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‘Get behind the yellow line’ – the Rockettes’ orderly chaos

| blog, Dance, L&B World, Rockettes, US | December 28, 2015



The signature move. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

(AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



The Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular show at Radio City Music Hall is a cornerstone of New York City’s end of the year holiday season. Along with the famous dancers kicking up their legs in perfect unison, the extravaganza features dancing Santas, a nativity scene with real camels, fireworks and a Santa Claus flying through the clouds on a sleigh.

AFP’s New York-based photographer Timothy A. Clary has been photographing Rockettes’ rehearsals and tryouts since 2003 and this year decided to take a look behind the scenes.

“Their show is perfection,” he writes. “But backstage, it’s perfection with organized chaos. If you stand in the wrong place, you’ll get run over. I finally got to see what goes on behind the curtain.”




By Timothy A. Clary



The signature move. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

The signature move. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



New York, December 28, 2015 – I’ve been covering the Rockettes since 2003, shooting their rehearsals and try-outs. They’re such an iconic New York institution, especially at this time of the year. In New York, it’s a ritual of the Christmas season to go see a Radio City show. And the Rockettes are THE show at Radio City Music Hall.

But shooting the rehearsals, you don’t get to see that much. So there is a kind of mystery to the dancers. You see them kicking in unison and smiling, but you don’t know much about them. So I’ve been seeing the same thing since 2003 and I thought it would be nice to see something that I haven’t seen before.



Rockettes from backstage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Rockettes from backstage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



Organized chaos

Their show is such perfection. But backstage, it’s perfection with organized chaos. If you stand in the wrong place, you’ll get run over. I finally got to see what goes on behind the curtain.

As a spectator, I’ve seen the show about six times. I love it. Everything about it. The numbers are great and so polished. The theater is beautiful, it’s just stunning inside. It’s just such a pretty thing to do at this time of the year. So this year, I asked the Radio City public relations people if I could spend a day with them or shoot behind the scenes of a show.

Once the Christmas Spectacular show starts its run in mid-November, there are about four performances each day until it closes a few days after New Year’s. They allowed me to attend an 11:00 am show in early December.



Reindeer preparing for the stage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Reindeer preparing for the stage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



78 seconds to change outfits

Once I arrived I met the public relations woman from Radio City and she introduced me to the stage manager and the first thing we did was to go over the rules of what I could and couldn’t shoot. Turns out I couldn’t shoot a lot of things.

For one thing, I couldn’t shoot a Rockette unless she was completely dressed. Completely. So if she doesn’t have her gloves on, I can’t take a picture. The dancers go through eight costume changes each show. For one of them, they have 78 seconds to change into a different outfit. So as they come off the stage, they’re taking their dress off getting ready to slide into something else. As you can imagine, there were a lot of pictures that I couldn’t take.



Rag Dolls prepare to dance. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Rag Dolls prepare to dance. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



Constant motion

The show lasts an hour and a half and the choreography is not limited to the numbers on stage. Backstage it’s an hour and a half of unbelievably crazy choreography.

There are about 250 people backstage during the show, 150 of them cast – the Rockettes, Santa Claus, other dancers. And then there are the animals – the camels, sheep and a donkey for the nativity scene, which has been part of the show since it started running in 1933.

And for the entire hour and a half these 250 people and beasts are in constant motion – dressing, undressing, rushing from one part of the stage – the biggest indoor stage in the world I believe – to another.

So for the entire hour and a half, the stage manager was literally pulling me on and off the stage because every time I moved there was a Rockette coming in, or a giant panda, or a camel.



Backstage ahead of a number. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Heading out. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



Basically it was an hour and a half of a real workout. I was literally running up and down the biggest indoor theater in the world. And it’s not like it’s on one level. To get from one part of the stage to another, you often have to go down a couple of levels, run across and come back up.

So I had to be careful that I didn’t get in the way, that I didn’t take a picture of someone who wasn’t completely dressed. Oh, and that I wasn’t seen by the audience.



Final minute adjustments. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Final-minute adjustments. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



At one point, I was down below the stage with the Rockettes as they got ready for the number with the giant alphabet blocks. And there was this yellow line between the building blocks. And they kept saying ‘Be careful where you stand, Be careful where you stand, Get behind the yellow line.” And I was thinking, ‘what’s the big deal, I won’t be in the way.' But I moved. And good thing I did. That little yellow line? If I had been on it for a little while longer, I would have gone up on the stage with the Rockettes.



That yellow line. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

That yellow line. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



Basically backstage is controlled chaos. Everybody is coming and going and you have to be careful you don’t get run over. From the side, it looks like complete pandemonium. But in reality, everyone knows exactly where they’re going. There are these dancers who wear these giant masks and I asked – is there somebody who leads these people on and off and I was told ‘No, they know the routine so well that they are on and off like clockwork.”

I have to say, they were very accommodating in letting me have the run of the house. Working in New York with the entertainment industry is exciting, but there are a bunch of rules that you have to respect and if you break them, you’ll never work with them again.

The Rockette is a very polished brand and for them not to have it in a perfect light all the time, it’s not something that they want. I can understand that.



Before the fall. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Before the fall. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



And the soldiers come tumbling down

The epic piece of the show is the toy soldiers act. It’s called “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and in it the dancers collapse like dominos. It’s been performed every year since the Rockettes began in 1933 with the same costumes and the same choreography.

I was shooting it from the wings and the hat of one of the Rockettes came off as they were falling down. That’s a big no-no. And of course, according to the rules, she’s not fully dressed. So the stage manager looked at me and his look was very clear – “if that picture goes out…”

Which of course meant that I didn’t have shots of the most iconic part of the show. So I asked to be able to go back and reshoot it and they said yes.



And they all came tumbling down. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

And they all came tumbling down. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



Another thing that you can’t do is to photograph the crew. Or rather, you can photograph them, but if you want to use the photo, you have to ask permission. So there is one photo that I took of a crew member high-fiving the dancers before they went out on stage. I had to ask permission to use that one.



High fives. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

High fives. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



I spent a lot of time worrying about not getting in the way, but aside from the stage manager, no one really paid any attention to me. I recognized a few of the dancers, but for the most part, they don’t even know you’re there. They’re really busy. They have so little time to get on and off the stage. Their costumes are lined up, their hats are put in bins.



Hung out to rest. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Hung out. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)



Everything is set out for them, so there are no mistakes. They don’t even notice anybody backstage, especially not a photographer, who is not part of the show. They’re too busy preparing for when they’re in the spotlight.


Timothy A. Clary is an AFP photographer based in New York City. Follow him on Instagram.

This blog was written with Yana Dlugy in Paris.


Click on a photo to start the slideshow:

Preparing for the stage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Ahead of the 'Rag Dolls' number. (Timothy A. Clary) Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Kicking up their heels. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Wooden soldiers prepare to tumble. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) And the soldiers come tumbling down. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) The last soldiers to fall. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Backstage ahead of the opening number. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Rag Doll backstage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Stepping up. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Rag Dolls all in a row. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Rad Dolls perform on stage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Laughing it up. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Wooden soldiers backstage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Costumes awating. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) On their toes. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) A view from backstage. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary) Stretching backstage ahead of the opening number. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

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Covering the obscure side of the awakening force

| blog, film, L&B World, StarWars | December 18, 2015



Waiting for the premiere to start in France. (AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard)

(AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard)



What was it like to be among the first people in the world to see the new Star Wars film?

For AFP's Paris-based cinema correspondent Sophie Laubie, witnessing the mega secret campaign ahead of Disney’s eagerly-awaited release felt like accomplishing a mission of galactic proportions.




By Sophie Laubie



Waiting for the premiere to start in France. (AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard)

Waiting for the premiere to start in France. (AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard)



Paris, December 18, 2015 -- What was it like to be among the first people in the world to see the new Star Wars film? For this Paris-based cinema reporter, witnessing the mega secret campaign ahead of Disney’s eagerly-awaited release felt like accomplishing a mission of galactic proportions.

As for nearly all films, the release of the seventh installment in the popular saga -- on December 16 in certain European countries and on December 18 in the US -- was preceded by screenings for VIPs and the press.

What set the Star Wars screenings apart were the the draconian, never-before-seen conditions that Disney imposed on the media to prevent them from revealing details of the film before its general release.



(AFP Graphics)

(AFP Graphics)



The world premiere took place in Hollywood for 5,000 lucky people chosen by draw along with stars and celebrities. My Los Angeles-based colleague Veronique Dupont was among the journalists attending the premiere. These lucky few do not have the right to write anything about the plot.

The film’s Paris press showing, a day ahead of the general release, is a scenario more in line with a spy film than an intergalactic saga.



A storm trooper ice sculpture in Liege, Belgium. (AFP/John Thys)

A storm trooper ice sculpture in Liege, Belgium. (AFP/John Thys)



At the start of December, I receive an enigmatic email from a certain “Star Wars,” inviting me to an “exceptional showing” that will allow me to “count myself among the first people not only in France but in the entire world, to discover this eagerly awaited film.”

The email doesn’t self-destruct in 10 seconds. But I am asked to sign a confidentiality agreement in which I promise not to reveal the plot or the links between the characters, in order not to spoil the surprise for paying film-goers. I also have to promise not to publish a review before Wednesday, December 16 at 9:01. Any violation of the agreement will be taken seriously and could lead to legal action, warns the email.



"Captain Phasma

"Captain Phasma" at a party in downtown Rome on the eve of the film's premiere. (AFP/Filippo Monteforte)



Embargos on film reviews are not a rare occurrence for big American productions. But these restrictions made many reporters grumble. 

Still, to get in, I have to sign. Once I do so, I receive a code, my personal, non-transferable key on my cell phone that I will need to enter the screening. I know that the screening will take place on Tuesday. But the exact hour and the place will only be revealed the day before, by SMS, to the 300 journalists invited to the event. Another mystery. Usually film screenings in France take place several days, sometimes even weeks, ahead of the release, and the hour and place of the screening are known well ahead of time.

Around 3:00 pm on Monday the coveted SMS bings on my phone. We finally know what time we’ll be watching the film the next day. Place? Waaaay outside central Paris.



Sabers at the ready ahead of the premiere in Paris. (AFP/Eric Feferberg)

Sabers at the ready ahead of the premiere in Paris. (AFP/Eric Feferberg)



When I and the other journalists gather at the appointed hour in front of the venue, many of us are under the impression of covering something big, grand, much more important than a movie premiere. The doors open an hour ahead of the start of the screening. We are asked for our codes and our IDs. Security guards scrupulously examine our bags. Others confiscate our cell phones, placing them in paper envelopes that are then sealed. The cells will remain there for the duration of the screening.

Ahead of the premiere, Disney warned us that cell phones would not be permitted in the screening and that security agents equipped with night-vision equipment will be scanning the room on the lookout for any infractions. The advance materials that usually accompany film premieres are absent this time. All this so that film goers can watch the movie free of any prejudices, we are told again and again.

Having gone through all the security measures, the exhausted journalists can at last enter the coveted room. Some more agonizing minutes pass…. and the film starts, accompanied by John Williams’ mythical music.



Click here to watch on a mobile device.



As we watch the film, we notice shadows lurking here and there on the sidelines of the screening room -- the security agents on the prowl for smuggled phones or cameras.

After two and a half hours, the reporters leave this most unusual screening. What to think of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens?” The seventh installment will not disappoint fans of the cult series. And the journalist covering this event? She can go back to her office with the feeling that she has accomplished an incredible mission in a galaxy far, far away. When in reality she simply saw a movie.


Sophie Laubie covers cinema for AFP in Paris. Follow her on Twitter.

This blog was translated by Yana Dlugy. Read the original in French here.



Cleaning up in front of an ad in Hong Kong. (AFP/Anthony Wallace)

Cleaning up in front of an ad in Hong Kong. (AFP/Anthony Wallace)



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