A dancer and choreographer of great experience, Rosie Kay established the Rosie Kay Dance Company in 2004. As well as an impressive list of major dance works, Kay’s choreography credits include the film Sunshine on Leith the live television handover from the 2018 the Commonwealth Games.
In 2018 Kay brought her piece MK ULTRA, which brings together an exploration of the rise of the illuminati conspiracy in modern culture, with documentary elements from the celebrated filmmaker Adam Curtis, to Southbank Centre.
Ahead of that performance we took the opportunity to get her expert insight on dance, and pre-show preparations every dancer should undertake. Here then are Rosie Kay’s six things every dancer should do before a show.
Show days take a bit of planning to get your eating right. Dancers start with a decent breakfast – porridge, a smoothie, toast and bananas – then lunch will be between warm-up class and before the dress rehearsal; often soup and bread, or a chicken and salad sandwich. You don't want to have a huge dinner before a show as it can make you feel heavy, so often a few snacks and lots of water right up until you go on stage; some fruit or a smoothie is good. After the show we all go out for dinner and it’s usually to somewhere as healthy as possible.
You don't want to forget your underwear when you're a dancer. It’s often very specific and colour matched to your costume. When dancing you want to be as comfortable as possible, with nothing distracting you from what you are doing.
Dancers often use visualisation techniques to help prepare for shows. You need to relax, and then think through the show, particularly any tricky bits. If you can’t see every step in your mind, you may need to do extra work on that section. You can add in emotional cues, what you see, the music, anything that helps you really feel in the moment. If you really know it in your head, your body is far safer in the studio, and this has been proven to increase performance in dancers and athletes.
We fine-tune absolutely everything in the studio well before we get on stage, so that we know the show and every single move inside-out. However, every theatre we go to on tour is different, and every venue has slight changes with angles and strength of the lights. Before each show in a new venue, the company will do a dress rehearsal, in costume, so they feel where each light is and can space each section out so there are no surprises in the live performance.
A dancer's feet are vital to a performance. They need to be tough (almost like leather) to perform in bare feet, but also very soft, supple and not prone to cracking. One thing you learn early on in your professional career is that you can never rush the care of your feet. Dancers often have their own medical bags with everything you could ever need for a blister, crack or nail issue.
I always, always brush my teeth and splash perfume on myself just before I go on stage. Of course, dancers spend hours warming up, preparing, rehearsing. The cast do a full ballet or contemporary class before each show, time-spacing difficult sections, then a full powered dress rehearsal. Ahead of the show we warm up together again (often with some cardio and a bit of technique) and run through any tricky moments to get the company’s synchronised feeling again, before getting into costume. I love to splash on a very expensive perfume before a show and make myself feel wonderful and sexy, as after all the graft, hard work and pain, it still is a very glamorous profession!
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