The Misty Buzz

So, the whole Misty Copeland Under Armour ad has been everywhere lately. Even people I didn’t think were into ballet are posting it on their Facebook feed and it’s all over the news lately.

If you’ve — somehow — missed it, here you go:

Let me start by saying that there are a lot of great things about this ad.

I love anything that puts ballet into the media.

I love that it shows the true athleticism required to be an elite dancer. It’s not just flapping one’s arms about and looking pretty… you need to have incredible strength to make it look that easy. So kudos to UA for showing that.

It bucks the unhealthy waif myth about ballerinas.

And, it has a kick-ass reminder to stay strong and keep working hard for what you want.

But… I have some issues with the ad campaign, or at least some of the press it’s generated.

For one thing, I’ve seen a lot about how this shows that ballet is a sport. Ballet is NOT a sport, it is an art. Yes, it is an art that requires a great deal of athleticism. But it is not a sport. Sure, it is reduced to sport in some areas. We try to grade dancers on technical abilities and artistic merit. But so much of what makes ballet great is the unspoken communication between performer and viewer. And that can be a very personal thing.

I mean, I love hockey. And yeah, it can get me very emotional at times. But much of the emotion is related to whether a goal was scored or a save was made. As a spectator and fan I don’t really care if a goal was pretty or not, if a save was a case of x-ray vision or pure, dumb luck. It’s the end result.

In ballet there’s so much more to see. I’ve gone to ballets where my companion and I saw the exact same show and had two very different interpretations and reactions to what we saw. There is no final score. The end result is up for debate.

So, sorry, opiners, Misty Copeland is an athletic artist, not a sportswoman.

Then, the voice-over. Is this a letter that Misty received? Or is this something Under Armour made up for a good story? Because from what I’ve read of Misty, she never even really danced until she was 13 and was encouraged to pursue it even though her family had doubts. She had such pure, raw talent that the ballet teachers who saw her pushed to do it, far from the discouraging tone of the words in the voice-over. Maybe this is a real letter, but it just doesn’t jibe with what I’ve read of her story. I want to know more about that…

And then there’s something else… I guess maybe the fact that this is so focused on this feeling of rebellion. That, yeah, Misty might not be the image that pops into someone’s head when they think of a generic ballerina, but she had grit, strength, and a don’t-tell-me-no attitude that propelled her to the elite ranks. I’m sure all of that is true. It’s just… there are a lot of plucky, gritty, strong, determined dancers that don’t make it. And the message of this ad seems to be, well, clearly they just didn’t want it enough. The reality is sometimes you do all you can and things don’t work out the way you wanted. And sometimes you end up in a dream position without even knowing that’s where you wanted to be.

I’m not quite sure what point I’m trying to make here. It’s just, I see all these people (mostly people who know zip-zero-nada about dance) being all, “Ooh, this is so awesome, so inspiring!!!” and I’m like, yeah, it’s cool, but…

Something about it just doesn’t quite ring true to me, and I can’t put my finger on what that is.

Anyway, all that aside, the big burning question I have out of this ad campaign is… when is Under Armour going to get into the leotard business? Because, seriously? I sweat like nobody’s business in class and I could use some of that awesome wicking technology in my leos so I don’t look like I just I’ve been to the swimming pool instead of ballet class.

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.

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!

Getting my Gaynor groove on

So… I’m trying to develop a functional relationship with my Gaynors.

At first I was all, “These suck, burn them at the stake!”

I shoved them to the depths of my dance bag and resurrected some old Chacotts while I wait for my darling new Freeds to show up on my doorstep.

That was all well and good. Except the Chacotts twist on my feet a smidge. The bigger issue, though, is that the area under the pleats is going soft. I’m not sure if I’m having some sort of technique issue (entirely possible) or if the glue was a bit shot to begin with. The shoes are at least two years old, based on when I bought them, and who knows how long they were hanging out at the store before then. Old glue does not make for a good shoe.

When I discovered this and experienced a pang of fear thinking, “I don’t know that they’ll make it until Nut and I really don’t want to order yet another pair of shoes.”

The logical conclusion then — of course — was to suck it up and learn how to dance in the new shoes I already own. Duh.

And… okay, I’ll admit it: after working with them a bit they’re not as bad as I felt initially. I do still think they’re kind of ugly in the box area. But I am figuring out how to dance in them and finding a few redeeming qualities. Like, they’re quiet (Freeds are quiet, too, but I’ve had some clompy shoes in the past, particularly the Russian brands). And my alignment feels better.

This in no way means that I’ll be giving up on the Freeds, but it’s honestly a relief to know that the GM purchase was not entirely in vain. Maybe there is room for both brands in my dance world. It may be sacrilegious to even suggest such a thing, but I’ll remain open-minded to the possibility!

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!

GM – First Impressions

I finally sewed up those Gaynor Minden pointe shoes I bought back in… oh, JULY!

In my defense, the shoes are a major PITA to sew. Most pointe shoes have a separate inner layer of muslin-type fabric to sew the elastics and ribbons to (I sew my elastics on the inside… I know not everyone does that). In GMs the satin is fused to the inner layer which is some sort of flocked material. Getting a needle through all of that is un-fun, to say the least. My fingers still hurt days later.

Also, I had two other pairs of Freeds going and with rehearsals and such sewing up a new pair of pointes wasn’t high on my priority list.

But both pairs of Freeds (including my precious custom pair!) are essentially dead, so I didn’t have much choice with rehearsals looming in the near future.

Sew-sew-sew I go.

And then tried them out tonight for the first time in pointe class. I was hoping for the best, but I’m really not sure these shoes are for me. At best there’s going to be a pretty significant learning curve with these shoes and I’m just not sure I have the patience for it when I know the Freeds work.

Okay, let’s start with the positives, because it’s not all bad news.

They make my arch look really nice. And my feet have rather low arches, so that’s something. We were doing développés to the side and I was facing the mirror and though, holy Toledo, I actually look like I have bendy feet! Which I don’t. At all. So… that’s nice.

And… um… yeah, I guess that’s about it on the positives.

Argh. I really wanted to like these, especially since they are on the spendy side.

For one thing there is all the built in padding. It seems like a nice idea. Cushy inside. What ballerina doesn’t want some comfort in the shoes of death? But… I just felt like there was way too much going on in this shoe. I couldn’t put my finger on it until my teacher asked what I was wearing. She wears Gaynors so she is familiar with them (and obviously not anti-Gaynor like many teachers can be), but said that with all of the padding it can feel like you’ve got like an extra half inch of stuff in the platform and it means you have to go that much farther to get up en pointe. YES!!! That’s exactly it!

We weren’t doing anything particularly challenging in class today, so I was baffled as to why everything felt like a major ordeal. And that was a lot of it. I felt like my feet had grown overnight and I couldn’t figure out how to make them work.

Honestly, it kind of felt like I was trying to do pointe in a tennis shoe.

And then there’s the fact that they’re ugly as @*%#! Sorry. I know it’s stupid to get wrapped up in how a shoe looks, but these things look like boats on my feet. Again, I think it’s all the padding in the box that makes them look about twice as wide as my Freeds. The ugly box doesn’t quite make up for the pretty arch.

So… what to do, what to do? We’ve got rehearsals coming up and the show is only a little over two months away, so there’s no way I can get a new custom Freed order made up. I might look around to see if anyone has my maker in my size hanging around their stock room to get me through until I can get some customs made up. The other alternative, of course, is to just try to muscle through and figure out how to dance in these things. Probably more reasonable, but I’m just scared after how today’s class went.

Sigh… more to come, I’m sure. I’m not going to toss these shoes out quite yet, but I’m certainly not feeling any real affection towards them at this particular moment!