I can say with absolute confidence that I was not in my best shape when accepting the offer to do Cats again. The last time I performed in Cats was 5 years ago and the last time I performed on stage was almost a year and a half ago. Add a pregnancy into the mix, and, well, need I say more.
But never one to turn down a challenge, I took the bull by the horns and did what needed to be done. My first attempt at re-teaching myself the choreography I had completely forgotten was by watching clips from YouTube. This bright idea was obviously a waste of time so I contacted my earlier Cats dance captain to see if she had a better memory of the moves than I did.
I was in luck and she agreed to work with me a few days a week in an old squash court until I had relearnt most of the show. I decided to focus on just the main dance numbers and leave the rest for the 6 days of rehearsals scheduled for Macao. Until then it was up to me to work by myself to get my fitness levels back to a reasonable level and the felinity of a cat back into my body.
Then suddenly my time was up and I found myself in Macao on my way to day one of rehearsals. From 9am to 6pm. With the Joanne Robinson. Great stuff. To say I was scared is a vast understatement. Then again, there were other new cast members who probably felt the same way. Although they did have 2 days of rehearsals in Sydney learning the entire show in its most up-to-date form.
What happens is each time Cats is launched in a new country a million tiny details are refined and changed so that the version I learnt 5 years ago was completely different to the current one. Where I used to be placed upstage right I was now downstage left and so on. Add to that the non-dance numbers I had decided not the learn and there were moments of me being dragged, quite literally, around the room by fellow performers – a great bonding experience.
After 3 full days we had run the entire show. That’s the whole 2.5 hour production in just 3 days. Surprisingly my body was feeling alright despite a few niggles in the obvious knees, back and hamstrings so I was quite proud of myself.
Then we moved to the stage and the hours got longer. 12 noon to 10pm. Although I had worked by myself, it’s one thing dancing around a squash court by yourself and quite another working on a huge stage with 20 other performers. Watching your spacing and timing, perfecting costume quick changes and maintaining your character throughout the show all take their toll on the body.
I had also forgotten how much time my character, Victoria, spends on her knees. Being a kitten, she is never in a standing position unless it is one of the big dance numbers. Also she never leaves the stage, she is in every number. This is a very different experience to Phantom of the Opera where the ballet dancers are only in 4 numbers so there are up to 45 minutes of off-stage time to relax.
Thankfully we had a fantastic physiotherapist at our disposal and massages at the hotel spa but despite all this, by the end of day 6 I could barely stand up straight. In fact, while I am sure in my 12-year dance career I have experienced extreme pain, I seriously could not remember ever feeling that sore. My knees were broken, my lower back felt like it had a metal rod instead of a spine and my hip flexors woke me in the middle of the night.
But as any performer will tell you, it was worth it! I love rehearsals. It’s so satisfying to feel yourself get fitter and stronger and perfect the work. 5 years ago I had 5 weeks of rehearsals, in Macao, just 6 days. But in those 6 days I had gone from mildly fit with a vague idea of what I was doing to being show ready and feeling very much like my pre-pragnancy self. Well, almost.
After the longest week of my life we were one day away from Opening. For me it was a true test of character. After leaving Phantom I thought I would never set foot on stage again and there I was about to perform in an extremely challenging show so dear to my heart. And I couldn’t wait to feel that magic feeling when you are on stage with an audience…
Next time, Curtain Up!