What does it take to be a corps member? We followed a day in the life of Boston Ballet dancers Hannah Bettes and Lawrence Rines.
Most corps members have one thing in common: little rest. When you’re the backbone of the company, you’re cast in almost every major ballet, and expected to give just as much to each character and peasant role as you do the rare soloist opportunities thrown your way. Recently, Dance Magazine followed Boston Ballet’s Hannah Bettes and Lawrence Rines through a typical rehearsal day as they juggled a nonstop load of dance.
Bettes is an early riser, up by 7 to have a slow breakfast and watch the news. “I like to stay up to date,” she says. “It makes me feel more productive.” The company is known for its fashion, and most dancers put together separate street and studio outfits each day. Bettes says, “Lawrence has taught me a lot about fashion actually—he’s taken me shopping. I think my style is ‘hobo chic.’ When I arrived, it was just ‘hobo.’ ”
Bettes starts her day in the PT room so she can get occasional advice from the PT team while she warms ups with hip and shoulder stabilization exercises. Then she uses company class to focus on improving her technique. “Recently it’s been all about shoulder and arm placement.”
Hour-long rehearsal for Swan Lake, which opens later in the season.
Bettes eats her lunch early, since she has a coaching session during the company break. Her typical lunch includes a peanut butter chocolate chip Zing Bar; a beet, kale and chicken dish; and a small lentil salad with cherries and hazelnuts.
Bettes runs downstairs to the costume shop for a hairpiece fitting for Gaîté Parisienne and grabs an extra pair of pointe shoes from her cubby in the shoe room.
Her one-on-one rehearsal is with Peter Stark, with whom she trained at the Patel Conservatory before he moved to Boston last year to head up the men’s program and become the associate director of Boston Ballet II. Bettes is preparing for the Helsinki International Ballet Competition. “Competitions give dancers that little extra push,” Stark says. As Bettes runs through Aurora’s Act I variation, he calls out simple cues that evidence their history together: things like “fingers,” “audience, audience” and “chin down.”
Bettes uses her five-minute break to switch gears by marking through choreography on her own before a run-through of portions of Onegin, which the company is performing later in the week.
“I probably go out to dinner with friends every other night,” says Bettes. “It’s where the majority of my salary goes.”
Rines wakes up with just enough time to shower, eat and walk the 10 minutes to the studio for pre-class exercises.
Loose in his lower back and hips, Rines warms up for the day by strengthening his rotators and core. “That way, instead of using my bones and ligaments at the barre, my muscles are ready to work,” he says. He uses company class to prepare for the day ahead. On tough rehearsal days, he might practice steps from his rep in the back of the room towards the end of class. On lighter ones, he’ll push full-force to make sure he gets in a good workout.
Rehearsals start with a full-out run of the intense The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, which opens in two weeks. Rines is known for excelling in neoclassical rep.
Next is a rehearsal for Balanchine’s Kammermusik No. 2. Rines manages the quick transitions between one-hour rehearsal blocks by mentally compartmentalizing each ballet. “I don’t think ahead, because that would drive me crazy,” he says. “I take it like the chapters of a book—I walk in and say, ‘What am I doing now?’ ”
Rines runs out to grab lunch (which changes daily, but he stays away from anything too heavy).
Rines uses his break for a quick visit to the PT room for maintenance on a prior calf issue. The treatment includes massage and an exercise on the Pilates chair equipment.
Onegin rehearsal. Tomorrow the dancers will switch over to their theater schedule, beginning their day at noon and finishing with a 7:30 pm show.
Rines believes after-work time is essential to maintaining a balanced life. “I like to keep myself social—I get angry at myself when friends want to do something and I’m like, ‘No, I’m tired,’ ” he says. “You can’t let ballet run your whole life.”
Corps Rules to Live By
What makes a great corps member? Sarah Wroth, who’s been in Boston Ballet’s corps for 14 seasons, polled her fellow dancers for their best tips.
- Be open to receiving corrections from your peers on steps and spacing. Use each other’s eyes as assets.
2. Imagine the floor as graph paper, and take note of your distances frontwards, backwards, diagonally and across the stage at all times. Don’t just focus on your own choreography—learn all patterns of the stage movement as a whole. This will help you swing from one role to the next if the need arises.
3. Put the production above your personal performance. For instance, if you are seventh in line and the leader lifts the wrong arm onstage, follow their lead, right or wrong. There are no points for being the only one who’s “right” if you ruin the overall stage picture.
4. Don’t lose focus just because you’re not in the spotlight. Corps work requires not only selflessness, but strong personal discipline. As dancer Brett Fukuda puts it, “Will you still dance your best although you may be able to get away with less? Will you still work hard without individual praise?” Push for the good of the company and the strength of the unit. As former Boston Ballet corps member Brittany Summer says, corps dancers have to be “big-hearted, strong-willed, formidable creatures.”