Midsummer Update!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So on to July.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dream Revisited

Lots of stuff to catch up on here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wild Wrap-up

Well, I wouldn’t call it a swan song, but my run as a swan has come to its natural end.

Oh sigh…

It was a tremendous experience, though. Perhaps one of my favorite performances ever.

Let’s rewind.

We had our studio dress rehearsal on Sunday.

Then rehearsal for the swan pieces on Tuesday. In the midst of all the clarifying, cleaning, and running-through, our dancers were also getting final costume fittings from our dedicated costume volunteers who were dutifully tacking glittery tulle on the tutus and stitching the basques to the waists of the tutus. It was rather a stressful time, honestly. People worried that the costumes might not get done, or that the final alterations wouldn’t result in a workable result. Seeing as my sewing skills top out at sewing elastics and ribbons on to my pointe shoes, all I could really offer were crossed fingers and good wishes.

Then Wednesday and our dress rehearsal in the theatre. I skipped out of work early so I could be home in time to bun up my hair and turn my make-up into something stageworthy. Threw on my tights and nude camisole leotard and headed to the theatre. It’s part of a large high school in the area, but the theatre is glorious with lovely big dressing rooms and a green room, a huge loading dock off the back and a giant overhead door leading to the stage from the hallway opposite the loading dock. This theatre was clearly designed for performing! But we had never performed there before, so it was all a brand-new and, thus, slightly scary world!

While the people backstage figured out the lighting cues and props, the backdrops and curtains and special effects, the dancers figured out their quick costume changes. Let’s face it, dress rehearsal is pretty much just loosely organized chaos!

And then came our turn on stage. First as swans. The fog blew in from the fog machine and we stood on our trembling (at least in my case!) swan legs. We figured out wing entrances and exits and backstage crossings. And discovered that the unmarleyed parts of the floor are scary slippery. Whoops! But hey, better to figure this out before the show! Then on to Ladies in Waiting where we danced with our knights and the princesses and the king and the other king and, towards the end, the tiny little flower girls.

Run-through done we poured out of the theatre. Got to have some post-rehearsal snacks with some of my fellow dancers on the way home.

Then the day of performance number one dawned. It was bea-UT-i-ful. Clear blue, cloudless sky, no humidity. Simply gorgeous. I worked from home that day, but spent most of it giddily checking the clock until it was time to shower and bun up my hair and do my formal performance make-up. Then I headed to the theater in advance of call time to set my spot backstage and relax a bit. It helps that this particular theater is a mere 10 minutes from my house!

We got ready for warm-up class at which point we discovered that this theatre actually has a dance studio in it! Not the greatest studio ever, but beats dancing in the seats! Had a good warm up and got a pep talk from the director, then it was off to put on pointe shoes and costumes and get ready for our show!

So… the first performance of the first production of a show in a new space is always a bit hairy and this was no different. We had a few mis-steps. Lighting and music cues gone awry. And a few brain farts on the part of the dancers. These can be maddening, but they happen and all you can do is roll with it. So we did. And even with the hairy moments I will say that the show blew me away. The details. The dancing. The theatre. It all came together gorgeously. And was over far too soon.

After the show was over I changed quickly backstage and went out front to look for familiar faces (parents, dance teachers, etc.). I heard an unfamiliar voice yell out, “Rori!” and turned to see a friend from MANY moons ago. I knew her from high school, though we didn’t go to the same school… we both played brass instruments and had met through various band events. She had seen my post on Facebook and brought her daughter and a friend of hers to see it! She doesn’t even live in the immediate area! What an amazing and wonderful surprise!

Next morning I set the alarm early for we had a 10am show… on a Friday morning. Yeah, kind of a weird show time, but I think they were trying to capture the summer camp and elder groups. Oh, and it also happened to be… the day I turned 35. I am a 35-year-old swan. Okay, THAT has to be worthy of some sort of accolade, yes?

I treated myself to a trip through the donut chain drive thru down the hill from my house (where another dancer friend was pulling in as I was exiting!) for some eggy/cheesy goodness and went back to the theatre. Settled in, warm-up class, tutu/pointes… you know the deal.

This show went about a thousand times better than the previous evening’s. I mean, the music and lighting cues were mostly on. There were no mass brain farts on the part of the dancers. I figured out how to quickly wiggle my ass in and out of my Very Tiny Tutu. Basically, a glorious final (birthday!) show.

Topped off by going out to the audience to meet up with my parents and brother’s family who had so graciously come to see me dance and take me out for a noon-time margarita and ice cream (there may have been an actual lunch entree in there somewhere, but the margarita and the sundae were the important parts). While we were at the restaurant some other members of the Swan/Ladies family arrived, so I got to spend some time with them, too. (I don’t know about you, but after a show I always feel the need to sit down with my fellow performers and rehash everything!)

The best part of this show, for me, was the feeling of triumph. For whatever reason my last dance company performance (last year’s Nut) left me in a funk. It wasn’t a bad show, but I felt bad. I didn’t meet my own expectations and I was frustrated. While the subsequent recital went fine, I don’t take that as seriously as the company stuff, so it didn’t do much to make me feel better. For whatever reason, my swan performance made me feel like a competent dancer once more. I made my share of mistakes, I can’t deny that, but I enjoyed the dancing. I felt like a swan. I felt beautiful. So from that standpoint… win!

Not a bad way to kick off the next year of my life, I’d say!

Giveaway winners

Apologies for being so slacker-tastic in posting the giveaway winners! The randomly-selected winners are…

[drumroll, please!] 

Purple Magnolia who has won The Pointe Book

and

Sandra who has won The Bar Method DVDs

Congrats to the winners and thanks to everyone who entered (I always love seeing new “faces” on the blog!).

Hope 2013 has been off to a tremendous start for all of you! Stay tuned for future goodies and giveaways!

When you care enough to send the very best…

When I saw the topic for November’s Circle Time over at Dance Advantage — Best Dance Gift EVER — I scanned my memory seeking some piece of dance bric-a-brac that might have meant… something?

Found nothing.

But, of course, the most meaningful gifts rarely come in a box stamped: “Made in China.” No. The most meaningful gifts are the words, thoughts, and experiences shared with those we love.

And then, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was 15, nearing the end of my sophomore year of high school. I had studied ballet with a lovely British woman named Patsy for the previous two years. She dyed her silver hair a vibrant auburn, she wore long dance skirts in class, and loved the color purple. She had danced in Boston in her younger years (based on the timing she would have been there before Boston Ballet’s inception, so I’m not sure where exactly she danced… drat me for having been an unworldly teenager who didn’t think to retain this information!). She didn’t put up with nonsense, yet she was kind and generous, creative and passionate, and served to fuel my love for ballet in a geographic area that otherwise didn’t pay it much never-mind.

I’m not sure if I was aware of this, but she was planning to cease teaching our ballet classes at the end of the school year. This may explain the timing, something that otherwise would have been expected at graduation or some such. She came by my house one day (I might be wrong on this detail, but I do know it was something given in private) and gave me an envelope. It contained a card and a pendant on a silver chain. The pendant was beautiful, but the true gift, and the part that stuck with me all these years, was the story behind it and the rest of the words in the card (written in purple ink on a Degas notecard).

Patsy's gift

I am hesitant about posting the entire contents of the letter — it is a personal exchange and the words are not my own — and yet I can find no way to summarize the contents in a way that accurately captures the meaning or that doesn’t come across as self-aggrandizing, so here goes:

Dear Rori:

You and H—– are my most faithful and responsive students. So, as we come to the end of another year and another recital, I wish to give you something that’s been meaningful to me in my “dance life.”

This little pendant was given to me (34 years ago), by a wonderful group of Boston community dance students with whom I worked for 3 years (in those days, we were all so poor). Since 1960, I have worn the pendant a lot + always treasured it.

I’ve always thought that when we dance, unlike other forms of expression, we are using our bodies to interpret life in its many facets — not an easy thing to do, as every ballet student knows– I have always noticed that there is a marvellous discipline about the way you learn, but most of all there is a great sparkle and joy about the way you move and dance.

So, like your dancing, I wish your life may always sparkle with joy.

With great affection,
Patsy

The letter was concise, contained neatly on the inside of the notecard, and yet it spoke volumes… about respect and tradition, our mission as dancers, and what we each bring to the art. I have reread it many times over the years and it still serves to inspire me. Along with it she entrusted me with a token of her past and that of her students to carry forward, a baton in the grand relay of life.

As a postscript, though she did give up teaching all of us except “H—–” for a time, the lamentations of the rest of us must have gotten back to her. She ended up resuming her ballet classes later the following year and choreographed my senior piece for the recital. I think she retired for good shortly thereafter.

And as a post-postscript, when I originally drafted this post I thought to myself how sad I was to have lost touch over the years with my dear teacher. I ran into her occasionally when I was in college, but the last time I had any communication with her was well over ten years ago. I knew that she would have to be in her 80s by now (with the attendant thoughts about morbidity and mortality)… I did a bit of quick sleuthing and found that the old address still seemed to be good, so before I could give it a second thought I dashed off a letter and popped it in the mail not sure what (if anything) to expect in return. Imagine my delight when a week or so later I arrived home from rehearsal to find an envelope in my mailbox with that familiar handwriting on it! Even more delighted to learn that my senior picture is still on display in her house and her love for ballet lives on. She suggested getting together to go see a ballet together in the spring and I do hope that we can arrange it. I have so many questions I want to ask and I want to just sit and absorb…

And when I do, I will wear her pendant.

Ballet dreamin’

More of a nightmare, actually…

Made the mistake I always make of going back to sleep after getting up to feed the cats this morning. Why is this a mistake? Because invariably I start having really weird dreams when I go back to sleep. Today was no different.

In the dream ballet classes had started up again. Woohoo!

And I was taking class with my favorite teacher. Woohoo!

Except… class was taking place on the sidewalk on a road that went up a very steep hill (there is a fairly steep hill that I drive down to get to the studio, so maybe that’s where I came up with this part of the dream?).

So, taking class outside on a sidewalk with cars zooming by is weird enough.

But on top of that I couldn’t hold the turnout in my back leg in 4th or 5th to save my life. The teacher kept calling me out on it and I tried to explain that I couldn’t maintain turnout without fear of falling and rolling down the hill. But I tried. I kept trying to keep the back leg turned out. And then I’d look back at it and it was parallel once again.

What??? does this even mean?!!?! Bizarre.

We don’t need no stinkin’ barre!

Happy belated Valentine’s Day to all you celebrators out there. Me, I’m not such a fan, but a couple friends and I decided to have an anti-holiday gathering… we wore black and headed out for drinks and yums at an Asian fusion restaurant. Male friend even found some black silk roses at a gas station to gift to his three female un-Valentines.

Probably the best V day I ever had… definitely beats first grade when I developed a horrible ear ache during school and my mom had to come pick me up right before we had our class party (she had been baking a V-day cake while I was in school, though, which went a long way in taking the sting out of that injustice).

Our anti-Valentine’s celebration meant no ballet or hip-hop, though. Some things take priority, what can I say? But I felt that I should compensate somehow, so the night before I stopped at the studio on the way home from work to take a ballet class with the teens. I knew I should have been nervous when I saw the teacher moving the portable barres to the side at the beginning of class after the beginners pointe class let out. Taking the barres… away? What can this mean?

It means… center barre. Horrors. The teacher said that the adults who were in there could use the barre, but the children needed to be hands free. I decided to see how long I could keep up with the kiddos. I did fairly well, only snuck back to the barre for part of adagio. But that’s not to say that any of it was easy. Nope, not at all. It’s kind of sad how extensions practically vanish without the benefit of something to rest your hand on. And how quickly you become a wobble-monster. And the feet… oh, my aching feet. They were so sore. Why? No idea, but that’s where I felt it the most.

I can’t say it was an ego-boosting class. Most of those good-for-you classes aren’t, I’ve noticed. But a reality check isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And on the plus side… I mostly kept up with those whipper-snappers!