A blessing for the audience, NOT for the dancers
A raked (or inclined) theatre stage is built on an angle that slopes upward and away from the front the stage, away from the audience. It improves the view, supports the illusion and help make choreographic designs clear. Raked stages are nowadays usually with a rake of 5 degrees or less. There are far more common today in Europe, with its deep theatrical traditions in the Middle ages. Almost all American stages have flat floors, except the Philadelphia Academy of Music and a few Broadway productions f.e. the version of the musical Billy Elliot.
Visiting professional dancers have been known to experience vertigo when they first set foot on raked stages. Balance is completely different. It takes a good deal of adjustment during the first few days on a raked stage, especially when turning. Even the risk of injury increases by three times for dancers on raked stages.
Léonide Massine, a Russian reknown choreographer and ballet dancer, writes in My Life in Ballet (1968) that the Paris Opera’s „raked stage, which is unusually steep, made my long solo dance even more difficult. I found it very difficult to keep my balance as the dance progressed, and I was always afraid of falling into the orchestra pit.“ (page 58)
Some Russian stages are raked as well. Read this quote: „When the NYCB went on its first Cold War tour of the Soviet Union in 1962 dancers were apparently terrified of the raked stages at first, as one can tell from both Villela’s and Kent’s delightful memoirs. Allegra Kent notes that even the studio floors in the Bolshoi were raked at the same angle as the main stage (Source https://balletalert.invisionzone.com/topic/17829-raked-stage/).“
After the reconstruction of the Bolschoi Theater, the main stage can become horizontal, raked or stepped. The stage at the Mariinsky Theater has a 3 percent rake, which means it has an upward slope from downstage to upstage.
I asked Ksenia Ovsyanick, principal dancer with the Staatsballett Berlin, about her personal experiences as she performed on more than 100 stages in the world.
„In Berlin the main stages are flat, except for one – Komische Oper. It definitely provides a challenge for dancing. But the challenge lies in the need to change between flat and raked floor, as you have to adjust to a different sense of balance. If you train on the rake, you get used to it and it becomes natural, but switching between the two takes quite a bit of adjusting. The rake does also has impact on the technique in some way, making it a lot harder to jump when you move from downstage up for example, but at the same time allowing traveling from upstage down to be lighter and more impressive. From the audience perspective, Im actually not sure how much difference it makes. As far as I know the rake was created more with opera in mind, which is (was) mostly static, and it allowed the audience to see full pattern of everyone on stage. In ballet I don’t think it has as much of impact, as a lot more attention is on the movement. But I suppose for the big scenes, such as white acts, the garden in Le Corsaire or similar it would add visual grandness for the audience in the stalls. Yet the main challenge for the raked stages is that you have to have the environment to rehearse on the rake as well. Which is why only few theatres in the world kept this culture, because their facilities, rehearsal rooms and schools are built for that.“
Photo on Top: Building of the Raked Stage for SBCT © youtube.com
Dear Dancers. Please share your opinion. What theaters have raked stages as well? Thank you for your support!