What a weekend.
Opening night always generates the most jitters.
Before the curtain’s first rise, the corps de ballet is tilting chins from one corner to the next like birds, cooing and checking in with the fluttering heartbeats around them. Feet shift from one to the other, hovering in sixth position, right arm ready to raise up and block out the moonlight. Finally the strings ring out and the adventure begins.
I whirl, I twirl, I collapse, I pose, I dip, I dive, I wake, I die. Waltz girl is a swirl of emotions, overtaking me and flooding the stage. I leave it soaked and stained with that euphoric feeling.
The rest of the evening continues in the bliss of performing a truly fulfilling program. The following day does not.
Saturday night I am in the corps of Serenade. Just before the start of the Waltz, I turn to dramatically drag my invisible mink coat off stage left. It’s surprising but not altogether startling to see Misha standing in the wing, directly in line with my slow exit. It is quite startling when he takes my shoulders and frantically whispers, “Can you do Russian Girl?”
My heart flips and then sinks. My best friend is cast to do Russian Girl that and every night. I manage an, “I guess so,” followed by a, “…wait, right now?” and a, “but what’s next?” and 32 counts later I’m running out from the wings to someone else’s cue.
The corps shuffles around to accommodate one less as I blindly navigate the role I barely learned and have left unconsidered for weeks. My mind wanders dangerously into worrying about the shoes I am filling- my very best friend’s. Where is she? What happened? Is she in pain? My own shoes turn their tips toward our dressing room, and then sharply back to the stage. I must do this for her.
Never in my life have I experienced a more intense performance. Never have I jumped into an unrehearsed role mid-show, unsure of the steps, the timing, the spacing, or why any of this was happening. Never have I felt so shaken and helpless towards the fate of my friend, unable to follow her ambulance to the emergency room because there are still two ballets on the bill.
Never have I felt so tangibly the support of this ballet family, stacking up like human beams to bolster me, eyes wide and minds ready to slip a hint where one was needed. Hands criss-crossed like little Russian dolls, sending squeezes from one hand to the next. A circular hug and immediate murmurs of quiet, strong love. A dedication to our spritely Russian Girl, to whom we unanimously, simultaneously, unspokenly dedicate the entire weekend to.
The Elegy finds me in a different light. I am dancing when Waltz Girl is statued. I am a strange new spoke in our pinwheel and I’m dizzier than before. The wheel bursts and I am thrown from the explosion. I run frantically towards center stage, saud de chat with everything I have left, and dive into the wings.
Finally, the curtain falls. We bow. The curtain falls again. My powder blue family surrounds me. Hugs, tears, hair stuck to my eyelashes and a bitter taste in my mouth.
A surprising Serenade it certainly was.
first and third photos by Ty Parmenter.
second and fourth photos by Dylan Giles for Festival Ballet Providence.
fifth and sixth photos by Alex Lantz.
Choreography by George Balanchine
© The George Balanchine Trust