Interview: Cindy Jourdain - Ballet Coordinator, Olympic Closing Ceremony
Former Royal Ballet ballerina Cindy Jourdain was the Ballet Co-ordinator for the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, responsible for finding and working with 200 ballet dancers to perform in Spirit of the Flame alongside Darcey Bussell, who swooped out of retirement on the wings of a phoenix at the end of the show, just before Thomas Heatherwick’s spectacular cauldron was extinguished. She tells us more about her once on a lifetime experience…
What did you role as Ballet Coordinator on the Olympic Closing Ceremony involve?
Where do I start… It certainly wasn’t your straight forward run of the mill everyday job, there were so many angles to cover and I had a big task ahead of me. I laugh now looking back as we found it so hard to find the right job title for me. I guess I project managed the Ballet section of the Closing Ceremony and made sure the idea came to life. Here’s just a few things it involved: recruiting 200 ballerinas,co-ordinating all the logistics and aspects of the rehearsals/helping develop mass choreography/teaching and coaching the girls/assisting Christopher Wheeldon with the principal cast/working closely with Kim Gavin and his team creatively to keep track of any production requirements/changes or potential issues…the list goes on.
Where did you find all the dancers?
I had a meeting with LOCOG casting department last summer and advised them on how to go about the search. From November to February we held open auditions and I took hundreds of dancers from all over the country through routines from the classical repertoire to assess their technical and artistic abilities. By April I officially joined the Closing Ceremony Creative Team and became Head of Ballet with still half of my cast missing and an accreditation deadline. I used my extensive book of contacts, industry recommendations, social networks and read a lot of CVs sent over from local British schools to source more dancers. At a later stage dancers from English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet School came on board to form a final eclectic ensemble. We wanted a real community feel with a professional atmosphere. The girls were all volunteers, most of them at amateur level who turned out to be super troopers and real gems!
Who was responsible for the choreography of the Spirit of the Flame section?
The ballet was a World Premiere, bringing to life Kim Gavin’s original vision about the Olympic flame’s spirit and it’s upcoming journey to Rio. Christopher Wheeldon is the choreographer behind the choreography for Darcey Bussell & the four Royal Ballet men – Gary Avis, Edward Watson, Nehemiah Kish and Jonathan Cope .
Alistair Marriott took the challenging task of mass choreography and together with Jonathan Howells ( Royal Ballet ballet master ) we all worked very hard with the given parameters in the studio, sometimes by email or via skype when Christopher was out of the country in order to prepare for what was ahead. Being a big family and having known each other for a long time through our collective dancing/work for the Royal Ballet company really helped us along the way.
How long did the dancers have to work on it – how many rehearsals? And where did you rehearse before you got in to the stadium on the day?
We had a very tight schedule with both the girls and Darcey. With the 200 dancers we used spaces at 3 Mills Film Studios in the East End and then moved on to Dagenham, a big open space with a built up stage, where we sometimes had to brave very bad weather conditions. We had to have a ‘Plan B’ in case of rain on the day and we ended up modifying some of the choreography due to the rake [on the performance area], all in all we had the equivalent of one and a half weeks rehearsal spread out over a few months. For the principal cast the biggest challenge was to get every one together in the same country, available at the same time with somewhere for us to work! The Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet School and English National Ballet very kindly helped with studios, however we were all overbooked with end of season’s commitments and our rehearsal schedule was amended all the time. Despite everything there was always a very dedicated and proactive atmosphere in the studio. We moved to the stadium on the day and managed a very quick run in practice gear and in the daylight. The full cast performed Spirit of the Flames for the first time on the night in front of us, thousands in the stadium and millions around the world.
Who was responsible for the overall design/costumes?
The amazing team behind the Closing Ceremony was led by Kim Gavin,creative director; David Arnold, music director; Es Devlin, designer; Patrick Woodroofe, lighting designer and Michael Sharp, costume designer.
Did you dance on the night?
I didn’t – but thanks to Kim Gavin I experienced dancing in front of massive audiences for the first time last year during Take That’s Progress Live reunion tour where I performed a beautiful solo en pointe every night. It was incredibly liberating and the atmosphere was electric, it used to get me right to the core every night, so it was really interesting this time around to be on the other side of the fence watching something I help create come together and presenting it to the world for such an iconic event. Needless saying it was nerve racking. Once Darcey landed on stage with all the girls nestling around her and the music changed from operatic to electric guitar I felt a huge rush of pride and by the time the flame went out I knew we all had achieved something very special for ourselves and for the ballet community. What an honour!
Did you get a chance to enjoy the Olympics as well – any particular highlights?
I love sport and have always been a massive fan of the Olympic Games. It’s all about determination, pushing yourself to the limit, extreme motivation and inspiring others. I started by watching late night coverage on the BBC after work – with no tickets at all – and ended up going to the rowing at Eton Dorney, beach volley ball at Horse Guards Parade and a very exciting men’s handball semi-final at the Olympic Park. Too many highlights, every day was so unique with mind blowing performances from the athletes.
How do you follow a job like the Olympic Closing Ceremony?!
You keep the memories inside forever and move on, that s what you do. I m performing with a stellar cast in a new production of Timon of Athens at the National Theatre at the moment and am really looking forward to Love Tomorrow, a British independent feature film I shot post-Royal Ballet, premiering very soon. There are other very different opportunities in the diary that I also want to explore, I’m very driven, versatile and passionate, so who knows where my heart will take me next!
Follow Cindy Jourdain on Twitter @cindyjitsu