Behind the scenes at the London 2012 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony
Olivia Devyea had a bumpy ride to the Olympics, but after being selected to dance along with hundreds of other ballet dancers and Darcey Bussell, the roller-coaster really took off. Devyea tells her story of how this amazing opportunity came about and what was involved.
“I first found out about Closing Ceremony through my friend who was too young to audition herself, which was a little bit before Christmas. I was only 17 myself but was going to be 18 when rehearsals started so it wasn’t a problem and she sent me over the details on how to be an overall volunteer performer in the ceremony. I jumped at the chance! Anyway I could be involved would be amazing. Little did I know what was to come!!
I went along to the audition which I was so nervous about; I didn’t know what to expect. I assumed it would be very jazz-based and there would be a lot of girls my age wanting the part. I was wrong! It was the most enjoyable audition I have ever been to. We just learnt a few routines that showed our daily routine. For example, we had to learn a short routine that showed us waking up (a big open stretch) putting on our clothes, (as if we were putting our legs into trousers) and brushing our teeth!! (where we held an imaginary tooth-brush to our teeth and literally moved it up and down in rhythm to the music!!) We then had to walk around the room in a big ‘conga-style’ train and follow instructions such as waving our hands above our head, clapping to the music and turning in a little circle. I guess they were looking for fun-filled people, full of enthusiasm. It was so fun and I had a great day, it was lovely to meet such a diverse range of people too.
At the end of the audition they asked if anyone had any skills such as rollerblading or pointe work! I hesitated at first, thinking they would want professionals, but gained the courage and told them I was currently training in ballet at the Legat School of Dance where I gained an academic and dance scholarship the previous year. I had gone there for my vocational dance training as it enabled me to study for my A-levels as well as a professional level of training, in preparation for my further auditions earlier this year.
There were a lot of people there that day so I didn’t really think I’d hear positive news, let alone be asked to be a ballet dancer. When I got the e-mail saying I was recalled for classical ballet – I was shocked. Over the moon!! I couldn’t believe it. But obviously, I still had another round to go.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get much support and was originally told that I wasn’t allowed to go to the audition by my school. It was the worry that rehearsals would be at the same time as my audition and exam period, and would probably be too stressful and too much for me. At the time, I thought I was being told what was best, so I turned it down. My family and I thought it was an opportunity not to be missed; my parents were so, so proud of me but I couldn’t go behind my schools back despite my family supporting me all the way.
However, when I saw Ballet News post that they were still looking for ballet dancers, I HAD to apply. I had regretted not going to my second audition and had realised that I had made a huge mistake. It was silly to miss an opportunity to be a part of the biggest show in the world, and who knows, I may not have even got the role! I thought that I should go as to be given this second chance was a miracle.
I went to the audition on my own at 3 Mills Studios in February not knowing anyone and it was the most nerve-wracking audition ever… purely because I knew if I got it, it would be the most amazing experience of my life. When we first walked into the audition studio and met with Cindy, our ballet cast co-ordinator, I was already in shock! I recognized her from somewhere and couldn’t put my finger on it. I did my research and found out she was the Ballet Dancer on the Take That Tour that I was mesmerized by, as she had my dream job!! I remember going to the concert and just thinking I wanted to be her.. and there she was – auditioning me!! It was a privilege to be dancing with her as she has had an amazing career working with The Royal Ballet Company. She taught us a short routine based on Swan Lake. It was on pointe which I have been doing since I was 11. It was very challenging but I had to try my best.
When I received the e-mail saying I had got a role, I was astonished. I couldn’t speak!!! I had already been through a bit of a roller coaster to get another audition, let alone the part. I was so thankful to Ballet News as it gave me a second chance.
Luckily, my school were over the moon for me. My headmaster was so supportive as I proved to them that I could handle the business of it all. I couldn’t wait for rehearsals, which were at 3 Mills Studios at the end of May and taken by Cindy along with Jonathan Howells, and Alastair Marriott, who were a pleasure to work with. They were very long and exhausting (up to 5 hours!) but so enjoyable. It felt like I was part of a company and to be working towards the closing ceremony was a mind-blowing feeling.
We worked very closely on technique and the execution of each step such as eschappes, relevé and more complicated sequences that involved a developpe a la seconde with a relevé, into a plie, followed quickly by a tight fifth position. It was very repetitive and a long tiring day but was worth it. Luckily, my mum works at 3 Mills Studios in Bow so it was convenient for both of us! When rehearsals moved to Dagenham at the beginning of August it was even more exciting. We went to a big open space that was used for rehearsals and it was amazing to meet all the other cast members, just to see the amount of work and dedication everyone had put in!
We’d been fitted for our costumes very early on in the process, so when we were finally given them in Dagenham it was so exciting! Then we got the pointe shoes, which were supplied by Freed. Yes, the shoes. The beautiful black pointe shoes decorated with Swarovski crystals. Wow. I felt so honoured to own my own pair. But little did we know the problems we were about to have! Due to the material of the unitard, the pointe shoes didn’t want to stay on our feet, so on our one and only dress rehearsal (yes, one!) many shoes fell off as well as head dresses. We later resolved this problem with many different solutions; one being that we had to sew our shoes to our unitard! Interesting!
I ended up cutting a small hole in the heel of my costume in order for the shoe to rub against my skin rather than the softness of the costume. I’d rather have blisters and my shoes on my feet than no blisters and one of my shoes amongst the audience!
We had little radios with headphones that were attached to us, for us to hear the music which created humour in itself.. especially when people didn’t realise they were still on speaker and the whole cast could hear EXACTLY what they were saying… but I better not repeat it! 😉
There was a section in our piece where we do a floor sequence and we were looking up to the sky; every time this section came around, the feelings really hit me. Just to look up to a blank sky and think ‘am I really doing this?’ and taking it all in….and that was just in rehearsals. When the day finally came I was most looking forward to this section as I knew that I would be looking up to the insides of the stadium, surrounding the black starry sky, full of cheers, clapping and the amazement that the audience would be feeling.
I couldn’t sleep the night before (not a good mix for a 14 hour day!) but it felt like Christmas, I was so excited yet, very very nervous. The day finally came and all 200 of us arrived at the Olympic Park. I was still very nervous but luckily I have a close friend who was performing towards the beginning of the ceremony and he is used to performing to a large audience, and it was nice to have the reassurance and friendliness that made me feel a lot more relaxed! It was a very long day that consisted of a lot of waiting, getting ready and for me, ‘nervous eating’!! We almost didn’t have the chance to do a technical rehearsal which panicked all the dancers but we finally did in the end, and even that felt amazing – just to be in the stadium as it was filling up and to dance in such a big open space, full of fresh air.
During the day Darcey Bussell came down close to our dressing room to meet with everyone. She was so lovely; signing shoes, programmes and having many, many pictures taken.
The time finally came and we all headed to our “voms” which were the entrances and an experience in themselves, meeting all other cast members and athletes. Again, I found myself asking “am I really doing this?” But yes, yes I was. Listening to Take That perform before us was even enjoyable! The excitement and adrenaline we all felt meant we were jumping up and down, singing along, hugging each other. I was worried at first because my pointe shoes really weren’t comfy (are they ever?!) but as soon as we got to the “voms”, all the pain had left my feet and all I felt was adrenaline and excitement. Our time finally came and all of a sudden we were running out into the stadium. Wow. The lights. The music. The audience. Everything came together perfectly and it was the most surreal experience.
To dance for the athletes as well was an exhilarating feeling; to do something for them after all their hard work. After all, the ceremony is for them and to be grateful and rewarding of all their work, time and effort.
Afterwards we all celebrated during the finale and it was just a massive party. It was quite a relief as there was no pressure, just every excuse to have fun and celebrate the dedication that everyone in that stadium; performers, artists, athletes, coordinators. etc had put in. Everyone was mixing and coming together before we quickly got escorted back to our dressing room. There were tears here and there, happy ones of course, and everyone having photographs with each other. The feeling was overwhelming. I still couldn’t believe what I had done. Looking up at the sky full of fireworks combined with the ecstatic celebratory mood that everyone was in was phenomenal.
I didn’t want the night to end! A few fellow cast members carried on the celebrations and headed out to London but I had to get my train back to Kent where I had to go back to reality.
Through the many auditions, the many rehearsals, the long drives up to Bromley-by-Bow and Dagenham… everything had finally come together and been worth it. I came back from my holiday in order to attend rehearsals and I’m so glad I did. To experience the feelings I did is an experience itself. I can’t describe how I felt because it honestly is indescribable, but I know that I want to re-live that moment every single day. It was an honour to dance in the Closing Ceremony, along with Darcey Bussell and several other professional ballerinas from English National Ballet, and of course, I will never, ever forget it. I went into it alone, but left with many life-long friends that will share the experience with me forever.”