fringe, fries, and toe shoes

Rehearsal days, movie nights, new hair, hot toddies, pomme frites…October, you’ve been good to me. Oh, did I mention I have a show this weekend?

I can hardly believe it’s almost time to get on stage again after 8 months of hiatus. Since I can remember, I have always loved performing. While I am not the type to love being the center of attention in a social setting, I have never shied away from the spotlight on stage.

In this place, under the lights and over satin shoes, I have always felt at home.

There’s some magic in live performance. It’s the perfect cocktail of pressure and freedom, the need to peak onstage and the knowledge that doing so doesn’t actually matter. To lean into whatever you are feeling that moment and let the rehearsal process speak through you, this is what matters. Leaving everything you have there. On the stage, with the people, somewhere hanging in the air amongst the echoes of the last few chords…

Life lately has been such a beautiful balance of falling back in love with PVD* via wining and dining, and dancing my booty off in the studio. Man, it feels good to be back there, working with some of my colleagues and creating new things once again.

This weekend’s show is at the Zeiterion Drive-In Theater (I know!) at 3pm on Sunday, if you’re inclined to come by and see…

*Not that we ever lost our spark, but it’s so nice to feel wooed by her once again as the leaves sing their autumn song and restaurants find creative ways to keep us dining outdoors- shout out to Hot Club for hosting Halloween movie nights every Wednesday this month!

make space to make magic

I think we can all agree, good news has been in short supply these past few months. Things seem to keep on getting deeper and darker, without any warning or a moment to come up for air. But last week, Festival Ballet got some very good news…

With short notice, the development team worked through the weekend to apply for a grant from Rhode Island as part of the state’s “Take It Outside” initiative, helping businesses and arts organizations fund the creative ways they are planning to stay afloat as this pandemic continues and winter weather approaches. To our shock and absolute delight, FBP was awarded a $100,000 grant to build an outdoor stage this December!

For three weeks, we will have a large, fully-sprung, modular harlequin floor mounted on a raised stage with forced heat, rigged lighting, and a brand new marley. The grant will also allow the company to purchase new seating for the fully heated and social-distanced audience area. This is HUGE. With this support from the state, FBP will be able to continue the beloved tradition of The Nutcracker in Providence, which has been performed in the Creative Capital for all of the company’s 42 (going on 43!) years.

I never thought I would be so excited at the prospect of performing Nutcracker. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a bit of an anomaly in the ballet world for being a professional who actually (not so secretly) loves the holiday classic. But after 19 years of performing in the FBP version (yes, it’s the same one I have done- and LOVED- since I was 8), it seems fitting that in this year of extreme change, The Nutcracker will change a bit too.

Since the stage will be built in our parking lot on Hope Street, and safety regulations will likely require a shortened running time and smaller cast, it certainly will not be the same show we are all used to. But Nutcracker is all about the magic, and magic we will make!

If you are in the area and in need of some soul food this holiday season, please come out and support the ballet. We are so appreciative to have this support from our state and can’t wait to bring the community together safely this December. In the mean time, better dust off that old practice tutu…

learning to fly

Whew. Ballet is hard.

I’ve been delayed in posting an update about my progress getting back into the studio because, well, with so much disaster in the world right now, it feels frivolous to wax on about my aching toes and the enormous effort it takes to float one’s arm like the wing of a swan. I feel the need to preface every sentence with an admission of my privilege to even have these frustrations. But it’s come to my attention that a few of you are wondering exactly what I’ve been hinting at

So an update is in order! In just over 3 weeks, FBP will perform for the first time since February. Though sadly the show won’t include the entire company (support the arts in any way you can, people! we need you!), it will include the New Bedford Symphony and a drive-in theater. Yes, you read that correctly. Audience members will drive in to the outdoor performance venue at the Zeiterion in New Bedford for a collaborative performance featuring ballet and live music…for the first time in 8 months!

As you may have guessed by my *swan dive* into history, I will be performing the famous Dying Swan solo, accompanied by the New Bedford Philharmonic cellist. This will be my first time doing Swan, and it’s been an unconventional, very “2020” rehearsal experience so far. From her serene garden somewhere in Scotland, former Royal Ballet principal Zenaida Yanowsky recorded herself walking through the choreography for me to learn from. It’s clear why Zenaida is known for her portrayal of this solo– even in her tennis shoes, on grass, she looks at home in the graceful body of a swan. With this inspiration, I’m slowly learning to fly…

Of course, this does not come without tough days and setbacks. It’s a new form of isolation, being in a studio alone with a screen. Just myself and the movement. I am trying to focus on embracing the space, appreciating the freedom of a big room and a purpose. This pandemic has hit so many other people in much more difficult ways than I can even process, but it is quite a unique experience for artists…to be unable to do our work is to be separated from what gives us our identity. After so much time away, I can hardly believe I am getting the chance to reconnect with ballet. To put myself back together.

Despite the frustration I have been feeling with re-teaching my feet to endure just 3 minutes en pointe (remember when we could do 3 acts of Swan Lake, guys?), the lingering feeling is not the ache in my toes, but the gratitude that seems to come from every part of my body. Every piece of me that has been scattered around my house for the past 6 months…I’m picking them up and stacking them up once more. And it feels so good. That’s the thing about ballet- it always tells you what you need. A bucket of ice for clarity, a hot bath for relaxation, a warm cup of tea to let it all sink in…

There’s even more good news to report, but I’ll save that for another day ;) Until then, I’ll just be here, thanking the universe and massaging my calves.

circling the nest

It has been 9 months since I last performed in pointe shoes. Just in case my math is off- because, let’s be real here, it usually is- that is December to September. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. I have not performed en pointe since Nutcracker. OOF.

For all those months, I have wondered what my return to the stage might look like. Would it be in 2 weeks? 2 months? Half a year? Somewhere outdoors? Something virtual? Livestream? Pre-recorded? Would it involve bells and whistles, hoops to jump through and mountains to climb? Now, all these months later, several weeks past the usual “start of season”, I finally have some idea of what it might be…

And to my delight, it’s seems it may be so much simpler than all of that. Of course, nothing is simple about re-teaching your toes how to not only tolerate but excel at standing on their very tips, guiding your body into now-foreign positions, turning out joints that prefer to remain in their “upright and seated position”, if ya catch my drift. But if there’s any way to make the process just a bit easier, it certainly must be reconnecting with your favorite kind of wings and your favorite instrument. Sometimes all you need is a piece with a soul, a space to keep distance, and a team with a vision.

If you’re interested in peeking into the journey of a ballet dancer returning to the stage amidst COVID, please follow along! I could use some hands to (virtually) hold. Wish me merde.

waking the dying swan

Anna Pavlova as The Dying Swan

It has been 115 years since Anna Pavlova first performed her famous swan solo. Now a celebrated part of ballet history, The Dying Swan was originally inspired by the ballerina’s visits with swans in public parks and Lord Tennyon’s poem of the same title. Pavlova had recently become a ballerina at the Mariinsky Theatre when she asked choreographer Mikhail Fokine to create a solo for her as a pièce d’occasion. At a Mariinsky ballet gala in 1905, their collaborative piece debuted and The Dying Swan was born.

Still regularly performed by dancers across the globe (Pavlova herself performed it more than 4,000 times!), The Dying Swan has surprisingly humble beginnings. When Pavlova approached Fokine with her request for a solo, the choreographer suggested they use Saint-Saëns’s cello piece, Le Cygne (from La Carnaval des Animaux), which he had been practicing in his home on a mandolin. Accompanied by his friend on piano, Fokine choreographed the short solo quickly and unpretentiously. Of the simple process, Fokine told Dance Magazine (1931):

“It was almost an improvisation. I danced in front of her, she directly behind me. Then she danced and I walked alongside her, curving her arms and correcting details of poses.”

The choreographer notes Dying Swan as a transition from old world to new. Fokine calls it a response to previous criticism that his creations often avoided pointe shoes, tending towards bare feet. Swan, instead, has the ballerina almost entirely en pointe for the duration of the brief solo. While not the most technically exhausting (it consists mostly of port de bras and pas de bourée suivi), the artistically demanding nature of The Dying Swan earns the piece its celebrity-status in the ballet world.

Case in point: originally titled “The Swan”, the solo became “The Dying Swan” after Pavlova’s dramatic portrayal as a swan in the final moments of life. The piece is ripe with dark beauty, certainly a reflection of the morose Tennyson poem which inspired it. It is this duality between the airy, feather-light movements of the dancer combined with the heart wrenching lament of the cello that gives Dying Swan its intoxicating quality. The solo is, like many ballet variations, highly customizable, meaning every rendition is slightly different. What differentiates this solo from most classical variations, however, is the reasoning behind each dancer’s distinct artistic choices; These small adjustments are not made to choose the steps that will best highlight the dancer’s technique, but rather to interpret the story exactly the way it is felt by that dancer. In that moment. On that stage. The spontaneity and freedom of performance! Oh, how I love living art.

The dark, emotive heartbeat of this macabre solo is what makes it so special. A cry for beauty in the most fragile moments, expressed with every inch of the body from toe to tip of finger. It is even rumored that on her deathbed, Anna Pavlova cried out, “Prepare my swan costume.”

In 1934, Mikhail Fokine told dance critic Arnold Haskell that the meaning of The Dying Swan was not to showcase technique, but to “create the symbol of the everlasting struggle in this life and all that is mortal.” In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak this May, ABT’s Misty Copeland and Joseph Phillips harnessed that message by (virtually) gathering 32 ballet dancers to record themselves performing the solo. The fundraising effort, aptly titled “Swans For Relief”, would benefit artists temporarily displaced by the coronavirus. Bringing together dancers isolating in 14 different countries, this Dying Swan compilation video is evidence that the historic piece continues to hold power and move its viewers, even if through a computer screen.

If you’ve made it this far, good on you! A little history lesson for your Monday evening. Clearly, I have had quite a bit of fun deep diving behind the wings (heh, double pun) of this brilliant solo…and I can’t wait to share why. ;) There is so much more I can (and will!) write about Dying Swan, but for now, please enjoy these photos of Anna Pavlova with her pet swan, Jack, taken in August of 1927 in her home, Ivy House, by London’s Hamstead Heath:

today, now.

Without much certainty of the future, this strange year has led to a great deal of looking into the past. Comparing ancient plagues to the current pandemic, digging up old friendships during quarantine, and heck, I wrote the book on studying a past version of myself. But what about now?

If you are not local, you may not have heard; This summer FBP said goodbye to its Artistic Director of over 20 years, school director, and beloved ballet master. Quite the shake-up, to put it lightly. It goes without saying, but here I am writing a blog and here you are reading it, so…well here we are: so many changes in the midst of a pandemic has been jarring. But perhaps most surprising is how adjusted I have become to extreme change.

Uncertainty has asserted itself as a central fixture in my life.

What I’ve also realized, though, is that uncertainty has always- and if we’ve learned anything from the patterned nature of history, will always- exist. It’s not as if this uncertainty has recently taken up residence in my mind, I’m merely much more aware of it now than I’ve had to be before. I have been privileged enough to live in a state of mild uncertainty, a rarely unsettling state that has moved out of rotation this past year.

So here I am, September 2020, making friends with uncertainty. I’ve waxed poetic before about “being prepared to be surprised“. But somehow those lessons learned- the ones that felt colossal at the time- now feel a bit more like a warm-up. A gentle barre before the grueling effort of a 4-act ballet.

I’m envious of this earlier version of myself, one that was simply frustrated with her body’s slow process of returning to ballet. A dancer who had taken a bit too much time off in the summer, but who saw her fall season laid out ahead of her. A series of shows to promote, classes to attend, choreography to learn, and steps to hone. A plan.

Like so much of the world, ballet has been placed on hold. Some companies are returning to work slowly, in pods or using technology to create virtual performance experiences. Some companies have cancelled their annual Nutcrackers entirely. Digital Season was once a foreign concept, now I’m sure you’ve read enough announcements not to stumble over its meaning anymore.

I am motivated to continue dancing not because this is a particularly inspiring time, but because it is one that requires creativity and I am nothing if not a gluten for thinking outside the box. I’ve never been interested in arithmetic, but there is something about solving an artistic equation- one that demands flexibility of mind and resilience of spirit- that pulls me in every time. I can’t seem to resist the call of a problem whose solution lies in c r e a t i o n.

Something new where there wasn’t something before.

Since ballet is all about connecting- with our fellow dancers, with our audience- right now I’m leaning into other ways to connect (that don’t involve breaking the 6′ rule). Two things (I hope!) will never be off limits: connecting with the music and connecting with myself.

There are things in the works at FBP. The school has recently seen a major shift and with the addition of a new “Leap Year” program, I am hopeful for its success. I am confident in this little company’s ability to rise up in the face of change. I have seen us create greatness from the most meager of resources, and I know that we will do it again. But until then, it’s time to look not to the past or the future, but to the girl in the mirror today. The one who loves the work, with or without the certainty of audience. The one who misses dancing in the moment, dancing in the now, dancing for herself. I’m diving in. No more baby steps, wondering when…how? Today, now.

photo collage by Li Dai

ramen on the hill

I’m a nester.

I may fly here and there but rest assured, I’ll always find myself back in sweet, sunny pvd. This little city wears my heart on her red-bricked, tree-lined, ramen-drenched sleeves.

After hosting a mini get together for a few friends Friday night, we spent most of the morning on the couch watching bad romcoms. Yep. Sometime around 3pm, we dragged ourselves out of the nest and down to Benefit Street, one of my favorite Providence neighborhoods, for some DENDEN.

I have mused on my love of Benefit too many times to count…I hope you’ll indulge me in (at least) one more. Even C laughed when I lifted my phone to capture yet another photo of College Hill, but hey, sometimes you’ve got to be a tourist in your own city! Especially in this age of staycation…

Speaking of staying close to home, anyone else have a sudden case of nesting fever? After months of being forced to stay in, I’m finding so much joy in rearranging furniture, making old spaces feel new, and making room for some recent musical additions to the household, including a piano, drums, and drummer…stay tuned. ;)

we are family

when i set out writing “the silhouette inside” i had no idea i would be seeing it on a shelf. what started as lines written in the back of my mind has become an external piece of me. this book is so personal, like the pages of my diary turned inside out and illustrated. i’m so excited to share that my book is officially on stock at books on the square in my beloved home, providence, ri!

i would be remiss if i didn’t pay some thanks to this little corner of the internet, which i created 10(!) years ago to document my life as a dancer and keep my writing skills somewhat in tact as i began my professional career. back in 2010, a month before my first day of work at festival ballet providence, i opened a wordpress account and started typing. a decade ago, back when blogs were a thing of the future (hah), i could have never imagined that this site would grow into what it is today.

nostalgic to my core, i still look back on posts from the past fondly, some so clear i can almost read each word before i see it and others sweet reminders of memories long lost. somewhere along the way, this space grew from an online journal to a community of readers, entrepreneurs, and friends.

in honor of that relationship, i am giving you all a special discount on my book, “the silhouette inside“. use the code STBFAMILY (in all caps) at check out for 15% off the book. and pssssst…if you’ve been here for a while, you’ve already got a sneak peek into book number two ;)

she’s out!

my book “the silhouette inside” has officially been released! so many months of work have led up to this.

i am thrilled to announce that the book is available at my favorite Providence shop, Frog & Toad. it’s such an honor to be stocked by this beautiful little store, one that is curated with love and spends time supporting small businesses and artists all over rhode island.

while i would love to do an in-person reading/signing one day, until that becomes an option, head to my instagram to see a little video we put together to celebrate the release. the video features the first poem of the book, and one that was largely the impetus for putting the poems together and creating the narrative. i hope you enjoy!

if you’d like to get yourself or someone you love a copy, they are also available here.

MY BOOK COVER IS HERE!

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they say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but c’mon.  designing a cover for my book felt like a colossal undertaking. i’m not a designer, and i would never purport to do an adequate job at something many talented people have spent their lives learning to do. but since i had written an illustrated every page of the book thus far, something felt phony about hiring another contributor to put a face on my work.

first impressions are everything. i wanted my book to represent not only the poetry within, but my brand as a writer. i looked to artists i admire for inspiration. i wanted something modern, but with a vintage twist. something simple, clean, and subtle, yet speculative enough to make you want to turn the page…

i created the cover image using a vintage strawberry plant wallpaper from the 1970s (strrrrrong strawberry vibes in this book, guys) and the outline of a photo my mother took of me jumping up into the air. the result appears almost like a cut-out (hello, henri), which felt perfectly appropriate for a book about a silhouette.

i hope you love the cover as much as i do! preorder info coming soon!

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