STRICTLY STUNNING DANCING

INSIDE the Tramway, magic is happening.

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It may be hard work, but the Scottish Ballet dancers can still have fun at rehearsals. Pictures: Mark Gibson
It may be hard work, but the Scottish Ballet dancers can still have fun at rehearsals. Pictures: Mark Gibson

With just days to go before today's opening night, every corner of Scottish Ballet's headquarters is bustling with activity.

The full company of 36 dancers is in the studio, slavishly perfecting each movement used to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet.

Stage crew are packing up the huge sets in preparation for their move to the King's Theatre.

And the wardrobe department are tasked with ensuring every costume is in perfect condition.

Head of Wardrobe Caro Harkness has just returned from a three-day trip to London where she has been working with the renowned costume designer Lez Brotherston.

Caro and her two team members oversee hundreds of costumes each year, all kept in an enormous wardrobe in the Tramway.

Those not in use are painstakingly cleaned and repaired before being stored until the next time they are needed.

Although Caro brings in feelance makers to help create the costumes, the in-house wardrobe team are constantly in motion.

"Let me give you an overview of what we've been doing for the past month," she said. "The company has just come back from Hong Kong so we have been cleaning and repairing the costumes from Highland Fling.

"We've just said goodbye to Hansel and Gretel, so the costumes from that must be cleaned and packed - we want them to look as good as they did on opening night for when they are needed again.

"At the same time we have 10 small ballets going to Russia at the same time as Highland Fling and so we need costumes ready for all of them. And I am thinking about Nutcracker, our Christmas production. So everyone's rushing around."

Overseeing all the hurry is Christopher Hampson, who joined the company as artistic director in 2012.

Less than a fortnight into his five-year contract with Scottish Ballet, Hampson had begun to stamp his mark, including persuading renowned choreographer Matthew Bourne to let the Glasgow-based company perform one of his works, Highland Fling.

He has pushed to take Scottish Ballet into the community, with a series of dance, art and creative writing projects that brought the ballet into schools, colleges and community groups.

Hampson said: "The job of artistic director is to be responsible for all the creative output of the company and the direction of the company for the future.

"I commission choreographers, create new works and am responsible for hiring all of our dancers. I also have to make sure I keep up the right contacts and am seen at the right events, to be the public face of Scottish Ballet.

"I'm also responsible for nurturing the talent we have here and making sure the dancers are reaching their potential. Anything in the creative field - the buck stops with me."

Hampson also brings in guest teachers from around the world- most recently a teacher from the Paris Opera, one of the world's premier ballet companies.

So what makes a Scottish Ballet ballet dancer?

"Curiosity," Hampson added. "There are so many dancers coming out of schools with good technique but I need my dancers to be curious - to want to find out about different types of movement."

Making sure those movements are flawless is the responsibility of Maria Jimenez, artistic co-ordinator with Scottish Ballet, or dance teacher to you and I.

Maria joined the company eight years ago, when it was still based in West Princes Street in the West End.

She studied dance in her Spanish homeland before moving to London. An injury meant giving up a career on the stage and going into teaching.

A dancer's day begins before the first class of the morning, at 10am. Performers must spend at least half an hour warming up.

A 90-minute ballet class follows, led by Maria or one of the other teachers, and then rehearsals begin at 11.45am.

Dancers are put through their paces until 1.30pm before an hour's break and more rehearsals until 6pm.

Maria and her colleagues work with the choreographer to teach the varies roles in a ballet to the dancers,which means memorising hours of dance.

She said: "I love it here and I love the company. For Romeo and Juliet, I taught it when we performed it in 2008 so I have all my notes and we have videos of the performance from then.

"The choreography each time a ballet is performed should always be the same - but the dancers bring their own emotions and interpretations to it.

"That's why every ballet is fresh and I always cannot wait to see it on stage."

Scottish Ballet performed Romeo and Juliet for the first time in 2008 and then again in 2010. This year, the main roles will be danced, on certain nights, by principal dancers Chris Harrison and Sophie Martin.

Born in Normandy, Sophie trained at the Conservatory National Supérieur of Paris and auditioned for Scottish Ballet when she was 18.

NOW 29, she has risen through the ranks to be a principal dancer with the company.

She said: "What I like about Scottish Ballet is the broad range of style we use - I don't know how I would feel, doing the same thing every day. At the moment we are rehearsing three different works with three different styles.

"I became a dancer because I loved being on stage, I loved performing. That hasn't changed. I cannot wait to go out there."

Home grown talent Chris, from Kippen, was trained at the Dance School of Scotland, Knightswood, before joining Royal Ballet Upper School.

After four years at Dresden State Opera, he joined Scottish Ballet and has been in Glasgow for nine years.

The 31-year-old said: "I'm really looking forward to dancing Romeo. Even once we are on stage, the rehearsing doesn't stop.

"Every night we have ballet masters and mistresses watching to see what we could do better or do less off - it's a constant process of improvement."

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