Now that I’m a month or so out from Boston Ballet’s ASDP, some final thoughts… to wrap stuff up in my own head and for anyone considering doing this in the future.
The ASDP takes place at BBS’s Newton studio. I would have preferred the Boston studio as it’s more convenient for me, but I’m sure that would discourage a lot of people who want to avoid the city. Having my car turned out to be a must… it’s possible to get there via MBTA, but added too much time and frustration for my situation. The studio has its own parking lot and I never had trouble finding a spot, but I did get there early for the enrichment session. I’m not sure whether those who arrived later may have had to park further away, but there seemed to be plenty of spots on the street, if so.
It’s a spacious facility. When you walk in there’s a waiting area and front desk that is always staffed. There are five studios: the grand studio, as you can guess from the name, is quite spacious; the other four are about half the size of the grand studio, if not smaller, but they still have high ceilings which help them to feel large. We were in different studios for technique depending on the day. The grand studio gave plenty of room to spread out while the others were cozier, but even so our class of 25 had enough room. The teachers were also good about structuring their exercises and groups to fit the space. The flooring was great (not too sticky, not too slippery), the wall barres were all set out a foot or so from the wall, portable barres seemed to be sturdy, though I did have one that was ridiculously tall. The only untidy spot in the place was the dressing room. Can’t speak for the men’s, but the women’s was in various states of gross most of the time. There was a children’s session during the day so I blame them. That was the only part of the studio space I was less than impressed with.
At home studio we just have CDs and such. How I’ve missed having a live accompanist (for ballet AND modern classes!)! The teachers don’t have to fiddle around trying to find a track that will work or that is long enough for the combination they want to give. If they need tempo a bit faster or slower they just say so. If you haven’t experienced this, you will love it.
I signed up for the “enrichment” session that started an hour beforehand and alternated between Pilates and modern. A lot of people didn’t do this session (it was an additional cost), but if you can swing the extra cash and can get there in time I think the enrichment session is necessary to get the most out of it. Both classes helped me get acquainted with my body in a different way that made me get more out of technique class, plus any additional strengthening is a bonus!
Technique classes — All told we ended up with seven different teachers during the two week session. While each teacher has his/her own style and that can be challenging to bounce among, most were BBS faculty, so the underlying focus and expectation was the same even if the execution was slightly different. And the classes were very formal. Sometimes classes at the home studio turn into ballet happy hour, which is fun, but old-school me appreciated the stricter expectations. To me, “strict” doesn’t mean “no fun” but rather there’s an element of mutual respect and that teacher and student take one another seriously. To me this is central to the art. But… that’s just me.
Repertoire/variations — The hour after technique had various things going on, but for most of the days we were either learning/practicing the beginning of the polonaise from Swan Lake that we presented on the last day or learning part of a pas de trois from Swan Lake. People who had done the program before said that in previous years this hour was only for rep. I liked being able to learn other choreography in the variations class and I also though it was really neat that they taught us stuff from Swan Lake since Boston Ballet will be opening the 2014-15 season with it! I can’t wait to see it on stage and be able to recognize some choreography! This is something that too few ballet students get to experience and I don’t quite have the words to describe the impact this has on a dancer. The first rep I ever learned was when I was 13 or so and we learned some of the Shades choreography from La Bayadère (see pic below… I look like I’m from 1891 instead of 1991!).
I had no context for this so it didn’t mean much to me at the time… until I saw a video of a professional company performing this same section and realized… we learned the same choreography! Little me had learned things that professionals do! It just gives you a whole new appreciation for the art and makes you feel more connected to it.
The days that we did not do rep or variations we had other stuff going on:
The first day was a “workshop” on pirouettes & allegro. I think they meant to do this twice, but we ended up using the second one to run the rep piece. I would have liked more of this stuff. I’m guessing the secret to pirouettes in hidden in my own damned brain as much as it is in any teacher’s, but it’s helpful to be able to focus on this stuff for longer than a few combinations in a regular class.
We had some lectures from former and current company members. I liked hearing about the history and current company from people who are “on the inside” and gain a greater understanding of what it’s like to dance professionally. A lot of us adults harbor curiosity about what it’s like to be able to do this for a living rather than something we squeeze into our lives around work, school, etc. Of course we know it’s not as glamorous as our fantasies, but it’s still fun to hear what it’s like straight from the horse’s mouth.
I thought the entire faculty was tremendous: caring, skilled, and personable. But, I did have a few favorites. The bummer is that none of my favorites appear to be ones I can take classes with after this.
There was Gene Murray, hilarious and quirky, not universally popular, but had a personality that cracked me up, but also made me want to work my ass off to impress him. He generally teaches day classes at BBS, though there is an evening elementary/intermediate class on Thursday evenings. Sadly, I’m generally not in town on Thursdays. But… I might be able to make it in for one at some point.
Then Andrew Kelley, just… Ballet master, right there. Every comment on technique and artistry was spot-on and I felt like he was this well of knowledge and maybe there would be hope for me yet if someone can just keep explaining things to me the way he does. And he would have us do exercises again to make sure we could truly incorporate what he was telling us. Brilliant. And… I can’t find anything about him teaching anywhere in the city! I did see his name on another studio’s web page, but on their class schedule he was nowhere to be found. That said… I did see that his name is on the BBS faculty roster this week, so maybe there’s light on that horizon.
And Christopher Hird, BBS’s head of adult programming (among other roles)… though he really only taught our very first, abbreviated technique class, and also our variations class, he was a constant presence throughout the two weeks and you could tell that he was committed to us having a great experience. I also loved his corrections. He just… he knows how to teach (no small feat) and made everyone feel like they were welcomed and valued and capable. And… he only teaches beginner classes during the year. Sad trombone.
But all the teachers there were excellent so I’m definitely hoping to plan to take some classes in Boston and Newton during the school year. Great quality classes and the studios are awesome.
And now, in no particular order, some random thoughts about the BBS-ASDP:
If I do this again next year I think I’d bump up to the Advanced level for the additional challenge. I considered switching this year, but I went into this knowing I have a lot of basic things I need to work on and I felt I’d have a better chance of doing that at the Intermediate level. While I didn’t figure out any major secrets, I learned so many little things that I will take with me: stupid stuff like how to better place myself at the barre, thinking about my turnout differently, how to be square (the good square, not the nerdy square!).
Strength — It’s probably impossible to not feel like you’ve built strength after dancing 3.5 hours each night for 10 out of 12 nights, but still… I left feeling like my core, legs, and feet were all working more effectively.
I like having a pre-plié barre warm-up exercise. Every teacher here did one. It’s not something my home studio does, but I love it. It reminds me of yoga classes in one way where you start by focusing on breathing and such rather than jumping right into poses. It gets you centered and puts you in the class mindspace.
Also, I really like teachers who set up lines and groups and rotate the lines. It saves a whole bunch of time figuring out who goes first. Everyone gets a chance at the mirror which means, yes, you WILL need to learn how to remember combinations without following people in front of you, but, NO, you cannot be Snow White’s evil stepmother and plunk yourself in front of the mirror all class. There’s a lot to be gained from having to switch it up.
Sometimes it’s nice to be anonymous. I didn’t know anyone else doing the ASDP. I recognized a few faces from other classes I’ve taken in town, but that was it. It’s scary not to have a security blanket, but it’s also nice to step outside of the usual group and stand on my own two feet.
I loved being part of a group that takes ballet so seriously. Yeah, we were all there to have fun. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t find joy in it. But people were there to learn and to improve. And the teachers wanted to help us get there. Sometimes as adults we get lost in the fray. We’re too old to matter. But I’ve found we’ve got a lot to offer… sometimes it just takes a new explanation or a bit of guidance to allow that to come through.
Should you do the ASDP? Well, first off, I’m not sure I’d travel in from out of town unless you have some other reason to be in the metro Boston area. It’s a great program, but it’s kind of a semi-intensive. It’s intense if you put in a full day of work before getting there. But if I was looking for a true intensive experience I think I’d go for Sun King or one of those where you truly immerse yourself in dance all day, every day for a week. But if you’re local or have some other reason to be in town, do it. There’s a level for just about everyone. There are super-beginners and there are people who have danced for decades. So don’t be afraid that you’re not “good enough” to go. You are, and you will love it.
Overall, this was a great experience and opened me up to the idea of doing more intense intensives (Sun King, I’m looking at you!) in the future.
Anything I missed that you want to know about? Leave me a comment!