When I was 10, Festival Ballet Providence debuted a brand new Carmen. A few Nutcracker performances with the company had brought me into full fandom by then, so I wouldn’t dream of missing a single show- even if I had no idea what it was about. Because facts didn’t matter. I never needed to read the story first, I preferred to see the story onstage.
From the very first scene, Carmen enraptured me. Plotnikov’s telling begins with Micaela (the betrothed bystander) dramatically exposing the ruinous fates of key characters in a striking solo. She eats up every bit of the stage, her motions sharp, flowing, heavy, and tragic. One movement hypnotized me more than any other, and I remember feeling something in my stomach flutter when Micaela repeated the strange movement again in the ballet’s epilogue. It appeared almost as a magic trick, her hands seeming to attach and shoot straight through her body. It took obsessive 10-year-old me several hours in front of the mirror in my bedroom post-show to figure it out.
The dancer stands facing the wings in profile to the audience. One hand is placed on the abdomen at the base of the wrist, fingers shooting outward away from the body. The other hand mirrors this one, attaching at the back. As the dancer begins to scuttle backwards, her hands flop up and down in time, as if shaking the hands of invisible strangers directly in front of and behind her. It’s simple and bizarre and completely marvelous.
Yes, I have been idly “practicing” this odd step for 15 years now. I’ve waited and watched for it every time the company has performed Carmen since, including 7 years ago when I entered the cast as a Factory Girl. I’ve learned that the fingers must remain splayed, yet unstrained, the hands should rise and fall as if void of muscle and bone; It really works best when the hands are relaxed entirely. All these years I have been workshopping and playing and alas, my turn has finally come!
We’ve traded Tchaikovsky for a delicious mix of Prokofiev and Bizet, and oh, what a welcome trade. There’s nothing like a new soundtrack to wash away the worn and sing kinetic life.
This month and next are filling quickly with material- both the newly created and the boldly revisited. Between R&J rehearsals, videos of Viktor Plotnikov’s first full-length rewind and play, rewind and play. Fourteen years ago, our beloved Viktor reimagined this classic drama in that way only he can. Then a fairly new choreographer, Carmen was one of his first collaborations with the company whose roster he now graces. A decade and a half later we wake Viktor’s steps to discover them somehow still innovative; his is an ever revolutionary form of dance.
During my first year as a trainee with FBP, I performed as a (rather intimidated) “factory girl” in Viktor’s Carmen. I remember reveling in the genius of his unforced mime and celebrating- though timidly- my body’s ability to use his powerful and strange dance vocabulary. This season I am honored to be learning the role of Michaela, Don José’s betrothed who, in this version, also has the privilege of acting as a bit of a narrator. Finding herself in quite the assortment of situations, Michaela’s choreography is both sweet and mature, and I am all sorts of excited to dance it.
I’m sitting onstage, barefoot, rolling imaginary cigars on my tightless thighs to the firey score of Carmen. I look out into the rows and rows of plush red seats that I know are there but can’t see because they’re draped in that familiar black opening night blanket. Absently, I contemplate the misguiding apparent endlessness of the house. So much space. The dancer next to me springs up off her stool, flinging her lycra skirt up with her, subsequently hitting me in the face and reminding me to listen for my cue. These next few counts of eight have not yet worked their way into the overstuffed suitcase of my muscle memory. This next sequence of beautifully obscure movements requires that I focus on nothing else but this. When I finally hear my golden note, it doesn’t come as a surprise; I’ve listened for this cue every day for weeks. Concentrate. I toss my invisible half-rolled cigar behind me and jump to my feet. Running towards Kristina, my partner in this little pas de deux, I notice she looks different. Then, in an instant, she comes closer, and I see it’s not Kristina rushing my way, it’s me. Slightly confused, I continue towards center stage, this is the professional approach briefly floods my mind. Now I’m on the center X, face to face with me, partnering myself and making my own mirror. Before I have the chance to catch my own gaze, I assume the vision of the immense audience and I’m starting to realize this is not real. I am not here.
I wake myself up. I’m lying in bed. It doesn’t take long for my harsh reality to set in: I am not in the midst of performing Plotnikov’s Carmen. I have not danced in over 3 months. I have a stress fracture in my spine. My heart drops past the broken bone into my hips. It’s strange how some dreams only become nightmares after you wake up.
These dance withdrawals get worse with every passing day outside the studio. Today I was surprised with the less-than-spectacular news that I may have multiple fractures in my back. Yippee. My optimism is waning. I just want to dance. I’m clinging to any and all hope I can. Some dancers spend years recovering from their injuries, I tell myself. But this just suggests these few months may only be the tip of the iceberg. How do I put an end to the ghosts of performances past haunting my sleep? I guess I could stop watching so many dance-related videos before bed. But they do help fill that big empty dance gap! So what’s a girl to do?