By Julie Barzilay
The whole company was present and accounted for by 6:30 p.m. For the next half-hour the girlsâ bathroom next to Rugby Auditorium was filled with bobby pins, eye shadow, blush and hair spray as 22 dancers and four teachers prepared to take the stage for night number two of the annual upper school Dance Concert.
Stretching silently onstage, we listened with rapt attention as Director Cyndy Winterâs voice echoed through the rafters. She emphasized the importance of attacking each movement with renewed vigor and zeal to avoid the infamous “second-night slump” that sometimes comes when performers let their guards down after opening night. Passion! She cried â tell the story! Share the beauty youâve worked so hard to create!
During warmup, the focus was tangible. The lyrics of John Legendâs “If Youâre Out There” blared through Alanna Bram â09âs iPod speakers and rose up through our synchronized bodies. We even added some extra pump-up exercises to our top-secret pre-show rituals to make sure we were energized and focused enough to convey the messages we were about to share.
Heroesâ¦courageâ¦.save meâ¦.rescueâ¦.slaying dragonsâ¦.Each theme pulsed through us as we stood holding our breath backstage 60 seconds before the first dancer was to take the stage and launch the concert. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
In each wing a moment of frozen glances and then frantic, questioning gestures. What WAS that? A car alarm? No, it was far too loud. A fire drill? A real fire? Could the water-based haze have triggered the alarm? Would the audiences evacuate? Not after six months of rehearsals gearing towards this exact moment in timeâ¦.
I rushed to the opposite side of the stage, hurriedly pulling my Ugg boots onto my frozen bare feet, ready to exit the theater if instructed. Dancers in gray clothes and matching Clark Kent glasses, dancers dressed as knights and one dancer casually wearing a prop firefighterâs hat scurried all around the tiny right wing, essentially freaking out.
“Is that a fireman?” “Should we get into the bomb shelter?” “Stay focused!” “Is everyone leaving? Are they gone?”
Men with flashlights (and Daniel Lundberg â10) were scaling the scaffoldsâ¦. assistant director Imani Alexander â99 and producer Matthew Krumpe â08 were zipping back and forth, heaving up the vertical metal emergency exit door none of us knew existedâ¦.Ruth Chobanu raced towards me, looking left and right, breathing “just checking that there isnât actually a fire back hereâ¦.”
It was dark and the audienceâs volume was nearing the din of the siren. At least they were still there. The clock ticked a half an hour past the intended start time, then 35 minutesâ¦. There is a level of hard work and focus that culminates in a temporary and powerful convergence of consciousness before a performance like the one we were supposed to have started already.
Itâs almost tangible how unified and mentally prepared the cast as a whole becomes in the precious seconds before sharing our work with the audience. And the siren blasted through all that. But the most alarming part was thatâ¦.
“Thatâs not a fireman, right? Thatâs Danny Rudyak.”
Danny had donned one of our firefighter costume hats as a joke. We danced about firemen, crossing guards, doctors and many more in the show. So it couldnât be a real-life hero coming to save us, could it? But there were at least three of them â four even.
Half of the dancers were standing outside in the frigid air to escape the blaring sirenâ¦.the other half formed a tight huddle in the tiny downstage right wing to stay centered and calmâ¦.and of course to discuss the relative pros and cons of going onstage and making up a dance to the beat of the siren.
And then our heroes arrived. They went into the aisles. They silenced the wailing beat. There was no fire â it wasnât clear what had triggered the alarm â but they saved us nonetheless. They perched briefly on the stage. The crowd went wild. Apparently some audience members originally thought the deafening noise was an intentional opening number to our hero-themed concert.
Pictures were snapped backstage. Introductions were in order. And many, many, thanks. It was surreal.
Maybe the incident broke our concentration and irritated our audience, but maybe it also reminded us why we wanted to honor heroes in the first place âthey come through in times of panic and lift the burden onto their own shoulders. Less than four minutes later we were entering the stage for the concertâs opening, shaking slightly but slowly leaving the panic behind and immersing ourselves in the world we were creating.
It was a new energy, but it was unique and, from what I could tell, enough of a bizarre novelty to prevent us from succumbing to a second-night slump. Maybe we should try having emergency alarms sound off before every performanceâ¦.