ASDP 2015 – Week One

Blogapathy is still reigning here, I suppose.

Either that or I’ve become too cool for school now that I’m an ASDP veteran.

Not sure whether my readers (are you still here?) will be rejoicing or lamenting my lack of minute-to-minute chronicles of the ASDP experience, but I do want to keep some sort of record here. And now that week one has wrapped up, this is the perfect time…

This year I’ve got peeps with me, which is pretty cool. Although I really enjoyed my anonymity last year (I didn’t know any of the teachers or students in the program and it was kind of nice to dance on a clean slate), it’s also nice to share the experience with people you have an established relationship with. I’d mentioned that one of the kids (well, technically an adult now) was joining me for the core program this year. Well, a few weeks ago I brought up the ASDP in conversation with someone at work and was surprised a few days later when she started asking me questions about it. I was all… “Wait a minute, do you… dance?!” It turns out she had danced as a kid and was thinking of getting into it again. I mentioned that they had beginner and elementary levels and between the two she should find a good space to dip her toe back in the water. So she bit the bullet and signed up, too.

The program is set up pretty much the same as last year. The core program generally includes an hour and a half technique class followed by an hour of something else. Most often the “something else” is repertoire, but can also be a technique workshop, variations class, or a lecture of some sort. Then there is an optional enrichment session that takes place for an hour before the core program. Last year it alternated between modern and Pilates. This year students got to choose which of the two to take (though we could pick between the two and alternate if we wanted to).

So let’s start with the enrichment session. I got there the first day and the girl behind the desk asked which I was taking and I told her I wanted to do both. “So which days are you going to do which?” she asked me. Um… I thought YOU were supposed to give ME that information, not vice versa. I dunno! Isn’t there a plan?

Well, I ended up doing modern on day one, dragging coworker with me. Helena Froelich is teaching this class again this year and I enjoy her technique… as I mentioned last year, it’s very similar to the technique one of my modern professors in college taught, so it gives me a sense of happy nostalgia. The following day, I did Pilates (coworker in tow, once again). Same teacher as last year there, too. I hadn’t done Pilates since then, so it took some remembering, but it came back to me. Coworker decided that she was going to stick with Pilates from here on out since she was worried that modern might be a bit much based on the length of her dance hiatus and she figured something more fitness-based was a bit less intimidating. I returned to modern on Wednesday, but this was when I realized that the whole “choose-your-own-adventure/enrichment” method was not really as well thought-out as I expected. The people who were in modern on Tuesday had started learning a combination and Wednesday they were adding on to that combination… and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. So at that point I decided that it would be Pilates from here on out. I’m bummed to miss out on modern, but I just find it too frustrating to spend that much of a class lost and confused. And yes, I could ask for more of a breakdown of the combination, but it doesn’t seem fair to those who are doing modern every day to have to slow down to accommodate those who are switchers, so… rawr.

On to technique classes… first up, the levels: first day we had an abbreviated class since we had a welcome meeting that cut into class time. During the meeting they mentioned that the first technique class should be thought of as a placement class and that if the teacher felt we would fit better in another level that they would sort things out there. Which is good. It’s kind of hard sometimes to tell from a description which class will fit you best. I had told my coworker to sign up for elementary initially since she did have pretty extensive ballet background as a kid, so she might be fine there and, if not, she could always go to beginner, but better to try the more advanced level and see how it went. She reported back after class that she had, in fact, been demoted. She felt like the teacher worried she might be offended by this news, to which she was all, “Um, no, that’s fine!” She knew that elementary was a bit ambitious and I think was kind of relieved to be given the go-ahead to drop down to something more manageable. My collegiate friend and I, though… well, our experience was a bit different. After day one we were feeling a bit frustrated for the opposite reason… we were bored. But no one said boo to us. And we were left wondering whether we should say anything to anyone or hope that it would get more challenging or… something? After day two my friend ended up switching to the advanced level. And I… well, I just stayed in intermediate.

Why? I’m still questioning myself about that. Part of it, I guess, is knowing that my friend is, in fact, a more advanced dancer than me. She was always one of the best dancers at our studio and, weird as it may be, I’ve looked up to her since I started there, despite being nearly old enough to be her… uh, big sister… because she is talented and has such focus and meticulous attention to detail. So I can see that she should be in the advanced class. But… I’m not sure that the same applies to me. I’ve joked that she is my sister from another mister, but I don’t really want people to think I’m comparing myself to her when she is clearly far more talented than I am. So… that’s thing one. Thing two is that, while intermediate class can be a bit slow at times the upside is that I feel competent in there! Not perfect, mind you. I screw up plenty. As one of our instructors reminded us, #thestruggleisreal and boy, is it ever, but at the same time that feeling of competence gives me more confidence and I feel like I can get out there and actually dance full out. I worry that I would completely lose that in the advanced class, that I would retreat back to the shadows and hope that no one will see me. Then there’s thing three: mysterious injury to inner thigh (don’t want to aggravate it further) and thing four: I mapped out all the teachers for both intermediate and advanced and there are a bunch of teachers that I wouldn’t get to experience if I was in the advanced level and that would make me sad.

Speaking of teachers, so far we’ve had Hird, Jeffries, Beckwith, Leeth, and Kelley (any BBS regulars will probably recognize at least a few of those names). Jeffries was the only one I’d never had class with before, but this year we have worked with him nearly every day. First day he did our workshop (pirouettes & allegro) and he’s also working with the intermediates on our repertoire piece (see below). Both he and C. Hird are very technically-focused with clean combinations and clear corrections. Beckwith teaches a very beautiful, flowy class, emphasizing the “dance” part of it. Her classes freaked me out last year because I never felt like I quite got what she was looking for, but this year I enjoyed her class very much. And Kelley is like the best of all worlds: very technical, but also very focused on port de bras and épaulment and where the eyes should be focused… he’s great at explaining the coordination of all those elements, which a lot of teachers gloss over or just expect you to figure it out yourself.

We had three nights of repertoire last week. We’re all learning pieces from Sleeping Beauty this year and the intermediates are doing the nymph dance from… is it Act II? I’m not sure. I heard it’s on YouTube, but I could find nothing resembling the dance we’re doing, so don’t quote me on that. I guess it’s where Aurora meets the Lilac Fairy and all her friends. It’s rather aerobic, that’s for sure. Lots of ballotés which occasionally makes us look more like a band of deranged leprechauns than adorable nymphs flitting around, but it’s getting there. Mr. Jeffries set it and worked with us the first two days, but then Gene Murray (who I talked about here) worked with us on the third day to “clean” it. I thought we were going to give the poor man a stroke… it was pretty abominable. But it got… better? (Still time to work on it this week, thank goodness!)

One night was variations with C. Hird. The men from elementary and advanced were pulled in to worked on the Bluebird variation while the intermediate ladies learned the Aurora variation from Act III. I was able to find the choreo for this one on YouTube. Not only that, but it’s Boston Ballet’s version with Misa Kuranaga!

After the variations class we also had a physical therapy lecture with one of the PTs who works with BB company dancers. Most of the time was spent with people asking questions about their own injuries and the info was pretty much the same as what she gave to last year’s group, but I liked having this as part of the intensive. She also gave us the name of a dance medicine doc that I am planning to call about this nagging hip issue I’ve been dealing with for the past two months. Bonus is that they’re located at Boston Children’s Hospital which is just a couple blocks from the hospital where I work.

Overall, a great week. It’s tiring (especially after putting in a full day at the office), but I’m getting different things out of it the second time around and it’s nice to see some of my own growth from last year.

The adventure continues this week… stay tuned!

Why you gotta play me like that, Jeffrey?!

So I was blissfully going along the other day, catching up on some links I’d found on the Boston Ballet Facebook page when I landed on a local PBS program profiling the elder siblings Cirio and their side project, the Cirio Collective.

There I am, all happy to see one of my favorite dancers profiled when, towards the end of the segment they dump this little bombshell on me:

Jeffrey Cirio is LEAVING Boston Ballet for ABT!!!

I jumped up and started stamping around my office, much to the chagrin of my office-mate who had no idea why I was suddenly so distraught.

But I just…

NO!

Just no!

This guy — the highlight of every BB show I attend — is turning his back on us, defecting to the dark side! Waaaahhhh!!!

I really have no idea what I’m going to do.

One of my fellow dancers suggested we arrange a road trip to NYC to watch ABT so I can still get my fix. While I don’t want to reward such traitorous behavior on JC’s part, I may have to do exactly that since I have no idea how else I shall survive the coming season without glimpsing him flying around on stage.

Tears and woe… :(

Misa, or The Misty Redux?

You’ve probably seen this already… but if not, BB Principal dancer Misa Kuranaga has been made the face and voice of a new SK-II ad campaign:

Strikes me that SK-II is trying to ride Under Armour’s coattails after their wildly successful ad featuring Misty Copeland. The message is strikingly similar—a dancer with a “less than ideal” ballerina image can make it big with the right amount of dedication and devotion. A great message and — as one of the majority with a “less than ideal” ballet body — one I can certainly appreciate.

But I have to say… I was somewhat surprised to see Misa portrayed as anything less-than-ideal. If any of you have followed my blog, you know that she is probably my favorite BB female dancer, certainly my favorite among the principals. I can’t say that I’ve ever thought, my goodness she’s awfully short and narrow-hipped (I thought they were all narrow-hipped!?). I have, however, always noticed her gorgeous technique and the joy that she brings to her dancing. It probably helps that she’s generally partnered with Jeffrey Cirio (yes, my favorite BB guy), who is vertically-challenged himself (and by that I mean, well, he’s short… as for getting air, he’s got no vertical challenges there… that boy can FLY!!!).

But to me it’s always seemed that Misa has a perfect ballet physique, so it seemed funny to see her in an ad highlighting how she’s overcome her limitations.

I guess it just makes me wonder… does ANYONE have the ideal look? And does it even matter? To quote Kuranaga in a Huffington Post interview: “Sometimes, I see people performing on stage and even if shape-wise they are perfect, it doesn’t touch my heart.”

To which I say, YES!!! That is IT!!!

And I think there is a shift in the ballet world to recognize that technical and artistic brilliance can come in a variety of packages rather than seeking those qualities only from a subset of dancers that appear to have come off an assembly line. I witnessed this when I saw the BB Swan Lake rehearsals last fall. There are plenty of beanpoles, plenty of shorties, plenty of waifs, and plenty of athletic builds. But when they are on stage together it never seems to look odd or out of place because they are so together in their movement.

Yet, of course, the racial component is still there. As the ad notes, Misa was the first Asian dancer made a principal at BB (2009). Currently four of the 14 BB principals are of Asian descent and all levels have Asian representation, so that’s progress. But dancers with darker complexions are still scarce. And interestingly, while there are a few darker-skinned men there are no women in that category. I don’t know how representative BB is of other major companies, but I’m guessing you’d find similar cross-sections. I’ll let you ponder for yourself why that is, but I will say (as a preamble to my next post about “Apollo’s Angels”) that if ballet is to survive and grow in America it needs to get better at representing the faces of people in America.

So we’ve still got hurdles to get past. We always will, I suppose, but I hope that one day we can shift our focus to technique and artistry as opposed to appearances. To me a “dancer look” should be about one’s posture, carriage, and grace, and yes, maybe a certain je ne sais quoi. In my mind, Misa Kuranaga has all of that in spades and she remains my ideal!

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!)

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
.
.
.
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!

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.

Through the Escape Hatch

So I skipped my Saturday morning class today…

To go to Saturday morning class at another studio.

Does this make me unfaithful?

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

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

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

And then I want to cry and break things.

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

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

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

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

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

Back to this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballet zen has been achieved for the moment.

Go forth and conquer, grasshopper.