ASDP – The end :(

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

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

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

LR Dancing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASDP – Day 1!

Still not knowing what to do about travel I decided to try to T it on day 1. Coworker suggested I leave work at a time I considered unnecessarily early to make sure I didn’t have to rush (see the pesky bus schedule referenced last post… per Google maps I’d either get to the studio over an hour ahead of time or would barely make it… tough choice; she voted for getting there an hour early). I got to my T stop just as a train was pulling in. So far, so good! Got off at the prescribed stop. Didn’t know where I was supposed to go, but followed a random guy which turned out to be the right way, and found the bus stop. Okay, this is going well! Then I pulled up the where’s-my-bus app and…. bus was nowhere near me.

Well… I thought maybe I’d explore some of Newton’s scenic countryside and walk up to the next bus stop. Get a little warm up in on my travels! Yeah! I figured the bus would be along before I got too far.

So I walked. And walked. Walked some more. Each time I came to a bus stop I checked to see where the bus was and it never seemed to get anywhere near where I was. After about 2.3 miles (literally) the bus caught up to me… at the stop where I would have disembarked! Rawr. Did I mention that it was like 80% humidity and I was wearing business attire and flip-flops for this trek? Yeah, okay, walking was my choice. It was my own lack of patience and inability to stand still that resulted in that long walk. But still. Grrrrrr.

I got to the nondescript building Google maps said was the studio. Um… are you sure, Google? Then I saw a door with the BBS name on it instructing people to enter at the side door. I peeked around the side to see… NO DOORS. But I saw a parking lot behind the building and a couple ladies were walking across it who looked like potential ASDP-ers so kept walking along the side until I found the main entry tucked behind. Walked in and was faced with four people behind the counter. None of whom seemed to notice my presence. I’m sure I looked a bit of a sight by that point, but seriously, hello! Finally one looked at me, asked my name, handed me a name tag and gave me directions to the locker room and the studio I needed to go to.

Relieved that I had made it there with a few minutes to spare, I quickly changed into tights/leo (a gross task when already sweaty), pulled on a tee shirt, pinned on my name tag and grabbed some slippers, a skirt, and some jazz pants (wasn’t sure what the plan was, so wanted to make sure all bases were covered).

First up was the “enrichment” session. This was an add-on to the main program and takes place in the hour before the regular session. I wanted to get all I could out of the experience, plus I would’ve just spent that hour killing time after work otherwise, so it was worth the extra fee. They said that the enrichment would feature classes in modern and Pilates, but said nothing about which was when.

There was a crowd of students outside our assigned studio on the floor, so I sat near them and waited. A teacher came out of the studio and said, “Oh, I was wondering where the students were! Come on in!” So we file in and see a few yoga mats on the floor. A few of us tried to figure out whether we had a choice between classes, or what the story was. Someone said that this session was a combination of the intermediate and advanced students and we were doing Pilates today while the beginners and elementary students did Modern next door. Oh. Okay. Now that that mystery has been solved comes the realization that none of us had mats because we didn’t know we needed mats. Thankfully BBS had some for us to use, so back out to the hallway we go to gather mats. We get ourselves arranged and the teacher introduces herself. Stott Pilates is her specialty. She asks if there’s anyone in the room who has never taken Pilates before. The lone guy raised his hand. She assures him he’ll be fine and off we go. I found the directions a bit confusing at times. It’s been quite some time since I took any sort of Pilates and I don’t think it was Stott method (I don’t know the differences among the methods). But I followed along as best I could and I was relieved to find out that I could still do everything for the most part. It actually felt really good to get into all those core muscles. Might have to seek out a Pilates class once this is over.

Once our hour was up we collected our mats and returned them to their cabinet and went to the studio next door where all the students were gathered for a welcome meeting. We sat down and Christopher Hird, BBS’s Head of Adult Programming, welcomed us and introduced some of the faculty we’d be working with. He went over the rough plan for the two weeks: technique class each day followed by a class where we would learn rep/variations — except a couple “workshop” days to work on things that adults have asked to focus on in the past, e.g. pirouettes. There would also be two special lectures, one being a talk about the history of BB and another with a PT. We’d also have a Q&A session with two BB principals. There would be some other faculty coming in to teach us at various points. And at the end of the two weeks we would get to do a little presentation (NOT a performance, they assured us). Oh, and there was an opportunity for a few students to go see a company class and tour the Boston studios next Thursday during the day. Limited seats, first come, first serve. I really really wanted to be able to do that, but it’s a day that I have a meeting at work that would probably conflict with the times. Sad face.

After that they chatted a bit about levels (if, after the first class, you felt you were in the wrong one or if the instructor felt that you were in the wrong one you’d be able to switch) and some other administrative stuff. Then they gave us the opportunity to share our stories if we wanted to. There was a wide range of students from adult beginners to those who have danced since they were toddlers. While only a few people spoke I looked around the room and saw a lot of different ages, body types, clothing choices. Not many guys, but there were a few. It was nice to feel like this really was a place where anyone could feel welcome.

With that we were sent off to our respective studios. The intermediates ended up staying in the same studio, so we didn’t have far to travel. And it is a deliciously large studio! I think I counted around 24 students in our class and there was room for plenty more if they appeared. Christopher Hird was our instructor for the day. Since the meeting had taken up a good chunk of time, barre ended up taking up most of our time with a brief adage at the end. I really liked the combinations. The combinations weren’t boring, but they also weren’t so absurdly complex that I couldn’t keep technique in mind. I think everyone got some sort of individual correction and after each side there were corrections.

My correction was simple, but kind of mind-blowing, too: move my hand forward on the barre and stand a smidge closer. It sounds silly, but it really changed my ability to feel square. Hmph. Lots of good group corrections to incorporate, too. Like how our working leg generally wants to bend a bit during arabesque penchée.

In general I felt pretty good during this class. Balances felt REALLY good. Could be a new environment, or a moon phase, or maybe that Pilates class beforehand.

After our class broke the advanced students came in with their teacher, Christopher Anderson, for the last hour. It was kind of a workshop, kind of just a continuation of class. We spent about half the time on pirouettes followed by allegro. Alas, I did not discover the secret to pirouettes, but we did do some good exercises that I will have to try to remember. I realized that I rarely think about my back in pirouettes… that might help me to stay square. And I rarely bother to spot. Which isn’t such a huge deal when doing singles. But makes it difficult to do more than that! Then we moved on to jumping. I love jumping. I learned that exercises should always progress “two feet to one feet.” Hahaha. Two footed jumps should always be practiced before moving to one footed jumps. And you should always do a medium allegro (I feel like there’s a more appropriate word than “medium,” but can’t think of what it is) in between petit and grand. Doesn’t help if you’re in a class where the teacher doesn’t choose to follow that, but I’ll file that knowledge away in case I ever teach again. My major embarrassment in this section came during an across the floor where I starting thinking about some detail of the combination halfway through a pas de chat and totally blanked on what I was supposed to be doing and ended up doing what I can only refer to as a “pas de blah.” The teacher came up to me to tell me how to do a pas de chat and I was like… yeah… I know… I, uh… my brain… uh… yeah. Mortifying.

Ah well. Class over. Then to try to get home. My less-than-wise decision was to walk to the closest public transit that my T pass worked on which was a mile and a half away. After the walk, a bus ride, and two train rides and my commuter bus, it was well past midnight by the time I got home. Needless to say I decided that I will NOT be using public transport to get there ever again. Traffic and parking costs be damned, I’m driving for the next two weeks!

A bit sore today, but excited to go back for evening #2! Very glad I finally decided to do this!

ASDP – The lead-up

The Boston Ballet School Adult Summer Dance Program (hereafter referred to as “BBS-ASDP” or just “ASDP” or, hell, just “it”) is here!

And not without a whoooooole lot of trepidation on my part. I didn’t know where I was going, what I should plan for, whether I’d be in over my head or bored.

Let’s go in reverse order there… Levels: on the website they list four different levels one could register for — Beginner, Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced. Beginner and Elementary sounded too basic. And Advanced sounded like it was essentially pre-pro/former-pro which I am so not! Therefore Intermediate seemed to be my slot.

But a couple weeks after registering I went to a random adult open class in Cambridge with a friend of mine. She saw some people she knew from when she had done ASDP a few years ago and was asking them if they were doing it and this whole discussion about levels came up with one person saying that she had always enrolled in the Advanced level, but since the description this year sounded like it wouldn’t be appropriate (see the “pre-pro/former-pro” thing above) she e-mailed the school to ask whether she should still enroll in that section and they said, sure, it would be appropriate for a student who had taken ballet for a long time. I mentioned that I had signed up for Intermediate and the woman was all, “Oh, you’d totally be fine in Advanced.” I didn’t know what to do about that, if anything.

Then, as for what I should plan for… well, there’s a brief “what to expect when you’re ASDPing” on the website, but it’s a bit loosey-goosey, like, “Oh, you know, some ballet technique and rep, and sometimes some Pilates, and some modern, and some lectures, maybe, and some other stuff, TBD!” Ooookay. I mean, that’s fine, I don’t need a minute-by-minute breakdown of the entire two weeks. But I expected some sort of, “Yay, rah-rah, BBS-ASDP is starting soon, welcome, here’s what you need to know” e-mail. I got nothing beyond the confirmation they sent right after I signed up in May. I actually e-mailed them last week to find out whether I was out of compliance on some element of registration and all I got back was a “Nope, you’re all set!” Now, I’m not terribly type A, but… sometimes a girl needs a little hand-holding. Just a smidge. Do I need to get there early, bring anything special, prepare an interpretive dance on the plight of three-toed sloths in the rainforests? Anything?

And then getting where I was going… ugh. ASDP is being held at one of the suburban studios instead of the main studio in Boston proper, but it’s a suburb that’s considered part of the Metro Boston area, so silly me thought, “Hey, the T goes there, no prob!” Their website was all, “Take this trolley branch (conveniently the branch that goes past my work) to this stop, then take the X bus to Y stop, et voila!” Cool. But further investigation showed that the bus one needs to catch is a leprechaun… good luck catching one! It comes mayyyyybe every 45 minutes. Not even. And promptly stops running altogether around 7:30pm. Did I mention the program runs until 9pm each night? And the suggestions for public transit to get back into Boston proper (where I needed to go to pick up my commuter bus) involved commuter rails or expensive bus routes that my T pass does not cover. But driving into the city is a royal PITA. What to do, what to dooooooo?!?!?!

Do you see why I was a teensy bit anxious about this?

But, hey, once you get past the first day most the uncertainty goes away and I can just enjoy. Sooo… on to ASDP!

(To avoid tl;dr syndrome, I’m saving the actual activities of day 1 for another post!)

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.

Happy Early Birthday… to ME!

Eeeeeeeekkkkkk!!!!

I did it.

I just ordered my own birthday present.

Keep in mind that my birthday is three months away still.

But.

Yeah.

So…

Ever since I found out that there are summer intensive programs for non-kids I’ve been dying to do one.

Sun King is my dream program because, seriously, how cool is that? A week full of ballet, pointe, pilates, modern, repertoire, partnering, etc. Even in big metropolitan areas it’s hard to find that sort of training geared towards people outside the pre-pro crowd. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be able to experience that stuff, at least once!

Well, I don’t think I can swing Sun King financially quite yet, but…

There’s this.

Which I’ve been thinking about for a while.

While I was at the Boston Opera House before “Jewels” this past weekend (post to come on that!) I spied a table of BBS brochures including one for the ASDP.

I picked one up and since then it’s been staring at me from my kitchen counter, challenging me to make a decision already. I knew that by procrastinating I was effectively making the decision of “no” and I wasn’t sure I’d be happy about that unless I had a well thought-out reason why I shouldn’t.

The reasons I put it off before don’t hold this year. Our ballet company isn’t doing a summer ballet, so I wouldn’t be missing any key rehearsals or performances. I wouldn’t have to take time off work since it’s a few miles down the road from my office and takes place in the evenings. And one of my friends did it in the past and said it was good, and supposedly they’ve revamped the program for this summer to be even better.

And… just… why not?

Are there more reasonable things to do with my money?

Probably.

Will this make for some rather long days during those two weeks?

I can only imagine.

But would I regret it if this turned out to be the one time I got to do this and talked myself out of it?

Hells, yeah.

So… if you’re looking for me some evening in the beginning of August, you can find me wrapping up this year of my life at BBS.

Once more I say:

Eeeeeeekkkkk!!!

The Pilobolus Experience

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

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

Which is an experience.

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

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

BUT!!!

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

Woot!

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

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

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

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

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

The exercise progressed.

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

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

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

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

And with that, class was over.

But it wasn’t.

Not really.

Because what I experienced in those two hours was powerful.

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

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

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

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

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

Pilobolus pic

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!