BB Up Close

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

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

But I was.

And I won!

What did I win?

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

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

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

Because I am a big ballet nerd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever… that means larger scraps of marley for us.

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

Wow.

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

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

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

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

So many amazing things to witness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BB Swag

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

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

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

Thank you, Boston Ballet!

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The tools of our trade

As regular readers are probably aware, I fund my dance hobby with a job in healthcare. I’m trained as a nurse (though currently I have a nursing job that does not involve directly caring for patients; I’m behind-the-scenes… in the wings, as it were!).

I had become a nurse just a couple years before resuming ballet and I found that this bank of knowledge gave me a whole new appreciation for the things my body can do. So much of our time as dancers is spent focusing on what we can’t do, but when you look at what we’re given to work with it’s pretty amazing that we can stand up and walk, let alone plié, grand jété, and stand on our toes.

It also gave me a new appreciation for how important it is to care for this tool we’re given. A lot of what we do in ballet isn’t entirely natural (hello, turn-out). While unnatural doesn’t inherently mean dangerous, it can be harmful if we don’t approach it in the right way.

This is why I’m such a fan of people like Lisa Howell and Deborah Vogel who spend much of their lives helping us understand how to get the most out of our bodies. The demands of ballet are constantly increasing and with that the risk of injury increases, as well. Whatever level we’re at, professional or amateur, we need to take care of ourselves if we want to continue enjoying ballet in the studio or on the stage!

If any of you are as interested in this as I am, but don’t want to embark on a new career, I’ve got a free (!) course for you! HarvardX (yes, that Harvard) just opened a MOOC (which stands for Massive Open Online Course) called Musculoskeletal Anatomy. Here’s their trailer on it. Fair warning: there are some brief shots of human cadaver dissection at about 1:15-1:45 — medical students learn anatomy by dissection, so if images of surgeries or that fetal pig you had to dissect in high school made you gag, this might not be the course for you. But if you can handle that (and keep in mind that the cadavers are people who made the choice when they were alive to donate their body for this purpose because they felt strongly about contributing to medical education in this way) this is a cool way to learn more about how our bodies work and how injuries may be evaluated and treated.

ASDP 2014 – The final take

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.

Location:
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.

The space:
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.

Live music:
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.

The classes:
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!).

La Bayadere 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.

Teachers:
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!

The Pilobolus Experience

Well, hello, again, dear reader. I really need to get on top of posting when things are still relevant rather than a month after the fact, but better to post late than not at all, eh?

So, last post I talked about going to see Pilobolus perform.

Which is an experience.

But the Pilobolus Experience can only truly be gained when you get to dance with Pilobolus!

Yeah, don’t get all excited here, it’s not like I was discovered while I was walking out of the theatre or anything.

BUT!!!

The director of our studio/company had contacted them around the time she got our tix and asked if they would be willing to offer a master class while they were in town. And they said yes!!!

Woot!

So the day after we got to see them on stage we poured into the big studio at our school to get schooled by Matt Del Rosario and Nile Russell, the dance co-captains of Pilobolus. Eek!!!

We ended up having over 30 students attend the class. Many were from our school, but we also had students from other local studios (some of our teachers have gigs at other schools and had put the word out). While a ballet class with that many people would have been weird, it was great to have such a crowd for something like this. The ages ranged from probably 11-ish to 50-something (one of our ballet teachers who had originally come to “just watch” decided that she wanted to participate which was AWESOME!). Matt and Nile passed the word to warm ourselves up because there wasn’t going to be some sort of choreographed, warm-up nonsense here! (Not their exact words, just… you know.)

Once the majority of the crowd had trickled in we sat in a giant circle and they gave us a brief intro of themselves and what to expect over the following two hours. There would be no choreography. There would be a lot of movement. We should push ourselves beyond what we’re used to.

So the class opened up with us just walking around the studio, trying to avoid that old skating rink standard of going around and around the room in a monotonous circle, but trying to find holes in the crowd, explore open spaces, notice something about the space you might not have paid attention to before. We were asked to pick up speed, to (obviously) avoid collisions… but without saying anything. Now this got a little funny because they’re telling us to make eye contact, learn how to negotiate spaces with your fellow dancer, etc. and there were a lot of people who still insisted on staring at the floor and looking terrified. I found this kind of hilarious because IRL I can collapse into that shell of, “I don’t know you, don’t look at me, leave me alone,” but in this setting I’m all, “Hey, kid, I don’t bite, I swear… we’re all in this together, look at me, smile, it’s FUN goddammit!!!”

But I think part of it, aside from the wide range of ages in the group (being honest with myself, I totally would have been a floor-starer if I had been taking this class 20 years ago!), is that there’s awkwardness being in a dance studio with so many strangers. Some of it is just normal jitters, but I think, too, for better or worse in the dance world it can be hard to let go of that sense of competition. We all hope that we’ll be recognized for our individual merits and when you’re in an environment where you’re told to collaborate with these people who may be “better” than we are we fight against it. We want to be a principal dancer, not part of the corps!

The exercise progressed.

At one point we all ended up clumping together and were asked to find a single breath where everyone inhaled simultaneously and exhaled simultaneously and were asked to make that breath to be “seen”. That alone seemed to break down some of the barriers among the dancers.

There was another part where we would find a partner, at random, and hold hands and navigate the crowd. Then we’d go find another partner. Find a foursome. Connect to another foursome. Etc. Until we were all connected in one crazy, connected clump and had to navigate into a large circle without breaking the chain.

After this there were more group exercises. These were largely about being able to communicate through movement and openness with your group to create a cohesive movement or story. It wasn’t about everyone doing the same thing, but about being able to tell the people you were dancing with what you were going to do without talking. And the exercises were punctuated with opportunities to share our thoughts about what we were being asked to do and Nile and Matt would provide insight as dancers, but also as humans. When we deny each other eye contact what are we saying to the person we pass on the street? We may think we are simply saying nothing, we may be missing opportunities to see what is beyond our own small worlds.

The last part of class we were divided into four groups and each given a wacky scenario that we would need to “dance” for the other groups. There was no set choreography, no set music, nothing. We simply had to decide how we would tell our story and how we would communicate change points with one another while we were performing. Each group went up and performed and received feedback from Matt and Nile and the other groups about what they thought was going on, what confused them, etc. After each group performed we were able to chat with our group for a minute or so and then we got to perform our pieces one more time, integrating the feedback we had received.

And with that, class was over.

But it wasn’t.

Not really.

Because what I experienced in those two hours was powerful.

In some ways it brought me back to a place I had forgotten about. The techniques used in this class weren’t necessarily new to me. I have had teachers before and during college who would teach class with similar themes. I loved the freedom it gave me then and I love it still. While ballet is a joy for me in many ways, it is also a constant struggle as I try to figure out why my body can’t execute what seems so simple in my mind. Exploring movement and finding out what can be beautiful and powerful without a specific technique in mind felt so liberating the first time I tried it, even though it was scary as all get-out, and it felt awesome to come back to that space. Particularly as an adult. I took different things away from the movement exploration than I did when I was younger and more concerned with what other people thought of me. I could relate more of it to my non-dance life and also see how this type of dance is not necessarily a distinct and separate entity from my ballet world, but that it’s a valuable addition that can enhance those more disciplined forms of dance.

I also loved that this was a totally accessible class. Yes, the room was filled with dancers. But there were many people in class that I knew do not consider themselves modern dancers in the least. You wouldn’t know from looking at the group who was a “modern dancer” and who wasn’t.

Honestly, you didn’t need to be a dancer of any sort to be able to do this class. Not really. The dance is in all of us whether we’re actively taking classes or performing on a stage or sitting in an office chair punching away at our keyboards wondering where our red stapler went. It’s a powerful realization.

So yes, that was the Pilobolus Experience. I was so grateful to our director for setting up the class and to Matt Del Rosario and Nile Russell for taking time out of their busy schedule to share their world with us. If you ever happen to see that they’re performing near you go see them and if you see that there’s a class, go take it! Don’t be afraid. You’ll be transformed, I swear.

Oh, but before we let them out of our sights we insisted on photos and they were kindly willing to oblige. So here’s one of me sandwiched between Matt and Nile… that giddy look on my face? Yeah, how could I not be thrilled to be surrounded by such handsome, kind, and talented men!

Pilobolus pic

TED Ed talks ballet

A coworker sent me the link to this video and then about 5 minutes later I saw the BB posted the link on their FB page.

It’s about to go viral, people!

But, seriously, if you haven’t seen this yet, take a look as Kathleen Breen Combes gives a great discussion on the evolution of ballet.

I particularly love when she talks about the uncomfortable laughter that certain pieces can generate. I’ve been in audiences when that’s happened. I could be annoyed by the laughter (okay, sometimes I am), but at the same time, that laughter says that a person has been touched. Sometimes we are confronted with emotions that don’t have a tidy name like “happiness” or “sorrow” or “embarrassment.” And sometimes we laugh (or cry) in the face of these feelings. But that outward expression belies the depth of what’s going on internally. To be able to evoke those reactions from an audience when you’re not telling a neatly outlined story almost means more than the applause or standing ovation at the conclusion of the piece. At least in my mind.

People have been trained to try to find a story in ballet. And sometimes… there is no story. There may be a thread. Or there might just be emotion set to music and told through movement. And how weird is it to feel an emotion without being able to rationalize WHY you’re feeling that feeling? I mean, really! We’re humans; we look to rationalize things. Baseless emotions make no sense.

I’ve felt similarly about pieces of music. Some songs have lyrics to explain a story. But others… I still remember hearing Gabriel Fauré’s “Pavane” for the first time. I sat, absolutely transfixed, wanting to cry (happy tears, though!). It has the same effect on me, no matter how many times I hear it.

Balanchine’s “Serenade” might fall into the same category. Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations,” too.

Life-changing stuff, even if we can’t put our finger on the why!

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

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

First off… the pointe shoe debacle.

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis averted!!!

Next up… this weekend!

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

Check back later for my review.

And finally… physics.

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

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

Fun with Physics

Did I mention yet that I’m taking a physics class right now?

Well, I am.

Don’t ask… it’s a long story. Maybe I’ll post about it later.

Anyway.

So I was sitting in physics lecture today listening to my professor discussing how we can determine the center of an object’s mass — stimulating stuff, of course — when he flips to a slide with a drawing of a grand jété!

I thought to myself, “Hey, wasn’t there some physicist who wrote about dance?”

And then the next slide was a video clip of Kenneth Laws (aka, “some physicist”) and Cynthia Harvey discussing the physics of a grand jété while Julie Kent and Benjamin Pierce demonstrated!

I actually do own Mr. Laws’s book… I’m thinking maybe I should read it instead of using it as coffee table decoration! Maybe this crazy classroom venture of mine will pay off in the dance studio!

Edited to add: It was all I could do to not voice my indignation in class that the dancer was actually demonstrating a saut de chat and NOT a grand jété. Okay, I know it’s just semantics, but still… 😉