weekend update

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Season 40 is off to a roaring start, and this beautiful beast shows no signs of slowing. In 5 weeks the company have learned almost 6 ballets; One new work is still in the creation phase, and our first full length Widow’s Broom is currently a collection of scenes. I have eight countable bruises on my legs and a fire in my belly. The time is now.

Speaking of full seasons and carpé-ing diems, this weekend M and I are off to the city to see New York City Ballet’s Here/Now program on Sunday. Wheeldon, Wheeldon, Ratmansky, Peck. What an incredible lineup! I will be reviewing the show on The Wonderful World of Dance, so stay tuned.

a week of wheeldon

How can 7 days feel like 28? Monday rehearsing, Tuesday teaching, Wednesday writing, Thursday sneezing, Friday performing, Saturday learning, Sunday running through.

Christopher Wheeldon’s The American is a 25-minute study of style. An energetic corps frames the ballet, the first and third movements clasping around the pas de deux like a joyful storm unable to disturb its tranquil eye. These rigorous bookends accentuate a languid pas de deux, ebbing and flowing at the heart of the ballet. One lift flows into the next with an unattainably smooth finish. It’s like treading water: keep both feet moving and you’re head will stay above water.

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That’s how this week has felt, too. Just keep moving. Put one foot in front of the other. Lean on each other. Lift each other. Confront discomfort. Find peace in solidarity. Work. Sweat. Love. Relax. We are searching for the strength, but first, it’s ice, massage, acupuncture, rest, then on to the next. 40th season, you are already a force.

a ballet a week

The 40th Season is off to a roaring start with an ambitious ballet-a-week tempo. Our bruised bodies are struggling to slip into the rhythm, like sun kissed cheeks through turtleneck sweaters come cool nights.

Vrebalov and Dvorak swirl their dramatic strings through the studios, comforting Mozart tempers mighty Magnificat. Ten thousand steps carve pathways in my mind, boot printing seemingly arbitrary aisles from one ballet to another. As I fall asleep at night, the hard lift from The American makes its way into Minna Shaw’s movement; But this Widow is grounded.

I’m an enlightened, distressed, heavy, heavenly creature in one studio, a wild flung tango temptress in the next. Counts and breaths and corrections seep up every pocket of my being, consuming me with the challenge that I love most of all. I am tired and sore. I am happy and whole. I am stepping into Week Three. Ready. Set.

 

photo by Tasnima Tanzim.

facing fears

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Like many dancers, I have struggled with body issues for a long, long while. I was a petite child until puberty threw me some curve(ball)s, forcing me to examine and reexamine my body. When I turned 18, I discovered my cooking skills (or lack thereof). When I turned 21, I discovered drinking (ha). When I turned 23, I discovered drinking in moderation (ha again). When I began doing more soloist work, I discovered cross training and eating consciously. When I began taking on more principal work, I discovered my fears.

This past weekend, I was nervous about hosting Wheeldon/Balanchine repetiteur Michele Gifford while she was in town setting The American. I am an introvert, so these kinds of intimate social interactions with strangers tend to give me anxiety. But, like most things we fear, it turned out to be a real learning experience. After dinner Saturday night, Michele and I had a long heart-to-heart.

“Every moment of every day, you have a choice.”

For so long, I have heard the same comments about my body. I have run a thorough obstacle course of attempts to shape my frame, most of which were fueled by hurt feelings, self-depreciation, and doubt. Sometimes my methods were healthy, other times they were not. Ultimately, each effort was squelched by a defensive inner voice.

“The only thing standing in your way is you.”

Feeling self conscious and attacked by male superiors at the ballet, I often found myself giving up on my goals as a way to give voice to my insecurities. What if I never look the way they want me to? What would happen if I did? Society says I am physically fit- why is ballet pressuring me to feel otherwise? Yeah! I look FINE! I would create angry narratives in my mind, convincing myself that the advice given by those in charge was outdated and wrong.

But then I would look in the mirror. While my inner voices created a strong sense of balance and continue to stave off dangerous aspirations, they also kept me from reaching my fullest potential. Michele reminded me that these angry thoughts are fears in disguise.

“If you know what you need to do to achieve something you want, just do it.”

Michele’s openness felt refreshing. She shared similar experiences, connecting with me on a struggle almost all female dancers face at some point. Her words of wisdom were honest and clear. If you want it, do it. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

What motivates you to reach your goals? If you are a dancer in need of support and guidance in reaching your potential, consider The Whole Dancer’s Best Body Program, a community of understanding individuals led by the insightful Jess Spinner.

 

photo by Tasnima Tanznim.

midweek reads

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The season has officially begun. Michele Gifford arrives Friday to set Christopher Wheeldon’s The American, and she’ll also be staying with me while she’s in town! It’s going to be a busy few days, a few links if you feel like reading…

Getting my house guest-ready.

Can dancing keep your brain young?

Seven different generations of retired San Fransisco Ballet dancers discuss what it really feels like to stop dancing. This is one of the most thoughtfully done articles I have read in a long time.

“If you have no life outside the studio, how can you portray a person of broad experience?” Ballet Hispánico dancer Christopher Bloom on getting his dance obsession in check.

This short dance film by Bat-Sheva Guez looks wonderful!

The Dancer’s Best Body Program– from the creator of The Whole Dancer- begins its next session soon! Will you be signing up?

 

photo by Tasmina Tanzim

how to move a mountain

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Dancing in a small company has its advantages and disadvantages. Increased opportunities during the season often means a smaller contract. The season is short, layoff is long. Transitioning back into ballerina after a summer of wearing every other hat is never easy. I learn this lesson the hard way each year, and yet still, an easy solution evades me.

While I’ve vowed to intensify my search for summer companies and semi-affordable professional programs next year (recommendations?!), this season I’m relying on a certain proverb I lived through in Boulder…

Confucios said, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

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One hot, sunny day, at the climax of a long hike, M and I crossed a steep plane of boulders to gaze out at the valley below. We sat to rest our legs before the descent, sharing an apple and patting ourselves on the backs for surviving the altitude yet again. False confidence fueled foolish movements and in an instant my phone was knocked down below the rocks. I could peek down through the cracks and see it sitting there, just 2 feet below me, but heavy boulders blocked my futile rescue attempts. M started picking out small stones from their wedged positions between boulders. We tossed aside one dusty rock after another, until one boulder wiggled and shoved aside. Then another. We carried on wiggling and prying, with the help of a passing good samaritan, and then not.

An hour later the phone was a bit smashed but back in my hand. I wanted to give up multiple times throughout the rescue mission. M persevered. The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones. We cannot expect results immediately. It cannot be done all at once. Piece by piece, day by day, I am chipping away at my own mountain. Moving small stones back into place. Sealing the wiggling joints, solidifying my stance. Reaching toward my peak…

 

first photo by Tasnima Tanzim.

i always see ballet

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It has been a long, sweet summer, but this lady is (beyond) ready to get back into the studio. After essentially 4 months off, all parts of me feel twitchy for movement; my too-soft toes, fidgety body, aching mind…

The other night, M and I were driving home from New York, listening to the only reliable thing on the radio these days: classical. To pass the time on road trips, we often elicit fun conversation by asking each other questions about childhood or the future or otherwise potentially controversial fodder, but somewhere west of Worchester M wondered aloud,

“What do you think of when you hear music like this?”

From the speakers flowed a quirky sort of symphony, robust at times and hauntingly singular at others. I had already been passively picturing choreography for the past 30 miles.

“Oh, I always see ballet”, I responded nonchalantly.

Saying it out loud then- and noticing M’s visible bewilderment- I realized that maybe this was not an entirely normal condition. “I always see ballet.” Ever since I can remember, when classical music plays a miniature ballet unfolds in my mind. It just does. Sometimes it distracts me, imagined movements catching my physical self and lifting a random hand off into allongé like smoke, other times it just plays on like traffic rolling along in the rearview.

Sunday morning I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk about the “elusive creative genius”. In it, Gilbert outlines the progression of society’s explanation in regards to creativity. Specifically, she notes the shift from ancient Rome’s description of creative genius as an outside force brought to the artist from a “divine attendant spirit” to the modern and arguably far more dangerous assigning of this creative genius to humans themselves. Gilbert suggests that this deviation in thinking is actually quite destructive, and maybe even responsible for the death of many brilliant, overwhelmed contemporary artists. In her gentle invitation to consider the thoughts of ancient philosophers, Gilbert recalls meeting 90-year-old poet, Ruth Stone. Apparently, as a young girl working in the fields of rural Virginia, Ms. Stone could “feel and hear her poetry” like “a thunderous train of air coming at her from over the landscape”. Stone described the poem as this physical entity, chasing her as she “ran like hell” to the house, trying to get to a pencil and paper in time to write the eager words down. The writer in me- and the dancer- can totally relate.

This idea of having work surge through you with a fervor from some unknown source is not only relatable- it’s freeing. While, as Gilbert notes, it may not always happen that way, sometimes the little bits of creative energy passing through find you when your pencil is within reach. Sometimes thoughtful bits of movement latch on to your bones when you are in the studio, flowing. Other times you are seatbelted into the passenger seat on the highway. We may not know just when or how creativity will strike, but noticing its uneven tide and appreciating the existence of any stream at all- that is the point.

 

photo by Tasnima Tanzim.