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!

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!

It’s gettin’ hot in hurrrrr!!!

Understudying…

It ain’t no joke, kids.

If you get cast as an understudy, this isn’t a throw-away thing. Sure, you might practice only to find that your effort will never go rewarded.

But on the other hand…

One of those dancers in the cast may find themselves injured and you’ll be all:

Spanish

(That’s my “here goes nothing!” face.)

One of the Hot Chocolate dancers slipped while practicing during intermission in the second show and hurt her ankle. She powered through and went on, but was limping after the show. I told her to rest, ice, elevate, then see how it felt in the morning before making any decisions. Then I went home and spent the night going through the dance about a zillion times. I fell asleep only to dream about being thrown into a ballet we’d never rehearsed. Ugh!

She called me the next day to warn me that the call was coming. She’d told the director she was out. If it had just been her I think she would have danced through the pain, but she has a baby on board which made her understandably extra-cautious about venturing on stage at less than full-power. Cue the understudies!

I was actually feeling okay about subbing until I got to the theatre and was confronted with aghast faces. Okay, folks, this is Not Helpful. You’re making me feel like you have no faith in the subs. We can do this!

I think.

Maybe.

Maybe not?!?!

And… cue Rori’s meltdown.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of our system… showtime. First half went great. The Snow sub (who thankfully had done the piece last year) came through beautifully. Just need to get through second half.

BTW, why do my feet feel like someone has been bashing on them with a hammer? Anyone?!

I’d done Hot Chocolate in prior years, but the piece was totally rechoreographed this year, so it wasn’t in my muscle memory as it would have been otherwise. But I had it in my head and if nothing else I can pull on whatever Iberian peninsula heritage I have (apparently there is some buried in there) and give it some Spanish ‘tude. I took off from the gate feeling confident, though somehow under the stage lights I felt like a baby deer, not quite sure what to do with all these wobbly limbs.

Truth be told it wasn’t the best performance, but…. I ended up in the right spots at the right times with the right choreography. Some things weren’t as clean as I would have liked, but an informal poll revealed that the audience members thought nothing was awry.

The whole experience reinforced the lesson that being an understudy isn’t just some consolation prize. In some ways it’s harder than being in the regular cast because you have to know the unique aspects of each person’s spot and, though you don’t often get to practice with the cast and spend most of your time in the wings marking through, you need to be ready at a moment’s notice to go on and do it full out.

Regardless, I am glad to have that experience behind me and am pretty sure I fully earned THIS Hot Chocolate!!!

Hot Chocolate & Baileys

Put on yer apron… it’s Nutcracker time!

It’s almost here!

Nutcracker weekend!!! (Take 4… wow, can’t believe it’s been four years already!)

Trading in last year’s finery:

Nut2013Party-me

for a maid’s uniform.

Sad… but not! Hoop skirts are fun and all, but it’s nice to change it up a bit.

And, as the Stern Maid, I get to provide some comic relief. Which is way more fun than just dancing politely. Yay!

Stay tuned for updates! In the meantime, have yourselves a happy Winter Solstice weekend. Get out there and crack some nuts (but only the kind that grow on trees, please!😉 )!

If someone asks: “Can you do a cartwheel?”

…make sure you know why they are asking the question before admitting ANYTHING!

So, Nutcracker casting this year…

I was chosen to be a Snowflake and a Rosebud. I’ve been a Snowflake every year. It’s an honor to be in it, so I was relieved to be chosen for that again. Rosebuds are typically new people each year, but they recast the two of us from last year. Which is fine. It’s an easy role, but I love the music and being part of that scene.

But… okay, I was a TEENSY bit disappointed not to have something else. Usually we average three roles apiece and I couldn’t help feeling like I had really bombed the audition and was getting a subtle hint from the adjudicators that it was time to consider a new hobby.

Of course, it’s doubtful there was anything personal about it. We’ve got some stellar young dancers who were given a ton of roles, as it should be. I’m one of the middle-of-the-road dancers and am happy to be given the opportunity to play the roles I do. So I sulked in the privacy of my own home, got over it, and moved on.

But… I’ve been to this rodeo enough times to know that there was probably something else in store.

A couple weeks into rehearsals we were chatting in class and one of the party moms mentioned that she needed to get character shoes. Since I’ve given her some pointe shoes that haven’t worked for me, I knew we’re around the same size and piped up, “Gee, you should have told me, you could have borrowed mine so you didn’t have to spend the money!”

The director looked over at me and said, “Well, actually, you may want to keep your character shoes. I was planning to talk to you… one of the maids dropped out and…”

“And you need me to be a maid,” I filled in.

“Well, yeah, maybe, I mean, I can ask so-and-so, too, but…” she trailed off.

Maid Rori, reporting for duty!

Maids don’t really dance, but we do get some fun acting stuff. I am the stern, no-nonsense maid. It suits me, really. I’m finally finding a purpose for all that Downton Abbey binge-watching!

So there we go, three roles.

A couple days later I was in class on a Saturday and the director looks up at me and says, “Can you stay late to understudy for Hot Chocolate?” We don’t often have formal understudies, but one of the girls cast in the dance was temporarily banned from pointe work due to a sports injury (stop playing sports, kids!) and another one is pregnant (I should specify that the pregnant one is a woman, NOT a girl… it’s all on the up-and-up!) so there was some anxiety that would be allayed by having an extra person know the dance. Which I was cool with learning; while I’d been in Hot Chocolate twice, they were changing the choreography this year and I figured it would be fun to learn the new piece.

So that was all well and good.

Then a couple Saturdays later I was getting ready for class and saw that the two choreographers were having a hurried conference. Through the closed French doors I caught the eye of the director who pointed and mouthed something to me. “What?” I said, puzzled.

I cracked open the door and poked my head in.

“I said, can you do a cartwheel?”

“Um, yeah, I can, but…”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew I had made a grave error. The other choreographer said, “Good, we need you to learn Candy Canes.” Butbutbut…. Candy Canes is danced by CHILDREN!!! Adults don’t do Candy Canes (see: cartwheel)! “Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “Many of them are taller than you, you’ll fit right in.” Phooey.

Thankfully another child was found who wanted to learn the dance. But the choreographer asked me to learn it anyway. Just in case. It’s always good to have extra people who know the part, you know. So there I was, like the one old candy cane you find at the bottom of the container of Christmas ornaments, left over from last year, ready to crumble into bits the moment you touch it next to a package of brand new, fresh candy canes. I muddled through well enough. Things only got vaguely hairy when I had to jump through my own candy cane hoop like a jump rope and then try to cartwheel (on my bad side, of course) to the knee. And, of course, all my fellow adults thought this was thoroughly entertaining.

It was fun to learn, but I was thoroughly relieved to learn that the original Candy Cane appeared to have recovered from her illness and will be able to continue on as planned. Whew.

So… lesson learned. Bemoan nothing, even in your head, lest you be appointed chief cook and bottle washer!

And… don’t admit to any proficiency in tumbling skills without knowing why you’re being queried!😉

The Swan Lake Report

Okay, so we’re a month out from this. I gave a barrage of lead-up to it, just to leave you hanging, dear reader. Sorry! At least I’m not the only person who is tardy about reviewing a Swan Lake performance!

But I DID see Boston Ballet perform their new Swan Lake production.

This whole “world premiere” thing confounds me at times… how can something be new when, not only is it over a century old, but the company has performed it a zillion times before? I guess since Petipa did not have the foresight Balanchine had to preemptively smack down any “improvements,” his work is up for endless tweaks and modifications and with each one they can slap on the label “new & improved!” and create tons of hype to drum up business in the process.

I’m sorry, it appears my cynicism is shining through already. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit of Day After Christmas syndrome. After all, I totally bought into the hype, just as I did with the “new” Nutcracker a few years ago and somehow after all of that I ended up feeling as I did then: not disappointed, exactly, but a bit… hollow.

Okay, I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Let’s rewind back to the pre-Swan days when I was all giddy at the prospect of seeing my beloved Boston Ballet back on stage after, what, like, 6 months away from them? I missed them. Any excuse to see them dance is pretty awesome, and while I got to “meet” some dancers during the ASDP and got to see even more of them close-up during one of their Swan Lake rehearsals, it felt like an eternity since I was able to see them on stage at the Opera House.

So I had to do a full prep.

First off, there are outfits to be considered. It’s very silly, I suppose, but I plan each show outfit based on what’s going to be presented. And for Swan Lake one must consider… well, SWANS! White swan, black swan… or a little bit of both? I put together a black and white outfit with a little bit of romanticism and a little bit of edge. That’s what I’m claiming anyway.

But one cannot stop at the outfit, dear reader. No! There is also hair and makeup to take into consideration. One of the magazines I read regularly had an article in their November issue with all sorts of cute holiday hair-do ideas so I took my inspiration from there for a relaxed, but sparkly up-do. I’m not much of a hair stylist, but I must’ve managed a home run on this one, because I got a few compliments, even from strangers! Not bad for my hurried attempt! For makeup I took instruction from the lovely Kathryn Morgan’s tutorial on an Odile-inspired everyday look.

Yes, I even did the red lip liner bit on the eyes. It’s just a tiny detail, but I think it made the look. I may need my own personal Kathryn Morgan to tell me how to fix my face on a more frequent basis, because not only did I have nearly everything I needed for this look in my arsenal, but I loved how it all turned out.

Now that I was prepped and ready to go, I picked up my ballet companion and we headed into the city in a flurry of excitement in spite of the cold, dreary rain of a nor’easter. We ran from parking garage to Sip for a pre-show dinner where, whom should we see immediately upon entering, but a certain Mr. Nissinen holding court at the bar? Internally awkward moment ensues where ballet companion and I each pondered the situation. One the one hand we felt as though we should say hello because, well, if you’ve been to a couple BB shows you feel like you know the guy even though you don’t really, but at the same time he actually HAD talked to us just a couple weeks before when we went to see rehearsal, so we didn’t want to appear rude on the off chance he recognized us, but… if he didn’t recognize us then we’d just look like yet another pair of Crazy Ballet Ladies. I smiled, my friend waved, and thankfully we were immediately ushered to a table to avoid any further consideration on the subject!

Ah. After some delicious noms we scooted a few doors down to the iron gates of the Boston Opera House where we had to open up our impossibly tiny clutches to ensure we weren’t up to any nefarious schemes. Coats and umbrellas were checked. (NB: Do not bother with the coat check unless you have no desire to ever leave the opera house… the line after the show stretched nearly out the door. We inadvertently cut it, to our benefit, but don’t think we’ll be doing that again!) We were there early enough to catch the end of the pre-curtain talk which was more packed than I’ve ever seen it! Wish we’d caught the beginning because the talkers were ONLY M. Nissinen himself, alongside Miss Larissa Ponomarenko (former BB star and now a ballet mistress with BB), Misa Kuranaga, and Jeffrey Cirio. Only four of my favorite BB people ever! Swoon! Behind them the regular red velvet curtain had been replaced by a gorgeous dark blue velvet curtain with an elegant white border and what almost appeared to be a coat of arms at the center with a giant “S” and a swan on it. Pretty pretty!

The talk concluded shortly after we got there and we were shooed back to the lobby which was swarming with patrons to a degree I haven’t seen since Nutcracker! We stopped downstairs and they had a cute photo backdrop inspired by the lake scene. We asked a nice woman if she would take a picture of us in front of it. I mean, it was THERE!!! Why not?!

Then we headed back up towards our seats with a quick stop-over at the gift shop so I could buy myself a present I had picked out back when they first posted their Swan Lake merchandise: a gorgeous oatmeal heather drapey tee with 3/4 sleeves. Unfortunately it seemed I was not the only lady with her eye on that garment. They were sold out of all but a few in size large (which in a drape-y style would only serve to drive me mad as it would flop off my shoulders at every turn and perhaps give onlookers an unintended show. Sadness prevailed!

But there is no time for sadness when a ballet is about to begin, so we went in and took our seats, scanned our programs and listened to the orchestra tune up (I heard someone behind me say, “Do they have a pit?” Um… it’s a major ballet company performing in a major theatre, do you think they dance to old, scratchy records? Of course there’s a pit!!! Sheesh. The person then said that she could not see the pit… um, isn’t that the point?)

The program was arranged so that there was only one intermission between the second and third acts (there are four acts total). Nissinen also added a prologue before the first act set to the opening movement. The curtain opened to reveal a picnic scene. Lia Cirio was in the center, reading, while her friends supped and flirted around her. I immediately recalled my dance studio’s production of Alice in Wonderland a few years ago as we had opened that with a very similar picnic scene. I doubt Nissinen has ever been found slumming in the ‘burbs at local studio recitals for inspiration, but it was funny how familiar the scene was! The friends packed up their picnic and went off, leaving Cirio alone when along comes Von Rothbart (played by “Guest Principal” — I guess that’s what they call a Principal when he semi-retires — Yury Yanowsky), up to no good. He tries charm and, failing that, goes for straight-up abduction, pulling Cirio into a cloud of fog.

Curtain down and then back up revealing a village scene. Prince Siegfried (played by Lasha Khozashvili) is hosting a wild kegger for his 21st… okay, so it wasn’t that crazy of a party. But there was some revelry with goblets including… the Polonaise we learned during ASDP! The pas de trois we learned in variations was also in this act. I was so excited to see choreography I had learned (I was worried that Mikko might have changed it all with the new production). I saw the most amazing thing during the pas de trois. There was a section with one of the females dancing solo — I think it might have been Seo Hye Han, but don’t quote me on that — and she did a pirouette, stopped the turn STILL EN POINTE, développéd devant, did a full grand rond de jambe STILL EN POINTE, and did one more revolution in arabesque. You could tell there were a few dancers in the audience as there were audible gasps from various corners. It was the most beautiful, controlled thing. I didn’t even know such a move was possible. OMG!!! After she finished her solo and the audience burst into wild applause the man sitting next to me leaned over and said, “That was beautiful, but what was it that you found so amazing?” so I tried to hurriedly explain what she had done and why it was so challenging. I don’t think my explanation cut it, but I appreciated him asking!

After the revelry, Princey gets all woeful about his mother’s demands to Get Married Already! So what better way to deal with his sorrows than to head out to the lake to shoot some birds. Except, you know, he goes and falls in love with one of the birds. Because… right, of course, interspecies romances, nothing weird here, folks!

So, curtain down, lights up, stretch legs, lights down, curtain up and… we’re back at the palace where the formal birthday party is going on including the parade of various “international” dances along with the seemingly endless pas de cinq. A few princesses are presented to tempt Prince Siegfried, but no, this man knows what he wants and it’s not any of the faces from this string of identical ladies. Enter Rothbart with a black bird. According to the program notes, Siegfried thinks that it’s Odette in masquerade. Because… birds dress up. Okay, sure. So he’s all a-swoon over Odile and I’m… all a-BLINDED by her sparkling costume! Yes, I’m a girl and I do love me some sparkle, but this looked like she was covered in LEDs. There was one part where she stopped dancing and was just standing in B-plus and yet still the audience could only see *flash-flash-flash* in time with Lia Cirio’s post-variation rapid breathing. So much for making it all look effortless. It was a bit unnecessarily blinding, I thought. And then they threw in some multi-media effects by projecting a video image of Odette to show Siegfried how sadly mistaken he was in thinking Odile was Odette and… it was a nice idea, but somehow came off kinda cheesy. Anyway, clearly Odette is now stuck in her avian ways. Whoops! Not cool, Mr. Princey-Prince. I hope you learned your lesson! All that glitters is not… your swan girlfriend.

Well, now that Von Rothbart managed to ruin a perfectly good party, there is nothing left for us to do but return to the lake and drown our sorrows. Except Siegfried mistakes this plan for just up and up drowning, I guess. There is much swanning by the swans and some struggles between Von Rothbart and Prince Siegfried and… the end.

I hate to say it, but by this point in the show, much as I love ballet I was kind of… well, truth be told, a little bored. Which I guess is my issue with a lot of story ballets. The climax ends up being a bit vague and cloaked in a whole bunch of bourrées and you kind of think… “That’s it?” Hm.

Maybe I’m just a victim of my own 21st century attention span. Not sure.

All cynicism aside, though, there was much to admire about this show. The sets looked as though you could step right into them and be transported to another century and the costumes (non-sparkly ones, anyway) were gorgeously vibrant. It was obvious how much work went into this and I think it paid off royally. The house was packed with an enthusiastic crowd. Ballet companion and I were chatting with a couple next to us during intermission and learned that they have a teen daughter who dances, though ballet “isn’t really her thing,” and they had first come to a Boston Ballet performance to see the new Nutcracker a season or two ago. They know nothing about ballet, but were so impressed that they’ve returned for shows since then. And… well, that’s really what it’s all about, right? Sometimes these ballets that can feel a bit old-fashioned, trite, and hackneyed to some of us serve as the “gateway drug” to get people in the doors and turn them into devoted fans. Which isn’t to say that these shows don’t have their own magic. While I love a good contemporary piece where the sets and costumes are minimalist and the focus is on the dancing, I also appreciate the artistry of an intricate costume and elaborate sets.

So… long-winded account, but there you go. If you’re craving some visuals, check out this video for a glimpse of the action! (At 0:30 there’s a 2 second clip from the polonaise we learned during ASDP!)