Music maestro back in hometown with ballet
From the 42nd Street score to lesser-known tunes by Louis Armstrong, Invercargill-raised class pianist Nick Giles-Palmer has hundreds of hours of music to give the Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers exactly the mood they need before the curtain lifts.
In the Wellington dance studio last week, Giles-Palmer's fingers run down the length of the piano, matching 32 company dancers pirouette for pirouette as they prepared for that evening's production of Cinderella.
Then, with a rhythmic snapping of the fingers from ballet master Greg Horsman, Giles-Palmer brings the mood down as the dancers shifted to a new arrangement.
Giles-Palmer nodded to the beat of the snapping fingers until he pulled the right composer from the "two cubic metres of sheet music" stored in his memory.
"Right," he said, as his fingers began to move. "Gershwin."
A pianist for the ballet company since 1982, Giles-Palmer has been "reading" dancers and choreographers for 30 years.
"When I stop or get up, I'm picturing their steps in my head," he said. "Then I come back to the piano and I give them a tune."
It was a great responsibility, he agreed, after the dancers took a break. Giles-Palmer also performs regularly for the NZ Film Archive, playing piano for silent film. But it took a special mix of skill, hard work and intuition to be an accompanist to "live" dancers.
"Improvisation, good sight reading, but also research to give a wide variety," he said. He could tell when the dancers were getting bored with Beethoven. "You've got to have a freshness to it."
Sometimes he played a new piece and dancers would "flock like seagulls" to the piano to find out what it was, he said.
He credited his two piano teachers from Invercargill's O'Byrne School of Music - sisters Eileen Ruby and May O'Byrne, both in their 80s when they taught him from age 10 - for solid instruction that set him on the right path before he moved to Wellington.
"They taught me good manners," he said. He wasn't the most talented pianist as a youth, but the sisters taught him about work ethic. "They encouraged things that were already there in me." Cinderella will be performed at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill this Tuesday and Wednesday
Tickets can be booked through Ticket Direct. Catch our behind-the-scenes feature on the dancers in Monday's Southland Times.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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