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…

Took a walk down Clarendon Street

For years now — YEARS!!! — I’ve been wanting to take a class at Boston Ballet School. In fact that was part of my big excitement when I scored my current job. I’d be in the city, oh so convenient to taking classes in Boston.

But… since starting there nearly two years ago I’ve taken, oh, ZERO classes in Boston.

Not for lack of intention, mind you. Lots of good intentions. But with a few good excuses… and more often simply neglecting to actually, you know, make a plan, it’s never come to fruition.

But the last week in February when our own studio was on break, I was determined. Determined, dammit!

Another subscriber benefit is the opportunity to get my first class at Boston Ballet School for free, so I really had nothing to lose. One of my dance friends had taken classes there before and said she’d meet me there (admittedly some of my reluctance to go was that whole fear of looking lost, confused, and out of place). So, it was set.

What I didn’t count on is the damned polar vortex or whatever they called the bone-chilling weather we were experiencing. So when I popped up out of the T station at Copley Square I set the Google maps on my phone to give me walking directions, but was too damned cold to take it out of my pocket to look at it. I just hoped my internal compass would steer me in the right general direction.

I wasn’t feeling too sure. After I left Copley Square I found myself wandering through a decidedly residential portion of the South End of town. (Very cute part of town, it may be noted. I’m afraid that despite my determination to remain aloof to Boston’s charms I’m falling hopelessly in love with this ridiculous city.) I felt a bit lost, not helped by the fact that there was barely a soul in sight, aside from one woman who was hurriedly trying to get her dog to do his business so they could duck back into their warm brownstone. This really didn’t seem quite right!

Until suddenly I noticed a small girl walking up ahead with her dad. She had her hair in a bun. Then I saw another bunned-up girl a little beyond her. Maybe I was in the right place, after all! I came to an intersection and directly across from me was a building that had huge windows emanating a soft light on the street. I could see the shadows of what appeared to be dancing behind those windows. I MUST be in the right place!

I crossed the intersection and looked into a window where there were a bunch of people who looked like they were staffing a telethon. Which would make sense… I had just received a bored-sounding voice mail from someone at BB the night before asking me to call back if I wanted to make a gift (to which I said to myself, yes, I would, but not if you’re going to sound so unenthusiastic about it!).

Sure enough, I had found BBS. I ducked into the doors and took a good look around. I stood in a lobby that was a few stories high. In front of me stairs rose up to the next level. There was a security desk in front of me to the left and a booth off to the right with a young woman assisting someone who looked like she might be there to take a class. I stepped behind her, hoping I was in the right place.

The woman in front of me finished up and the nice girl behind the desk said, “Are you here to take an open class?” Phew, I’m in the right place! I signed in, with a bit of confusion regarding the whole subscriber-free-class thing. While I was in line I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see my friend who had just arrived a minute or so behind me. I waited for her to pay and she led me up two flights of stairs to Studio 6 where the intermediate class was meeting.

We were a good 15 minutes early for class, which is a remarkable feat for both of us. But it was nice to have time to settle our stuff, pick our places at the barre, stretch, and take it all in. We had walked past a couple other studios on our way, so I knew this wasn’t the biggest room of them all, but it did feel pleasantly spacious. And it was toasty warm… not the nasty, sweaty-teenager warm I typically expect of dance studios, but like someone was cranking the radiators warm. The gathering crowd seemed pleasant enough. It was obvious who made up the contingent of regulars, but the snobbery was kept to a minimum.

Finally, it was time for class to begin. Our instructor made some brief chit chat to talk up the current and upcoming BB shows and then we got to work. He did a pre-plié exercise which I enjoy… not a lot of my teachers do them. Then we progressed in the normal sequence of barre. Nothing terribly complex, though I did get a bit lost in some parts where the ballet vocabulary was dropped in favor of some: “and a buh-buh-buh-buh-BAAHH.” The regulars knew what the guy was talking about. I waggled my foot around in some approximation of what I thought he might have meant by that terminology. If it were a class at my home studio I would’ve asked for clarification, but that didn’t seem to be the culture here, so I kept quiet. It was a nice barre, good combination of exercises, some challenges, but not outside my range. Then we moved to centre. More of the same sorts of exercises. I hung back a bit, mostly because I wasn’t sure the culture of this place and I didn’t want to inadvertently step on any toes (literally or figuratively). All in all… a good workout (loved dancing in such a warm room!), not my best performance, but certainly not my worst, either.

Will I go back? Maybe. Probably. Might try some of the other classes, even the lower levels, just to experience more teachers. My main disappointment was that I didn’t find a shining star in the group. I don’t mean a real BB star. I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to be found slumming in the open adult classes. I just mean… you know how there’s usually at least one dancer in a room who exhibits that special… something? Could be stellar technique or incredible poise or just a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe that dancer exists but was taking the night off, I dunno. There were plenty of adequate dancers, of course. I don’t mean anything disparaging by that. I was just hoping to see someone whose dancing would blow my mind. On the flip side, I was terrified going in that I would be in way over my head. Maybe Boston intermediate would mean something more than country-mouse intermediate. My friend had assured me that we would be totally fine based on what she’d experienced before, but the class descriptions can look a bit daunting. So it was good at least get validation that I’m performing at the level I claim to have!

After reverence my friend and I went downstairs to the locker room to change and then went strolling the frigid streets of Boston in search of post-class refreshments. We found ourselves at Aquitaine, which I’d heard of but never eaten at. I’m guessing their clientele does not typically consist of slightly disheveled, post-ballet class, but they were very accomodating of our vaguely hoboish appearance and we enjoyed a very sumptuous meal which more than made up for any calories burnt in class. Whoops!

So that was that. Now that I’m no longer a BBS virgin, I expect I’ll experience much less trepidation about taking classes there in the future. I know the space a bit and no one came after me with a pitchfork for having poor technique. It’s not nearly as scary as I imagined and, in fact, has a certain magical charm. So, yay for stepping out of the cold and into the studio. I’ll have to do so more often!

Ready for a new season!

And, no, I’m not talking about the weather here… though with the temp at -1 degree Farenheit this morning when I left the house, I’m ready for that, too!

No, what I’m talking about here is the buzz that a ballet friend started in class last night.

There are still three more shows to go in Boston Ballet’s 50th anniversary season, but… they just released the line-up for the 2014-15 season.

Dear reader, I was excited for this year, but next year… I literally found myself involuntarily squealing and clapping to myself at my desk as I read the article this morning. Thankfully I have coworkers who are forgiving of these silly quirks.

First up, Swan Lake makes its Boston Opera House debut! With new costumes and sets! While I think the new Nutcracker left a lot to be desired, the sets and costumes were quite nice, so I’m thrilled that Robert Perdziola is all over that. And Mikko Nissinen is adding in a prologue, hmmm.

Then in the spring, “Lady of the Camellias” which they did in ’04, but I’ve never even heard of, let alone seen. I’m excited for a story ballet that’s totally brand new to me!

Then their first mixed rep bill, “Shades of Sound,” with a repeat from last season and two BB premiers. I know people get persnickety about them repeating stuff too close together, but it’s Chroma!!! Which was awesome!!! And I’ll be able to see this from my new seats which are ever so much closer to the action than the balcony seats I had last time!!! Plus, it’s on the same bill as with some Balanchine (“Episodes”), and I generally do love me some Balanchine. And a choreographer and work I’ve not heard of (Hans van Manen’s “Black Cake”), but Nissinen’s description sounds like something I will love.

Followed by another mixed rep, “Edge of Vision” with an Elo world premier and an unnamed other work, plus Helen Pickett’s “Eventide.” That last is yet another piece/choreographer new to me, but from the article, it sounds like Pickett must be like Elo, constantly revising her work. While BB performed this in ’08, there will be a new segment with music by Phillip Glass (the composer who wrote the music for Close to Chuck!) and Ravi Shankar which sounds like an incredibly cool collaboration right there. Can’t wait.

And last but most definitely not least will be “Thrill of Contact” which indeed sounds most thrilling. Why? Well, first up, there are four pieces in this one. The first one is Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” which I saw NYCB perform at SPAC last summer. Though I feel like a jerk for saying this, I’ve enjoyed BB’s take on Balanchine moreso than his own company’s, so I can’t wait to see them do this for some more compare/contrast. Then there will be a piece choreographed by BB’s own principal dancer (and my very favorite male dancer) Jeffrey Cirio. Swoon. If that boy can choreograph half as well as he can bound around stage, it should be spectacular. Then some Forsythe: “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude.” The title itself is pretty awesome. I lovedlovedloved “The Second Detail” so I’m sitting on the edge of my seat for this one. And then… oh then… dear reader, I can barely contain myself! Jerome Robbins’s “The Concert.” I have only ever seen this on YouTube and I can’t get enough of it. It’s hilarious and adorable and I’m appropriately THRILLED to finally be able to see this live!

I think it’s safe to say that this will be another 5-show subscription package for me for next season!!!

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!

Puremovement: Chasing the blues away

Last week was one of those weeks full of a series of small annoyances that led up to a feeling of general grumpitude. I won’t bore you with the entire litany, but as some examples:

- Mother Nature and the poor driving habits of my fellow man led to three consecutive days of wretched commutes.
- As a result, I had to bail on rehearsal with my DWTS partner and missed a couple dance classes, too.
- I was soothed by the knowledge that a master class scheduled at our studio on Friday. I had switched my work from home day so that I would be sure to be able to attend this… but then got word that the class was being been cancelled due to low enrollment.


So Friday found me moping around the house, drowning my sorrows in a virtual pile of medical records of patients with heart failure (if nothing else, my job serves to put my woes in perspective).

Then a text message came across my phone from a friend. She was supposed to bring her daughters to see a hip-hop company perform that night, but her house had been taken over by vicious microbes and they weren’t well enough to go. Her tickets were up for grabs if I was interested. I hemmed and hawed still being in my general funk. Another teacher/friend ended up taking the tickets for her and her daughter and then she texted me to see if I wanted to take the third.

Alright, alright, I’ll go!

The company was Rennie Harris Puremovement from Philadelphia. Regular readers may know that while ballet is my primary dance form, I like to dabble in others, and I’ve done some hip-hop. Of course, the hip-hop I’ve done is nothing nearly as hard-core as this kind of hip-hop. Maybe because of that I have the utmost respect for the things true hip-hoppers and b-boys/girls can do with their bodies.

Before the show started there were some cool jams emanating from the typically staid auditorium to set the mood. I was disappointed when I got in the room, though, to see how many empty seats there were! I don’t think this had anything to do with the performers, by the way. As I mentioned above we were coming out of a string of lousy weather days and it was also the final day of school before February school vacation, so I’m sure a lot of people were getting ready for their adventures there. But still… I expected more of a packed house. On the plus side, it was intimate and we had a (nearly) front row seat.

The curtain was open and remained so throughout the show, which was kind of cool. The first half of the show was entitled “Something to do with Love (Volume 1).” There were seven dancers — four women and three men — who danced this piece, coming on and off stage at various times. What struck me the most about this work was the perfect balance of harmony and individuality. Take the costuming: the women were all in a bright tank top with a black vest-ish sort of thing over and black pants. The men were in button-down shirts, jeans, and vests. But none of them wore the same style. It was obviously a “costume” of sorts, not a come-as-you-are thing, but each person had their own take on the uniform. And this translated throughout the dancing. They were SO in sync even in very fast choreography: the steps, the turns, the changing of positions were all spot-on. And yet… each dancer had his or her own distinct style that came through. This in no way distracted from the choreography and, in fact, enhanced it. This work seemed to be a compilation of stories about the joys and struggles love, and not just romantic love. I saw the excitement of meeting new people, misunderstandings, rejection, shared fun and support. The costuming and personalities of the dancers added to all of this. Oh, and the music was kick-ass, too.

This was followed by a 15 minute intermission in which the music kept pumping to keep the energy up in the room.

Then the second half, featuring three works from the company’s earlier days: “P-FUNK,” “March of the Antman,” and “Continuum.” I’m not sure about this, but based on the casting in these pieces I’m guessing the dance company was originally comprised of only (or mostly) men. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. The pieces were fantastic and served to showcase the wide-ranging skills of the men in the company, but I kind of wanted to see more of the ladies. The second half had a very different feel to it. There was a fair bit of spoken-word, a lot more aggression, strong emotion, raw power in this half. I almost would have preferred the show to be reversed in order so that this stuff came first and “…Love” second, but I guess that’s the eternal desire for a more happy ending to a show, even a show of mixed rep.

All in all, very powerful, invigorating, and impressive. A nice break from my typical ballet/contemporary viewing and made me want to get back to hip-hop class.

Found this clip online from a promotional video a few years ago. Gives you a sense of the breadth of their work.

We know these things to be true…

…or do we?

As adult dancers we often tell each other to be gentle with ourselves. We’re doing this for fun, remember? We’re not training to be pros. Our bodies are aging and some things just won’t work anymore the way they did when we were young.

G-d damn, that’s depressing.

But yeah, I get it.

I’m just not sure I buy it.

At least… not yet.

See there are two things I’ve noticed over the past few weeks/months.

First off… les pieds. AKA, the feet. AKA, the bane of my existence (or is that my turnout? I can’t remember). I think it was sometime in college that I came to the conclusion that I was flat-footed. I mean, so many dancers have these amazing arches and super-high insteps and I have — what is it Adult Beginner called them?… ah yes, meat rectangles (correct my terminology if my memory is totally botched up there, AB!). I tried to find solace in the saying that us lower-arched girls tend to have stronger feet than those bendy-footed goddesses. Haha, Flexi-Foot, take that! But damn, it’s so hard to feel happy about this when so much of ballet is about lines and here you get down to the end of your leg and it’s all *sad trombone, wah-wahhh*.

But over the past few months I’ll be tenduing or just doing some mindless pointing during break and will look down and say, dang, feet, look at you! I mean, they’re no bananas, but it’s a vast improvement over where I was when I started back to ballet. The left one will always be a bit stupid, I’m afraid, but still, the amount of strength and flexibility I’ve gained in my feet… wow.

And then there’s extension. For those of us who were dancers in the past and took time off, that is one of THE most depressing things about coming back to dance. You get that developpé exercise at the barre first class back and think, oh yeah, I like these and then realize with horror that your leg barely goes higher than a dégagé. *gasp!* Okay, so that was a few years ago and things improved fairly rapidly and I was able to get to 90 or a smidge above. That should be enough, right? But I can’t deny wishing for one of those glorious side extensions with my foot over my head. Especially since I know I can get my leg up there (you know, that whole heel-in-hand stretch), it just… needs a crane to hold it up there.

One of my dance friends said something to me a month or two back about how much my extensions had improved. I thought it was sweet of her to say, but that’s about all I thought about it. So then there I was today at barre, doing a side developpé, when I caught sight of a foot in the mirror and realized, holy hell!, that’s MY foot up there. I looked over at it. I mean, I turned my head and, whoomp, there it is! At eye height. Without any major exertion on my part. That’s just where it went.

How did this happen? I mean, it’s not even like I’ve been putting in hours doing stretching and cross-training outside the studio. I should. I know I should. And sometimes I do. But… as an adult, sometimes the whole going-to-work, keeping-self-fed, cleaning-out-the-litter-box facts of life get in the way of my hobby and I have to be realistic. Most of the work is in the studio. Trying to be mindful of my technique and whatnot.

Dear reader, this is not meant to be a gloat, though I AM proud of myself. It’s simply a validation that all our work is not for naught. Up until these recent revelations I was feeling like I’d hit a plateau and was pondering whether it was time to accept the inevitable that some adult dancers try to peddle: I’ve reached “a certain age” and I can’t expect much improvement.

Well, that day may come eventually. But it’s not today.

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!

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!

BB’s La Bayadère

First show of Boston Ballet’s 50th season is in the books!

(First show, that is, if you don’t count the special, free Night of Stars that took place on the Common in September!)

I’ve been wanting to see this ballet for a good 20+ years. When I was in the 8th grade, taking what I consider to be my first “real” ballet classes (I’d taken some form of ballet for the 5 years prior, but this was the first time I had taken it in any sort of a formal setting), the director of our studio put on a winter show. I guess you could consider it a Christmas show, though that wasn’t the main point of it. It did take place in December. And it did include a vaguely Christmas-y part (an original ballet production of the Little Match Girl). But it was part of a larger showcase that included class demonstrations and excerpts from the third act of La Bayadère.

I didn’t know anything about La Bayadère at the time, so it wasn’t until years later when I saw a clip of the Kingdom of the Shades that I realized the choreography we learned was after Petipa and the costumes were designed to resemble those from the ballet with the white bodices and tutus and the white tulle extending from our buns to our arms. I remember feeling awed to know that we had replicated, in some form, stuff that professionals have performed on stage!

So finally, FINALLY I was going to see the real deal!

One of my dance friends and I made an evening of it, starting with dinner at Teatro. The only reservation we could get was for early-ish (5pm), but it worked out splendidly since there was a pre-curtain talk taking place before the show we were going to see. We stepped in to the talk a bit late, but thankfully BB posted an excerpt which you can watch here:

We missed most of what’s in the video, but we heard the Q&A section which was omitted. One that stood out was a woman who asked about the stereotyped Native American dance. What? Wrong Indians, lady. Though once I saw the section in the show I could see how she had gotten confused and I also found a review in the newspaper that referred to the Native American dance. Seriously? Why would they randomly put a Native American segment in a show that takes place in India? Especially since the woman staging it is French! Think critically here, people. Ms. Ponomarenko did gently inform the questioner that though that dance is meant to be a tribal dance, it was meant to be a tribal dance from India. More about the stereotypes later.

Another question was about the missing fourth act. What? There’s a fourth act out there somewhere? They said that companies probably do not perform that act simply because it would make the show too long. It is kind of a long show, so I can see that, but after watching it and researching what the fourth act was about, I kind of wish they kept it. The story would make a lot more sense if it was included. Again, more on that in a minute.

Pre-curtain talk over my friend and I headed back out to the lobby for some champagne and shopping! I simply had to get one of the gorgeous tees they had for sale. I don’t buy tees for all the shows. After all, there are only so many t-shirts one can wear and some of the designs are, quite frankly, “meh”. But there are a few where they are simply spot-on and this was one of them. I don’t usually like slouchy tees, but this was silky soft and gorgeously drapey, plus there’s a sparkly stone glued to the center of the lady’s forehead. Oh, and I had my subscriber discount, so… score!

We ran into our dance company’s artistic director while we were at the gift stand so had a nice chat before we headed to our respective seats.

Quick note about these seats… as I’ve mentioned, I am a subscriber, in large part because they gave me the opportunity to subscribe at a ridiculously good price last year and allowed me to renew this year at the same rate! The seats are in the “B” section which is kind of the middle-of-the-road seats. Not obstructed view, but not primo seating. (Surprisingly “A” seating is not primo seating, either — there’s another level above A. One of these days…. one of these days.) When I renewed they asked if I wanted to keep my seats which were up in the balcony. I liked my seats fine, but after seeing Book of Mormon from the orchestra level I decided I might like to be down there instead. So I asked for best available in my price group on that level. Well, dear reader, my new seats are incredible. Off to the left side, but towards the center, about halfway down. The view was amazing!

Okay, back to the show. Curtain goes up on Act I, in which the scene is set. The High Brahmin digs Nikiya, one of the temple dancers, but she’s all gaga over Solor (me, too… I mean, it was being played by Jeffrey Cirio!). High Brahmin is not cool with getting snubbed, so he plans to bump off his rival, because that seems like a reasonable way to win a lady. But turns out that the Rajah thinks Solor is pretty cool and thus should marry his daughter Gamzatti. He shows Gamzatti Solor’s picture (which he just happens to have hanging around) and she’s smitten with his dashing good looks. She’s kind of a looker herself, it seems, because that two-timing Solor sees her and forgets his pact of life-long love with Nikiya and jumps on board with marrying this other girl. Jerk. The High Brahmin still has his knickers in a twist, so he decides to tattle on Solor and Nikiya thinking that the Rajah will join him in the plan to bump off Solor, but OOPS, instead Rajah decides that Nikiya should be the one swimming in cement shoes. Gamzatti tries to help out this poor, unsuspecting girl by saying, “This man is mine, why don’t you just turn your pretty little ass around and go after someone else.” Oh, c’mon, Gamzatti. That NEVER works! Nikiya in turn goes a little crazy on her rival and allllmost kills her, but doesn’t succeed and runs off in horror. Which, not surprisingly, is not a great way to win friends and influence people. So now Gamzatti and Rajah are both on board with getting rid of this pest. Curtain closes.

Act II takes place in the palace garden where Gamzatti and Solor are celebrating their engagement and guess who has to dance at the celebration… Nikiya. What could go wrong? Well, Nikiya could be handed a basket of flowers which she thinks was sent by Solor, but turns out to be a gift from Rajah and Gamzatti. And instead of a nice little note card informing her of the sender, they include a poisonous snake. I guess that got the message across just as clearly. Solor, in all his infinite wisdom, takes off with Gamzatti and Nikiya, seeing this, refuses the antidote and dies.

So now it’s time for Act III and guess who is now feeling like a heel? Yup, Solor. So, how best to deal with realizing you’re a major two-timing jerk? Get high. Duh. So a few puffs on the opium pipe and… what’s this? A bunch of white spectres comes down a ramp and Nikiya is with them and he dreams that she forgives him and takes him back to her otherworldly home.

The end.

Except, I mean, kind of a weak ending, right? Because we know Solor is still in his drugged-up stupor and he’s going to come out of it so… then what? Well, I looked up the fourth act and it turns out that in that he does in fact wake up and has to go get married to Gamzatti, but the gods get kinda p.o.’ed about the whole thing and strike everyone dead and then Solor’s and Nikiya’s shades are reunited and sent to the Himalayas. Still kind of unsatisfying that Solor still gets the girl after all the crap he’s pulled, but maybe shades are more forgiving than I. But at least it gives an actual closure to the plot.

The dancing was lovely for the most part. Act II in particular was quite impressive and the Indians dance was probably my favorite. It was just so energetic and thrilling. I could see why people may have gotten it confused with it being a Native American dance as the dancers wore feathered headpieces and carried drums. What I took away from it, however, is that there are incredible commonalities among dances throughout the world. People are made to dance, are made to create rhythm and move to those rhythms. It’s what we do, no matter where we’re from.

Back to the dancing. Things got a bit shaky in Act III, though I wasn’t completely upset by this. The Kingdom of the Shades is known for being one of THE corps pieces. In ballet we’re all about the soloists, but to have a large corps dancing together in unison is really incredible. You can fudge some stuff as a soloist, but there’s no wiggle room when you’re in a group of 23 other women all doing the same thing. I also know that this is purported to be a particularly challenging piece due to the length and repetitive nature of the opening. I saw a few bobbles in the corps. One the one hand this does mar some of the illusion of effortlessness, but as a dancer it was somewhat relieving to see that we amateurs are not alone in dealing with the challenges of ballet.

The acting in the show… was okay. I’m not sure that this is a critique of the dancers, though, as much as it is of story ballets. There is SO much to tell in a very short time that I don’t know that it’s possible to express the requisite range of emotions and make it believable.

Costumes and sets, as always, were incredible. There was a small lighting glitch at the start of the third act when the shades enter coming down the ramps. I’m not sure what happened, but the light did not come up as it should have and I could hear some frantic wrangling of a spotlight behind me. I can only imagine what those shades were thinking as they descended the ramp in the near dark! Luckily all recovered within a minute or two. And the orchestra remained superb throughout.

Overall a lovely evening at the ballet. Glad to have finally be able to say that I’ve seen La Bayadère and loved the glitter that BB brought to the stage.