A Tale of Two Performances: Tale 2

And now for something completely different…

I had no time to rest up after the showcase performance because then it was time for the music school, DWTS-style, gala performance! Just like last year, I’d been invited to perform as the “professional” dance foil to a local community star.

And, just like last year, my partner was definitely not a dancer, but he WAS a good sport and was willing to try just about whatever our choreographer threw his way.

Our first challenge, albeit a good one, was that we were going to be accompanied by live music performed by the jazz band from the music school. This was great, but because of royalty issues and such, our song choices were limited. The theme was Broadway and initially it looked like we were going to get stuck with “Summertime” which is a great song, but kind of a snoozer when it comes to rallying the audience.

I joked during our first rehearsal that since this was a fund-raising gala we should perform to “Hey Big Spender”. Never mind that the song’s topic is a bit more risque than having fun at a gala, bidding high,nd bidding often. My partner loved the idea, though, so we passed our request on to the band director who, to our surprise, readily accepted our proposal. What?!

The next challenge involved a number of snow storms on our set rehearsal days and one traffic snafu on my part. We had to cram to get it all done and the final bit of choreography wasn’t set until the week before the show. Yikes!

Then came the ultimate challenge… the competition itself!

I got to the gala before the doors opened to get my stuff settled. Save for a peep of fishnet stocking, you’d never know what was up my sleeve. The other “pro” from my studio was there and once the doors opened we mixed and mingled with our “stars” trying to build some fan support. After the cocktail hour the attendees were summoned to their tables and we went up to change into our costumes. The director of our company/studio conveniently had a red, fringe-y dress, kind of flapper-ish in style hanging out in the costume room that I had borrowed. My star’s wife had found him a red, sequined tie and made him a matching pocket-square. Dapper and ready to dance!

We were second in the line-up and could see the first couple dancing through the windows while we waited our turn. They had some definite star quality and put in a very fine performance, but our confidence was not shaken! After they finished and chatted with the CEO and the judges it was our turn. Instead of explaining it I’ll give you this… judge for yourself.

Camera angle isn’t great, but I swear my “star” did manage a pretty nice jazz square and a few other bits of fancy footwork. It was a fun little piece and I think the audience liked it. For me personally, it’s just fun to get out there and show a different side of my performance personality than what people generally see from me nowadays!

After our dance there was a live auction followed by the other two couples’ dances. And then, the judging. Of course, we’d received judges’ scores immediately after our dances, but those didn’t count. The real decision was in the hands of the audience. And in their feet. And voices. Yes, it was a “noise-meter” kind of scoring. And…

Well, I’m afraid, dear reader, that a star other than my own partner managed to bring the loudest crew. It was only a baby mirrorball for us this year for best chemistry or something (how terrible is it that I don’t even know what award we won?).

Of course, the real winners were the students of the music school. It was all in good fun, and though I was a teensy bit disappointed to not be a repeat champion, I was glad to be able to be a part of it.

And… I was glad to look forward to a few weeks of no rehearsals of any kind! Phew!

A tale of two performances: Tale 1

Here’s the first of two recaps of performances that took place in the same week, but on VERY opposite sides of the spectrum. Introduction can be found here!

This was the choreography showcase. I was feeling pretty good going in. Since we had crammed at the very beginning to learn the piece, we were able to spend all the subsequent rehearsals tidying and such. I think we all felt quite prepared going in.

We got to the week of the show and our scheduled tech rehearsal. There were two showcases, no pieces were repeated between the two, and all rehearsing that night, so time was short to get everyone in. We were able to sneak in a quick walk-through during a break, but only got to run the piece once that night.

Then show day. We rehearsed one final time in the studio after class that morning, then headed to the theatre. The piece I was in was in the second show which meant that I actually got to be a regular audience member for the afternoon show, which was kind of a treat. The program was a mix of classical, contemporary, lyrical, and modern stuff, with a tap piece thrown in for good measure. Some I quite enjoyed. Others not so much. I suppose that’s the way it is with these things! Something for everyone.

Once the show was over I rushed home to bun up and slather my face in makeup before returning to the theatre for the second performance. Call was ridiculously early. I wouldn’t have minded the extra time backstage to relax, but we were, of course, sharing our dressing room with two or three other companies, so it was crowded and awkward. The sponsoring company did offer a warm-up class open to all performers. And here’s where things got a bit interesting.

The studio space at this venue is cozy and there were only a few real barres. Those of us who didn’t get a barre made do with chairs or used the wall, trying our best not to kick one another. We’d angle ourselves so as not to grand battement into the person behind, but then would end up kicking the person across the aisle instead. None of this was the interesting part, though.

As I’m sure my readers can appreciate, one of the beautiful things about ballet is the transcendental language of the art. You can go into another studio — heck, you can take class in a foreign country with a different native language — and you still know what to expect, not only in terms of exercises, but in terms of how to behave. Or, at least, that’s what I thought before now.

Perhaps people were just punchy after a long day. Maybe they had too much sugar in the between-show break. I’m not sure. But two things were very obvious in this class. Number 1 was which students belonged to the host studio. And number 2 was that these students had zero respect for their faculty member who was conducting the class. Oh, and number 3: they had zero respect for the other studios/companies who were invited to perform alongside them. It was one of the most awkward classes I’ve ever taken. I could barely catch the combinations because I couldn’t hear what the teacher was saying over the endless cackling and chit-chat that took place every time the music was off. On top of that I felt deeply embarrassed for the teacher who was doing his best to take the high road and ignore the behavior, and for the girls who were from that studio, but who were acting appropriately.

Up until this point I had viewed this studio with a lot of respect. They turn out dancers with very strong technique (we have some of their alums at our studio and they are all talented dancers). I hope that the entitlement and brattiness I witnessed was an aberration. The alums I just mentioned are all lovely, kind people. But I can’t say that I would recommend the studio to anyone after what I saw.

I can forgive an off day. Sometimes there’s a full moon or a mass case of the sillies. (I wouldn’t have minded silly… but what I observed was simply rude.) But as with everything there’s a time and a place. When you are representing your school in public that is not the time to show off your queen bee skillz. Ugh.

I must say, though… our students and those from the other studio acted as though they didn’t notice the ruckus and performed the combinations seriously. At the end they all lined up to curtsey or bow and personally thank the teacher. Unprompted, too. Way to represent! Seriously, our director would have been irate if we acted the way these kids did, especially if we were the hosts!

After the class we got into our shoes and costumes and did last-minute run-throughs in our heads before going onstage. The performance itself… well, it was a bit disappointing for at least a few of us. Nothing terrible happened, but it wasn’t nearly as smooth as it typically was in rehearsal. There were a few bobbles here and there. I think what made it more disappointing was knowing that it was a one-and-done thing. Would’ve been nice to get a do-over once we got the wobbles out of our system.

But all in all, we came, we saw, we performed.

A couple weeks later we got to see video of the performance. And while we each focused on our own missteps, I think we could all agree that when looking at it as a whole it looked quite nice and we represented our company well.

On to tale two…

Getting Close to Chuck

Boston Ballet is back!

After a fabulous kick-off to the season last fall with their free, one-night-only gig on the Boston Common, followed by a riveting La Bayadère they were on to the silly season (aka, Nutcracker) which I successfully avoided in spite of their massive marketing campaign. Sorry, guys, I love ya, but once is plenty for me for the forseeable future!

The only problem with skipping out on Nut is that the time between October and February seemed an eternity to wait to get my BB fix. Ah, but here we are in the (near) spring with four glorious shows to satisfy those thrills!

First up is a mixed rep evening entitled Close to Chuck after one of the featured pieces. Loving contemporary movement as I do, I couldn’t wait! My La Bayadère companion (one of my fellow adult dancers) joined me again for this one. She has seen far more story ballets in her time and was looking forward to seeing something of a different ilk.

Coincidentally the director of our company/studio, her husband, and another couple we dance with (okay, we dance with the girl and the guy steps in to partner her in shows when needed) were attending the same night, so we were able to catch up and enjoy a pre-show dinner at Back Deck, just down the street. I highly recommend their elderflower margarita, though perhaps not so great if you want to be able to focus for the first third of the show! Whee! As for dinners, my companions all had delicious-looking items, but my choice of the grilled vegetables Provençale was a bit boring for my tastes. Ah well. Can’t win ‘em all! A quick plug for subscriber benefits, though… we got us 20% off our bill!

The great thing about the restaurant was its plum location just down the street from the Boston Opera House, allowing us to zip out with 15 minutes before curtain and be comfortably ensconced in our seats before the show began.

Quick aside here about etiquette. Since I have a subscription I have the same seats for each show. But invariably you run into about 10 different ushers all asking to see your ticket and help you find your seat. I can never decide whether to say, “Oh, it’s okay, I know where I’m going, I’m a subscriber” and risk looking like a pompous boob, or play along like I have no idea where I’m going and let them lead me to my seat. Hm…

Back to the show.

First up was the headlining piece: Jorma Elo’s “Close to Chuck” or, more accurately, “C. to C. (Close to Chuck) Reborn.” Although Elo is Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, he originally created the work for American Ballet Theatre. The version we saw is edited from the original (hence the “Reborn” part of the title). From what I gathered through the post-show chat and other things I read, Elo is not one of those choreographers who creates a work and then expects it to exist in perpetuity in exactly the same form as the original, so this was, in fact, heavily edited to make better use of the costumes, to play up the chemistry between the dancers and the pianist (Bruce Levingston, the only pianist who has performed the score), and reflect the unique qualities of BB. Having not seen the original ABT version, I can’t comment on the changes, but I can say that what I saw (influenced as it may have been by the aforementioned elderflower margarita!) was very impressive. I didn’t know much, if anything, about Chuck Close prior to the show. I discovered that he is an artist who experienced a potentially career-ending spinal aneurysm which left him paralyzed. He had to relearn and refine his way of painting in light of this. I could see how the movements reflected this majorly influential experience in his life. There were moments where the dancers moved as if their limbs were foreign objects, difficult to manipulate. But at other times the movement was flowing and natural. The costuming was minimalist: men in black tights only, women in black leotards with sheer panels, no tights. But throughout the piece they would occasionally appear on stage wearing floor-length black skirts. The inside of the skirt revealed pieces of the Chuck Close self-portrait which they would display in various ways throughout the dance. The music was written by Phillip Glass, a well-known composer of a wide variety of works who has a few Golden Globes and Academy Awards on his shelf and who happens to be a friend of Close. As I mentioned above, Bruce Levingston was the pianist, as he was for the original ABT version, appearing stage right with his back to the audience. The set itself was designed by Mr. Close himself (how fascinating must it be to create a set for a ballet whose whole purpose is to honor you?). On the whole this was a fascinating collaboration of visual and performing arts. Truly inspiring.

Here’s BB’s Close to Chuck preview with some back story by Elo and rehearsal scenes (exciting note, just last night I was in that first room they show the dancers rehearsing in… subject for a future post!):

During the brief intermission we got up to stretch our legs, powder our noses, and inspect the wares at the boutique. My pocketbook was safe this show; nothing screamed at me to take it home, though they had some cool stuff on display, including some cool recycled/repurposed tote bags made from the banners they had used throughout the city to promote the Boston Common show. On our way back to our seats I nearly ran headlong into a guy who seemed awfully familiar. Um, hello, Mikko Nissinen. Nice show you’ve got going on here.

Back to our seats for the world premiere of “Resonance,” a piece created by José Martinez, a former Étoile with the Paris Opera Ballet and current director of the Compañia Nacional de Danza in Spain. The curtain opens on to the stage which has been bisected diagonally by what appears to be a wall of some sort. The only light comes from a bright beam coming from the far end of the wall (upstage, stage right) and the ever-powerful Lia Cirio– wearing a gorgeous long, navy blue dress — steps backwards onto the stage in the path of the light.

Throughout the ensuing piece there are ever-shifting elements. The pieces of the original wall are moved around revealing a pianist on stage at one point, then obscuring her again as if by an unseen hand. Until, towards the end of the piece, one section of the set is rotated in the center of the stage by four of the dancers. The costumes change, as well. Lia Cirio and Dusty Button were the lead female dancers. When Dusty first comes on stage she is wearing a leotard in the same blue as Lia, but without the long skirt. At some point the characters switch. The men, too. They are wearing long-sleeved tunics in one part, and then in another they are bare-armed. There are two pianists playing the music, but we only (occasionally) see one of them. In the corps work the soloists would occasionally dance separate and then at times join in the corps. They were dressed similarly, making them blend in seamlessly so that you almost lost track of the lead. The style of dancing struck me as vaguely Balanchine-esque with a modernist-classical feel. I felt that there was a lot of subtle symbolism going on during the piece, but subtlety is not always my strength when it comes to art. I enjoyed the piece, but must say it was the one I felt least inspired by at the end of the evening.

Here’s Martinez speaking about the piece:

After the second intermission came a piece I’ve been dying to see for years, though those who have been attending BB more regularly might be a bit bored with it by now: Jiři Kylián’s “Bella Figura.” This is the third year out of four that BB has featured this work. I’m not sure what has led them to show this so many times. My perverse thought is that they’re hoping the intrigue of partial nudity will help bring in new audience members. Not sure, but it’s a fun theory. There are portions of this piece where women (and men) appear topless. Honestly, though, it’s not terribly interesting. Ballerinas are pretty flat-chested, if you aren’t already aware. So if you were hoping for something titillating, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.

I’m not quite sure what Kylián had in mind with this work, but having seen others by him recently, I think that making the audience uncomfortable is part of his aim, at least in recent decades. Not in an overtly shocking way, but by pushing the boundaries of what we might consider acceptable in the world of ballet. For example, Bella Figura starts while the audience is still milling about during intermission. With the house lights on the curtain suddenly opens to reveal a group of dancers who are going through motions as if marking bits of choreography, preparing for the show. In this way of opening the piece, the audience is already on edge. People have been caught out of their seats, not sitting politely as we are trained to do when the lights flicker the warning to let us know intermission is coming to a close. Even those of us who are seated are cut off abruptly mid-conversation. You’re not sure whether to be embarassed at being “caught” in a theatre faux pas or to be annoyed that Kylián had the nerve to start the piece without fair warning. Alongside that, you can’t help but wonder if there’s been some error. Did some noob backstage open the curtain accidentally? Have we caught the dancers in some private pre-show ritual not meant for our eyes? Oh no!

I’ve noticed a definite movement vocabulary in his works: a kind of balance of very fluid motions juxtaposed by choppy, almost violent motions. The dancers facial expressions and steps have an almost in-your-face quality. If you’ve come to get washed away by pretty, flowy ballet, this is probably not the piece for you. But if you’ve come to feel emotion, you’re in the right place. The music he chose for this (a variety of works from Foss, Pergolesi, Marcello, Vivaldi, and Torelli) has a haunting quality to it. The choreography pulls at the viewer. Towards the beginning the dancers are all traditionally clothed, with the exception of one. A female dancer appears in nude-colored trunks and… that’s it. You feel this sense of vulnerability from her. It’s like that stereotypical nightmare come true… you’ve gone to work and realized only once you got there that you are stark naked. But she seems to not quite notice. It’s as though she’s preoccupied with other thoughts. A black curtain closes shutting off our view of the corps behind her and she and a male dancer (actually, he may have been wearing only nude trunks as well, but somehow his character didn’t stick out as much) are alone at the front of the stage. She steps forward, reaching towards the audience with her mouth open as if trying to tell us something. She steps back to the curtain where she’s wrapped in it from behind, only to come forward again. This process repeats itself. In my mind it was as if she was fighting two urges: one to feel safe, secure, swaddled, while the other was to reach out, allow herself to appear vulnerable and seek whatever it was she was seeking. And so it goes. The emotion is not always so raw. At times there’s an almost playful aspect to it. In one section after the iconic “red skirt” portion (all dancers, men and women alike, dance together wearing billowy, vermillion skirts and — you guessed it — no shirts) the curtain closes almost completely except for a small space in the middle where two women kneel, pulling off their skirts (don’t worry, they still have those nude trunks on) and almost seem to poke and prod one another as if they were two creatures from different planets trying to figure one another out.

At the end, after the curtain closes on the final scene, including two bowls of fire on stage, my companion and I let out a simultaneous sigh. We weren’t quite sure what we had just experienced, but it was emotional and it was deep. And perhaps this is why BB has been keeping it in constant rotation on their playlist.

Here’s their preview of the piece (and yes, there is a tiny glimpse of partial nudity, so viewer beware if you’re bothered by silly stuff like that):

On this particular evening there happened to be a post-show talk in the lobby with Mikko Nissinen (Artistic Director of Boston Ballet) and special guest Bruce Levingston. I love taking advantage of the pre- and post-show chats and learning what I can from the people behind the scenes, whether they be Mikko, the dancers, musicians, students, etc. In case you haven’t noticed, ballet isn’t just about staring at the stage for me. It’s kind of all-consuming. Luckily my companion has a similar dorkish streak and was happy to entertain my suggestion to stay and hear what they had to say. The talk centered primarily on Close to Chuck, the process of translating it from the original ABT production to something that was uniquely Boston, and also the history of how the piece came to be. Hearing the two men talking about it certainly gave me a greater appreciation for what I had seen.

In case you want to learn more, the Boston Globe did a very nice article on this which explains things far better than I could.

And so, that was my experience of getting Close to Chuck. As with nearly all contemporary works, I wish I had the chance to see it twice. I find that in reflecting on what I saw I come up with more questions and a burning desire to see it again and see what answers I can come up with. The show is running through March 2nd, so if you’re in the area I highly recommend you go check it out and see what you come away with!

Winter Update

Wow, I’ve been remiss at writing of late! Never fear, though, I’m here and there’s lots of dancing going on. I’ll try the quick recap.

Where did we leave off? Oh yes, December.

So our own Nutcracker show went quite well, I think. If you didn’t catch my somewhat flippant take on my experience as a party mom you can find that here. Snow and Hot Chocolate scenes both went reasonably well, IIRC. And my turn as a Rosebud, though light on the choreography, was full of some lively saut de chats, which I always find enjoyable. All in all I felt that I recovered all confidence that I lost the year prior and then some, so hurrah. Still end up on the plus side!

I also got around to scoping out a couple other studios’ versions of Nut. While they weren’t bad, I still think our version is best. I fully admit to being biased. One studio actually hires professional dancers from a major NYC company to play some of the leads (i.e., Sugarplum and her Cavalier, etc.). I was expecting to be blown away, but unfortunately… not sure whether it was bland choreography or a performance by dancers who felt they could just phone it in because, hey, why stress yourself out for a performance in some podunk high school theatre with a bunch of amateurs, but it was vastly underwhelming. I preferred the students’ dances. The other studio did not feature any special guests, per se. Actually, one child has been on Broadway, though they didn’t hype that. I had heard good things about their training, though, so expected some high quality stuff. I was disappointed to see that their scenery was incredibly cheesy and there was no plot whatsoever. I know the Nut plot is usually held together by a thread, at best, but this didn’t even have that. The party scene was lacking in Y chromosomes… or even people pretending to have Y chromosomes. Since they didn’t use adults and the children playing children weren’t particularly young you couldn’t differentiate between the moms and the kids. And then Act II was just a pure helter-skelter, hodge podge of divertissements. Both of these shows had their redeeming qualities, of course, but still, I walked out feeling a good deal of pride at being associated with our version.

Anyway, with Nut done we had our two week break for the holidays. I celebrated by being disgustingly sick. It seems to be an annual tradition, though this bout was especially violent and gross. Yay.

But… while I was recovering, shortly before New Year’s, I got an e-mail in my inbox from our director. She was wanting to submit a piece for consideration to a choreographers’ showcase that another studio was hosting. We had two weeks to throw this together and video it to send it. Who’s game? I am! So a bunch of us cut our break short to head back to the studio for rehearsals. In the span of two rehearsals we got the piece fully choreographed, costumes fitted, and the whole shebang taped and ready to send off. We found out within a week or two that the piece was accepted, so now we’re back to rehearsals and getting it cleaned up in time for the show! It’s a contemporary ballet piece, en pointe. I like it.

And in other performance news, I was invited back to participate in our local music school’s annual gala. They are reprising the Dancing with the Stars format with this year’s theme being Broadway. The fun twist this year is that the music school’s jazz band will be accompanying us dancers. The not-so-fun twist is that their repertoire apparently consists of snoozer songs. Nice songs, but not exciting to dance to. I had my first rehearsal with my new partner last night and, while not a dancer, he agreed that our song was boring, so we’re lobbying for a slightly more risque and definitely more up-tempo song. Fingers crossed that we get our wish! As for my partner… he told me he’s in it to win it, so I think we’ll get along just fine. We covered ball changes last night (which he referred to as “ball and chains” which was trés hilarious) and he made good progress on jazz squares. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring!

Aside from the performing and the class-taking and such, there are also a few Boston Ballet shows coming up. Close to Chuck (mixed rep) starts next week and shortly after that closes Cinderella opens.

So, that’s the quick and dirty of dance in this corner of the world. Hope everyone else’s new year is off to a good start in the studio, on the stage, or in the seats! Cheers!

The Silberhaus Party

15th December 18xx

The Silberhaus family had their annual Christmas party this weekend. This was the first year that husband and I were invited, though I loath to admit that I was not initially excited to receive the invitation. Surely I find Frau Silberhaus to be a kindly woman, but I have heard rumors about past parties and the eccentricities within. Husband impressed upon me that such an invitation could not politely be refused, however, and I knew in my heart he was right.

He encouraged me to buy a new dress and to find new outfits for the children in an effort to cheer me. While the idea of a new gown was exciting, I knew that the invitation was no cause for foolhardiness and assured him that our best clothes would serve us in fine stead, even in the grand surroundings of the Silberhaus drawing room. We would be expected to bring gifts to the party and the money would be better spent there.

I did allow him to convince me to have a new skirt made up to wear with my beautiful burgundy bodice — the one with the lace edging and the points on the sleeves. The dressmaker chose a beautiful fawn color and trimmed it with lace and a purple ribbon. With my lovely cream-colored cape I admit I felt quite grand.

Husband put on his best suit and our children were dressed in their finest clothes, though I failed to notice that our son managed to quite rumple his blouse until we were nearly at the party upon which time it was too late to do much about it. At least his hair was neat and the girls were lovely with their curls and bows.

We were nearly the last to arrive at the party due to the snow that had started, but were greeted warmly by the family and their servants. Shortly after we bid our hellos, though, we received quite a fright as a cloaked gentleman swirled in behind us, his face hidden. Husband and I rushed to protect the children, but as the gentleman removed his black cloak we soon realized it was simply their children’s odd, but harmless godfather Drosselmeyer. He waved in a young man and introduced him as his apprentice. The apprentice immediately asked the young Miss Clara Silberhaus to dance and the other children followed suit (with a little prodding from us).

As the children danced husband and I were able to take in the room and greet some of our fellow guests. I was relieved to see so many friends among the party-goers. Most of the women were wearing new dresses purchased for the occasion, but I was comforted to note the Frau Silberhaus herself was wearing a bodice I’ve seen before dressed up with a new skirt and sash.

I am afraid the children became a bit raucous in their dancing and there were some falls in their frenzy and some tears which I’m afraid came as the result of some of the naughty tricks young Master Silberhaus played on one particular girl. One of the maids entered with a tea cart full of sweets at just the right time to help dry the tears and distract the children. While they were thus occupied we were invited to partake in a toast, which was followed by a glorious round of waltzing. Unfortunately our dancing was brought to an abrupt halt by more of Fritz’s tricks.

Godfather Drosselmeyer must have had enough, for he gathered the children around him and we watched as he took out his pocketwatch. What could this mean? He swung it before him briefly before calling Fritz up to stand beside him. He then proceeded to somehow put the boy in a trance by telling Fritz to stare at the watch while it swung back and forth. What followed was such a sight to behold! Fritz returned to the group of children, but instead of sitting with them he took the hand of the young lady he had been tormenting for the bulk of the evening and kissed her hand. Repeatedly! They then waltzed for a few seconds before he took a corsage from Drosselmeyer and placed it around the young girl’s wrist. A few more kisses and a few more waltzes… it was truly a miracle. But then! Drosselmeyer snapped his fingers and Fritz realized in horror what he had done and went running to his parents. I suppose it was mean of me, but I could not help but stifle a laugh.

The magic was not over, however! The children were summoned to go sit along the sides of the room and two large boxes were brought in. What could they contain? They opened to reveal two life-sized dolls! Drosselmeyer’s apprentice brought in the key and the godfather proceeded to wind up the dolls who then performed a droll little dance for us! It was such a sight to behold and the children, girls especially, were absolutely entranced.

Husband helped to carry the dolls out while Drosselmeyer then brought in — oh, you shall never believe it! — a bear! I nearly fainted. What could he mean, bringing this mean, wild animal into a home, especially one with so many small children? The man was surely mad. But then music began and this ferocious animal rose up on two feet as if it were a human and began to dance! Can you imagine?! A dancing bear! It even somersaulted through a hoop that Drosselmeyer held before him. Once the music stopped the bear dropped back to all fours and was led out of the drawing room. I have never witnessed anything so unusual!

I worried that our evening would continue with more of these antics, which my constitution surely could not bear, but thankfully Drosselmeyer was momentarily out of surprises and the Silberhaus family took the opportunity to gather the children around the tree to hand out presents. We certainly did not expect such generosity from our hosts. The girls each got dolls and the boys… well, the boys received toy swords and pull toys in the shape of mice! I tried to hide my horror at the latter. As the girls were exclaiming over their dolls Drosselmeyer brought out yet another surprise for young Miss Clara: a nutcracker doll. I would expect that she would have preferred one of the pretty dolls that the rest of the girls received than that horrid wooden thing with its sneering grin, but she seemed awed by it and eagerly ran around to show it to each of the children.

Fritz immediately began pouting. Rather unbecoming behavior for a boy of his age, though, to be fair Clara was being a bit of a show-off and I cannot imagine what Drosselmeyer was thinking by only getting a special gift for one of the children and not both.

What happened next, though, oh, I can hardly bear to write it down, but it must be said… Fritz grabbed Clara’s nutcracker doll and wrenched it from her hands and before anyone could intervene he broke its head clear off its body! Clara was inconsolable, and I can only imagine that Frau and Herr Silberhaus were beyond embarrassed at the behavior of their children. Fritz was roundly scolded, though why he was permitted to stay at the party was beyond me. Our son would have been sent to bed immediately!

Thankfully Drosselmeyer had a bit more magic in him and repaired the doll so that you could never tell it had been broken. The girls all danced around with their new dolls and it was so beautiful to behold. That is, until the boys got antsy and rambunctious and descended on their pretty scene with swords raised and rats trailing behind them. I am sorry to say that our own boy was part of this scene, terrorizing his sisters. He is a sweet boy, but I’m afraid he does idolize that naughty Fritz. Husband and the other men came to restore order and I went to soothe the girls, but after a short time the boys descended on us yet again.

Frau Silberhaus suggested that the toys be put away for the time and that we all join in a dance. We had a lovely time dancing when suddenly a whirling dirvish caught my eye. Grandmother Silberhaus had risen from her comfortable couch and was twirling about the dance floor! Can you imagine!? She consumed more than her fair share of wine, I’m afraid! She even exposed her polka-dotted bloomers to us in her scurry before nearly toppling over. Thankfully her son was able to save her just in time!

With that latest in the string of odd events of the evening there was an unspoken understanding amongst us guests that it was time for us to take our leave of the party. We gathered up our children and I braced myself to head out into the snow.

It was a night I won’t soon forget. I do wonder if perhaps I had a bit too much wine, myself, though. I could have sworn that as we were leaving I saw a large rat run past with a crown on his head and a sword clutched between his teeth!

Pointe shoe rescue, BB50 begins, and more fun with physics

Quick mash-up post here of three random ballet-related things flitting through my brain.

First off… the pointe shoe debacle.

Recap: old shoes (Freeds) are dead. I had been fitted into Gaynor Mindens this summer and thought I could just wear those. Plan made without ever trying to dance in them. Whoops! Turns out I find them rather unenjoyable. I do not have the luxury of time with Nut coming up in less than two months including two pieces I need to perform en pointe, so this is not the time to play the getting-to-know-you game! What to do, what to do?

Local store didn’t have any stock shoes from my maker in my size and I don’t have the time to call around to hunt some up. I ordered a new custom pair with a few tweaks from my last custom order, but that helps me nada seeing as it takes about 3 months for them to get made.

I ordered a pair of Freed Studios, but as with the last time I tried them the wings are just way too stiff. Sent those back. Argh!!! Emergency!!!

Then I remembered the Chacott Veronese II hanging out in my closet. They were a pair I bought a couple years ago shortly after I went back en pointe. I had bought these because they were a shoe I wore in college, but this was during my great pointe shoe odyssey in which I was buying up different shoes in an effort to identify “my shoe” and the Chacotts only got a couple wears before I moved on to other models. I pulled them back out and tried them on and I think these just might work to get me through until the new shoes come in.

Freed actually owns Chacott now, so I guess the shoes are cousins of a sort! They are nice and light and easy to dance in, so although I love Freed more, these are a serviceable back-up.

Crisis averted!!!

Next up… this weekend!

Boston Ballet is kicking of its 50th anniversary season with a run of La Bayadère. I will be there, bien sur! I got an e-mail from BB with pre-show info, including a link to the casting. I was super-excited to find out that Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio will be playing the night I’ll be there (as Nikiya and Solor). My two faves! Yay!!!

Check back later for my review.

And finally… physics.

I was prepping for lecture and was printing out the slide deck. On the top page was the agenda of topics for the evening, including… pirouettes and fouetté turns! That and falling cats.

The bummer is that we ran out of time before we could get to those parts! Waahhhh!!! Professor said we’d cover what we missed next week, though. Phew! Maybe he has some secrets to impart that will revolutionize my dancing. If not that, maybe I’ll at least learn something about the crazy felines that inhabit my house.

Party (Mom) of 5

Just got the news that I am going to be a mother!

I have tried to avoid this predicament, but it has found me anyway.

Yes, my friends, it is true… the cast was short a party mom and I have been roped in.

Noooooooo!!!!

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this!

Okay, okay, the hysterics are a smidge unwarranted here.

Last week the director asked, rather off-handedly, if I could be in the scene.. this was during class, right before I was supposed to do a combination across the floor.

I was all, “Tombé, pas de bourrée, WHAT?!”

And she was all, “Well, it’s not definite, we may have someone, but if not…”

So today I asked if I was needed and got a reply in the affirmative.

Fiddlesticks.

“You’ve done it before, right?” she asked.

Um… no. My avoidance methods have worked perfectly up until now!

“What?! Well, that settles it… you HAVE to be in it!”

So, what, is the party scene actually some sort of hazing ritual?

And here I thought Snow was the hazing ritual!

Hm… does this mean I have to get some less-sexy/non-T-strap character shoes or am I going to be That Mom?

Party scene actually has some potential for fun and — bonus — I get to wear a hoop skirt, which was a childhood dream of mine since I read the Little House books.

This does, however, take the chill, relaxed show I was expecting and ramps it up a notch. Party scene isn’t particularly tough, but it is long and from that I have to quickly transform into a snowflake and then go on to perform in two dances in the second act.

Four scenes?! Phew!

But… it should be fun! Would be more fun if there was real champagne in the glasses we toast with on stage, however…

First rehearsal is tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted!

Nut 2013 – The chaos begins

Apparently my friends and I have developed a knack for choosing reunion weekends that happen to coincide with Nutcracker auditions.

This was the second year in a row that I missed them because I was gallivanting out of state with the same group of people. While I was swilling sangria and consuming tapas in Michigan, my dance friends were sweating it out in a curtained-off studio with numbers pinned to their leotards. Sorry, guys!

My dancer radar was up while I was traveling, though!

As we were leaving the tapas bar, I spied a brochure for the Grand Rapids Ballet. Might have to check them out next time I’m in town!

From dinner we proceeded to wander around checking out some of the ArtPrize displays around the city. Where I spied this:

Blind Grace, Dean Kugler

Blind Grace, Dean Kugler

This was just one of the works entered into ArtPrize that had a dance element, but we had limited time, it was dark, and there were a ton of people walking around the city checking out the art, so I didn’t get to search out any of the others. I quite enjoyed this piece, though. Details can be found here (and from there you can link to more info about ArtPrize).

It wasn’t my last chance to see dance-themed art during the weekend, though… because the following day we went to Meijer Gardens (should you ever find yourself in Grand Rapids, MI you must go there!) and I spied this Degas sculpture!

Edgar Degas, "Dancer Looking at Her Right Foot," c. 1895-1911, Bronze

Edgar Degas, “Dancer Looking at Her Right Foot,” c. 1895-1911, Bronze

Gorgeous!

In spite of missing auditions, I will still be in the show, though!

And I know you’re waiting anxiously to hear what my parts will be.

Repeats? New dances? Hm???

Well, in a way… both. I’ve been in all dances before. One of them will feature me in a new role, however.

First up is Snow… as a flake. Third year running. First year this piece nearly scared the tutu off me, but last year I quite enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got a lot of young blood in the dance this year, so will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Next up is Hot Chocolate/Spanish corps. Another repeat – second year in a row. Last year I felt kind of meh about it. It had potential to be fun, but I was stressed and not totally pleased with my performance. Happy to get another run at it. The corps, with the exception of one guy, are all the same from last year. My partner from last year is the missing guy. Assuming the other ladies keep their partners from last year, I’ll get partnered with the new guy, but… new guy was actually the knight to my Lady in Waiting from Wild Swans, so he’s not totally new and he was a good partner, so I’ve got high hopes for this one this year.

Then the new/old dance. I’ll be back in the Waltz of the Flowers, which I was in my first year. But instead of being in the corps I’ll be a Rosebud. This is a role I’d had in the back of my mind, so I’m happy about that. My only disappointment is that I was hoping it could be en pointe, but the other rosebud doesn’t do pointe yet, so it’ll be slippers for us. Though, really… that piece is at the end of the show and by that time I can’t imagine I’ll be complaining when I get to take off my pointe shoes and put soft slippers on!

So, there’s the verdict. I think it will actually be a fairly fun, low-stress show for me this year, which I am looking forward to! Stay tuned for rehearsal updates and, of course, show recaps!

Best of luck to anyone else out there preparing for Nutcracker or other holiday shows!

Boston Ballet’s Night of Stars

I’m a bit tardy on this review, but had to write it up!

Boston Ballet is kicking off their 50th anniversary season and they chose to do so by giving the gift of ballet to the city. That is, they set up a stage on the Boston Common (which, if you’ve never been to Boston, is a big park-like thing in the middle of the city) and chose an incredible program spanning the gamut from classical story ballets to Balanchine to contemporary and presented it for FREE to anyone willing to come out and watch.

The estimated attendance I saw was around 55,000. And I was one of them!

The show was slated to start at 7pm. BB sent out an e-mail the day before suggesting people arrive between 4 and 5:30 to get good seats. So… my friends and I got there at 3. And we were far from the first to arrive. But we were among the first, so we scored an awesome piece of lawn facing the right side of the stage. We didn’t bring chairs since we weren’t expecting they’d be allowed. Turns out they were. Drat. But even on blankets the view was great.

It was a glorious late summer day, temps in the upper 70s, only supposed to drop to the mid-60s at night. So we spread out our blankets and basked in the sun. At 4pm they opened the information booth and started playing videos on the screens they had set up. The first 50 people to the info booth got a free Night of Stars t-shirt… and yes, I got one! Very exciting. The videos turned out to mostly be stuff that I had already seen on their web-site: profiles of dancers, info about the school, etc. But at least it gave something for the early-comers to watch.

At around 6:30 I decided to stretch my legs and went for a quick walk (which was not so much walking as it was attempting not to step on the sea of humanity, dogs, and blankets surrounding me) and realized exactly how many people had come out to watch ballet. It was truly spectacular. It seemed like every square inch of the Common was covered.

By the time we made our way back to our blankets the curtain was nearly set to rise. Except… well, there was no curtain. There were no real wings, even. There was, however, a pair of dancers rehearsing on-stage. Those two were a certain Jeffrey Cirio (SWOON!!!) and Misa Kuranaga practicing their Don Q pas de deux, complete with legwarmers over their costumes. They were out there as they probably would do before any other show, unabashedly going through certain parts of the dance, except we could see them (the lights weren’t up and the cameras weren’t on them, but for those of us in the front it was all there for the viewing). This alone was enough to make my evening. It was this glimpse into their non-performing world.

As 7pm neared twilight was beginning to creep over the Common. A slightly-more-than-light breeze blew up. It was all terribly romantic. The screens switched over from the videos that had been running over the past few hours to an introduction and thank-you from various BB big-wigs. Then the orchestra tuned up (yes, the entire BB orchestra was there, too!). And then… the show.

As you might have guessed, it opened with the Don Quixote pas de deux featuring Mr. Cirio and Ms. Kuranaga. I saw them paired up in Coppelia and they are such a good match. Their dancing complements each other exquisitely. And, in case I haven’t mentioned it previously… I heart Jeffrey Cirio. His dancing is simply divine. Swoon. And… swoon again.

Ahem, where was I?

Oh yes. Don Q. Pas de deux. Both dancers are just marvelous. You’d never know they were performing out of their element. Fan-frickin-tastic!

Next up were excerpts from Christopher Bruce’s “Rooster.” I had seen the full “Rooster” in last year’s fall program and loved it. It’s set to Rolling Stones music and the dancing has kind of a jazz/modern feel to it, so I feel like it’s a great intro to BB for people who may not think that they like ballet. For this show they performed “Paint it Black,” “Play with Fire,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” Great music. Great dancing.

After that was a preview of the next show coming up: the Golden Idol variation from La Bayadere. This one featured a few children from BBS. Now, let me tell you one thing I learned from this piece. You know how pink tights highlight muscle line (cellulite, too, but let’s not discuss that!). Well, turns out gold paint does the same thing. I suppose it goes without saying, then, that it made this piece rather appealing to the eye. The dancing… well, I know it’s a super-hard variation, in part because it is about twice as long as most men’s variations in classical ballet. It was good… not quite great, but… certainly good. And… gold paint, yum.

Next up was the mystery performance of the evening… the world premiere of “Swan” which was choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov. It was a pas de deux between Lorna Feijoo and Yury Yanowsky. They danced exquisitely, but the piece itself left me a bit underwhelmed. I think I was just expecting something a bit bigger and brighter and was kind of disappointed to find out that the world premiere was something not what I built it up to be in my mind. I should probably see it again in a different context to better judge its merits.

And then, to end the first half, was Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements.” It features a huge cast and I think because of that, there were some amazing parts and some that could use some tightening up. Lia Cirio (sister of my crush) seemed totally in her element in this piece. She exudes a certain matriarchal vibe and her role in this suited her. The other soloists in this were equally fine. The corps, however…. well, this is one of those pieces where if one person’s arms are out of line with everyone else’s it sticks out like a sore thumb and I saw a lot of moments like that. I saw one reviewer who said that this piece simply didn’t translate to the outdoor setting, and I can see how that may be the case. A lot of the lines and angles couldn’t be seen properly from our vantage point. But I also felt like there were a lot of newer dancers in this piece and it simply wasn’t as polished as other dances they’ve done. A bit disappointing.

Intermission was a generous 25 minutes… good planning on the part of BB, I think. People needed all that time if they were to get to the Port-A-Potties and back! The evening was warm and it was good time to kibbitz with my friends over our favorites.

The second half of the show was a bit less frenzied with just two works.

The first was “Plan to B” by Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer, Jorma Elo. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the only other piece of his I’ve seen, “Awake Only.” The dancing was fine, I just didn’t feel like I got what he was trying to express. Well, “Plan to B” managed to change my mind about Elo. This is amazing and highlights the amazing breadth of skill the BB dancers have. I mean, the make story ballets come to life in such a dreamy fashion, but they are also incredibly strong contemporary dancers. The stuff they did in this piece was mind-blowing. (And, no, it didn’t hurt that a certain JC was in this one, too!). I loved it.

The second piece was another one of my favorites, both the work and the way BB performs it: Balanchine’s “Serenade.” This would be the third time I’ve seen “Serenade” this year. First time was during “Chroma” last spring. I thought my heart would pop out of my chest from the beauty of it all. Second time was watching it performed by NYCB at SPAC and I was strangely disappointed. That was Mr. B’s own company up there and I thought BB performed it far better. I blamed the outdoor setting. So… I was approaching this piece with mixed feelings. I loved the way BB did it last time I saw them, but was worried that the setting might mar it. Well, dear reader… mark this as a win for the home team. Not only did BB perform it as wonderfully as last spring, but the breeze and the long tulle skirts (nearly 3 football fields’ worth according to their fun FAQs!) made it simply dreamy. An exquisite ending for a lovely evening.

This performance was such an incredible gift to the city and I am so impressed at the turn-out it generated. Those 55,000 people who showed up to watch ballet must have felt like a huge gift to the company. I do hope that it inspired some of those people to pay to see a show during the upcoming season. That would be an even bigger gift.

And Boston Ballet is certainly deserving of that. They’ve had bumps in their road over the past 50 years, but I heartily feel that they are entering the next half-century as one of the pre-eminent dance companies in the US and hopefully the world. The calibre of dancing and the quality of shows they produce is simply amazing. I feel incredibly privileged to be a subscriber and get to see each of their shows. I am so excited for this season!

Were you one of the 55,000? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of the show!

Edited to add this video recap posted by Boston Ballet!

A Wild Wrap-up

Well, I wouldn’t call it a swan song, but my run as a swan has come to its natural end.

Oh sigh…

It was a tremendous experience, though. Perhaps one of my favorite performances ever.

Let’s rewind.

We had our studio dress rehearsal on Sunday.

Then rehearsal for the swan pieces on Tuesday. In the midst of all the clarifying, cleaning, and running-through, our dancers were also getting final costume fittings from our dedicated costume volunteers who were dutifully tacking glittery tulle on the tutus and stitching the basques to the waists of the tutus. It was rather a stressful time, honestly. People worried that the costumes might not get done, or that the final alterations wouldn’t result in a workable result. Seeing as my sewing skills top out at sewing elastics and ribbons on to my pointe shoes, all I could really offer were crossed fingers and good wishes.

Then Wednesday and our dress rehearsal in the theatre. I skipped out of work early so I could be home in time to bun up my hair and turn my make-up into something stageworthy. Threw on my tights and nude camisole leotard and headed to the theatre. It’s part of a large high school in the area, but the theatre is glorious with lovely big dressing rooms and a green room, a huge loading dock off the back and a giant overhead door leading to the stage from the hallway opposite the loading dock. This theatre was clearly designed for performing! But we had never performed there before, so it was all a brand-new and, thus, slightly scary world!

While the people backstage figured out the lighting cues and props, the backdrops and curtains and special effects, the dancers figured out their quick costume changes. Let’s face it, dress rehearsal is pretty much just loosely organized chaos!

And then came our turn on stage. First as swans. The fog blew in from the fog machine and we stood on our trembling (at least in my case!) swan legs. We figured out wing entrances and exits and backstage crossings. And discovered that the unmarleyed parts of the floor are scary slippery. Whoops! But hey, better to figure this out before the show! Then on to Ladies in Waiting where we danced with our knights and the princesses and the king and the other king and, towards the end, the tiny little flower girls.

Run-through done we poured out of the theatre. Got to have some post-rehearsal snacks with some of my fellow dancers on the way home.

Then the day of performance number one dawned. It was bea-UT-i-ful. Clear blue, cloudless sky, no humidity. Simply gorgeous. I worked from home that day, but spent most of it giddily checking the clock until it was time to shower and bun up my hair and do my formal performance make-up. Then I headed to the theater in advance of call time to set my spot backstage and relax a bit. It helps that this particular theater is a mere 10 minutes from my house!

We got ready for warm-up class at which point we discovered that this theatre actually has a dance studio in it! Not the greatest studio ever, but beats dancing in the seats! Had a good warm up and got a pep talk from the director, then it was off to put on pointe shoes and costumes and get ready for our show!

So… the first performance of the first production of a show in a new space is always a bit hairy and this was no different. We had a few mis-steps. Lighting and music cues gone awry. And a few brain farts on the part of the dancers. These can be maddening, but they happen and all you can do is roll with it. So we did. And even with the hairy moments I will say that the show blew me away. The details. The dancing. The theatre. It all came together gorgeously. And was over far too soon.

After the show was over I changed quickly backstage and went out front to look for familiar faces (parents, dance teachers, etc.). I heard an unfamiliar voice yell out, “Rori!” and turned to see a friend from MANY moons ago. I knew her from high school, though we didn’t go to the same school… we both played brass instruments and had met through various band events. She had seen my post on Facebook and brought her daughter and a friend of hers to see it! She doesn’t even live in the immediate area! What an amazing and wonderful surprise!

Next morning I set the alarm early for we had a 10am show… on a Friday morning. Yeah, kind of a weird show time, but I think they were trying to capture the summer camp and elder groups. Oh, and it also happened to be… the day I turned 35. I am a 35-year-old swan. Okay, THAT has to be worthy of some sort of accolade, yes?

I treated myself to a trip through the donut chain drive thru down the hill from my house (where another dancer friend was pulling in as I was exiting!) for some eggy/cheesy goodness and went back to the theatre. Settled in, warm-up class, tutu/pointes… you know the deal.

This show went about a thousand times better than the previous evening’s. I mean, the music and lighting cues were mostly on. There were no mass brain farts on the part of the dancers. I figured out how to quickly wiggle my ass in and out of my Very Tiny Tutu. Basically, a glorious final (birthday!) show.

Topped off by going out to the audience to meet up with my parents and brother’s family who had so graciously come to see me dance and take me out for a noon-time margarita and ice cream (there may have been an actual lunch entree in there somewhere, but the margarita and the sundae were the important parts). While we were at the restaurant some other members of the Swan/Ladies family arrived, so I got to spend some time with them, too. (I don’t know about you, but after a show I always feel the need to sit down with my fellow performers and rehash everything!)

The best part of this show, for me, was the feeling of triumph. For whatever reason my last dance company performance (last year’s Nut) left me in a funk. It wasn’t a bad show, but I felt bad. I didn’t meet my own expectations and I was frustrated. While the subsequent recital went fine, I don’t take that as seriously as the company stuff, so it didn’t do much to make me feel better. For whatever reason, my swan performance made me feel like a competent dancer once more. I made my share of mistakes, I can’t deny that, but I enjoyed the dancing. I felt like a swan. I felt beautiful. So from that standpoint… win!

Not a bad way to kick off the next year of my life, I’d say!