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!

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!

Winter Update

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

Where did we leave off? Oh yes, December.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Silberhaus Party

15th December 18xx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First off… the pointe shoe debacle.

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis averted!!!

Next up… this weekend!

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

Check back later for my review.

And finally… physics.

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

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

Party (Mom) of 5

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

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

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

Noooooooo!!!!

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this!

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

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

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

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

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

Fiddlesticks.

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

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

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

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

And here I thought Snow was the hazing ritual!

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

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

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

Four scenes?! Phew!

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

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