Every once in a while, a ballet comes along that’s just…special. Enter Trey McIntyre‘s Blue Until June.
This ballet ticks all of the boxes I didn’t know were empty. Set to the music of Etta James, Blue Until June has got soul. It’s bluesy and narrative but not cumbersome, technical but totally unpretentious. It swings- the music, the movement, the mood. An ensemble piece, it highlights each dancer in a way that feels fun and collaborative, like each one of us is an essential puzzle piece, revealing portions of plot for the audience to untangle.
I feel very grateful to be working on two different roles in this ballet, “Michelle” in one cast and “Erin” in the other. Both women are drastically different, which makes the study of their characters all the more exciting for a pseudo ac-tor like myself. Michelle dances “My Dearest Darling“, a plotting pas de deux about a less-than-savory relationship at the end of its rope. Erin, on the other hand, acts as a bit of a purveyor over the ballet, multifaceted as both bold and central in the story and a fly on the wall watching the other plotlines unfold.
Working on this ballet is an experience that only comes around once in a blue (until june) moon (heh). It feels fulfilling both physically and emotionally, and isn’t that the rarely spotted gift of dedicating yourself to a life in the arts?
We’ll be performing Blue Until June in Westerly and then again 3 more times in Providence. For tickets.
Getting out. We never thought we’d lose it, then wondered for months when we’d ever get it back.
Something about Spring has me anxious for the outdoors. There are new places and old favorites begging to be visited once the crocuses peek out, and I am determined to drink a spritz at (and bring my dog to) them all.
I find myself strangely nostalgic for this time each year, despite the fact that it has historically shown me some challenging patches. Perhaps there’s a power in looking back on those periods of struggle with the strength of living on the other side, and maybe even a small slice of envy aimed back at a me from the past who is about to learn a few major lessons about herself. Each Spring Keeks- the Swan Lake/sickness of 2019, the shutdown of 2020, the outdoor ballet/new puppy mom of 2021- has been so boldly different, I’m eager to meet the me in this one.
She’s 30 now, but that feels no different than 25. Or does it? Surely I am more well-equipped for the world than I was at 25. I’ve been a homeowner for 3.5 years, I know how my water heater works (kind of). I survived baby dog parenthood with the help of my rockstar boyfriend. I have actual lemons (!) on my lemon tree. The little miracles that make up a life.
So what is it that triggers this waltz with nostalgia? The smell of a springy perfume purchased in 2019 as I drag the dregs from the nozzle of its empty glass bottle across my wrists, refusing to let go of that particular musk. The walk to Fourth Street in the mornings, studying the meticulous garden of the painter; The walk home, always lingering at the weeping cherry tree, only sometimes weeping alongside her. Who else could make Spring sound so melancholic?
Despite my flair for the morose, I promise, I am feeling light and optimistic. This is, after all, my most favorite time of year. A physical, undeniable shove from the earth to Get Outside And Do Things! And we have been doing just that. A trip to a new brunch spot in Warren, giant Jenga at the Narragansett Brewery, Louie’s first trip to our favorite date spot, and an afternoon in Newport for a very special photoshoot…but that is a story for another time! Stay tuned, friends.
It’s been so long since I’ve written here, the whole blogging platform has changed. Excuse me while I relearn how to do something that I once did did instinctively…
There’s so much to catch up on, if I try, I’ll never start. So instead, let’s just dive in right where we are, shall we? We are one month out from the end of what feels like the first season. No, I haven’t moved companies or cities…I have been dancing with FBP for 10 (11? 12?) seasons now, but this was the first full season since the you-know-what. Our first full season avoiding the plague, our first full season under new leadership, with troves of new dancers, with a new board president, with a new appreciation for space to move and a barre that is not attached to a kitchen counter…
Everything has changed. Cue the clichés! I know I’ve written it here so many times, you would think I’d learned the lesson: “Change is the only constant.” But all change is not equal. Some things- even big things- change slowly, seaside cliffs being licked away by the tide, retreating closer to the shore with each shift in season. Other changes come abruptly, without warning. No period of consideration, time to feel the change coming on and adjust. These are the sorts of changes that truly test us.
Navigating all of the newness has been its own challenge. But with my former familiarity also came years and years in a career notorious for turning inward, focusing on my own physicality, my own artistry. So what have I learned about myself?
I would like to come back to this space and begin pouring that out. Welcome back, if you’d like to join me in finding out.
photos of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Continuing Points” by Azamat Asangul
Though my posts have been sporadic this year, I have mentioned one of my new favorite teachers more than a few times. At this point he’s STB famous for his revelatory insights (remember remove expectations from the studio and make the perfect mistake?) and in class yesterday, he rattled off another little gem that went something like this:
Allow yourself to dance. Technique is the means, not the end. Technique allows you to dance. Dancing is the point we are after.
Whew, let that sink in. It’s one of those suggestions that seems obvious when you hear it. Of course we are here to dance. This is a dance class, after all. But between the calisthenics of barre and mind-numbing-mirror-staring-nit-picking of center, somewhere that idea gets lost. We stop moving for movement’s sake and start moving for…technique? We’ve got it backwards.
The point of dancing isn’t to make your technique perfect, the point of perfecting your technique is to be able to dance. The more proper your placement, the easier your pirouettes will be. Lengthened muscle work leads to a lighter adagio. It’s not about jamming your body into positions until it breaks. It’s about practicing those technical aspects in the pursuit of dancing. Ah, dancing. It’s so pure, if you allow it to be.
Are you waiting for me to turn this into a life lesson? Some kind of “dancing through life” encouragement? Me too. It’s a concept I still need to put mindful effort into practicing. Perfectionism has ruled my life for as long as I can remember, and in fact, it’s one of the things I fancy most about myself! But perfectionism for perfectionism’s sake (say that 10 times fast) is unfulfilling. Perfectionism for the sake of living at your best, that on the other hand, is a worthy cause.
This lesson is about finding the “why”. Not a groundbreaking concept, but one worth repeating nonetheless. When our days blur into weeks and actions become routines, we tend to go about our business rather blindly, our subconscious convincing us it has a purpose. But often times, we’ve lost sight of the greater purpose as we struggle with the minutia of the micro-tasks that make up the “work” of our lives. We stay up nights worrying about decisions, making pro and con lists, considering every angle, and suddenly we’re imprisoned by the stress of details when the ultimate point is to feel free.
If it’s not glaringly obvious by my lack of clear direction in this post, I have not yet figured this one out myself. I still struggle every day with focusing on my “why” and keeping a looser hold on the perfectionist details. I have been confined far too many times by indecision. But I’d like to remind myself, and whoever else needs to hear it too, that sometimes all there is to doing it, is just doing it. Sometimes, dancing can just be dancing. Take a step back, look at the whole picture, and for a while, enjoy the slightly alarming spontaneity that comes with putting the technique in your back pocket so you can just do some damn dancing.
At the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll say it one last time: 2020 was the year of changing courses. Every track ransacked, every road demolished by some undetectable mayhem. Following suit, as you may know, FBP’s live performances of The Nutcracker were off, then on, then off, then on, then…
After 4 weeks of rehearsals, a twice delayed opening date, a statewide two-week “pause”, and a close contact positive test, by the grace of some Nutcracker magic we were able to film an adapted version of our reimagined production as a virtual show for our audiences. The hard work of so many artists brought us the gift of a long day in a theater, something I almost forgot how much I loved. And then somehow, two weeks later, I got to do it again…
Days after Christmas, six dancers returned to the studio and Yury dug his hands into the clay. We engaged in something dancers crave more than anything; We began the process of creating a new piece. Like brushes dipped in buoyant paints, we let his eyes twirl us around the room, filling empty space with waltzing and making music in the offbeats. By New Year’s Eve, we were half way through- chiseling out careful bits of stone, each pass shaving a bit closer to our sculpture.
On January 8th, we had a tech rehearsal(!!!!). Our theater received us for the first time since February, familiar faces half-covered by medical masks, but wholly welcoming us home. The next day, we woke early for a dress rehearsal followed by two performances of our waltz. Of course, I’ve saved the best tidbit for last: our accompaniment. Pinchas Zuckerman, Amanda Forsythe, and the RI Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. There is nothing quite like dancing on a real stage to live music played by world renowned musicians within kicking distance.
After two performances with significantly limited audiences, we did what any artists starved for the camaraderie of a post-show buzz would do- we celebrated! The theater hosted a little socially distant gala for the performers in the gallery space, where we got to mingle behind masks and sneak sips of wine between breaths. For an hour, it almost felt normal.
At home, I relished the ability to hug my partner and eat pizza on the couch. We talked about the day I’d had and C let me spout on about how good it felt to plug back in. Electrify. Finally, I fell asleep, but the buzz lasted through the night, as good show thrills always do. As I sipped my tea the next morning, I thought How could this be? Fussing over my little artifacts- some backstage polaroids on the coffee table, false eyelashes on the counter- I cherished the only evidence of any magic moments before my carriage turned back into a pumpkin and life returned to something of a blank page.
What a ride these past few months have been. Slowly getting back into the studio in September, taking on Dying Swan in a parking lot October, returning to something slightly resembling “company life” in November, recording a new Nutcracker in December, getting back on stage in January. Now, I’m not sure what this next season will bring. But shoulders strong from carrying all of the lessons learned last year, I’m not reading ahead, I’m just looking forward.
As one of my new favorite teachers says, “Remove the expectations and observe what is actually happening here.” Do not try to predict, don’t look ahead to the last page- the ending won’t make sense yet. You have to live in the pages. So just keep reading.
Dancers being dealt months of dormancy throughout the company’s most changing time has its obvious challenges. Less overt but perhaps more productive to consider, though, are the many openings that come with prolonged pause. Small but mighty things that contribute to grand personal evolutions when collected over time. Tiny victories and lessons gathered as the results of risks taken during times of rediscovery. Or maybe it’s just reacquainting…
Complicated technique that has slipped away paves a path for correcting old habits. Deep grooves that once sculpted your thighs have smoothed over for a new artist’s carving to begin. Even simple things become fun endeavors to discover; Considering a new brand of pointe shoes? Remember this old leotard you used to love? What about this rehearsal skirt that never got worn? Everything is just a bit more precious. There’s no need to saveit for later. All cards are fair game.
These realizations are helpful when you are waist-high in creating a reimagined Nutcracker. One that’s not only different from the production you have danced through 19 Decembers, but different from any show you’ve ever even seen. Because it’s outside. In a parking lot. And there are masks, and skipped scenes, and forced heat. It’s amazing how a year of perspective-change training can make all of the “shortcomings” into miracles. How lucky are we to be given this grant, this space, this time to refocus on our craft? This is the process that gives us life, what makes us tick. The mundane, the repetition, the midnight ache. All of these thorns in our sides that let blossom our art.
As we watch cases rise around the country and here in RI, we remain hopeful that this new Nutcracker will move forward and that we will be able to bring some much needed cheer to our community this season. If you are around, consider bundling up and seeing something new here in Providence.
Expectations. How much time have you spent dwelling on them, ruminating on them, being let down by them? If you’re like me, a lot. But how much time have you spent actually questioning their importance?
By this point in life, one thing I can certainly be certain of is the prevailing presence of uncertainty. Nothing ever turns out to be the way you expect it. This unpredictability is the one thing you can count on. So why, then, do we spend so much precious energy investing in our expectations?
expectations: strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future
The other day in ballet class, the teacher said something that stuck: “Remove your expectations.” He was referring to the expectations every dancer in the room absolutely shared in that moment, preparing for pirouettes across the floor; We were all thinking, “This is the part of class to get in multiple pirouettes. If I don’t hit any triples or higher, this part of class has been a failure.” Our teacher’s suggestion was to abandon this train of thought entirely. Hop off of the expectation train!
In place of expecting, we were instructed to be present. To use the exercise as just that: a learning experience. A chance to build. Check in with our bodies in that moment, remember the techniques that work, try to apply them, and see what happens. If you go into a pirouette expecting three and end up falling out of two, your brain reads only failure. If you go into the pirouette with an open, steady mind, you are more apt to clue in what’s happening- the good and the bad.
Time and time again I come back to life lessons learned in the ballet studio. In the crowded elevator of our brains in their every day shuffle, it can be easy to miss out on these chances to translate ballet into human language. But with a world of 2020 uncertainty and unpredictability around every corner, I’m finding myself relating anecdotes from ballet class directly to my life quite often. Back to expectations…
This lesson might be the most important of the year so far. Remove the expectations. It works for both the high and the low ones. Just don’t expect. Stop trying to predict the future. It will only ever prove you wrong. So let that go. Open yourself up to right here, right now. Do your best to set things up for yourself however you see most fit in this moment.
I’ve been learning a bit about manifestation lately. Whether you believe in its power or not, the practice of bringing yourself what you want in life through a present mindset (not future!) certainly feels powerful. To be clear- in my understanding, manifestation is not a practice of focusing on what you want for your future, rather mindfully embodying what is coming now. It’s about tapping into the things that may not be physically happening, but feel real and true to you somewhere deep in your gut. It’s a difficult thing to tap into, but surely only made more challenging with pesky expectations clouding your vision.
So try this: close your eyes and look out into the horizon of your inner focus. Wipe the skyline clean. Stop picturing things and instead tap into what you feel. Does your gut rise up into your head and jingle any bells? Is your supporting leg telling you to engage the “safety pin of steel” under your glute? Is your throat whispering a command to a little dog named Louie? Tap in, feel them all, and just hang on…
There have been a fair few new faces around FBP lately, and one that I have particularly enjoyed meeting is Christopher Anderson. His classes are fun but challenging, with an emphasis on placement, mind-to-muscle connection, and fluidity of movement. You know that refreshing feeling when you hear someone explain something you’ve been working on for 20 years in a way you’ve somehow never considered before? “Put your collarbones into your first position circle.” Lightbulb.
Christopher tends to call upon memories of his own training, sharing nuggets of wisdom he received from his teachers around the world. They are always golden tidbits, but one in particular stood out last week…
It was a story about a former teacher of his who used to skip around class exuberantly, cheering students on and giving corrections from all angles of the studio. The interesting bit was this: When a student would fumble slightly, but maintain placement or correct mechanics, his teacher would shout excitedly,
“You made the perfect mistake!”
The perfect mistake. This little oxymoron instantly clicked for me. It rooted itself even deeper when, that evening while coaching students for YAGP, one of my girls asked what she should do if her attitude turns don’t go well on stage. We spend a lot of time talking about performance quality and the point of competitions, which in my opinion, is not being judged, rather painting the stage for the audience. It’s about learning to set the scene and fill the space with dancers so convincingly that the audience can see them, too. It’s about finding your voice. If you can do this during a competition when you’re alone onstage, storytelling through dance becomes second nature as a professional. But I digress…
I try to impress upon my students the importance of “rehearsing options”. In other words, practice what you will do on stage if you fall out of that pirouette, or come down early during your hops en pointe. Don’t just stomp it off. Gracefully transition to the next step. Smooth things over. Make the perfect mistake. The mistake that shows your technique and mindfulness. I can’t help but think about how well this idea can be applied to every day life…
When you are over tired and accidentally order 5 too many jars of peanut butter during quarantine. But then you have a shelf-stable option that gets you through that stretch of sheltering-in-place where cooking an elaborate meal every night became an uninspired chore…for example. Or when you accidentally board the wrong train, end up somewhere in New Jersey with no cash, cry, find your way back to Manhattan, but then get to spend a surprise extra night with your best friend. The perfect mistake.
So I’ll repeat what we’ve all heard and know, but perhaps need to hear again: it’s not what happens, but how we deal with it. What’s more empowering than that? This truth brings the control back into our own hands, makes mistakes into opportunities. Accidents become lessons, chances to show our worth, our training, our humanity. Those little moments of impurity become the slivers of ourselves, little flashes of individuality, because how I deal with a mistake will be different from everyone else in the room. And that is where our voice hides. In the perfection. Only in those teeny cracks in our facade can we show the world who we really are.
On an outdoor stage with cars replacing rows of plush red velvet seats, horns honking in place of applause, and the sun as our spotlight, FBP performed for the first time in 8 months. It was different- but isn’t everything these days?
The weather held out, sunny and 62. Between the chill and the slippery stage, I must admit I was not very happy with my performance, but it did feel liberating to get in front of a crowd again. The sweetest part was being accompanied by the cellist, Leo, a talented musician from the New Bedford Symphony. Live music always gets my toes twisting (even when I’m supposed to be sitting still), but there is nothing more breathtaking than Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne played with care. I am convinced this piece must always be a duet between dancer and musician (have you seen Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma?) and look forward to building upon this performance next time I get to take this piece on.
Life lately has been revving up with more ballet classes in anticipation of our Nutcracker performances in December, punctuated by many cups of tea, comfort foods, and watching the world do its autumn dance as we shift into a new season.
If you live somewhere with seasons, take time. Walk slowly while it’s not too cold, hold a red leaf in your hand. Feel the crunch of summer’s glory crush under your boots and whisper “thank you” to the wind, because she doesn’t get enough credit. Have you ever seen little yellow leaves fall like rain from your window? Look closer.
Today’s the day! FBP’s first performance since February. Whew…
This week really ramped up, with class and a few rehearsals every day, costume fittings- even a Zoom rehearsal with the incredibly inspiring Zenaida Yanowsky all the way from London!
Zenaida began rehearsal by asking me about my interpretation of the solo and the story I tell myself while I dance it. While it sounds intimidating, this was actually such a great way to get my out of my body and into my head (a new kind of “reverse psychology” for this body-focused human is always welcome), which in turn helped me use my body to actually express what I wanted to. I have never experienced a rehearsal like this, in which my vision for the piece was being considered first. It was so freeing. And exciting!
Zenaida also shared so many of her own thoughts about the iconic solo…little nuggets of absolute gold that I will cherish forever. I am going to put this one out into the universe- I hope this is the first performance of a solo I will grow to know intimately the way Zenaida, Pavlova, and so many other ballerinas have. What an honor.