For the six members of Urban Sketchers Prague (USK Prague) who had the privilege of drawing and painting at this day-long rehearsal in May 2018, it was a dream come true.
One of our members Amélie de Trogoff mentioned her excitement about urban sketching to her ballerina friend Alice Petit (demisoloist at The National Theatre Ballet) over coffee. Amélie’s excitement must have rubbed off on Alice because she began discussing with her director a plan for bringing our group to one of their rehearsals. A few weeks later, we received the much anticipated invitation.
On a Wednesday morning in May 2018, our small group of six USK Prague members were welcomed by Alice to their beautiful rehearsal studios. As soon as the thirty or so dancers started warming up, we could all sense our first challenge: these ballet performers were going to move in this grand space in a manner unlike anything we had experienced before as urban sketchers. I felt like they were flying through the air half the time. And even when they were standing still, they stood in poses that can only be described as elegant contortions.
I was delighted to see that within minutes, all six of us started rising to this unique challenge quite admirably. We all came with different sized sketchbooks along with watercolors, pens, acrylic inks, bamboo pens, brushes, markers, graphite, pastel, and everything else we could lay our hands on. It all came in handy. The ballet warm-up lasted an hour or so. We also used that time to warm up with our drawing tools, sketching muscles, and brains 🙂
We enjoyed the explosive energy that these world-class performers created in the studio. We were all sitting on the floor drawing them, and could literally feel the floor shaking beneath us. It was fun to observe their footwork and body movement in more detail.
Decadance & Valmont rehearsals
After the warm-up and a short break, they launched into the rehearsal of Decadance… a dynamic, modern ballet full of thundering, energetic dance routines and mind-bogglingly impossible dance moves. There’s a chair dance routine that is a sight to behold. It was like an atomic bomb went off in the room — chairs and people flying everywhere we looked. And all this executed with a magical elegance that only ballet dancers can bring.
The post-lunch session consisted of a full rehearsal of the classical ballet Valmont, featuring the theme of a romantic triangle with some violent sword fights thrown in! Here we got the opportunity to capture the grace, drama, swirling tutus, spins, classic swan glides, and flowing movements we readily associate with a ballet.
Recapping the day
We all know ballet dancers are synonymous with grace, power, and energy. We enjoyed trying to capture all of this through our sketches. It was as if we wanted to put on our own performance to honor and match the one they were putting on for us. And indeed the dancers would come up to us from time to time to admire our work. This was quite humbling.
While this was just an ordinary work day in the lives of these masterful artists and consummate performers, it was as far a day from normal as we had ever experienced as urban sketchers 🙂
BFF = Ballet fans forever
When I got home from this exhausting sketching marathon, I ran to my laptop and immediately bought tickets for Decadance and the Dance Laboratory (both performed by the very same Czech National Theatre Ballet company). Upon seeing this, my wife remarked, “Honey, do you realize that in your entire life you’ve gone to all of two ballets and now you are going to two ballets in one week… what happened to you?””
Sketching the ballet rehearsals has turned me into a new fan of the ballet much to my wife’s amusement and delight 🙂
The ballet sketching team
I asked Amélie, Alua, Daria, Diana, and Tom to summarize their experience of the day. Here’s what they told me:
Amélie de Trogoff: I really enjoy watercolor because it’s the medium of spontaneity. I can catch the light with water and the result can be amazingly good or utterly wrong — never in between. On that day at the Narodni Divadlo (the Czech name for National Theater) studios, the dancers were always in movement. That added more velocity to the watercolor. I made lots of bad works but all the feeling of that day is still printed in my mind and I know my hands remembers those quick poses. It’s a wonderful gift the dancers gave us. They were not building a fake image. They gave us what they truly were. Their tool is their body, our tool is our brush. Maybe we have something in common? See more ballet sketches by Amélie here.
Alua Abdramanova: When I first heard that we’re going to sketch the National Ballet, I couldn’t believe it. I felt so lucky! It was my first experience with such rapidly moving figures — I’ve never sketched dancers before. Usually it’s calm models posing for us in life drawing or people in cafes. It was a really tough challenge to catch the movement of these dancers and express it on my paper. I must have ruined half of my A3 sketchbook trying to figure out this unique sketching problem. After a few hours of sketching these beautiful ballet dancers, I finally started to feel satisfied with my strokes. After this non-stop drawing sprint, I realized that now I can sketch anything without fear. This made me push my boundaries, and I kinda leveled up in my figure sketching! I’m so thankful for this unique experience and opportunity to be a part of our creative urban sketching community. See more ballet sketches by Alua here.
Daria Miroshnychenko: Sketching the ballet rehearsal was a totally amazing experience. It sure was a challenge to draw the dancers who were in constant and sometimes unexpected movement (the contemporary piece was particularly hard). At the same time watching their hard work behind the beautiful dances they perform, was extremely powerful and inspiring. I’m so happy we had the unique opportunity to appreciate this part of the life of ballet dancers by urban sketching them. I wish I could show my sketches to my grandma who was a big fan of ballet all her life, and tell her how I enjoyed drawing them and how much more charmed by ballet I am now. See more ballet sketches by Daria here.
Diana Švec-Billá: After having witnessed the rigorous daily routine of those who perform for audiences in glitter and spotlight, I have even more respect for their dedication. It was really challenging for me to capture the elegance and energy the ballet dancers radiated during this rehearsal. But I wish such a challenge on anyone! It was like I was transported to a different universe… like a dream with eyes wide open. See more ballet sketches by Diana here.
Tom Zahradka: It was incredible to see first-hand how hard these ballet performers work every day. Spending time with them inspired me to commit myself to my illustration art career with even more dedication. See more ballet sketches by Tom here.
Rajesh Dhawan: “Sketching the ballet rehearsals has turned me into a new fan of the ballet much to my wife’s amusement and delight :)” See more ballet sketches by Raj here.