WHAT IS A SUPERNUMERARY? The term may be unfamiliar to many, but for dance companies and stage production staff everywhere a supernumerary is an integral part of any show. The internet’s font of communal knowledge, Wikipedia, defines a supernumerary as an “additional member of an organization.” An extra.
But if we simply leave it at that, what are we really missing? What is the real role of a supernumerary in a Ballet San Jose show like The Nutcracker?
We asked our Production Stage Manager Les Reinhardt to weigh in:
Supernumeraries, or as they are often called “Supers,” are an important component of any large-scale story ballet. Ballet San Jose has Supers in The Nutcracker, Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Toreador, Swan Lake, and Giselle. Supers are generally male roles, since most ballets require guards of some sort to stand around (The Nutcracker, Giselle, Swan Lake) — and some Supers have even gone as far as to be animals…like our 2 horses in The Toreador — which is why I’ve grown to call them our Super Men. (Though yes, we do have a few female roles, and in those cases they are our Super Gals.)
The Super Men of Ballet San Jose are really like members of the Company. One of our Supers is coming up on his 20th year of being in The Nutcracker this December, and that really is something to celebrate. We hold auditions for all of our Super Roles, and only the best Super Men are selected to be part of our shows. The Supers rehearse with a member of Artistic Staff and Stage Management alone. Then, when they are ready, they join rehearsals with the professional dancers. They share the stage during Technical and Dress Rehearsals, and take time out of their work schedules to help make our performances as great as they can be! I really enjoy getting to work with these Super Men on Saturdays as we rehearse their specific Nutcracker roles, and it’s great to see them master these parts.
Being a Super Man is no simple task. It has been said time and time again by Daniel Gwatkin, BSJ School Administrator and former Company Soloist who runs our Saturday rehearsals, that “walking and running can be the most difficult things to do correctly onstage.” If you have to think about walking: take 9 steps, starting with the right leg, then stop in sync with your partner, then military turn to your left, then step downstage (towards the audience) with your inside leg closest to your partner for 2 steps, then military turn away from him… It can get overly complicated. Couple those steps with remembering to swing one arm naturally while the other is holding a spear that must constantly rotate so that the blade is always flat to the audience — and you’ve got one of the more difficult Super Roles in The Nutcracker.
While some roles are highly coveted, like our Priest, Chestnut Vendor and Major Domo (the man who calls the shots in our Grand Ballroom), they entail an even higher level of difficulty. These roles require the understanding, counting and memorization of music — a real sense of musicality. While the Priest must conduct the carolers and he and the Vendor must interact in time with the Company Dancers, Major Domo tells me when to take the curtain out on the Waltz, signals the Conductor when to begin to lead the symphony for the Grand Pas de Deux, and more.
These wonderful volunteers who make up our ranks of Super Men are a vital part of our story ballets. They fill our crowd scenes, make our castles look official, and carry Juliet’s body into the crypt. The show will always go on with the help of our wonderful Super Men.
See you this December!