dying chlorophyll confetti
flying, fertilized, and ready
giving wind its autumn sound
painting time upon the ground
We’re sliding into slower days and I’m splayed out, one foot into nesting mode and the other five toes clinging dearly to the adventurous personality of my summer skin. As I’ve mentioned before, these past 8 months have been a real metamorphoses for me. In February, I was dropped hard onto the earth. In March, I learned how bitter it could be. In April, I recited a manifesto. In May, I was reborn, I dove into a lake. In June, I was surprised. I hugged my soulmates and let go of fear. In July, I harnessed a confidence I never knew lived inside me all along. By August, I was floating.
Then September rolled up. In her suitcases she carried anxiety and doubt, a familiar overthinking that kept me up at night. Toxic ambivalence. This duality of heart that served me such clarity 8 months ago, in the amber light of fall just clouded my lens. With my head already underwater, I’ve got no choice but to kick and paddle. So I swim.
A certain someone recently acknowledged the indescribable feeling that comes from just being with your art. No expectations, no homework, no parameter of time. Just pure connection with this inhuman, breathing beast that has grown with you always. It will make you whole, if you just let it.
Today, I am channeling that. Restore. Refresh. A new month, a new mindset. Let’s work, let’s play. Happy October.
For most of my career I have been “the good guy.” Fairy, princess, maiden, swan queen; she comes in many forms, all of which include a healthy does of sweetness and sparkles. Last season, however, I got to dip my toes into the shoes of a not-so-nice-guy, and well…I kinda loved it.
Our fall season opens with Ilya Kozadayev‘s (very creepy) Hansel & Gretel, and I’ve graduated from the young heroine and straight into the wicked mind of her evil stepmother. She’s mean, she’s ruthless, she might even be slightly possessed. And yes, I’m all about it. Who knew creating the conflict could be so satisfying?
Though the show is part of our chatterBOXtheatre series geared toward children, brilliant Ilya did not hold back on the scare-factor of this grim (Grimm, heh*) story. The role is rife with all sorts of unsettling movements in which some vile creature within nearly breaks through her skin and bursts into the scene. The choreography somehow accomplishes this while remaining folkloric and simple enough for children to grasp onto. No small task. Perhaps the most frightening thing of all, though, is the stepmother’s ability to keep all of this darkness contained behind a startlingly realistic artificial composure. Shudder. She’s an intricate bit of character work and a real treat to tuck into. Long live the bad guy.
*Full disclosure, I already used this joke once today, in an interview with H&G choreographer, Ilya Kozadayev. Not proud, but still sorta proud, you know?
“I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
-Mary Oliver, I Worried
It’s simply impossible to put this summer into words. But on a recent train ride home from New York, on the final page of a journal that has seen me through some big transitions, I tried. In the spirit of celebrating vulnerability and staying accountable, here is that entry- unedited, raw, and rambling. If you are interested…
I am not standing still.
I am evolving, changing, growing, blooming, becoming. Shaping my clay, never into the kiln, careful to never let the dust quite settle. I am so grateful for the gift that this summer has been. The shift to total positivity. The timing. I am awake, I am alive. I am here. I am everywhere.
I am vowing to stay curious. To stay lost. And to always appreciate roaming. Even when things get hard, when I cry, when I get hurt, when winter seems too long and ballet seems too hard. I have been created by every experience I have had so far, and this process continues infinitely. The good and the bad. The bad things seem to thrust me ever more vigorously into a season of light and hope, and for that I am incredibly thankful.
I have found my balance, and learned that it is an active pursuit- not something to set and forget. It is my daily actions, the decision to get out. To take risks, to talk to strangers. To interact with my world and notice its ebbs and flows. To lean into the current and also go against the grain. To see the patch of sunlight on the floor and cuddle with it. To feel the weight of the world and turn towards, not away, from it. This mixture, this recipe, it’s always changing, adjusting.
The greatest asset: flexibility of spirit. The ability to re-envision my life again and again. To see the endless possibilities ahead of me, and know that reality will look like none of them. To celebrate that. To see the future as unlimited in variation, but so preciously limited in length. To be given this perspective right when I needed it, and to be given the ability to share it by doing what I love. To connect with new places and faces. To experience new relationships. To feel love. To love. To be loved in so many different ways. To love every little bit of it.
Happy September. Keep shaping.
It’s been a while. My absence on the blog has coincided with my absence from the studio, as I’ve taken the longest break from ballet since my spinal injury years ago. It was not a planned break, but of course the biggest lesson of the summer was in being prepared to be surprised. And what a beautifully surprising summer it has been!
Rhode Island, Maine, New York, Colorado. I’ve been living in trees, on ferries, between mountains, and below buildings; smiling and writing and loving every minute. But with our 42nd Season less than 2 weeks away, the reality of harnessing my technique and regaining control of my body is feeling like Sisyphus and his hill.
I have been hesitant to write about this- even in my analog journal- for fear that any sort of negative talk on the subject will worsen the struggle, but the truth is I am having a hard time. The frustration of returning to my body after each summer is always a challenge, but this year seems to be proving particularly difficult. Perhaps it’s the fact that I am more eager and excited to dance than I have been in the past few August’s, or the fact that my unplanned break from ballet has left me further away from “in shape” than I’m used to. Each morning I take class, hating what I see in the mirror, and ignoring these thoughts so not to give them weight. My pointe shoes feels like hooves, my ankles are shaky, my pirouettes are wildly uncoordinated, and my hips crack in every grand battement.
I know I’m not alone here, as so many of us dive back into our full-time schedules this time of year, retraining or summer selves to better balance work with play. I suppose the point of this meandering post is to help me refocus. To remember that all worthwhile things require a bit of toil. All efforts contribute to the cause and progress is not linear.
Whew, more updates to come. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
my fingers are still sailing
the soft bends of your hair
and my eyes are still warm from
the sweet heat of your stare
I’m still sinking in the space
there- just beneath your nose
you’re still weakening my knees
you’re still tangling my toes
I’m still seeing us in stripes
and mirrored sideways smiles
I’m still looking through the stars
I’m still counting all the miles
my breath is still caught
tucked behind your left ear
I can still her an echo:
your voice calling me “dear”
When international stars of ballet gather in the beautiful bubble of a town that is Vail, magic is bound to happen. The second night of Vail Dance Festival’s “International Evenings” certainly saw magical moments, with crowd-pleasing highlights feathered throughout.
This Festival wastes no time waiting to be festive; The show erupted with an epic opener, “Vail Dance Jam,” a collaboration between the dancers, musicians, and choreographers of the festival. The music was wonderfully rollicking, setting the tone for more fun to come.
The first act continued with a series of pas de deuxs: first a very sweet Flower Festival in Genzano from American Ballet Theater (ABT)’s Isabella Boylston and Mikhailovsky Theatre’s Julian Mackay, followed by an other-worldly Merce Cunningham excerpt from Trails danced in beautiful sync despite the music’s irregular rhythm by ABT’s Calvin Royal III and Melissa Toogood, and finally La Sylphide, performed by Festival newcomer Maria Kochetkova and New York City Ballet (NYCB)’s Joseph Gorden. The August Bournonville style (showcased here in Flower Festival and La Sylphide) can be quite academic-looking, but the joining of these incredible artists has proved once again that Vail Dance Festival is a breeding ground for growth and exploration.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green wowed the crowd in another Ailey solo, this time to Duke Ellington’s vivacious music in an excerpt from Pas de Duke. She moved with crisp, clear confidence, hitting every step so full out it was as if she was making the music with her body.
The first half closed with a real stand out performance- English National Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru and ABT’s Herman Cornejo in the Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo & Juliet. Wow. This had me on the edge of my seat, waiting on every effortless lift, exquisite pirouette, and nuanced breath. In this pairing, the audience received true artistic and technical expertise, a cosmic meeting of dancers and musicians that is rarely found. Cojocaru simply is the music; Her innate ability to make her audience hear every note in the score cannot be taught. What a treat.
Act II opens with another peak; the world premiere of Alonzo King’s The Personal Element. This mesmerizing ensemble collected dancers from LINES Ballet and New York City Ballet in a whirlwind of sweeping movement, King’s choreography seamlessly sculpting the dancers into every formation imaginable. The dancers split into pairs and then join back together, zipping up into miniature tornados of movement and then melting back down into the music, a hypnotic score composed and played live by the incomparable Jason Moran.
The evening continued with two more pas de deuxs, this time featuring this year’s Artist-in-Residence, Lauren Lovette, and ABT’s James Whiteside in George Balanchine’s playful Duo Concertant followed by the calm and refreshingly human The Still Point, danced by ABT’s Devon Teuscher and Cory Stearns. The latter offers the delicate study of a relationship, both passionate and comfortable, conflicting and familiar. The former celebrates yet another Festival partnering win, Lovette and Whiteside’s spritely energy and effortless musicality combining just perfectly in this seemingly made-for-them ballet.
A Festival favorite 1-2-3-4-5-6 closed the performance, jolting the amphitheater with a tangible energy only the dream team of Michelle Dorrance, Lil Buck, Melissa Toogood, and James Whiteside can serve up. This mixed-genre piece showcases the diverse talents of the artists, as they perform their own choreography and improvography while still maintaining a cohesive and all too fun to follow work of art.
Community is the heartbeat of the Vail Dance Festival. The “International Evenings of Dance,” a mixed program spanning across two nights, features dancers and musicians from across the globe, culminating in an unmatched showcase of world-class dancing. Dancers gather from near and far, forging new partnerships and exploring different styles, all under the expert curation of Artistic Director Damian Woetzel. There is a comforting sense of familiarity between the dancers and the town. Each summer in Vail, Woetzel builds a family.
What better way to begin the celebration than with a performance by the young dance students of Celebrate The Beat? The nationwide program offers students the highest quality in-school and after-school dance lessons, nurturing the innate tie between the human body and movement. Lead by American Ballet Theater (ABT) principal dancer, James Whiteside, the well-rehearsed performance brought an impressive 130 children to the stage in an energetic display with a simple message: The joy of dance is powerful.
From there, the evening took off with a bang, as ABT’s Catherine Hurlin and Mikhailovsky Ballet Company’s Julian Mackay took on the renowned Act III Pas de Deux from Don Quixote. Demanding technical proficiency and strong artistic flair, this pas de deux is no small feat, but Hurlin and Mackay display their excellent training with control and poise. They bring a youthful glow to these rather mature roles, taking risks that clearly excite the audience.
Next up, we received a preview of a larger work to come in Act II, Merce Cunningham’s Antic Meet. The short solo, featuring Pam Tanowitz Dance artist Melissa Toogood, was interesting, if not a bit anticlimactic. Toogood traversed the stage in an organized rhythm of small steps, holding a black umbrella overhead. The larger ensemble piece, danced by artists from various companies including New York City Ballet (NYCB) and ABT, offered more of this distinct Cunningham style. The live music, provided by festival resident artists Brooklyn Rider, was composed in a slightly unsettling disjointed style. The choreography mirrors this, with black unitard-clad dancers darting from one end of the stage to the next, injecting comedic elements throughout.
A highlight of the evening, ABT’s Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns twist and turn through the pas de deux from Manon, in their dreamy performance of the Kennth MacMillan classic. This pas de deux is celebrated for its romance, and these two dancers certainly delivered. Boylston’s impeccable lines and Stearns’ sturdy presence only enhanced what was clearly first and foremost a display of artistic expression. Their partnership was pure joy, exuding every aspect of young love, from tender sensuality to coquettish play. Sweeping, swirling, stunning.
A favorite festival partnership, NYCB soloist Unity Phelan and ABT soloist Calvin Royal III, took the stage next with George Balanchine’s Apollo. One of the most famous ballets of all time, Apollo is full of iconic moments, its sculptural elements lending themselves perfectly to these two statuesque dancers. Phelan and Royal have clearly gleaned wisdom and poise from Artistic Director Damien Woetzel since their partnership at the festival began just several years ago with another Stravinsky/Balanchine pas de deux, Agon. There is an obvious comfort between the two; Despite differences in their training styles, they emerge with exactingly clean, synced lines. Phelan’s portrayal of the muse Terpsichore is both light and firm as she approaches Apollo with a remarkably earnest will. Royal’s debut Apollo is equally balanced, displaying a quiet power perfectly suited to the role. Of course, their pas de deux is elegant and quintessentially Balanchine, ballet and story-telling stripped down to the bare essentials.
Act I continues with this year’s festival Artist-in-Residence, NYCB principal dancer Lauren Lovette, partnered by NYCB soloist Joseph Gorden, in the Act II pas de deux from Giselle. This was nothing short of exquisite. Lovette seemed to float across the stage with her never-ending port de bras, hauntingly weightless as Gorden sweeps her up and away. This pas de deux is an example of what makes this festival so special; The spotlighting of incredible lyricism from a dancer who typically performs an entirely different style of ballet. Lovette has gorgeously danced everything from Balanchine’s spritely Tarantella to young princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, but as Giselle, she will take your breath away.
Festival veterans Jookin dancer Lil Buck and tapper Michelle Dorrance closed Act I in a collaboration with pianist Jason Moran, jolting the audience with an infusion of fun we did not know we needed. Lil Buck and Dorrance wove together a mixed genre work, with subtle nods to everything from the Charleston to the moonwalk. The piece felt like a conversation between all three artists, light-hearted and high energy, a breath of fresh air and a boost of serotonin.
A welcome addition to the festival, world renowned English National Ballet principal Alina Cojokaru joined ABT’s Herman Cornejo in Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody to open Act II. The pair performed with near technical perfection, but alas, the choreography left a bit to be desired. The grandiose score by Rochmaninoff begs for a series of climaxes, while Ashton’s choreography remains slightly underwhelming. Despite this, the dancing was immaculate, and the chemistry between the dancers was a real treat.
Another festival debut dancer, international ballerina Maria Kochetkova commanded in a made-for-her solo, Degunino by Marcos Morau. Outside the amphitheater the stars shone brightly over Vail, and the audience fell silent. This was the quietest the crowd has been then entire night, and with good reason; Kochetkova’s character was a curious combination of insect and alien, causing us all to collectively ponder the existence of this creature. Her odd, sharp movements were framed by an impressive exhibition of her extreme flexibility, without ever becoming over the top. I was still contemplating this piece as I fell asleep last night- the sign of a truly extraordinary performance.
Alvin Ailey’s Jacqueline Green performed Cry, a boisterous Ailey solo. The piece erupted with pure fun and joy, as Green’s extension and strength wove the dramatic costume into the movements with ease. The piece suited Green well, her freedom of movement allowing energy to flow out from every fingertip, matching the upbeat music.
The finale of the evening proved they really do save the best for last- NYCB corps de ballet dancer Roman Mejia took on a solo by Alexei Ratmansky, originally created at the festival for Wendy Whelan in 2010 and later danced by NYCB principal Sara Mearns. The Spanish-style solo featured live music onstage by guitarist Alberta Khoury, Brooklyn Rider, and percussionist Dario Natarelli. At just 19 years old, Mejia’s interpretation of Fandango made me question the fact that this solo was not, in fact, made for him, as he breezed charismatically from one impossible jump to the next. Especially remarkable was Mejia’s articulation in the hands, each finger separately defined yet flowing into a fluid, intentional expression. Mejia is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and a gift to the Vail Dance Festival family.
“it’s not as easy as it seems,”
she said to no one who could hear,
“life inside a fishbowl,
it’s just one never ending sphere.”
“sun glares through the crooked glass
in a most unnatural way,
like the reflection in a mirror’s cracks,
or some dry, mishandled clay.”
“the light distorts and bows itself
once it drops, there’s no escape,
through mouth or thick round wall.”
“so I rearrange the furniture
and blow bubbles through my straw,
to pass the time, I play and rhyme,
guess that’s what living’s for.”
“no use in sweating small things,”
wait- can a fish even sweat?
“no good is born from worried ones,
there’s no benefit in the fret.”
she swam down deep then floated back
circling round and back around,
finding space in stagnant water
and silence in the sound.