BB Up Close

In case I ever develop a case of the “I never win anythings” someone please remind me of this:

Apparently when I renewed my subscription for Boston Ballet’s 2014-15 season super-duper early I was entered in a contest. I don’t recall this fact. I was just so excited about the line-up and I adored my seats so much that I simply wanted to secure my spot in the next season’s action.

But I was.

And I won!

What did I win?

Oh
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.
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just the chance to go watch Boston Ballet’s Swan Lake rehearsals!

My non-ballet acquaintances were all, “Oh, that’s… nice?”

To which I replied, “Nice? Nice?! It’s fan-f&^$ing-tastic!”

Because I am a big ballet nerd.

Thankfully I’m well-acquainted with some other big ballet nerds and… as part of my prize I was allowed to bring one of them with me!

So I picked my time (there were four times during the weekend to choose from): Saturday afternoon.

Then agonized over what one wears to watch rehearsals: one does not want to look overdone or underdone and skirts are 100% out seeing as I could totally picture them giving us a nice scrap of marley in the corner from which to watch. The outfit I chose probably made me look a bit scattered, though I preferred to think of it as casual-chic-military-inspired-1950s-housewife.

Then agonized over whether we’d have enough time to get there (because, of course, we had our own class and rehearsals that ran past noon AND it was a nice warm day which Bostonians know cannot be wasted therefore pedestrians and motorists alike would be out in force AND the Head of the Charles regatta was going on in town, too).

But travel worked out perfectly: we were told to get there by 3:15 and I think we were at the door right on the dot. We met a couple staff members at the door and were told to wait there and to use the restroom if necessary NOW as we would not be able to wander in and out of the rehearsals.

So we waited politely until we were summoned to the elevators. There were two other women and a gentleman who were part of the “Winners’ Circle.” Somehow I was expecting a MUCH larger turn-out. They said they selected 100 winners! There were four times to pick from and I think they said that one of the Sunday times had a lot of people, but still… five people? Are all the other winners cray-cray? Or are they just super-popular with posher plans already in the works?

Whatever… that means larger scraps of marley for us.

Except, no. We weren’t actually marooned in a corner, peeping at the action like forlorn little mice. We were led up to the huge 4th floor studio and shown to a row of chairs that ran along the mirrors. Front and center! We were told to avoid certain areas for the directors, but other than that, we had our choice of seats right in the midst of the action.

Wow.

Although… hello, my name is Rori and I am conspicuous! Felt a teensy bit awkward to be positioned so we were staring directly at the dancers as they were warming up and running through bits of choreography before the action started. I mean, who knows, maybe they’re used to random people just hanging out watching them. But I was just relieved that I had been allowed to bring a friend so we could chat with one another and not let our awe be TOO obvious.

And then… well, then, Mikko came in. I say that like he and I are best buds; I should probably refer to him as MISTER Nissinen. But if you are a regular BB fan, you will easily recognize BB’s Artistic Director, not only from his picture in the programs, but from the shows themselves. I think I’ve seen him wandering around the Opera House at every show I’ve gone to, kissing cheeks and looking appropriately mysterious in his black leather jacket. You begin to feel like you know the guy even though the feeling isn’t even remotely mutual.

I guess black leather jackets are a bit much for running rehearsals. It was a black polo, track pants, and dance sneakers on this day. And… dear reader, he came right up and talked to the five of us! I guess I should have expected that, but I could also see someone of his stature being all, “I’ve got important artistic work to do, I’m not going to spend time talking to the ‘fans’ the subscriptions team decided we should drag into the studio!” But no, he was completely gracious, thanking us for coming (thank us?! NO, thank YOU!!!) and telling us that we would be seeing a run-through of acts III & IV of Swan Lake with Ashley Ellis as Odile and Eris Nezha as Siegfried. He told us about Nezha being from La Scala to which I was all, “Eek, I know, he and his wife came to talk to us during the ASDP!!!” Okay, that’s what I said in my head. Externally I only managed to smile and nod mutely because I could think of nothing witty or endearing to say.

And then… rehearsals got underway. I must apologize for not having any pictures to share with you. We were told we could take photos as long as we didn’t use flash and, of course, didn’t take video, but I would have felt really, really weird doing so. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was incredible and amazing to be so freaking close to the dancers. I thought Eris Nezha was going to land a grand jété in my lap at one point.

So many amazing things to witness.

For one thing… it really isn’t that different from when we do studio run-throughs before a show. Okay, so the dancing is obviously at a totally different caliber, but aside from that, the dancers who aren’t on are standing around watching, some of them are chit-chatting, some of them are checking their phones or sewing pointe shoes, etc.

Another thing is… yeah, they make it look effortless, but when you’re that close you can tell how much work it is. They are breathing like they’re running a sprint and “glistening” like nobody’s business.

Also… they don’t always keep their game face on during rehearsals. I saw some lip-biting, a few deadpan faces. I don’t mean that as a criticism at all! It’s actually a relief to me. I’ve always had a hard time getting super-emotive in rehearsals… I do fine on stage, but, for a current example, when we’re running Snow in the studio, being a smiling, beatific snowflake is not my MO in that moment. In the midst of going full-throttle for 6 minutes adding in a smile for a non-existent audience seems like a total waste of energy. I save it for the stage at which point, of course, it’s 110%, “Oh my gosh, I’m so THRILLED to be sucking in fake snow, this is the best thing I’ve ever done!!!”

But… they ALL clap for one another after each piece! I wasn’t expecting that. Not just clapping, but cheering and whooping for the hard stuff. I’ve heard that this is a close company, and that seemed to prove it, at least in some way. They seemed super-supportive of each other, working together to figure things out, etc.

And… for those people who think dancers are all built the same… they’re not. Woah. Revelation. I’m not sure if any of you have been following Katie (Kathryn) Morgan’s YouTube channel, but she’s mentioned multiple times in there that there are ranges of normal in ballet. You might have thought she was being PC. But she’s right. Maybe back in the Balanchine heyday the string-bean waif was the hand-picked ideal, but I think that is changing and it certainly is the case with BB. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all super-slender and you’d be hard pressed to find any pudge in that room, but… there are some bean-poles builds (guys and girls alike) and there are some very athletic dancers who have cores and quads of steel (again, guys and girls alike). It was nice to see women that I could look at and say, yes, if I were to work out/dance as much as they do, that’s what I imagine I’d look like.

That goes for feet, too. I, of course, saw plenty of to-die-for feet. I also saw some that were remarkably adequate. In fact, one of my favorites, corps member Sarah Wroth… yeah, her feet don’t appear much bendier than mine. Obviously you can’t be completely flat-footed; you have to be able to have the foot and ankle flexibility to get over your boxes. But banana feet are not a requirement.

It was great to see the rehearsal process. Even though these are professionals it was clear that this is a work in progress. It’s a nearly-finished work, but there are always tweaks to make, entrance cues to learn, details of placement. Mikko talked to us a bit towards the end while the ballet mistress was working with the swan corps and was saying that the individuals learn their parts: it starts messy, but gets better. Then they all come together and it’s like the whole process starts again. Then, of course, once they get that level down they move to the stage with the full costumes, props, and scenery, and again there is a process where you run through and things are awry, but they work it all through until the curtain goes up. Lots of building up and breaking down in the process of getting it to a completed work (and even then, as anyone who performs knows, there are always notes and things to learn and work on, even as the audience thinks it’s seeing a “finished product”).

All in all a fabulous afternoon peeking behind the curtain. As an amateur dancer, it was amazing to see how many parallels do exist. Dance is dance, after all. But it was also incredible to see so much amazing talent up close in one place. I feel so privileged to have been able to indulge in that afternoon and am so grateful to Boston Ballet!

As we were walking out one of the staff members came looking for us and said they had gifts for us… as if what we just experienced hadn’t been sufficient! They gave us totes filled with a mug, pen, magnet, and the requisite publicity pieces.

BB Swag

We chatted with them a bit before we headed out. I guess this was the first time they’ve ever done something like this, opening the doors for patrons to see the rehearsal process, so they were curious what we thought. All five of us were equally agog.

As my friend and I exited we saw one of the dancers outside hop on his bike and ride away. Somehow it seemed absolutely ludicrous that one of these amazing dancers would just… get on his bike and go… home? I don’t know what we thought he should do. Grand jété to the moon? I guess it’s just surreal to realize that these dancers, as awesome as they are, are still just… people. At the end of the day it’s their job. And they think what any of us think when we leave work: “Crap, I drank all the milk this morning, need to stop and get more. Did I pay that bill that’s due tomorrow? Oh, and I need to call Suzy and see if she still wants to get together tomorrow.” It’s not, “Aw yeah, I’m a star!” And to most people, I guess they’re not. They look at them and see some guy on the T, some girl walking down the street.

But as ordinary as they all ultimately are, to some of us they represent something so incredibly special, and they are superstars in our eyes. I am eternally grateful that they allowed us into their world, even for just a few hours, to see what their “day-job” looks like, to dream and admire and appreciate and expand my ballet education just a bit more.

Thank you, Boston Ballet!

Through the Escape Hatch

So I skipped my Saturday morning class today…

To go to Saturday morning class at another studio.

Does this make me unfaithful?

I don’t know, I just felt the need to get away.

Our Saturday morning class is one I have a love-hate relationship with anyway. For one thing, it’s the one class where the adults and kids are combined. We have nice kids, so that in and of itself isn’t a problem it’s just…

I don’t know, sometimes (a lot of times) I leave feeling totally defeated and frustrated. The kids seem to take whatever gets thrown at them and just do it. Not that they always do it well, but they do it. Which is respectable. Sometimes I think that’s how you learn… just try and see what happens and refine as you go. But there are times when all I can think is, why am I here? Is this class meant to remind me of my weaknesses, my failings, the things that I will likely never conquer in the studio?

And then I want to cry and break things.

I know, I know, I being overly angsty about this.

The truth is, a lot of us adults feel this way at one time or another and the nice part is that we can all support one another.

And then there will come a class where the exercises all (or, at least, mostly) feel good and you walk out feeling exhilarated. Which makes up for a boatload of meh classes.

I don’t know, I think I’m just going through a weird growing pain phase in my ballet “career” that I don’t quite know how best to approach.

But I’m getting ahead of myself into a topic for another post.

Back to this morning.

So, Nutcracker auditions are tomorrow. Which are always a bit anxiety-provoking, even if they are mostly a formality (most of the dancers come from our own stock of students, so the people doing the casting know the raw material they have to work with and who will work best for what). You still want to go out there and dance proud, which is hard to do if you’re in a weird mental space brought on by feeling defeated.

Also, it’s hard to slay anxiety when you’re surrounded by people who not only share that feeling, but talk non-stop about the feeling!

Thus, I decided to spend the morning in a class where I knew I would A) get a good workout, B) get good corrections, and C) not be around anyone else I know from the studio!

So… I returned to BBS-Newton for the first time since the ASDP glory days to take class with one of the teachers I had over the summer. I’d enjoyed his classes then and was hoping to rekindle some of the magic I felt during those two weeks.

And, dear reader, I’m so glad I did. It was just what the doctor ordered. There were no miracles in the studio, but I felt good for the most part. I felt strong and centered and technically clean. And, bonus, I saw a lot of familiar faces which was fun. I’ve taken a couple classes at the main studio in Boston and didn’t recognize anyone from the program there… I guess they’re all Newton regulars.

Time will tell if this will spell a good omen for tomorrow. But I will at least be going in with the reminder that I can feel beautiful and strong and competent as a dancer and that will be the most recent ballet memory tomorrow when I pin on my number bib and go dance in front of the panel of judges!

Ballet zen has been achieved for the moment.

Go forth and conquer, grasshopper.

If the Gym Suit Fits

New studio year has started, but we’re still in the pre-Nutcracker lull (auditions coming up this weekend, stay tuned!)…

Which means that Saturday morning classes are followed, not by a series of rehearsals, but by leisurely breakfasts with the ballet pals.

This past Saturday four of us gathered around a table at our usual haunt alternately chatting about dance gossip and random accounts of our lives. Somehow our conversation got around to… gym class. Not classes at a gym, but physical education class from elementary, middle, high school. How it arrived there, I have no idea. All of us are many years removed from that era!

But there we were. The eldest amongst us asked whether any of the the rest of us had to wear gym uniforms… none of us did. The woman around my age and I waxed rhapsodic over our memories of the Umbro shorts and Champion sweatshirts that were the hallmark of our PE classes. But that was as uniform as we got.

She went on to describe the hideous one-piece outfits they had to wear in her time which sounded like rompers of some sort: shorts with an attached, blousy top that zipped up the back. I remember my mom telling me about these. We all giggled at the thought of having to appear in public in such a get-up.

Then conversation shifted to something else before we all got up to leave. The woman who was talking about the gym uniform said that she was going to go to a dance store to pick up some essentials and I remembered my recent discovery that my bottle of Jet Glue had congealed and I needed to get more. So I tagged along for the ride.

But, of course, no one goes to a dance store just to buy essentials. I mean, if you’re smart, you do, but if you’re human, you will be seduced by a rack of leotards or the display of shoes or something. I happened to spy a warm-up, on the clearance rack, no less, that I had seen months ago on my last visit to this store. It was still there and marked down to a ridiculously low price. I tried it on, pronounced it divine, and added it to my bill with the bottle of Jet Glue.

My companion looked over to see what I found. “It’s a warm-up, see… It’s all-in-one, shorts with a top attached which, um… come to think of it is actually rather blousy.”

Oh, holy hell, I just bought myself a gym uniform!!!

Hahahahaa!!!!

Okay, I’m pretty sure it bears no true resemblance to a gym uniform, but as I heard myself describing it we both cracked up laughing. *snort*

Regardless, I’m still pretty excited about this cozy cuteness! I had a hard time finding a pic on the Googles, so I assume it’s discontinued, but here’s one I found (Jozette for Mirella). Mine is in violet.

Mire_MJ7901_21

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.