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The rehearsals for Jekyll & Hyde started in exceptional circumstances

Five six seven eight, take your time… Choreographer Val Caniparoli is at home in San Francisco and watching via computer as Finnish National Ballet members Anna Sariola and Emrecan Tanis, in the rehearsal room at the Opera House in Helsinki, repeat the movement sequence he has demonstrated. A world premiere is in the making, in quite exceptional circumstances.

Caniparoli visited Helsinki to plan the casting for his choreography just one week before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, which quickly escalated. Caniparoli was meant to return to Helsinki in spring to rehearse his work in person, but the coronavirus changed all that. The choreographer stayed at home in San Francisco, while his assistant Maiqui Manosa was in Philadelphia, and the dancers and ballet masters were in Helsinki.

It is impossible to create a dance work by sitting in your study alone, and the choreographer desperately misses being in the rehearsal room with dancers. “Background work is hugely important, but it’s not until you get to rehearsals that you find out what will work and what won’t.” Caniparoli explains.

Thankfully, the dancers had been working hard in the rehearsal rooms before the exceptional circumstances began. “I’m very grateful firstly that I was able to have a two-week rehearsal period on this project with members of the Kansas City Ballet about a year ago. I received funding on which I was able to work with six dancers to explore things like how they can dance on wheeled hospital beds on the stage in the mental hospital scene.”

Caniparoli used an unusual method of working with two members of the FNB in May 2020. The dancers had a video camera in the rehearsal room at the Opera House, and the video feed was sent live to the choreographer and his assistant in their homes in the USA. This allowed them to communicate with the dancers almost in real time. “We lost rehearsal time because of the coronavirus, and it’s excellent that we’ve been able to work on the material together like this.”

After the summer, Caniparoli and Manosa could travel to Finland, and rehearsals could resume in the rehearsal rooms. “The dancers and Ballet Master Anu Sistonen of the FNB who had practiced through the spring relayed this movement material to the other dancers in the scene, just as I was doing with other dancers in another rehearsal room.”

The exceptional spring of 2020 has had its impact on Val Caniparoli’s life, even though he notes that he is quite comfortable being alone. He admires how arts institutions have come up with new ways of working, even holding rehearsals. With theatres and museums closed, he has been able to listen to music and do research for forthcoming projects. “The empty streets of San Francisco look sad, and I hope that we can return to normal life soon. I’ve been keeping fit even though I can’t rehearse with dancers. Instead of 25 daily push-ups I now do 100!”

Exceptional arrangements in the orchestra

Orkesteri soittaa turvavälit huomioon ottaen harjoitussalissaThe coronavirus pandemic has led to exceptional solutions in the orchestra pit, too. Social distancing measures are impossible with the entire Orchestra of the Finnish National Opera in the pit, meaning that sections requiring a full-sized orchestra must come from a recording. When orchestra made the recordings in the house during last weeks, conductor Garrett Keast leaded the recording sessions in a large rehearsal hall, which enabled safe distances between the musicians.

The exceptional solution has also affected the orchestra’s rehearsals. “Normally the orchestra can still rehearse the music at dress rehearsals, but in a recording session, everything must be ready immediately. We had to work in performance mode from the beginning, to bring performance energy, exactness and drama to our music making in 2nd and 3rd readings. This was hard work and exciting. Most of the brass, winds and percussion, I will not see again during our run,” Keast says. In performances, he conducts sections with a chamber orchestra in the orchestra pit as usual and directs the sound designer to play the recordings at the right moment.

Text HEIDI ALMI, JUSSI ILTANEN
Videos and photos TYTTI SIUKONEN, HEIKKI TUULI