Midsummer Update!

Doing a quick check-in for June and look ahead to July!

With the close of Boston Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty on Memorial Day weekend I was able to get back into the home studio on a more regular basis. As much as I love super-ing time with a professional ballet company has meant (ironically) less time dancing. Though watching all those amazing professional dancers up close is certainly a great motivator!

The home studio’s school-year schedule went through the first two weeks of June. After a week off we launched in to the summer schedule (though we’re on a two-week break from that for the July 4th holiday and such). I’ve been able to remind myself how to plié and tendu and all that good stuff! Which was important especially because…

We started rehearsals for MND!. So far for me it’s been all fairy stuff. We’ve got a large group of faeries of assorted ages: tiny ones and tween-y ones and younger teens and then the “big” faeries. There’s a lot of wrangling involved, but since I hardly ever dance with the little kids it’s kind of cute to watch them learning their parts. The lead faeries still have more to learn beyond these large group pieces, but we were able to go over some of our sections with Puck last week. There’s some dancing to learn for that, of course, but a lot of these parts really carry the story and it’s been fun to start getting into character and figuring out how to be Starling and not just Rori-with-wings.

Managed to squeeze in some dance-related fun in June, too! One of our teachers took advantage of her newly-renovated kitchen to have some of us adults over for a party. It was perfectly timed between the end of the year show and before MND got going (actually it was the night after auditions!), so we were able to take a breather and remind ourselves how lucky we are to be part of this crazy but loving community.

I made it to the BBS studio in the city for a few classes during our most recent break and used up the rest of my class card (before the expiration date… an accomplishment!). Their summer dance program has started up which means that walking to the studio one is bombarded with very long, lean bunheads heading in the opposite direction. They make me feel very fire-plug-ish! But they also have this contagious enthusiasm that makes me want to work even harder.

So on to July.

We’re on break for the rest of this week thanks to the holiday, but I’ve been working my way (once more) through “The Perfect Pointe Book” for the past month+ and am in week 7 of 8 of that. My feet are showing the effects which is great. I think it’s also been helpful to keep me from getting too far out of shape with my sporadic dance class schedule. The footwork and turnout muscle work and core strengthening has made it a lot easier to jump in to class and not feel totally wiped even if it’s been a week or more since my last one.

Today also marked the start of the Breaking Ballet 5-day Ab Challenge which I learned of through The 109th Bead (thanks, Lorry!). Registration is now closed, sorry! But hopefully there will be more of these;  “ballet” + “abs” + “free” + “5-days” seemed to be a no-brainer to me. I can do anything for 5-days and my ballet abs can always use some work! I really enjoyed the first workout. It clocked in at just under 15 minutes, wasn’t too terribly taxing (though I can tell I did something!), and I loved that the exercises included real ballet stuff. I talked one of my friends from the studio into signing up for the challenge, too! Largely because…

We’re heading to Saratoga Springs later this week to watch NYCB perform and I wanted her to be forewarned that I might be doing some weird ab routines on the floor of our hotel room and she wasn’t allowed to laugh at me during such! 😉 Luckily she was totally game and now we can laugh at each other (which will provide an additional workout for our abs!).

I’m really looking forward to the time we’ll be spending out there. This will be my 5th (?) trip out there with the studio and it’s always a great experience. Saratoga is a beautiful town, for one. Lots of cute restaurants and shops (including Saratoga Dance). There’s also the National Museum of Dance which has had some interesting exhibits not to mention a school with open classes to keep up on our dance technique! And, of course, SPAC and NYCB. It’s such a unique venue to watch ballet in. All that, plus random opportunities to be in traffic and spy Peter Martins zipping through town in his Bentley!

After this week the crunch will be on to learn and rehearse MND! The divertissement I’m in will start rehearsing next week and the lead faeries still have a lot to learn. Sadly I’ll be away for part of that process since I’ll be out of town for a wedding. A little stressful, but it will all come together.

I also found out that our director is putting together a piece for an outdoor event the local art museum is hosting later this month. Not sure whether I’ll be able to perform in that one because of the rehearsal schedule, but I’ll definitely be in the audience if nothing else!

I’ll hopefully be checking in throughout as I try to reinvigorate this blog. I’m not great at remembering to take pictures, but trying to get better so I can make it a bit less text-heavy. Hope everyone out there is having a great start to their summers. Happy dancing!

Dream Revisited

Lots of stuff to catch up on here…

Last I left off I think I was rehearsing (or at least cast) as a supernumerary for Boston Ballet’s production of “Le Corsaire.” Fabulous experience. I have a half-finished blog post to publish on that. But in case it continues to linger in my draft folder we’ll fast forward…

Through home company’s Nutcracker (limited participation in that due to Corsaire, but had a good run as a Rosebud).

To the beginning of spring when home company presented an intimate in-studio show/fundraiser where I got to participate in a couple newly-choreographed contemporary ballet pieces which was a nice change of pace.

To the end-of-year studio production that I watched from the audience because of scheduling conflict with Boston Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” I couldn’t pass up another chance to super! I suppose appearing as a court lady in which I mostly stood around in a ridiculous wig, gaudy and heavy gown, and gestured at the dancers isn’t quite as fun as actual dancing, but it was worth it to give up the one day of dancing on stage with the studio for a month’s worth of sitting on stage as part of a professional production!  I’ll try to write a post about that experience, too.

But for now… we’re heading into summer which for the past few years has pretty much been down time. We haven’t done any summer ballets in a few years and I wasn’t invited to be in any of the small pieces that the company did. I took advantage of the down time to do the BBS Adult Summer Dance Program three years in a row which let me take classes from a lot of excellent teachers and build strength and exposed me to some classical rep and variations. But as much as I enjoyed that, I was pretty excited to find out that it won’t be in the cards this year because the home company is once again doing a full ballet this summer!

For one thing, it’s nice to work toward a big production that’s NOT Nutcracker. I’m not bashing the Nut, but it starts to feel a bit routine after a while. And for another, we’re doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was the first full-length ballet I ever did… not just with this company but in my life!

Six years ago I was happy just to take part, and my big excitement was finding out that I was cast in one of the divertissements, along with the more staid roles of villager and courtier. That felt like a huge accomplishment having only been back in the studio for six months after a decade away.

But fast-forward to this year and the announcement that we were doing MND again and I can’t deny that I set my hopes a little higher. That being said, the studio has grown and there is a larger group of people that the director can choose from to carry the big roles, so I knew I had to keep my expectations realistic. I tried to keep in mind the attitude of my hero, Sarah Wroth, recently retired after 14 years in the corps at Boston Ballet… she never got the attention I (and many others) think she deserved, but every time I saw her perform, no matter the role, she treated it like she was thrilled to be dancing it and she was the swaniest swan or the nursiest nursemaid or the friendliest friend of Aurora you ever saw. So while I had my aspirations along with hopes based more on reality, I tried to prepare myself in my mind for the possibility that I’d be “3rd fruit vendor from the right” and that I’d do my best to rock my peasant frock and sell my apples, goddammit. Still…

Auditions came around and… you know, I felt pretty good. Did I nail everything given to us? Uh, hahahaha, no. I don’t think anyone did! But I also didn’t walk out of there kicking myself for any stupid fumbles or embarrassing missteps. So I felt like I did everything I could and it was up to the director from there. If in fact I did end up as 3rd fruit vendor from the right then that was what I deserved and I would have my sulk in private, get over it, and go into the first rehearsal with my attitude firmly stowed away in the baggage compartment, ready to give it my all.

So, cast list came out. There are no fruit vendors, to the left or the right, by the way! And I was thrilled to see that I attained what I set out to do. I was cast as “Starling” one of the lead faeries. And I’m also in one of the divertissements (a newly-added one).

All in all very pleased, not only for myself but for my fellow dancers. It looks like some of the roles have been changed to reflect the abilities of our current crop of dancers. A lot of the kids from the last time we presented this are older teenagers and capable of a doing a lot more. And there are adults who have progressed since then, too. So the villagers from the opening scene are no more and instead there is a group of queen’s maidens (I assume they’ll be en pointe) and some lady’s maids who are adult women not on pointe. The fairie hierarchy has been shifted a bit. I love that no matter how many times we present a show, it always gets tweaked at least a little bit so there’s always something new to look forward to!

That’s what I’m up to this summer! Hope that any of my readers still out there are still dancing the dream!

Supers in the Studio

After finding out that I scored a role as a super people kept asking me, “So, how are rehearsals going?”

They were universally shocked to find out that they, in fact, weren’t going!

Our first rehearsal didn’t occur until eight days before opening night.

I guess that’s kind of shocking, especially for those who know that the shows I generally participate it involve a couple months of regular rehearsals. But…

The other thing that people don’t seem to get (aside from my dance friends) is that, seriously guys, I’m not actually dancing here.

I got a lot of, “Oh, you’re being so modest about this! Don’t hide your light under a bushel!” Just goes to show how little people understand of the tremendous talent and work that goes into being a professional dancer if they think I’ve joined a major company on a whim!

Of course, I appreciate the enthusiasm of said friends, even if it is a bit misplaced. But seriously guys, I’m really just animated scenery here.

Not to say that there isn’t a degree of professionalism and effort involved here (more opining on that to come!). There is! But there are no steps to learn. It’s really just cues and a few general stage directions and such.

Which brings me to…

What actually goes on in a super rehearsal?

Well, I don’t know the general pattern of things, but I can tell you my experience.

For this first post I’ll focus on what happened in the studio.

We had three rehearsals scheduled in the studio, three days in a row for about two hours each.

The first day of rehearsals involved just the supers (male and female). We reported to the big studio where the choreographer and one of the ballet mistresses awaited us. Most of the time involved us watching bits of video of another company’s performance of this production. He showed us the parts of the performance where the supers are involved in with occasional breaks to block things out a bit. It was cool to finally come together and see what we were going to do, but it was really just a talk-through. I can’t say that I left feeling like I had a good idea what to do, though in retrospect I don’t think we were really supposed to. I’d phrase it as more of an orientation to the ballet. Most of what we do is in reaction to the other things happening on stage, so hard to really get a sense of it when it’s just us.

Which brings us to… day 2. In which we rehearsed Act III. With the company. Eek!

For the women this meant harem scene. We’re on stage for the opening of the third act and spend a good amount of time lounging in the background. We started (as would make sense) with the opening tableau. The choreographer placed us and I get to pretend to be reading the palm of one of the dancing harem members (there are six harem supers and six harem dancers, along with the super-special harem newbie, Gulnara). At this point I’m wondering what the heck the dancers think of us. Are we necessary evils? Annoyances? Welcomed new faces? I still have no idea, but the dancer whose palm I get to “read” the first rehearsal was ever so gracious, introducing herself (while I pretended to not know who she is despite having pored over more than my share of playbills in the last few years as a regular subscriber) and asking if I had ever been a super before and gently giving me cues for when to move. I was incredibly grateful for her kindness. The rest of rehearsal was a bit of a blur and involved lots of shouted cues and reprimands, but it was really neat to be there with the company and see what we had talked about the day before come into context.

Day 3 was very similar to day 2, except this time we were running Act I in which we are people in the marketplace – the men generally try to sell things and the ladies wander around support them. It’s mostly a lot of lurking and trying to learn where there are big moments to get out of the way, but we did get to cut loose towards the end of the act when the pirates loot us and we run around acting distraught.

I have to say that after three days of rehearsals I was expecting to feel pretty assured of what we were going to do, but… no, I really didn’t. On top of that, while I knew that our rehearsals were moving to the theatre, I had no idea what to expect there! Someone handed us backstage passes, but didn’t tell us where to go or what to do when we got there, so for all this prep I still felt very unsure of what to expect (as did most of the other super noobs), but we ventured forward assuming that we’d get guidance when needed.

Next up… supers rehearsing in tha house!

But first, we dance…

My super experience is nearly underway! Eek!

Excited?

Yup.

Nervous?

Yup.

Worried I’ll be pirated-out three weeks from now?

A bit.

And yet… when I got an e-mail from BBS announcing a Le Corsaire master class for adults it sounded like the perfect way to kick off the rehearsal week.

I think the master class concept for the adults is a new-ish thing on the part of BBS (at least, I hadn’t heard of them doing it before this year). I attended one in the spring for last season’s Swan Lake. It was taught by a company member (corps member Corina Gill who has since been promoted to second soloist!) and in two hours we did a traditional barre followed by an opportunity to learn some choreography.

This master class was a bit different. Though it was advertised as a link-in to the fall production, the class itself was a traditional structure with no choreography elements. I was a bit disappointed by this, though I certainly understand the challenge of trying to teach repertoire to a large group with widely-varying technical background and odd male-female ratios. The fabulous part, though, was being taught by a BB principal dancer… none other than Lasha Khozashvili.

As a side note, one of my former coworkers and I had a running disagreement over the best male BB dancer. I was camp Jeffrey, she was camp Lasha. Of course that rat Jeffrey left us for ABT which left a gaping hole in my heart. But since that time I saw a few ballets with Lasha in the lead roles and I have to say that he definitely wormed his way into my heart. While he doesn’t have the youthful bounding or exude the pure joy of dance the way Jeffrey does he has a whole other aspect of technical brilliance and his characterization… oh man. Jeffrey could make me smile, but Lasha can make me sob and that’s a whole other level of wow.

Anyway, it turns out that Mr. Khozashvili is not only a talented dancer, but an excellent teacher, as well. I’m always a bit nervous about taking class from someone I haven’t studied with before, because no matter how excellent a dancer one is, teaching requires a whole other skill set. Some people can do, but just can’t explain. That was hardly the case here. The class wasn’t too terribly difficult (it was an open class intended for all abilities), but he didn’t shy away from giving corrections, particularly about musicality and accents and coordinating the head and arms. He spent time during each exercise to give feedback on things he was seeing and offer suggestions. But he also kept a sense of humor and light-heartedness which kept class from getting all scary.

The class was followed by a half-hour Q&A time. While I think the organizers intended that the questions would focus on Le Corsaire, it ended up being more questions about Mr. Khozashvili’s ballet experience as a whole. He talked about growing up in Georgia (the country, not the state) and how he got into ballet. People always seem to ask dancers about what they eat and how they exercise outside of the studio and I had to laugh at his answers because they were so… human! He’s like, “Well, if I want a burger, then I eat a burger!” and said something along the lines of, “I don’t lift weights because I get too bulky and I spend all day lifting women anyway, so it’s not like I really need to” (except when they did Mahler’s 3rd last fall… then he took up swimming because he needed to build the stamina to get through being on stage dancing for 90% of the entire ballet).

Overall I loved not only being able to take class with such a talented pro, but also the chance to see what a kind, caring human being he is. Great way to kick off my super week(s)!

Pop some tags…

First step in being a super apparently has nothing to do with what you’ll do on stage and everything to do with what you’ll wear on stage.

Got an e-mail a couple weeks ago addressed to six of us super women trying to coordinate a date and time when all of us would be able to come to the company costume shop for a fitting. I would have thought such a prospect would be akin to cat herding, but miraculously the Friday evening option worked for all of us and we were told to meet at the security desk at company HQ and we would be escorted to our fitting.

Now, I still had no idea what exactly I would be doing in this show. Our original “congratulations” e-mail promised details — including role assignments — would be forthcoming, but none of us got them, so we were all a bit confused about what exactly we were in for, but nevertheless it didn’t really matter because, well, you could dress me up as a rock and I’d probably be okay with it because… I’m on stage during a professional production, yo!

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t have some ideas/hopes about getting to wear something glamorous…

The guy from the costume shop met us and brought us downstairs. I’ve been in the basement before (it’s where the studio locker rooms are), but there was a hallway I’d never noticed previously. We meandered through a few twists and turns and landed in this magical land of sewing machines and crystals and tulle.

I looked around trying to comprehend that this is the workplace for probably a dozen people. It is just so… crazy to me that people get to do this for a living. It’s so… artsy and cool. And it makes me feel so… corporate and boring.

But hey, at least I get to visit and hang out there for a little while, so that’s something, right?!

The costume manager and the wardrobe supervisor rounded us up and figured out who was who. I guess both casts of female supers were there (with a few exceptions from the second) so they were trying to match us with our double. As they went through their lists they named a few of us and said that we were villagers (I think?) and they’d do our costume fittings first.

Okay, so at this point I was feeling a bit disappointed. I was thinking/hoping I’d be one of the harem people which somehow sounded more exotic (ignoring the whole degrading connotation bit).

But… you know… see above. I’m on stage in a professional production, I’ll get over it.

Just allow me this brief sulk… and, okay, carry on.

They pulled out my costume which was this rather large, blue, linen-ish dress with a matching robe. On top of that I have a white veil that covers all of my head except the eyes. I kind of had to snicker at myself realizing that all my dance friends are asking which shows I’ll be in so they can come see me and here I am highly unidentifiable.

After the hem was pinned I changed back into my street clothes and gave the costume to my double to make sure it worked for her. I was feeling a bit dejected. But then…

The wardrobe supervisor said to wait outside the dressing area until they were done and then we’d try on the harem costumes.

Wait… I get to do… both?

Okay, now that I realize that I get to do two roles my disappointment has turned to elation. Now I realize that I’ll be in multiple scenes, and, OMG, this is going to be an even cooler experience than I was expecting!

I stood around waiting our next turn in the fitting room trying not to appear too giddy and stared around at the room. It was funny how much it actually resembled the organized chaos of our own studio company’s costume room. Boxes lined shelves by the ceiling labelled with various ballet names. I battled a fierce urge to figure a way up there to riffle through them.

After the village ladies from the second cast had tried on costumes and reverted to 21st century attire they called us all in for a quick run-down of some opera house etiquette. Primarily related to getting dressed. I didn’t realize that not only do we have dressers but that they are unionized and therefore there are very strict rules about what we can and cannot do re: our costumes. Basically… don’t expect to get dressed any time before 30 minutes prior to curtain and do not help yourself or anyone else into or out of costumes. And don’t be offended if you get booted to the back of the line when a real dancer comes in to be dressed. I think there were some other rules, but it was actually kind of a relief to know that someone else will be in charge of the whole process and I just need to know where to be and when.

After our lecture they started handing out costumes to the first cast. There were two basic types of tops: one was the sequined bikini top, the other an incredibly sheer short sleeved leotard with the sequined equivalent of pixellation over the chest. (The bottoms for both were the elastic-cuffed pajama bottom type.) I was relieved to find out I was in the bra group; somehow it seemed the safer option!

Thankfully mine seemed to fit fine without any need for alterations. They topped it all off with a hat that will clearly require a great many bobby pins to keep in place with a gigantic veil attached, complete with finger loops so I can swirl it seductively, or something. The costume-guy-in-chief (not his actual title) took a quick picture of me as apparently I am one of a number of us who doesn’t have hair of appropriate length (our hair is supposed to be down and curled and after an aggressive trim at the beginning of the summer mine is only just shoulder-length) and therefore will require a wig.

After having my costume tagged with my name we were set free. I was happy to discover that there was still plenty of time to make it to the open adult class afterwards, if for no other reason than to spend another hour or two in the mecca of ballet before returning to reality.

Something super…

I’ve been pretty proud of all the things I’ve managed to do since returning to ballet, especially since I never thought most of it was possible…

There was my brief teaching stint (I still miss that).

And there was the whole getting back on pointe thing (part accomplishment, part foolishness!).

I always wanted to perform in a full-length ballet and I’ve got, what, 7 of those under my belt now?

I’ve done some “summer intensives” (okay, not at the same level as teenagers, but still!).

There aren’t too many ballet dreams left unfulfilled at this point.

Except…

Okay, who among us balletophiles hasn’t attended a professional production and thought, gee, how cool would it be to be on stage with them?

Of course since my ballet skillz are firmly amateur despite years of work I know that I’m not going to be getting a contract to dance with a professional company, but…

You do know that some of those story ballets need human scenery, right? The non-dancing villagers or guards or whatever who occupy space and fill out the story… known in the ballet (and opera, too, I think) world as “supernumeraries” or (since that’s such a mouthful) just “supers.” They’re what the extras are to film.

Well, it just so happens that my favorite local big name ballet company put out a casting call last month for their fall production. They were looking for “fit” dancers who would be comfortable appearing on stage in midriff-baring tops. Well… I’ve done that before, albeit on a much smaller stage, so why the heck not give it a go?

So I auditioned!

Scary!

The only auditions I’ve ever done were for the studio shows, which is a whole other kettle of fish. Nerve-wracking, but you know what to expect and the people doing the casting know what you’re capable of even if you flub whatever it is they’ve asked of you. But this audition involves going to a place with a bunch of people you don’t know and being judged solely on whatever you do in that studio at that time… and with no inkling beforehand of what they’re even going to want you to do.

On the plus side, if you screw up, you get to return to anonymity and you haven’t humiliated yourself in front of all your friends.

So, the audition. We were told to wear comfortable yet form-fitting workout/yoga type clothes. Thus, true to form, I was out the night before looking for some sort of attractive workout attire since ballet is the only exercise I attempt to look presentable for, therefore I have cute leotards in spades, but anything else workout-geared is generally ratty, faded and will only serve to make me look like Queen of the Frumps. But, of course, one can’t look as though she’s trying too hard to look cute. Ugh, this auditioning is hard work and I haven’t even started yet!

The next day after work I go over to the company’s headquarters, change, and head upstairs to the big fancy studio where all the Important Things Happen to check in with the stage manager lady who wrangles the supers. She checks off my name, has me find my name tag in the pile, and gives me a form to fill out and take to the costume fitter people.

Next I head over to the fitters and give them my form. They measure me in 20 different directions (including my head circumference) and ask about my bra size and shoe size, take my mug shot, and send me off to wait for the audition to begin. No major humiliations so far.

Since I was there about half an hour before the audition time I had plenty of time to wait and people-watch. I saw a few faces I recognized from various BBS events (master classes and the summer program) and a lot more that I didn’t know. But from eavesdropping it seemed that there was a core contingent of super regulars who have done other shows. They all seemed very friendly, so that’s a relief! Also, I happened to be near the door to the studio and realized that I my favorite principal dancer was rehearsing while we were waiting. Squee!

The men were called in first. There were maybe 12-15 guys in all? Ages seemed to range from 20s to 60s. From what I could tell they all stood in a line and chatted for a bit with the powers that be, then that was it. Well, gee, okay then! This may be the easiest audition ever if that’s all it takes!

After the guys left we got the word to go in. Our line was much longer than the guys… I’d guess there were more like 30-35 of us? They started talking to us and I realized that the man doing the casting was the choreographer himself. WHAT?! Somehow I expected some sort of minion doing the casting. I mean, a very expert minion, of course, like a ballet master or mistress or something, but not the guy who actually choreographed the whole thing! He was accompanied by the assistant artistic director who didn’t say much, but spent most of the time furiously writing on a clipboard. No pressure. Nope, none at all.

The choreographer gave us a very short spiel on what he was looking for which, to be honest, I could barely hear. Then he split us into two groups and sent us off to opposite sides of the room. Then he asked that six people at a time run part-way across the floor, stop, look back, and then continue running off stage. The first group ran across and he called out two people to go stand next to the piano. The next group ran; one woman was called out to join the piano crew. Then it was our group. We ran… and he was all “stop, stop, stop!!!” Crap, what? “You are running too balletically! Just run normally!” Oh… damn. But hilarious at the same time. I mean, here we are auditioning for a part in a ballet and being told to stop acting like we’re dancers. We went back and tried again, and… he asked me to join the group by the piano! He continued this with all the other groups, then had those of us who had been pulled aside to stand. I think there were eight of us in all. Then he had us each go and sit on the prop bed and look, I don’t know, relaxed? sultry? something? It was a bit odd, but okay, we’re auditioning for a harem role, so not that odd! Then they had the remaining people run across the floor again.

And… that was it! They told us they had made notes and would be in touch. Hm. Okay.

All in all not a terrible audition experience even though I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I hoped that getting pulled aside meant good things, but didn’t want to count my chickens before they hatched.

And so… I waited.

For what seemed an eternity.

But in reality was only about 9 days.

And then I got an e-mail from the stage manager.

And…

I was cast!

Yippee!!!

So that’s all the news I have for now, but I’m terribly excited to actually get to take part (however small) in a professional ballet production. I’ll keep you posted!

What’s in a name?

Well, hey there, Boston Ballet! A few years ago the story was all about cuts to the company, but this year… 71 dancers between the two companies?! Wow!

Exciting times on Clarendon Street, to be sure.

If you read down to the end of the end of the article, though, you’ll find what I felt to be a very interesting piece of semantics. The “corps de ballet” will now be called “artists of the company.” While I’m not sure that “corps” is a derogatory term, there is definitely a sense that it’s the entry-level position in a company (ignoring the second company… they’re more like interns) and if you’re still kicking around at that level after a couple years than you either aren’t very talented or you’re a slacker who does the minimum to stay on. And if you’ve seen these dancers you know that’s hardly ever the case.

Of course, there are only so many spaces in the second soloist, soloist, and principal levels and not everyone is going to make it there. Heck, not everyone wants to make it there. If you’ve listened to any of Kathryn Morgan’s recent podcasts she comments on some of the unexpected differences between being a member of the corps and being a soloist (at NYCB). Corps members can get opportunities to dance soloist and (maybe, occasionally) principal roles, in addition to corps work, giving a dancer a TON of opportunities to… well, DANCE! While the promotion means having to work under more intense scrutiny, the quantity of work drops off. Depending on your aspirations, that might not be a positive thing.

During the ASDP we had a Q&A session with BB company dancers Sarah Wroth (corps) and Corina Gill (just promoted to second soloist) and Corina said that part of the reason she wanted to get promoted was the knowledge that if she didn’t she couldn’t continue meeting the physical demands of corps work. She’d had some major injuries and her body wouldn’t last if she had to keep dancing every single show. How Sarah Wroth has done it — including a majorly impressive prenatal run (I think she danced most of Nutcracker season until 18 weeks, had her baby around May, and was back on stage in October) — for 13ish years? Well, I definitely give her mad props. I’m sure a lot of people look at her and wonder why she’s still doing this, but from hearing her talk a couple times it seems like she is totally satisfied with her career trajectory, and I’m sure that while she’s still “just in the corps” she has a major leadership presence in the company due to her longevity and experience.

So maybe recognizing that all the dancers, regardless of rank, are truly artists… not such a bad thing. Will anyone notice? Will it change anyone’s perception about the majority of company dancers or of ballet in general? Hard to say, but it’s a thoughtful change on Mikko Nissinen’s part nonetheless.

ASDP16 – The Review

So… year 3 of BBS’s ASDP is in the books. It was kind of a tough year, both for the program and for me personally. Lots going on in my life that kind of distracted me from the task at hand and I’m not sure if I got as much out of it as I did in years past and lots of changes going on at BBS that made it a bit chaotic.

However… there were some great aspects.

First off was the optional enrichment session. This year we chose our enrichment option for each week. We had a choice between modern or the new conditioning program, so we could do all one or the other or one week of each. I chose conditioning the first week and, though tempted by modern, felt that I wanted to continue on the conditioning path. So I’m not sure how the modern program went (though it seemed well-attended), but I liked the cross-training aspect. It was designed by a trainer who has worked extensively with the company dancers and the pre-pro students, but has a pretty diverse clientele and background. A lot of what we did focused on dynamic stretching, core strengthening, and balance. It wasn’t quite as crippling as I expected and I did learn some exercises I could carry with me. The trainer has his own studio in the area and I’d love to learn more about what he does and continue training. Actually, what I’d really like to do is learn from him how to train other dancers. There are so many myths and misinformation passed around in dance (especially ballet) circles about how to train/stretch/work that need to be corrected and I’d love to be part of that. Food for thought.

As for our technique classes… well, each year I’ve waffled about whether to take class at the intermediate or advanced level. The past two years I stuck with intermediate and signed up for it again this year. The first day one of the dancers I know from prior years saw me in the hall beforehand and we chatted a bit about levels. She had also signed up for intermediate but was considering advanced and we had a lot of similar thoughts on the topic. After our technique class that day she came up to me and said that she was ready for a change and thought that I should bump up, too. And to be honest I was feeling like it was time, myself. So after our allegro and pirouettes workshop (with the advanced level) that evening I asked the teacher whether it would be appropriate to switch. He not only agreed but said that the current enrollment in advanced was pretty puny, so it would help to even out the numbers a bit. A few of us ended up moving up, actually, though it was still a fairly small class… around 12 people most days.

I didn’t feel like the advanced level was particularly more challenging than intermediate, though I suppose there was more of an expectation that students had a familiarity with the material. I felt like I was pretty middle-of-the-road in terms of ability, which was good. Overall some good classes, though I felt that we were lacking in the amount of hands-on instruction that I’d been accustomed to in the past. This might be related to the particular teachers we had this year. Some do more of the walking around and poking, others prefer to give a combination and stay at the front of the room watching. I know which method I generally prefer, so I missed getting the in-depth instruction, but maybe that’s part of being in the advanced level… the assumption that you know what you need to work on? Not sure. No major revelations to report from technique class, but of course it’s always great to get daily classes in.

For the last part of the evening (other than that first day with the workshop I mentioned above) we generally had rep or variations, both of which were from Giselle, Act I. We only did the variation two days and we did not present this at the end as we had last year. I didn’t mind terribly, since it was a variation that involved a lot of use of the stage and those are always hard to perform en masse, but I did feel like we blasted through the choreography and I never really got it. I should’ve studied Natalia Osipova a bit more, I suppose:

Our rep was the friends piece. Since the intermediate and advanced levels were combined we did end up having to split into two casts to perform this piece. It was slightly less exhausting than the endless ballonés from last year’s Sleeping Beauty rep, with the biggest challenge coming from trying to stay in neat lines and formations. The performance at the end went off better than expected, even if the prep work did resemble an attempt at herding cats!

Our one “special” event was a Q&A with Corina Gill and Sarah Wroth which went over great. It was very informal, with Sarah kind of leading the event, but there were some great questions and I enjoyed hearing from both of them.

My overall impressions of the two weeks were… well, that I certainly hope they have plans to name a new Head of Adult Programming, because I was feeling the lack of anyone being in charge. There was no constant reassuring presence as in previous years and I think everyone’s experience would have been enhanced by someone taking charge. Even the faculty seemed frazzled and it left me wondering whether I’ll bother to spend the money next year or look to find something else. But I’m glad I went back and got to dance with so many amazing people. The students there really are a friendly and encouraging bunch. I don’t know that I would have stepped up to the next level if it weren’t for a classmate’s prodding and that support goes a long way to making or breaking an experience. With another person passionate about teaching adults I have the confidence that the program can return and surpass its past successes.

BBS-ASDP Round 3!

Signed up kind of last minute to do the Boston Ballet School’s adult summer program again this year.

The cost keeps creeping up and with an emergency HVAC system replacement in my condo earlier this year I was questioning whether it was fiscally responsible to do it, but… it was a great experience the last two years and I appreciate the opportunity to escape the routine of my regular dance existence, so I entered my credit card number and clicked submit before I could talk myself out of it for the 4,000th time.

Program starts Monday. I’d been stalking the website to see when they were going to post the day-by-day schedule. It finally went up this week and… hm. Not nearly the variety of teachers I’ve seen in the past. Actually the entire schedule looks a bit… paltry.

So I did some googling and found this. BBS’s head of adult programming took off for sunnier skies, it seems. Not surprising, but definitely disappointing. I think he was supposed to have taken a job in San Fran last fall and somehow ended up not, but clearly the writing was on the wall that he was on his way out. It’ll be a tough loss for the school on the whole, but I’m particularly nervous about what this spells for BBS’s adult program.

I guess the next couple weeks will give some insight to that. Cautiously optimistic. Sigh.

A couple things I noted on the schedule…

Lots of familiar teachers. I felt like there was a pretty big variety last year, especially in the Intermediate level, but this year it seems to be just a small handful of BBS faculty regulars. I’ve taken class with all of them except one and it’s a great group, but bummed to be missing out on some of the teachers we got to experience last year.

Intermediate and Advanced are combined again this year for Rep/Variations. That’s how it was my first year and it was kind of a shit-show. I think they did it because originally there weren’t enough people signed up for those two levels to justify having separate rep/variation classes, though they must have gotten a bunch of last-minute registrations, because there ended up being close to 50 people between the two. Last year they kept the levels separate and I thought everything went much more smoothly. But this year we’re combined again. Whether this is due to low registration or a lack of interested faculty… hard to say.

As for the “extras” (lectures, etc.) there appears to be only one this year: the company dancer Q&A which I assume will consist of Sarah Wroth and Corina Gill since they’re both on the schedule to teach that day. Sarah spoke two years ago and I took a Swan Lake master class from Corina this winter. They’re both great ladies, so I’m looking forward to hearing from them, but I’m kind of disappointed that’s the only “special” thing on the docket. No PT lecture (which generally devolved into people just asking advice on their own aches and pains, but did have some good info), no history lecture, no opportunity to attend company class.

Lest you think I’m all doom and gloom, there are things I’m quite excited about.

First off is a new conditioning program that they’re offering in the enrichment session. This replaces the Pilates option from prior years. I really liked Pilates, but am psyched for a more comprehensive training program. The guy teaching it works with the company dancers and school year-round, so should be a great experience and hopefully will offer some insights I can take into my regular life for cross-training, etc.

Also, the other option during the enrichment session is (still) modern, but there will be two teachers this year. I liked the one who taught previously (and who is still there), but am looking forward to another perspective since modern isn’t something I get to do as often as I’d like.

And then there’s the rep/variations which will be from Giselle. Though it’s one of the classics I’m sadly completely unacquainted with it, so I’m glad to getting to know it a bit!

Will try to post updates as I go. Clearly this blog has not been at the forefront of my priority list lately, but I’ll try to consciously move it up a bit!

Going Green

Interrupting the radio silence here to show you what I saw yesterday:

BB on the Greenway

That, my dears, is some of the fine men of Boston Ballet performing a brief excerpt of John Neumeier’s “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler” on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston… conveniently located just off my commute home!

The point of this… I’m not entirely sure. I think they were trying to promote art on the Greenway, for one. The Greenway, for those non-Bostonians among you, is a fairly new super-wide median/park near the waterfront/Financial District. For many decades this was the location of an elevated highway that was jammed with traffic from day one and was hella ugly, to boot. Soon after they built it they realized it was a Dumb Decision and thought maybe they could bury the highway underground, which after few decades and a few billion dollars of overruns, they did manage to do. There was much rejoicing. After they took down the old highway infrastructure they turned the former location into green space and, voila, here we are. It’s very beautiful and near lots of touristy things, so if you’re in town, do check it out, especially if you remember the old behemoth that used to live there!

They’ve installed various pieces of art on the Greenway, pretty much all of which is of a fairly temporary nature. They even have murals painted on some of the air shaft buildings that vent the new underground highway that get painted over and redone every year or so. Currently there’s a big piece of artwork hanging over part of the Greenway that I can’t even begin to describe other than… it looks like enormous pieces of mosquito netting suspended from the sky. It’s lit up at night and is kind of cool to look at, but is only here for a few more weeks (I doubt it would sustain our notorious winters anyway). So I guess they thought it would be cool do to some human sculptures beneath it.

And also… Boston Ballet is opening the 2015-16 season in a couple short weeks with “Third Symphony…” so good opportunity for them to build some buzz.

It was a perfect day for it, sunny and 70 (they were originally supposed to do this last week, when it was raining and 55 degrees out, so thank goodness for rain dates!). But… kind of a weird event overall. Not particularly well advertised… I only found out about it from some random snooping on the Boston Ballet website when I was looking for info on this ballet. And they only showed a very brief excerpt of the piece (though they did it about 4 or 5 times). I felt like it was mostly a photo shoot that they tried to turn into a performance and the whole thing kind of fell flat as an “event.” While I was watching the dancers standing around I felt like even they were kind of thinking, “WTF are we doing?!” But whatevs, a free opportunity for me to see some of the dancers dance up close, so that’s cool! You can’t go wrong with nice buns in white tights, amiright?!

For some more (professional) pictures, check out Boston.com’s slideshow here.