BB Up Close

In case I ever develop a case of the “I never win anythings” someone please remind me of this:

Apparently when I renewed my subscription for Boston Ballet’s 2014-15 season super-duper early I was entered in a contest. I don’t recall this fact. I was just so excited about the line-up and I adored my seats so much that I simply wanted to secure my spot in the next season’s action.

But I was.

And I won!

What did I win?

Oh
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.
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just the chance to go watch Boston Ballet’s Swan Lake rehearsals!

My non-ballet acquaintances were all, “Oh, that’s… nice?”

To which I replied, “Nice? Nice?! It’s fan-f&^$ing-tastic!”

Because I am a big ballet nerd.

Thankfully I’m well-acquainted with some other big ballet nerds and… as part of my prize I was allowed to bring one of them with me!

So I picked my time (there were four times during the weekend to choose from): Saturday afternoon.

Then agonized over what one wears to watch rehearsals: one does not want to look overdone or underdone and skirts are 100% out seeing as I could totally picture them giving us a nice scrap of marley in the corner from which to watch. The outfit I chose probably made me look a bit scattered, though I preferred to think of it as casual-chic-military-inspired-1950s-housewife.

Then agonized over whether we’d have enough time to get there (because, of course, we had our own class and rehearsals that ran past noon AND it was a nice warm day which Bostonians know cannot be wasted therefore pedestrians and motorists alike would be out in force AND the Head of the Charles regatta was going on in town, too).

But travel worked out perfectly: we were told to get there by 3:15 and I think we were at the door right on the dot. We met a couple staff members at the door and were told to wait there and to use the restroom if necessary NOW as we would not be able to wander in and out of the rehearsals.

So we waited politely until we were summoned to the elevators. There were two other women and a gentleman who were part of the “Winners’ Circle.” Somehow I was expecting a MUCH larger turn-out. They said they selected 100 winners! There were four times to pick from and I think they said that one of the Sunday times had a lot of people, but still… five people? Are all the other winners cray-cray? Or are they just super-popular with posher plans already in the works?

Whatever… that means larger scraps of marley for us.

Except, no. We weren’t actually marooned in a corner, peeping at the action like forlorn little mice. We were led up to the huge 4th floor studio and shown to a row of chairs that ran along the mirrors. Front and center! We were told to avoid certain areas for the directors, but other than that, we had our choice of seats right in the midst of the action.

Wow.

Although… hello, my name is Rori and I am conspicuous! Felt a teensy bit awkward to be positioned so we were staring directly at the dancers as they were warming up and running through bits of choreography before the action started. I mean, who knows, maybe they’re used to random people just hanging out watching them. But I was just relieved that I had been allowed to bring a friend so we could chat with one another and not let our awe be TOO obvious.

And then… well, then, Mikko came in. I say that like he and I are best buds; I should probably refer to him as MISTER Nissinen. But if you are a regular BB fan, you will easily recognize BB’s Artistic Director, not only from his picture in the programs, but from the shows themselves. I think I’ve seen him wandering around the Opera House at every show I’ve gone to, kissing cheeks and looking appropriately mysterious in his black leather jacket. You begin to feel like you know the guy even though the feeling isn’t even remotely mutual.

I guess black leather jackets are a bit much for running rehearsals. It was a black polo, track pants, and dance sneakers on this day. And… dear reader, he came right up and talked to the five of us! I guess I should have expected that, but I could also see someone of his stature being all, “I’ve got important artistic work to do, I’m not going to spend time talking to the ‘fans’ the subscriptions team decided we should drag into the studio!” But no, he was completely gracious, thanking us for coming (thank us?! NO, thank YOU!!!) and telling us that we would be seeing a run-through of acts III & IV of Swan Lake with Ashley Ellis as Odile and Eris Nezha as Siegfried. He told us about Nezha being from La Scala to which I was all, “Eek, I know, he and his wife came to talk to us during the ASDP!!!” Okay, that’s what I said in my head. Externally I only managed to smile and nod mutely because I could think of nothing witty or endearing to say.

And then… rehearsals got underway. I must apologize for not having any pictures to share with you. We were told we could take photos as long as we didn’t use flash and, of course, didn’t take video, but I would have felt really, really weird doing so. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was incredible and amazing to be so freaking close to the dancers. I thought Eris Nezha was going to land a grand jété in my lap at one point.

So many amazing things to witness.

For one thing… it really isn’t that different from when we do studio run-throughs before a show. Okay, so the dancing is obviously at a totally different caliber, but aside from that, the dancers who aren’t on are standing around watching, some of them are chit-chatting, some of them are checking their phones or sewing pointe shoes, etc.

Another thing is… yeah, they make it look effortless, but when you’re that close you can tell how much work it is. They are breathing like they’re running a sprint and “glistening” like nobody’s business.

Also… they don’t always keep their game face on during rehearsals. I saw some lip-biting, a few deadpan faces. I don’t mean that as a criticism at all! It’s actually a relief to me. I’ve always had a hard time getting super-emotive in rehearsals… I do fine on stage, but, for a current example, when we’re running Snow in the studio, being a smiling, beatific snowflake is not my MO in that moment. In the midst of going full-throttle for 6 minutes adding in a smile for a non-existent audience seems like a total waste of energy. I save it for the stage at which point, of course, it’s 110%, “Oh my gosh, I’m so THRILLED to be sucking in fake snow, this is the best thing I’ve ever done!!!”

But… they ALL clap for one another after each piece! I wasn’t expecting that. Not just clapping, but cheering and whooping for the hard stuff. I’ve heard that this is a close company, and that seemed to prove it, at least in some way. They seemed super-supportive of each other, working together to figure things out, etc.

And… for those people who think dancers are all built the same… they’re not. Woah. Revelation. I’m not sure if any of you have been following Katie (Kathryn) Morgan’s YouTube channel, but she’s mentioned multiple times in there that there are ranges of normal in ballet. You might have thought she was being PC. But she’s right. Maybe back in the Balanchine heyday the string-bean waif was the hand-picked ideal, but I think that is changing and it certainly is the case with BB. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all super-slender and you’d be hard pressed to find any pudge in that room, but… there are some bean-poles builds (guys and girls alike) and there are some very athletic dancers who have cores and quads of steel (again, guys and girls alike). It was nice to see women that I could look at and say, yes, if I were to work out/dance as much as they do, that’s what I imagine I’d look like.

That goes for feet, too. I, of course, saw plenty of to-die-for feet. I also saw some that were remarkably adequate. In fact, one of my favorites, corps member Sarah Wroth… yeah, her feet don’t appear much bendier than mine. Obviously you can’t be completely flat-footed; you have to be able to have the foot and ankle flexibility to get over your boxes. But banana feet are not a requirement.

It was great to see the rehearsal process. Even though these are professionals it was clear that this is a work in progress. It’s a nearly-finished work, but there are always tweaks to make, entrance cues to learn, details of placement. Mikko talked to us a bit towards the end while the ballet mistress was working with the swan corps and was saying that the individuals learn their parts: it starts messy, but gets better. Then they all come together and it’s like the whole process starts again. Then, of course, once they get that level down they move to the stage with the full costumes, props, and scenery, and again there is a process where you run through and things are awry, but they work it all through until the curtain goes up. Lots of building up and breaking down in the process of getting it to a completed work (and even then, as anyone who performs knows, there are always notes and things to learn and work on, even as the audience thinks it’s seeing a “finished product”).

All in all a fabulous afternoon peeking behind the curtain. As an amateur dancer, it was amazing to see how many parallels do exist. Dance is dance, after all. But it was also incredible to see so much amazing talent up close in one place. I feel so privileged to have been able to indulge in that afternoon and am so grateful to Boston Ballet!

As we were walking out one of the staff members came looking for us and said they had gifts for us… as if what we just experienced hadn’t been sufficient! They gave us totes filled with a mug, pen, magnet, and the requisite publicity pieces.

BB Swag

We chatted with them a bit before we headed out. I guess this was the first time they’ve ever done something like this, opening the doors for patrons to see the rehearsal process, so they were curious what we thought. All five of us were equally agog.

As my friend and I exited we saw one of the dancers outside hop on his bike and ride away. Somehow it seemed absolutely ludicrous that one of these amazing dancers would just… get on his bike and go… home? I don’t know what we thought he should do. Grand jété to the moon? I guess it’s just surreal to realize that these dancers, as awesome as they are, are still just… people. At the end of the day it’s their job. And they think what any of us think when we leave work: “Crap, I drank all the milk this morning, need to stop and get more. Did I pay that bill that’s due tomorrow? Oh, and I need to call Suzy and see if she still wants to get together tomorrow.” It’s not, “Aw yeah, I’m a star!” And to most people, I guess they’re not. They look at them and see some guy on the T, some girl walking down the street.

But as ordinary as they all ultimately are, to some of us they represent something so incredibly special, and they are superstars in our eyes. I am eternally grateful that they allowed us into their world, even for just a few hours, to see what their “day-job” looks like, to dream and admire and appreciate and expand my ballet education just a bit more.

Thank you, Boston Ballet!

Through the Escape Hatch

So I skipped my Saturday morning class today…

To go to Saturday morning class at another studio.

Does this make me unfaithful?

I don’t know, I just felt the need to get away.

Our Saturday morning class is one I have a love-hate relationship with anyway. For one thing, it’s the one class where the adults and kids are combined. We have nice kids, so that in and of itself isn’t a problem it’s just…

I don’t know, sometimes (a lot of times) I leave feeling totally defeated and frustrated. The kids seem to take whatever gets thrown at them and just do it. Not that they always do it well, but they do it. Which is respectable. Sometimes I think that’s how you learn… just try and see what happens and refine as you go. But there are times when all I can think is, why am I here? Is this class meant to remind me of my weaknesses, my failings, the things that I will likely never conquer in the studio?

And then I want to cry and break things.

I know, I know, I being overly angsty about this.

The truth is, a lot of us adults feel this way at one time or another and the nice part is that we can all support one another.

And then there will come a class where the exercises all (or, at least, mostly) feel good and you walk out feeling exhilarated. Which makes up for a boatload of meh classes.

I don’t know, I think I’m just going through a weird growing pain phase in my ballet “career” that I don’t quite know how best to approach.

But I’m getting ahead of myself into a topic for another post.

Back to this morning.

So, Nutcracker auditions are tomorrow. Which are always a bit anxiety-provoking, even if they are mostly a formality (most of the dancers come from our own stock of students, so the people doing the casting know the raw material they have to work with and who will work best for what). You still want to go out there and dance proud, which is hard to do if you’re in a weird mental space brought on by feeling defeated.

Also, it’s hard to slay anxiety when you’re surrounded by people who not only share that feeling, but talk non-stop about the feeling!

Thus, I decided to spend the morning in a class where I knew I would A) get a good workout, B) get good corrections, and C) not be around anyone else I know from the studio!

So… I returned to BBS-Newton for the first time since the ASDP glory days to take class with one of the teachers I had over the summer. I’d enjoyed his classes then and was hoping to rekindle some of the magic I felt during those two weeks.

And, dear reader, I’m so glad I did. It was just what the doctor ordered. There were no miracles in the studio, but I felt good for the most part. I felt strong and centered and technically clean. And, bonus, I saw a lot of familiar faces which was fun. I’ve taken a couple classes at the main studio in Boston and didn’t recognize anyone from the program there… I guess they’re all Newton regulars.

Time will tell if this will spell a good omen for tomorrow. But I will at least be going in with the reminder that I can feel beautiful and strong and competent as a dancer and that will be the most recent ballet memory tomorrow when I pin on my number bib and go dance in front of the panel of judges!

Ballet zen has been achieved for the moment.

Go forth and conquer, grasshopper.

ASDP – The end :(

Last day of ASDP coincided with my last day of being 35. Too many endings all at once here!

Nah, in truth it was a pleasant way to close out this year of my life.

Started with modern… good class. Did some mirroring stuff with a partner at the beginning. That stuff used to make me rather uncomfortable when I was younger. I don’t mind it so much now, but somehow I still instinctively cringe whenever I find out that we’re doing something like that. Ballet Perfectionist Rori can’t help but feel like she must come up with super-cool, innovative movements that will lead to groundbreaking new choreography, but generally all I come up with is a reprisal of my 4-year-old self rocking out to the record player in my living room. (See Exhibit A below). Meh.

LR Dancing

Rest of class was good, though. Similar to what we’ve been doing. Added a bit more on to our combination we’ve been working on.

Then technique… Kristen Beckwith again. The only person we had three times for technique during the program. But at least with that I felt like I knew what to expect and had a better idea what she was looking for. She said something about my turnout that got me thinking. I don’t remember exactly how she worded it, but it was along the lines of opening the hips from the front. I usually only think about turnout as a rear-end thing, but somehow thinking about it as originating from the front made more sense and was easier to figure out how to engage the right muscles (they are big on turnout at BBS… but there were a lot of comments about engaging the glutes from other teachers and I was fighting the urge to pipe up with quotes from Lisa Howell or Deborah Vogel about how turnout needs to originate from the deep muscles, not the glutes). Barre was good. Centre… some good, some abominable. I love how you can get something perfectly on one side (usually the right in my case), but the other side is a total mystery whose secrets refuse to be revealed.

And then… the grand finale. There was a small crowd collecting in the lobby throughout class. Someone who had done the ASDP last year said that a ton of people show up for the final presentation, but somehow I didn’t think she was serious. I guess she was. Of course, for many of my classmates this is the only opportunity they get to show off what they do in ballet class. So it’s nice that BBS opens this up to family and friends. Apologies to those who know me IRL for not getting an invite. Nutcracker season will be upon us soon. The seats are more comfortable there and I get to dress up all pretty-like.

Anyway, the one bummer with having an audience is that we were only able to watch the other classes do their pieces during our brief rehearsal time before the audience was allowed in. During the actual presentation we remained “backstage” as it were.

I was impressed with what the beginner class did: their rep piece was extremely long! And one dude… someone was joking afterwards that he must’ve been a ringer… his technique was way too good for beginner. The ladies in the elementary level got to wear romantic tutus over their leotards. They seemed adorably excited about this. Meanwhile I thanked my lucky stars that our rep teacher didn’t come up with any such foolishness for us. Though… it would have been nice if he’d suggested a uniform of sorts. Most people wore black/pink because there were some rumors that we should, but there were a few who didn’t hear the rumor. Oh well. It’s not like it was anything formal.

After we did our run-through we vacated the premises so the audience could come fill the folding chairs. They had an idea to show the audience some working rehearsals of the pieces to show what goes into it. So we came out once to do the rehearsal take. Then came out again after the other groups did their rehearsal take to do it as the real deal. Cute idea. No idea what the audience thought of it, though. And it meant that they watched our piece a total of 4 times because our group was so big that each “cast” got to do a performance.

They had a reception afterwards which I poked my head in on to satisfy my curiosity, but knowing no one there I didn’t feel compelled to stay. In the locker room while I was gathering up my things a few people were talking about heading over to the Armenian restaurant around the corner. I came upon them while I was leaving and one of them looked at me and said, “Are you coming with us?” and another one said, “Yes, she is coming with us!” Hm… okay. Why not? There may be belly-dancing.

Six of us dancers and 4 significant others went over and shared pitchers of sangria and hummus/baba ganoush/etc. There was no belly-dancing, but we did get to indulge in some highly dorky ballet-talk. I found out about another studio halfway between me and Boston that some of the ladies go to and highly recommend. It’s a Saturday class, so wouldn’t be able to go during the school year, but their favorite teacher will be there on the 30th, before our year starts, so I may check it out then and see if I can get some of my ballet friends from home to join me!

And that was the end of the program. I’m going to do one final post of my overall impressions/thoughts, but still thinking on that one… Thanks to those of you who have followed along with my first summer “intensive” journey! It’s been a fun one and I’m glad I did it!

ASDP – Week 2 begins

After our weekend off it’s back to BBS-Newton for the second and final week of the adult summer dance program.

Monday:

Modern — Getting into the flow there. Knowing better what to expect with the warmup. We’ve had one combination that we add to a bit each class. It’s been a lot of choreography to take in, but I once we start to get the hang of the steps it is fun. Only problem is there are a lot of changes in direction and I get claustrophobic when people get too close to me. Sometimes when I hang out in the back of a classroom it’s not because I don’t know the steps, it’s because I have more control over my space and have less fear of someone running in the wrong direction towards me like a charging bull.

Technique — We had Carlos Molina, who had taught our rep class on Friday. He’s a soft-spoken, easy-going guy. But he gave a good class with nicely sequenced exercises that led naturally from one to the next. I felt generally strong and clean in this class, which was a good way to start the new week.

Repertory — This class was originally listed as “workshop on pirouettes & grand allegro/repertory” or something like that, but Christopher Anderson was all, “Um, we need to get through the rest of the choreography if we are going to be ready for Friday.” Friday the different levels show each other what we’ve learned during the rep classes. And I think there’s only one other opportunity to practice before then. So no workshop. Which was okay with me. Not that I don’t need all the help on pirouettes I can get, but it’s slightly more fun to learn rep. We finished up the part of the polonaise that we’re learning (it’s not the entire dance) and got it relatively clean. Only bad part had nothing to do with the class itself and everything to do with the fact that I started to get a silent migraine during it. Everything right in front of my eyes went blurry. I get these every so often and have learned to ignore it as best I can… it’s annoying as all hell, but usually there is enough of my field of vision that’s normal that I can continue to function and the symptom generally only lasts about 30 minutes or so before resolving, leaving me with the feeling of someone jabbing an ice pick behind one eye (which I realize sounds unpleasant, but compared to the full-blown migraines I used to get it’s really not that bad). I was mostly preoccupied with worrying that the blurriness wouldn’t go away by the time I needed to drive home. I’ve had them hit while I’m driving and end up having to pull over to wait it out. There’s no way I’m hurtling down the highway in a 3000-lb object without being able to see everything going on around me! It resolved before class was over though. Phew!

Tuesday:

Pilates — Pretty much what we’ve been doing with maybe a few elements of added difficulty. The teacher did ask towards the beginning whether the class was leaving us too wiped for the following technique class. I guess that came up during the beginner/elementary session. We all shook our heads. There are some exercises that are definitely difficult, but we don’t do anything to the point of exhaustion, so I’m not sure what their issue was. In fact, I really like having it before technique because I tend to feel much more centered afterwards!

Technique — We had a guest teacher, Andrew Kelley, the Associate Director at Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre. I looked him up and he danced with the Dutch National Ballet and has also worked in Hungary and Germany before coming State-side. He’s another relatively soft-spoken sort of guy, but his quiet nature belied the killer workout he gave us. Lots more stuff in rélevé than we typically do, which I actually like… I find that — as counterintuitive as it may seem — when my calves get fatigued I balance better. I think it just forces you to engage all the other muscles: core, etc. He also focused a lot on port de bras. Good stuff. It’s not dancing until you add some expression, but sometimes you need a little guidance as to what exactly you need to do to give your dancing an elegant expression rather than appearing to be a deranged traveling windmill and he was great at helping us decipher that. I also had a minor revelation about petit allegro. I am terrible about putting my heels down and pliéing in jumps. Yeah, I know, unsafe, whatevs… I prefer to think that I jump Balanchine-style. I get more height that way which I find far more entertaining. It’s nice to feel like my thighs are good for something in ballet! But when he had us do a basic 16-changements exercise he specifically told us to stay low to the ground. He’s the boss, so I did. Happened to be standing towards the front so I could actually see my feet in the mirror. And that low jumping really did give me a nice elastic feeling that appeared far more refined than my typical attempts to launch myself towards the rafters. Realized that maybe I don’t need to go ALL out on the first allegro combination and this low-to-the-ground business might be a better way to work into the bigger allegro steps. Hm. Really enjoyed this class.

Variations — Christopher Hird worked with us on the Swan Lake pas de trois we’d started last week. Which, unfortunately, I’d promptly purged from my mind shortly after learning it. Not that I didn’t enjoy it… Just that I was trying to remember the rep stuff and that crowded out whatever else I had learned. We went over the original bit a few times and then got a chance to dance it across the floor in actual pas de trois arrangement (again, the two lone guys got quite the workout partnering all the ladies, but they were good sports). Then we learned another phrase or two and got a chance to dance it through again in our trios. I got strangely nervous about going across the first time. What’s that about? But second time through I was actually able to enjoy it without over-thinking.

Coming up before all is said and done: Q&A with current BB dancers, PT lecture, and end-of-program display. I’ll be glad to get back to having full nights of sleep, but end of program so soon? :(

Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds…

But why no sapphires?!?!

Why did you shun my most favorite of jewels, Mr. B? I think it would have rounded out the piece quite nicely, no?

*sigh*

As you have probably guessed, I finally saw George Balanchine’s iconic “Jewels” (1967). Boston Ballet wrapped up their 2013-2014, 50th anniversary season with it, and in doing so served to fill in a major hole in my ballet education!

The build-up to the show was nearly on par with the Nutcracker. Lia Cirio leaping in her “Rubies” costume has been plastered all over taxis and buses and such in Boston for months now. Meanwhile, “Pricked” was pretty much not advertised at all. Curious decision on their part.

My ballet companion for the evening and I got into town early enough to catch the pre-curtain talk. I was surprised to see so many people in attendance. Usually there is only a large handful of people in the audience, but there was probably twice the typical number for this one. The curtain was open giving us a sneak peak of the “Emeralds” backdrop, a cool, pale green backdrop with large green jewels pasted on it in an intricate design. The wings were draped in white. Very elegant feel, even if it gave me the impression more of peridots (a stone I am well-acquainted with, being an August baby!) than emeralds. The other thing we noticed was that there almost appeared to be a large stain in the middle of the backdrop, like the guy in charge of creating the backdrop spilled his beer while pasting stones on it or something. I’m guessing it was probably more likely the shadow of the “Rubies” backdrop behind it, but it was kind of distracting and shabby-looking.

Shannon Parsley, BB’s ballet master, led three BB dancers onstage to the chairs lined up across the front. These dancers represented a cross-section of the company and included Erica Cornejo, Principal; John Lam, Soloist; and Paul Craig, Corps de Ballet. Ms. Parsley gave a brief(ish) recap of the season for anyone who had been asleep for the past six months. I wanted her to wrap this part up a bit more quickly. Honestly, the people who are going to show up for the pre-curtain talk are most likely going to be the avid fans who already have a clue what the company is up to and don’t need the monotonous summary of where they’ve been and what they’ve done. But… this probably is standard protocol for these things, so I tried to sit attentively and not fidget.

They then moved to the dancers who each talked about one of the pieces: Cornejo discussed “Emeralds,” Lam “Rubies,” and Craig “Diamonds.” Probably the most poignant part was when Cornejo, who danced in “Jewels” the last time BB presented it (in 2009, I think?) discussed that this is one of her first major ballets after returning to the stage post-baby. She dances the role of the “walking ballerina” in “Emeralds,” which is a role of someone who has lost her love, very emotional, but that becoming a mother has given her additional emotional fuel. She teared up on stage talking about it! Lam talked a bit about the energy required for the jazzier “Rubies” and Craig discussed the Imperial Russian feel that “Diamonds” demands.

After a few questions we were dismissed and went to indulge in overpriced cheap cabernet sauvignon and pretzel twists. Dinner of champions!

Then it was back to the theatre to our assigned seats to settle in for “Emeralds.” Ashley Ellis and Yury Yanowsky were the… happy couple (?), while Lia Cirio was the “walking ballerina” with Lasha Khozashvili was her partner. I haven’t really formed much of an opinion of Yanowsky before, other than the fact that I thought he bore a passing resemblance to Grégory Fitoussi (I’ve been thoroughly sucked into the world of Mr. Selfridge and the character of Henri Leclair, with his broody eyes and heart-melting smirk, may have been a small part of that obsession… I am completely at a loss now that the season is over!). But I love that Yanowsky is one of the few dancers who started with the company in the ’90s. In fact, he’s surpassed two decades with BB. That alone makes me fond of him. In such a youth-obsessed world, he’s showing the poise and elegance that an experienced dancer brings to the stage with no signs of disintegrating technique. Ellis looked radiant paired with him.

Lia Cirio seemed to lose herself in this one, which I liked… in some ways. “Emeralds” seems to have a rather refined feel to it, with the exception of this one couple that seems to wander through as if lost. Cirio threw herself into the role with abandon, but at times it felt like it was teetering on the edge of losing complete control. I suppose that’s the line one tries to balance on and she managed to keep from crashing over on the wrong side of the line.

And then the pas de trois. The casting was terrific and I’ve decided I really like that Isaac Akiba kid. Doesn’t hurt that he’s a home-grown dancer from BBS. He’s got a youthful look to him that lent itself nicely to the playful feel of the pas de trois, but behind that exterior is a very solid technique. I expect he’ll be growing through the ranks in the coming years.

After intermission, in which I supported the local economy by purchasing a Jewels tee (it was 3/4 sleeved and boatneck, trés cute!) and we made the rounds of the audience to find the other people we knew, we were treated to the jazzy “Rubies” set to music by Stravinsky. I guess this was supposed to be a bit of a tribute to Broadway, though perhaps Bernstein might have been a better composer?

So maybe a minute into the piece we hear this clacking. At first ballet companion and I thought that maybe the dancers had REALLY rosined up their shoes and were sticking to the marley… but then we realized that it was their costumes! The gigantic red stones on the skirts clacked together as they moved and made a tremendously distracting racket. Has it always been that way? Does it drive the dancers bananas to have to wear those? I know it would annoy the heck out of me!

Aside from that, I did like the energy in this one. I tend to like very active dancing with lots of jumps and non-traditional movements. Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga were the central couple on the day I was there and, of course, I love them… though somehow I didn’t feel that this piece highlighted their chemistry and talents as well as other roles I’ve seen them in. Hmph.

After second intermission came — duh — “Diamonds” set to music by Tchaikovsky for the Imperial Russia experience. This one was impressive for the sheer number of dancers that are featured. Kathleen Breen Combes and Alejandro Virelles were the lead couple and can I tell you… I have a crush on Alejandro’s feet. My ballet companion had told me in advance to look out for them, but I don’t think I could have missed them. Ugh… makes a girl totes jeals. What a line! Breen Combes was absolutely lovely… until the very end. She is somehow both down-to-earth and totally elegant at the same time. She shows a level of maturity and grace that is lovely to watch. But something happened in the last few minutes. Not sure if she injured herself or if her shoe died a spectacular death, but I could tell she was struggling at the end. I feel so bad when I see that happen to dancers, especially lovely ones like her! I would guess, though, that if I were not a balletophile I probably would not have noticed. She kept going, masking any fumbles quite well. I did notice that the dancers were wearing white pointe shoes in this one, and I wondered if that contributed to the problem. Unlike the boatloads of pink shoes that the dancers can rifle through to find the right ones, I’m guessing there are only a few pairs of shoes in white, so the dancers might end up with something they consider less than ideal… just a theory on that one! I actually found the shoes distracting… might have liked them more if they were wearing white tights, as well, but I found it just interrupted the lines.

So, that was “Jewels.” Like most masterworks, I would need to see it a few times to truly absorb what all was going on and cement my opinion of the piece. As of now, “Serenade” is in no danger of being dethroned as my favorite Balanchine piece, but there were elements of this that I really appreciated. One thing I love in nearly all of Mr. B’s pieces is how he set steps to the music. Like many dancers, I have a tendency of choreographing dances in my head when I hear music, and it can be challenging when being choreographed ON and feeling that what you’re being asked to do doesn’t match with the music. Mr. B’s choreography matches what I hear in the music… so I feel some sort of bond with him over that, I guess!

And finally I’ll leave you with BB’s videos. First up is corps member Roddy Doble giving his thoughts on the pieces:

And now some snippets of the performances! This features the same cast I saw, but not sure if it’s from the same show or not.

Get Pricked

Boston Ballet is wrapping up their home season this coming week. Boo, hiss. But they are going out with a bang, presenting their last two shows back-to-back. Gotta be hell for the dancers, but good for those of us in the audience!

First up was Pricked, an evening of mixed rep.

The first piece on the bill was also the oldest: “Études” (1948) choreographed by Harald Lander originally for the Royal Theatre Copenhagen. BB has had it in their rep since ’88. They used a photo from “Études” for the cover of the subscriber folder which shows dancers at the barre in silhouette against a blue-lit backdrop. I loved the idea of a ballet that highlights some of the more routine parts of a dancer’s life, so I was looking forward to seeing this one. It was a full company piece with over 40 dancers featured at various points.

It starts out with this adorable segment of dancers at a long barre executing various tendus, dégagés, ronds de jambes, etc. The way it is lit you can really only see the legs and arms; everything else appears to be in the shadows. This lends itself to some really cool moments, but unfortunately for this to be truly stellar it needs to be majorly, majorly in sync. One foot turned out at a slightly different angle or someone rond de jambing with a slightly different accent makes it look a bit off. But, then again, that is reality, so… From there it progresses into the silhouette scene. And then the barres eventually go away and it goes through the other ballet class elements, but of course with fancier clothes, billion-times better technique, and without that one person who is perpetually going the wrong way and looking lost.

I feel like there wasn’t too much to say about this one. It’s neat to watch especially for anyone who studies ballet and has some pretty elements. The number of people in it is pretty spectacular. But placing it in the same show as “D.M.J.” and “Cacti” leads to it inevitably getting short shrift. Not really sure how this one fit into the “Pricked” theme. I felt like this might have been better placed in a show with perhaps more neo-classical stuff. Not sure.

Second on the program was “D.M.J. 1953-1977″ (2004) by Zuska, originally premiered by the National Theatre Brno of the Czech Republic. This was BB’s premiere of the work and — according to the program notes — they are the first North American company to perform it. This piece was much more my speed in terms of the raw emotion it displayed. It opens with with a man standing practically on the apron in front of a black curtain next to an object we assume represents a grave of some sort. Lasha Khozashvili was the male lead on the evening I was there and the pain he displayed was palpable. The curtain rises to show couples across the stage on what appear to be small platforms. They dance in unison in a nearly ritualistic sort of dance. Lia Cirio was the female lead and, I assume, is meant to represent the lost love. Cirio and Khozashvili seem to search for one another through this sea of dancers.

As the piece progresses the platforms (which I guess are actually super-thick mats of some sort) are used as props in a way. At one point they are lined up to create a wall which dancers peek over (the audience thought this was funny, though I’m not sure it was meant to be so). At another they are lined up and one gets pushed over to create a giant domino effect. Then, at the end, they are set up in a way that creates a giant sofa of some sort.

At that end Cirio and Khozashvili, almost literally, lay bare their emotions. The other dancers are gone. Up until that point the corps seemed to represent friends, perhaps, of the leads. They seem to mourn at various points, and yet their dances almost represent the challenge that those of us on the periphery of mourning experience: sadness, yet enough distance that our main focus remains navigating our own lives (and, in this case, loves). Inevitably, those at the center of the loss are left to process it alone. And that’s where this piece concludes. The leads are now wearing nude costumes and there is a pile of roses in front of the giant mat-sofa-thing. They dance together as if fighting against the inevitable. It was truly moving and the two leads were masterfully cast. I’m not always Lia’s biggest fan. I mean, I think she’s a tremendous dancer, but some roles I’ve seen her in just don’t seem to fit. In this, though, she and Lasha gave a heart-wrenching performance. Truly moving.

I was curious about the title, whether the initials and dates might have represented someone the choreographer had lost, but apparently the “D.M.J.” part is simply the initials of the last names of the three composers whose music was used in the piece. Hm.

The final piece of the evening, and the one which most obviously contributed to the “Pricked” title (though those roses in the second piece helped) was “Cacti” (Ekman, 2010). This was another BB premiere. The piece was first performed by Lucent Danstheatre in the Hague, Denmark.

“Cacti” was, by far, my favorite of the evening, if for no other reason than the energy of the piece. You can experience some of that energy here:

The costuming in this was pretty androgynous so you couldn’t always tell from the audience who were the girls and who were the guys. I kind of liked this because it showed that the female artists can (and do) perform with the same level of raw intensity that the men can. We spend so much time trying to make ballet look pretty that it’s awesome to see that those same ethereal-looking dancers can rage with the best of ‘em.

There was a fair amount of humor interspersed throughout this piece from the voice-overs to some of the scenery elements (including a cat that fell out of the rafters and a male dancer lying down holding a cactus that may or may not have appeared slightly phallic). That being said, there were a few people in the audience that either indulged in too much champagne at the bar or who had a really low threshold for amusement because they were roaring throughout nearly the whole thing and I wanted to find them and tell them to kindly STFU, already. Then again, I might be guilty of taking my ballet-going self a bit too seriously. Who knows.

Regardless, it was a highly energetic and entertaining way to end the evening. While I wasn’t sure how well all of the pieces fit together in one bill, it did manage to demonstrate the incredible breadth and talent that BB has. To have the same dancers go from the very technical and classical “Études” to banging their hands on the floor in “Cacti” shows that BB is a force to be reckoned with.

I’ll also put in a plug for their very awesome t-shirt designers. The tee for this show managed to encompass both beauty and edginess.

Pricked Tee

Though it’s hard to see in this picture it also has an Anne Brontë quote printed along the bottom of the design that fits right in with the theme: “But he who dares not grasp the thorn Should never crave the rose.” Love it!

The Pilobolus Experience

Well, hello, again, dear reader. I really need to get on top of posting when things are still relevant rather than a month after the fact, but better to post late than not at all, eh?

So, last post I talked about going to see Pilobolus perform.

Which is an experience.

But the Pilobolus Experience can only truly be gained when you get to dance with Pilobolus!

Yeah, don’t get all excited here, it’s not like I was discovered while I was walking out of the theatre or anything.

BUT!!!

The director of our studio/company had contacted them around the time she got our tix and asked if they would be willing to offer a master class while they were in town. And they said yes!!!

Woot!

So the day after we got to see them on stage we poured into the big studio at our school to get schooled by Matt Del Rosario and Nile Russell, the dance co-captains of Pilobolus. Eek!!!

We ended up having over 30 students attend the class. Many were from our school, but we also had students from other local studios (some of our teachers have gigs at other schools and had put the word out). While a ballet class with that many people would have been weird, it was great to have such a crowd for something like this. The ages ranged from probably 11-ish to 50-something (one of our ballet teachers who had originally come to “just watch” decided that she wanted to participate which was AWESOME!). Matt and Nile passed the word to warm ourselves up because there wasn’t going to be some sort of choreographed, warm-up nonsense here! (Not their exact words, just… you know.)

Once the majority of the crowd had trickled in we sat in a giant circle and they gave us a brief intro of themselves and what to expect over the following two hours. There would be no choreography. There would be a lot of movement. We should push ourselves beyond what we’re used to.

So the class opened up with us just walking around the studio, trying to avoid that old skating rink standard of going around and around the room in a monotonous circle, but trying to find holes in the crowd, explore open spaces, notice something about the space you might not have paid attention to before. We were asked to pick up speed, to (obviously) avoid collisions… but without saying anything. Now this got a little funny because they’re telling us to make eye contact, learn how to negotiate spaces with your fellow dancer, etc. and there were a lot of people who still insisted on staring at the floor and looking terrified. I found this kind of hilarious because IRL I can collapse into that shell of, “I don’t know you, don’t look at me, leave me alone,” but in this setting I’m all, “Hey, kid, I don’t bite, I swear… we’re all in this together, look at me, smile, it’s FUN goddammit!!!”

But I think part of it, aside from the wide range of ages in the group (being honest with myself, I totally would have been a floor-starer if I had been taking this class 20 years ago!), is that there’s awkwardness being in a dance studio with so many strangers. Some of it is just normal jitters, but I think, too, for better or worse in the dance world it can be hard to let go of that sense of competition. We all hope that we’ll be recognized for our individual merits and when you’re in an environment where you’re told to collaborate with these people who may be “better” than we are we fight against it. We want to be a principal dancer, not part of the corps!

The exercise progressed.

At one point we all ended up clumping together and were asked to find a single breath where everyone inhaled simultaneously and exhaled simultaneously and were asked to make that breath to be “seen”. That alone seemed to break down some of the barriers among the dancers.

There was another part where we would find a partner, at random, and hold hands and navigate the crowd. Then we’d go find another partner. Find a foursome. Connect to another foursome. Etc. Until we were all connected in one crazy, connected clump and had to navigate into a large circle without breaking the chain.

After this there were more group exercises. These were largely about being able to communicate through movement and openness with your group to create a cohesive movement or story. It wasn’t about everyone doing the same thing, but about being able to tell the people you were dancing with what you were going to do without talking. And the exercises were punctuated with opportunities to share our thoughts about what we were being asked to do and Nile and Matt would provide insight as dancers, but also as humans. When we deny each other eye contact what are we saying to the person we pass on the street? We may think we are simply saying nothing, we may be missing opportunities to see what is beyond our own small worlds.

The last part of class we were divided into four groups and each given a wacky scenario that we would need to “dance” for the other groups. There was no set choreography, no set music, nothing. We simply had to decide how we would tell our story and how we would communicate change points with one another while we were performing. Each group went up and performed and received feedback from Matt and Nile and the other groups about what they thought was going on, what confused them, etc. After each group performed we were able to chat with our group for a minute or so and then we got to perform our pieces one more time, integrating the feedback we had received.

And with that, class was over.

But it wasn’t.

Not really.

Because what I experienced in those two hours was powerful.

In some ways it brought me back to a place I had forgotten about. The techniques used in this class weren’t necessarily new to me. I have had teachers before and during college who would teach class with similar themes. I loved the freedom it gave me then and I love it still. While ballet is a joy for me in many ways, it is also a constant struggle as I try to figure out why my body can’t execute what seems so simple in my mind. Exploring movement and finding out what can be beautiful and powerful without a specific technique in mind felt so liberating the first time I tried it, even though it was scary as all get-out, and it felt awesome to come back to that space. Particularly as an adult. I took different things away from the movement exploration than I did when I was younger and more concerned with what other people thought of me. I could relate more of it to my non-dance life and also see how this type of dance is not necessarily a distinct and separate entity from my ballet world, but that it’s a valuable addition that can enhance those more disciplined forms of dance.

I also loved that this was a totally accessible class. Yes, the room was filled with dancers. But there were many people in class that I knew do not consider themselves modern dancers in the least. You wouldn’t know from looking at the group who was a “modern dancer” and who wasn’t.

Honestly, you didn’t need to be a dancer of any sort to be able to do this class. Not really. The dance is in all of us whether we’re actively taking classes or performing on a stage or sitting in an office chair punching away at our keyboards wondering where our red stapler went. It’s a powerful realization.

So yes, that was the Pilobolus Experience. I was so grateful to our director for setting up the class and to Matt Del Rosario and Nile Russell for taking time out of their busy schedule to share their world with us. If you ever happen to see that they’re performing near you go see them and if you see that there’s a class, go take it! Don’t be afraid. You’ll be transformed, I swear.

Oh, but before we let them out of our sights we insisted on photos and they were kindly willing to oblige. So here’s one of me sandwiched between Matt and Nile… that giddy look on my face? Yeah, how could I not be thrilled to be surrounded by such handsome, kind, and talented men!

Pilobolus pic