Several members of the Royal New Zealand Blind Foundation, some with guide dogs, escorted by staff from the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Auckland Live’s Accessibility programme were fortunate indeed to experience  just prior to the Romeo & Juliet performance, a backstage tour accompanied with great explanations from the RNZB Education team, knowledgeable RNZB crew members, the two audio describers and Auckland Live’s support staff.

Having been informed this experience had also been made available to the Sponsors of Romeo and Juliet made all feel tremendously privileged. This tour, and the information emailed previously, enabled us to appreciate the colossal effort which is expended in each ballet production.

There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ backstage. Monitors, screens, underfoot cables identified with yellow tape, tripod legs extending from standing lights in the wings: all hazards to the visually impaired were ‘guarded’ against our fumbling feet by staff placed strategically. The performance area  had been overlaid with a sprung dance floor [so much kinder to the body], seeming to be about 75 mm high, made of sections of thin wood which cushion dancers as they land from those awe-inspiring leaps. Underneath the support blocks had been bolstered because transporting and the erecting and shifting of sets  wear and compact the structure of sprung stages. These, together with the sets and other accompaniments are hired out to other overseas companies. Barres [metal stands which dancers use for balance and support while exercising] stood to one side. No ballerinas or dancers were  practising with these. Someone joked that  was because this was a touch tour.  We did, though,  get to  handle  the varying fabrics and be-jewelled braids of which sumptuous costumes are constructed, the tights and loose blouse as worn by male dancers, a pair of pointe shoes and soft character boots, and what’s more the rapiers and swords needed in the fighting that goes on amongst the relatives of the star struck lovers, Romeo and Juliet. The thin metal blades of the rapiers were turned over for the whole length and the tips were well plugged. Obviously, though the sounds of these contacting during the fight and the parts  where one or two of the cast got run right through as they were ‘murdered ‘were most realistically acted, no one was taking chances with the dancers.

Then, having moved to the front stage overlooking the orchestra pit this  was found to be fenced off by a rope. We were told there was a net over the orchestra’s pit just in case anyone got too energetic with any of the props. How disconcerting it would be if the timpanist drumming discovered a mandolin flying over his head to wop off the piccolo player’s ear!

The last props inspected were masks to be worn in the ball scene which called for merriment before the dastardly deeds. Being gold and quite stiff they appeared sturdy enough for some rough stuff. The finale of the touch tour was a dance workshop where we were invited to try some of the movements as ballet terminology was explained. Based on the French language it described the form of various complex movements such as a pas de chat, pronounced  pah-d-chaa [step of the cat], or a Grand Jetè, announced as grond-jetay, [Big leap]. After this the audio sets were explained and collected. The Grand Performance was about to begin and were we eager? What do you think?

The Audio Described performance of Romeo & Juliet was presented as part of Auckland Live’s Arts Accessibility Programme.