August 12th, my birthday and the biggest party ever!
It was back in April when I was contacted about performing for the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. Professional ballet dancers were needed to join a corps de ballet of more than 200 other dancers to create the spectacular “Extinguishing of the Flame” finale. It didn’t take me long to say Yes to this once in a lifetime opportunity and it was straight away that the excitement and wonder began.
I vividly remember London winning the bid back in 2005; I was sitting on a train returning from my family home on the Isle of Wight when the train inspector announced this over the tannoy. I wondered back then whether dancers would be needed for the ceremonies and whether I would be involved. I came to the conclusion I would be 32 years of age by then and that I probably would have retired from the world of ballet. How wrong I was!
Rehearsals began in May this year, at 3 Mills Studios in Bromley-by-Bow, a familiar rehearsal space to me. Costume and pointe shoe fittings were first on the schedule; we weren’t told anything about the costume and what it would look like which was slightly un-nerving as it’s always nice to know what you will be dancing in. However, we didn’t have to wait long, by our first dance rehearsal they had made the basic costume, and it was amazing and very cool. One of the best costumes I have ever worn.
The rehearsal period was intense and sporadic. We were split into two groups for the first three rehearsals as the space didn’t accommodate 200 people in one room. We had only 7 days of rehearsals that were spread over the 12 weeks. Each rehearsal lasted roughly 5 hours in which a 15minute break was given and we learnt the entire choreography in the first rehearsal. It was full on from the word go.
In July we were moved to an outside rehearsal space in Dagenham that was the replica size of the stadium. It wasn’t very glamourous I have to say, it was basically the old Ford factory and the British weather wasn’t very kind to us. I have never jumped over so many puddles! Pointe shoes and water do not mix – it ruins your shoes making the toe very soft, which means pain when you are en pointe.
We were given earpieces and radios to be able to hear the music and instructions from the directors and choreographers. It felt quite lonely in a way as you were cut off from the people around you and to talk to one another required either really good lip reading or taking out the carefully inserted earpiece! However, it finally felt real, it was good to be practicing with everyone, Darcey Bussell included, and to be able to dance full out and feel the piece coming together.
Unlike the Opening Ceremony we didn’t have the luxury of dress rehearsals at the stadium. The last day of our rehearsals in Dagenham was our first and only chance to have dress run. We had the full costume and make up on and were able to watch the other acts of the second half of the ceremony. It was bizarre to be sitting dressed as punk like flame with the likes of Jessie J, The Spice Girls (David Beckham too), Russell Brand and Brain May to name just a few – I wish I’d had a pocket in my costume for my camera!
The day of the ceremony was an extremely long one. We had to be there by 11am to start getting ready. Hair was done first putting it into lots of French plaits for the Mohawk headpiece to be pinned to. My hair was painted jet black too as I am blonde and it needed to blend into the headpiece, it was a new look for me! Make up was next and by 3pm we were ready.
We had one rehearsal in the stadium and then it was back to the dressing room to wait. We were on at 11.30pm but were called to our entrances or Voms as they were known about 45 minutes before that. The atmosphere was electrifying as we ran out onto the ramps on which we danced. Strangely, the audience were so far away it didn’t feel like you were performing to thousands and that surprised me. The athletes around the ramps felt like your audience because you could see their faces.
I loved every minute of it I felt so proud to be performing. We finished surrounding the cauldron, the heat was intense and we watched it die away, a very poignant moment which sent shivers down my spine. It’s incredible to think I was there, it is like a dream but I know it was real because in a bag in the corner of my room is the best costume ever – The Flame!
I have been a professional ballet dancer for 13 years (trained at Central School of Ballet, London) and a Royal Academy of Dance ballet teacher for 3 years. I live in Camberwell and attend Ballet classes at Push Studios in East Dulwich to keep me in shape.