atmosphere was electric, even then. Our dressing room was shared with many other performers, so it got very crowded very quickly. Then came the waiting! The technical staff had had just 16 hours to transform the stadium from an athletics arena to a stage fit for the biggest party in London, and this meant there was very little chance to practise on the ramps. After spending a couple of hours getting ready and getting nervous, we were given one very quick run through, with only five minutes to put our shoes on and run to our entrances. In the stadium, the entrances are known as “voms,” and while we waited there, we had to be careful not to get in the way of huge props such as Eric Idle’s cannon or Delboy’s Robin Reliant. What had been the athletics track had become known as the “M25,” so when we were told to run on, we were told to “cross the M25.” After the practice went well, we took the opportunity to take photos with the still flaming cauldron, and to take in the enormity of everything.

I so badly wanted to perform well for all of the athletes, because at its heart, the closing ceremony isn’t for us, it’s for them, the heroes, and they deserve the best show ever.

I was unbelievably nervous at first. I was convinced that something was going to go wrong, and that the whole world was going to see. It all felt too huge and overwhelming. I so badly wanted to perform well for all of the athletes, because at its heart, the closing ceremony isn’t for us, it’s for them, the heroes, and they deserve the best show ever. By the time we had got into costume and makeup, time went very fast, and soon I was in Vom 5 next to a roller skating nun, watching Jacques Rogge declare the Games closed, thinking “I can’t do this.” But once you’re in there, you’re not nervous at all. The audience become pixels, and the stadium actually feels very small. I tried not to let the cameras put me off. I was focusing on the audience that mattered the most to me – the athletes all around, the medal covered superhumans who, for that moment in time, wanted only to watch us. It was crazy, but at the same time, inexplicably, it felt like the most normal thing in the world. Many of the athletes were filming us, and a lot of them were crying. When we finished, and the partying began, everyone was mixing together, performers, media, athletes, and it felt like it didn’t matter where you’d come from, because the moment was so brilliant that the present was all that you could focus on, and in the present, we had achieved something remarkable together.
pointe shoes

Elysia’s crystal-encrusted pointe shoes for the Olympics Closing Ceremony

I think I will remember the night for the rest of my life. Just meeting Darcey Bussell would have made my Olympics, but to dance on the same stage as her was just incredible. I wore my flame Mohican out into the Park afterwards and got stopped lots of times by people wanting photos, or just to ask me what it felt like. I told them it felt indescribable, and to an extent, it is. I can’t fully describe how happy I felt. I would do it all over again.”
You can watch the whole of the Closing Ceremony as well as highlights from the rehearsal process here.
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