technique is not the end

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.

just keep reading

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.

performance photos by Dylan Giles.

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.

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 ;)

preorder perks

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my book “the silhouette inside” will be available for preorder TOMORROW August 9, 2020 at 10am.

like free stuff? yeah, me too. good things come to those who act fast!

~ the first 10 people to preorder will receive a FREE matchbox press t-shirt and a personally signed book

~ the first 60 people to preorder will receive a signed book

thank you so much for following along on this crazy fun experience. i can’t believe i’m about to publish my own book! click here to check out my author website and join the email list the be notified when the preorder period officially begins.

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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three things…

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a poem from the #cuttingroomfloor of “the silhouette inside”:

circe can’t go home
oceanid with holographic hair
her formation is terrestrial
every cell hails de la mer

saltwater nymph
imprisoned in her own shell
destined to sway the unwilling
to hold them in her hell

historically avoided
her plea silent like the sea
to be requited is to be understood;
to be understood is to be free

tormented temptress
neither goddess nor goodness, she waits
for the creature who will create her
the only one who holds two fates

circe can’t stay home
her liquid lips must rise
to meet her lightning lover
in the heavy-handed skiesv

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a sneak peek!

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an anniversary.

a year ago, in the glow of your post-show, we shared a bottle of WA in the king’s club and discovered that we both collect matches. you did a jerry seinfeld impression and i sang the praises of providence. we kissed for the first time that night in vail, and spent the next night making excuses to keep walking around the village, willing the sun not to come up. three days later, i cancelled a trip to nyc and drove up to jacob’s pillow to see you. and we knew.

seven months of phone calls and splitting weekends between our cities + five months of quarantining together = one whole year. i’m not one for sappy posts, but boy, you make life good(t).

a conversation, sometimes in rhyme

silhouette back cover

when tasked with creating the “back matter” for my book (fancy publishing terms, ooh la la) a basic summary of the contents just didn’t feel right. so you can probably guess what i did…yup, i wrote another poem!

a poem to encapsulate the collection of poems that describe the past year of my life. a year of emotional turmoil, unexpected transition. a year of finding new life from the i n s i d e and falling in love with what i found:

 

a conversation-

sometimes in rhyme

between the writer

and the silhouette inside

words strung together

much more than a line

a reintroduction

soft shifting of sides

bloomed into being

collected and tied

fruitful and all-seeing

outside-in, synchronize

take this, my crescent year

hear the silence, read my mind

planted, rooted, growing, free

the voice inside, bold and outlined.

 

the art that i created to accompany this back cover poem was based on a silhouette cut for me by a man in montmartre, paris. one afternoon, following a lunch accompanied by several glasses of wine (as was the status quo throughout our stay in the city of light) my friends and i wandered through a busy market of artists painting, sketching, and snipping away. a silhouette artist stopped me and asked if he could cut my silhouette for me- to try and drum up some business. his stand was right on the corner, and he promised my silhouette would be free if i sat just a few minutes for him. maybe it was the charming accent or the wine turning my cheeks red- i shrugged my shoulders, hopped up onto the stool, and he went to work, cutting away my profile from glossy black paper while passersby stopped to inquire.

the small portrait now hangs in an oval-shaped frame in my bedroom. it is one of the first things i see when i wake up in the morning, and the last before i fall asleep at night. in a way, it helped inspire the idea of an internal conversation being with “the silhouette inside”. a piece of my favorite city, a story, a portrait that speaks.

 

PREORDER “the silhouette inside” SOON! Stay tuned for details…

welcome to the dark side

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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 & Greteland 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?

photo by Dylan Giles for Festival Ballet Providence