We are just back from our first international tour to Italy, and now that the dust has settled down and we realize the full magnitude of this venture, I want to take a few minutes to share with you some details of the trip, some insider stories of the adventure and the (brilliant) reviews we received while there.
I am sure most of you have seen the vlogs that Andrew and Cavan posted throughout the trip. I particularly enjoyed them because they portrayed both the highs of the prolonged applause and the lows of the trips from one city to the next, the dress rehearsals that took place before every show and the fatigue that started setting in after the adrenaline wore off. What you didn’t see in the vlogs were the panic moments, like when the lighting board went crazy before a performance and all the lights started blinking uncontrollably. Our lighting designer was already on the train to go to the next city, a train due to leave in just about one minute from the “incident”. Well, we got him off the train as it was leaving the station. Literally! Or when, in two different theaters, our American light board was too smart for the Italian theaters. No surprises there… But the fact that it shorted the entire system an hour before the show (requiring a total reboot of each and every lighting cue) did bring some panic to our crew… Or when we discovered a few ridges, and a few inches of floor missing under the black Marley in some theaters… Not to mention when gravity had the better over props and the swords started to slide toward the audience… Or poor Chandler having to be taken to the emergency room with an allergic reaction while Daniela had to be backstage calling all the light cues for the show… But that conversation is for another time!
The company left Tulsa on Easter day and arrived in Trieste, our first stop, Monday afternoon. We gave them a day off, on Tuesday, to recover from the long trip and the jet lag.
However, on the day off, we did have a class, or a training session, as I felt that the mixture of four days off (our last rehearsal day was the preceding Friday), 20 hours on an airplane, seven hours time difference and the first encounter with a slanted stage, were not conducive to a great performance the following day…
Well, in retrospect it was a good plan. Wednesday arrived, we had our first dress rehearsal/performance day and the company was stellar. At the end of the last curtain call, I headed for the stage, being stopped on my way by numerous people. By the time I got there all but three dancers were gone but the applause was not… I ran to the dressing rooms, called the dancers back on stage (some of them were already changing) for an additional curtain call. And then we couldn’t find the curtain operator who was downstairs smoking a cigarette! It took some time to get him back, while the applause kept going. We opened the curtain and took another eight curtain calls, closed and went to full house lights. And the audience kept clapping! We had to reopen the curtain and kept going back and forth for another five minutes!
We were warned that audiences in other cities were not as warm. Well, that might be true; yet, we had the same reception in EVERY SINGLE THEATER we performed in. Our average curtain calls lasted around 10 minutes, in some places as long as 15 minutes. A couple of times I had to tell our stage manager not to open the curtain again as the restaurants were closing and… I was hungry!
Both weeks were quite grueling, if for different reasons. The first week we had five shows in five days, moving from one city to the next the same day of the show.
Our schedule went like this: bus at 11:00AM, arrive in the next city at 12:30 or 1:00PM, check in the hotel, have a quick bite to eat, class at 3:15PM, rehearsal at 4:45PM till 6:45PM, put the make up on, warm up at 8:00PM till 8:30PM, performance at 8:45PM, ending at 10:45PM and then curtain calls till 11:00PM.
Afterward was “eat and be merry” (not a difficult task given the foods and wines of Italy…), in bed at around 1:30AM and ready to start again the next day!
For the second week we had a different challenge. After packing an international flight, five shows, five cities and alternating from flat stages to slanted stages every day, we had a five hour travel day on Monday and the rest of the day and Tuesday off in Perugia. Daniela and I fell in love with the city and are now looking for a place there. But that’s beside the point…
Perugia is home to the Teatro Morlacchi, one of the oldest (1781), most beautiful and most slanted stages in Italy, at a staggering 6.5% rake. What does that mean in layman terms? On a stage like the PAC the top of the stage would be five feet higher than the bottom of the stage! At Studio K, the difference between the front of the stage and the back of the stage would be around three feet. Dancing a work like Classical Symphony, or trying to stop gravity from pulling the swords down and into the audience in Petit Mort, takes more than good planning: praying seems the only practical solution. Our prayers “touched” four of the six swords; the other two must have been excommunicated as there was no way to keep them put. Yet, the company danced extremely well!
The last challenge was in Brindisi, home of a big, modern theater. The problem there was that, during the second week, we had danced just one day. And now it was Friday. Going from Perugia to Brindisi took the best of an entire day on a bus, so we had luck of training and “sitting on the bus” syndrome to deal with. As well as a stage that started with a 3% rake and, half way through, it went to 4.5%! Nevertheless your company performed flawlessly!
What are the lessons we learned from this tour? Well, many things, but chief among them is that what we say about Tulsa Ballet here in Tulsa is not just us tooting our own horn: it is the way we are known and perceived by the world! How do we know? We received four reviews while in Italy. I am enclosing them with this letter, please read them. They could have been written by “yours truly”… Second lesson is that Tulsa Ballet continues to be the chief cultural ambassador for our community. The common denominator throughout the entire tour was the fact that, after the curtain came down on the first work, all the smart phones around me illuminated; everybody was checking out Tulsa! Not Tulsa Ballet, but Tulsa!!! Artistically, we learned we are more than just the sum of our parts, in fact we are better than the sum of our parts. The reviews didn’t talk about a specific star but rather about the quality of the entire company, top to bottom, the quality of our performances and the excellence of our repertory. And that has been one of my ultimate goals, that of having a team where the sum of each individual part is greater than the added value of each team member, a cohesive group able to do justice to any work in the dance repertory, whether is bare feet or on pointe, classical virtuoso.
Lastly, we learned that your support is paying big dividends. We are not a for-profit organization, where dividends are paid in hard cash. The dividends on your investment are reflected in the standing of your organization in this community, in this state, in this country and around the world. Your vision as donors and Board Members is to have here in Tulsa an organization of excellence. Of course our vision of ourselves is partisan, we always think it can be colored by our passion for the Ballet. But the audiences who gave us 15 minutes ovations at the end of each show (I wish we got that here at home!), and the reviewers who didn’t know us from Adam and will probably never see us again, they have no private agenda. They call it as they see it. And what they saw was a company that is “the fifth most important in the US”!
I want to thank you for your support. You are the ones who set the standards for Tulsa Ballet, set the expectations we have to meet, set the vision and the purpose of this company. I hope you will agree with me that we are making great progress toward fulfilling your expectations and the potential of our great company. And now, time to be proud!
George Kaiser Family Foundation