keeping up

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Things have been a bit quiet around here lately. Please excuse the lack of communication; this past month was one of the strangest rehearsal periods of my entire career. Even with the company’s financial footing growing sturdier each year, unexpected setbacks inevitably arise. In coping with unpredictable cashflow, the past few weeks have been a cycle of 4 days on, 3 days off. We were forced into a work schedule of rehearse Wednesday-Saturday, rest Sunday-Tuesday, and repeat. Rehearse, rest, repeat. We’ve explored ways to deal with the stress of lengthy layoffs before, but what happens when layoffs creep into your regular routine?

Mid-season layoffs (we’ve also had a full week off after almost every program this season) are frustrating. Studio time is limited, precious rehearsal hours are coveted. I’d even go as far to say (bear with me) that my identity feels compromised. Without the work behind it, the art of dancing is lost. While I’ve learned to survive that loss during the summer months (re: rest and rosé) mid-season layoffs offer another obstacle entirely. It’s this loaded task of keeping in shape with less dancing time, as well as performing at the extraordinary level expected by the audience who- unless they are reading this post- should know no difference in your preparation experience. It’s easy to fall into a monotonous routine of class, gym, sleep- a truly depressing cocktail for any supposed artiste.

Leaving our surprise layoff period behind, we head into 3 consecutive 6-day show weeks. It will be a welcomed but admittedly difficult and abrupt transition. What an interesting thing to have a job wherein the overriding upset of time off is not the lack of income (which stings- don’t get me wrong), but the lack of the work itself. The first step to coping with such a circumstance is recognizing the beauty in that blessing. The next steps (suggestions, really) are slightly more hands on…

  1. Get away. Escape to Maine, road trip to Connecticut, watch the sun set in another state (thank you New England and your mosaic boarders).
  2. Explore. Try a new recipe, a new form of cross-training, a new craft.
  3. Take the long way home. Linger on the ordinary. You’ve got time.
  4. Journal. Even if you’re a self-proclaimed non-journaler, it’s healthy to document these uncomfortable parts of your life. I promise you will learn something.
  5. Trust your instincts. Listen to your body. Know when to experiment and learn when to relax.
  6. Practice patience. For all things, there is a season. This too shall pass.

weekend in wonderland

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When you start the weekend on a Thursday afternoon with airport wine and your best friend.

When you realize how to spell Chautauqua.

When you fly into a blizzard, but a bold ballet dad braves the storm.

When your apartment is above the old McDuff’s, and has the puppy portraits and “wipe your paws” doormat to prove it.

When you can walk from McDuff’s to the (gorgeous) studios and the theater in under 3 minutes.

When you find breakfast cookies. And so you return after hours to beg for more. And then leave with 6.

When you warm up to Christmas carols and the snow just keeps coming.

When you mirror the 12-year-old ballerina showing you how to Sugarplum and remember yourself as a 12-year-old bunhead and wonder how this all came to be.

When you realize your tutu matches your tea saucer and your life is complete.

When the waitress thinks you’re married and refills your would-be husband’s coffee again and again (and again).

When angels literally surround you and ask questions like, “Do you live at your studio, or do you have a house?”

When you vow never to turn Hallmark channel off.

When dinner turns strangers into friends and the person across from you says “bubblah”.

When you take your partner’s hand, step into sous-sus, and feel astoundingly present.

When you sign an autograph for Phoebe on the bathroom counter and she smiles a smile bigger than her face.

…you’ve just done a Nutcracker guesting in Wonderland.

bringing brillante

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One of my favorite pre-show tidbits came around this time last season, while working on Apollo with a Skype-assisted Sandy Jennings.  Her suggestion to wear my favorite perfume for the performance reminded me just how transformative feeling like a ballerina can be.  Friday in the studio, sweet Elyse added another gem (harhar) to that collection.

“I want you to imagine you have little tiny diamonds on the tip of every eyelash, every fingernail, the end of every strand of hair…and maybe a few on your butt,” Elyse said with a wink.

Signature sass in every syllable, she dusted the aforementioned areas with jittering fingers.  Delicate red-tipped nails played invisible keys hovering just over my shoulders and down my arms as she spoke.  Emphasizing the importance of exclamation points (and maybe “a couple commas”) throughout the piece, Elyse used her diction to demonstrate.  Ah, diamonds and dialogue, does it get any better?

This one is a memory I will lock up in me, to be accessed and applied whenever I lose sight of my brillante.  Now, on with the show.

for tickets.

beyond the barre with shelby elsbree

The first time I met Shelby Elsbree was on a rooftop sipping rosé.   Throughout our short friendship she has been an unexpected source of light in my life, sharing tea and wisdom when I’ve needed those comforts most.  Currently in her first year at Columbia University, it appears the former Boston Ballet dancer embraces every new adventure with just as much spirit as the last…

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Hello beauty!  Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  Tell us about studying at The School of American Ballet (SAB) in New York City.  Was it always a dream of yours? 

I moved to SAB when I was 13 years old, after having attended their summer intensive program in 2004. In all honesty I hadn’t known about the school prior to auditioning, coming from a small ballet studio in Sarasota, Fl. Needless to say, training at SAB was a dream I didn’t even know I had until it became a fast reality…and I never looked back. My time in those beautiful studios, going to high school in New York City, skipping across the plaza to watch my dream company perform every other night…it was surreal in every sense of the word. Balanchine training is neo-classical, sporty and fast-footed. Having come from a Vaganova background, I relished in the opportunity to grow in this dynamic way. Experiencing this new language of technique was invigorating, aesthetically inspiring and inevitably challenging. I soaked up every minute.  

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After graduating from SAB, you moved to Denmark to dance with the Royal Danish Ballet.  What was your first impression of Copenhagen?

My very first impression of Copenhagen was that of a European Disney world. The city sparkles. It’s so colorful on the outside, flourished with copper domes and dreamy, historical stories. Scandinavia is known for their simplicity in design; Every apartment is white, streamlined and clutter-free. Simple and beautiful, much like Danish culture itself. Danes also speak perfect English, which certainly eased any culture shock an 18 year old living alone in a foreign country might experience. 

Wow, sounds incredible.  In terms of ballet, did you have to make any adjustments in your technique when you moved to Denmark?

I did have to make a huge technique adjustment when I moved to Denmark. I held on to my straight legged turns and general movement aesthetic, but I certainly had to become more sensitive to stylistic changes of Bournonville repertoire.

Those straight-legged pirouettes are giving me grief in Allegro these days!  But speaking of stylistic changes, you originated the title role in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Golden Cockerel.  What was that like?  

Alexei is one of a kind. Working with him on Golden Cockerel pushed me to my every limit as a dancer and an artist. The story originates in old Russian folklore and the privilege of re-telling it through such an innovative narrative was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Definitely a career highlight! 

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Did you bring any aspect of Danish culture back with you when you moved to Boston?  What was that transition like?

When I moved back to America, I promised myself that I would bring as much Danish culture as I could possibly carry back with me. The reverse culture shock was actually extremely entertaining. I vowed to maintain a clutter-free apartment, invested in mid-century furniture and sprinkled tea-light candles everywhere to bring back the “hygge” elements of life Danes are famous for creating. The work load was certainly more intense in Boston, longer rehearsal hours, more performances. I was closer to my family though, and their proximity of support and love certainly helped with the adjustment. 

I’ve always loved the concept of “hygge”.  A cozy life is very important to me!  Ha.  Do you feel that you have been affected as an artist by the different environments in which you have worked?

I have no doubts that my journey as an artist, a dancer, a person have all been affected by the diverse settings I’ve had the privilege of working in. Training in New York City instilled within me a tireless work ethic I maintain today, it ingrained an insatiable curiosity and a contagious energy that I’m proud to share. Beginning my career in Copenhagen provided me with the most humbling, fulfilling platform from which my entire perspective as a dancer, and more importantly a person, grew. My career in Boston Ballet gave me the opportunity to sew my New York roots into a more balanced, Scandinavian approach towards hard work. The styles, cultures, and histories of these ballet companies merged in the most complimentary way for me as a professional dancer, and in the most fulfilling way for me as a person.  

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You are a talented photographer and also write a really lovely blog, Tutus & Tea.  How did you become interested in these sort of “extra curricular activities”, and where did you find the time to pursue them while juggling such a busy work schedule?

Thank you! My journey creating Tutus&Tea is one I’m forever grateful for. It all started one summer when my sister teased me for “not having a creative hobby (pilates/yoga doesn’t count!)”.  At the time she and my father were getting really into SLR cameras and there was one sitting on the counter. I picked it up, began researching, and invested in what would become one of my most favorite hobbies, photography. This was the summer before my first full season with Royal Danish Ballet, and when I returned to Copenhagen, my camera came with me.

Tutus&Tea came to me one sleepless night when I was contemplating the whole “blog trend.” What started as a creative outlet for me to chronicle my days of dancing, eating, traveling abroad turned into an enthusiastic pursuit of passions of stage that in turn, fueled my artistic perspectives on dance in exciting new ways.

As for time, there never seems to be enough of it right? I guess we all make time for things that bring us joy, and for me, Tutus&Tea was surely one of those things. 

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That is so true.  So let’s talk about what life looks like right now.  You recently retired from ballet and moved to New York City to attend Columbia University.  What provoked this change and how did you know the timing was right?

So timing is one of these funny things to honestly reflect on. I’ve come to believe that we’ll never really know if timing is ever right. When I considered the idea of “transitioning,” I actually wrote down my thought trains in a rather lengthy post on my blog that ended up being more of a letter to myself. Professional careers in dance are finite. They are precious, yet sacrificial. They are glamorous, yet exhausting. I told myself I would make Ballet a career as long as I felt fulfilled, as long as I truly enjoyed it. Otherwise it’s just too hard.

Columbia University has a unique undergrad program that was created for “non-traditional” students who have been separated from their education for some interesting reason. Think military veterans, professional athletes, parents, and a whole lot of dancers…Writing my application essay alone was an opportunity to converse with myself honestly- to reflect on my career and what it has brought me, to question my present career commitment, and to entertain ideas of change. It was cathartic and it was necessary. 00342v5a0818

How is it going so far?  Here you can just tell us a bit about what life is like lately, what you’re majoring in, any interested courses you’re enjoying or struggling with, etc.

It’s a whirlwind! I am currently enrolled full time, entertaining the idea of a major in Cultural Anthropology and potentially Journalism. I’m taking four classes, my favorite of which is Philosophy of Art where we are mostly learning how to question questions…so compelling! I’m struggling with the insane amounts of reading, and the challenge of prioritizing copious amounts of homework over enticing invitations that living in this city presents. I am LOVING being intellectually challenged and inspired on a daily basis. I am loving the change so far, and giving back to my body and mind in ways that I haven’t been able to for the last 16 years of my life focused primarily on dance. 

That’s wonderful!  I’m so happy for you. What advice do you have for dancers who are interested in pursuing other interests outside the studio?

I would strongly suggest that all dancers should find and pursue passions outside of the studio. Not only will this provide healthy perspective and space away from your days on stage, it will sculpt your perspective and approach towards your dancing that absolutely benefit your dancing! 

Find something that inspires or interests you beyond dance and take the time to indulge it. Pursue friendships and relationships outside of the theater and relish opportunities to balance your life outside of the ballet world. 

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Okay time for a little lightning Round:

Go-to breakfast? Gooooood coffee with cream, always. If there’s not a worthy blueberry muffin nearby, I do love a greek yogurt, granola, banana, honey situation.

Favorite ballet? Always a hard one. Tie between Serenade, Dances at a Gathering, West Side Story and Jewels…but let’s be honest, it depends on the day ;) 

Career highlight? I think I have too many career highlights to choose just one (insert monkey hidden face emoji) but on the top of my mind might be my first performance as Blue Girl in Dances at a Gathering, my premiere of Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson, Flower Festival in Genzano for Erik Bruhn, and Serenade for the Night of Stars in Boston….

Favorite restaurant in Boston? Wholy Grain and Tatte for Breakfast, Flour for lunch, Metropolis and Barcelona for Dinner

Favorite Danish meal/food? Mmmm….. I have to go with desserts. Aebleskiver and Gløgg during Christmas time are the best. They’re a type of pancake “holes” filled with warm, lemon zest flavored pancake filling that you role in powdered sugar and jam, accompanied by strong, mulled wine. It’s a magical combination. 

Guilty pleasure?  Ice cream always. And I don’t feel guilty about it. :) 

Thank you so much, Shelby! xx

a recipe

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Confession: I have what M likes to refer to as a “ballerina fridge”.  In my defense, there are several factors that contribute to the sad state of my fridge on a Friday night.  I blame this mostly on the fact that I live alone.  I’m not a big-meal-prep-on-a-Sunday-night kinda gal. I like my meals fresh and tend to visit the grocery store several times a week as a result.  The shelves of my refrigerator are a constant rotation of items best consumed within 24-48 hours.  It’s just how I roll.

Enter the long weekend.  It’s Monday morning, you’ve slept in considerably.  You are hungry.  There’s a slight autumn chill in the air.  You want pancakes.  You need pancakes.  You fall back on a few freezer/pantry staples, throw in the last of the blueberries, and you are extremely proud of the thick, fluffy results.  You decide to share the “recipe” on yer blog…

Whole Wheat Cornmeal Blueberry Ballerina Pancakes

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tblsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 1/4 cups coconut milk

Sift first 4 ingredients together.  Yes, sift!  This is the secret to fluffy pancakes, promise.  Stir in cornmeal and cinnamon.  In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until light and frothy.  Elbow grease. Stir in vanilla and maple syrup.  Combine the wet ingredients into the dry and stir.  Heat a griddle, throw down a slab of butter and ladle out 1/4 cup (ish) piles of batter.  Sprinkle blueberries in, flip after batter has settled and brown the other side.

Note: This recipe makes very thick, cakey pancakes (hehe), so a low-and-slow cooking method is recommended.

Enjoy with maple syrup, cherry preserves, and Wes Anderson.

c l o u d & v i c t o r y

I first fell in love with Cloud & Victory via social media.  It was a classic tale of Instagram romance, if you will.  There were pizza emojis, hilarious narrations, and captions that spoke to my soul.  This one made me laugh especially hard…Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 12.23.39 PM.png

Cloud & Victory seems to speak the mind of today’s ballet dancer.  Aside from all that Instagram brilliance, the collection itself is spotted with fun pop culture references, snarky quotes, and of-the-moment affirmations.  The clothing (in design and manufacturing) is unusual, honest, and indisputably quirky.  My jeté en l’air like you don’t care tee always cheers up a long Saturday in the studio, its cheekiness matched only by the lightness of its fabric.

 When I saw this, I cracked up and just knew I had to reach out to Min, the genius behind the C&V brand.  We instantly connected (thanks social media and shared interests), and sweet Min sent over a tee from the Spring collection (Blood, Sweat & Pirouettes could not be a more accurate description of the Swan Lake preparation process- and yes, I do sweat glitter) as well as the Svetlana Zakharova/Carl Sagan mash-up inspired by the former’s Odette (because Carl Sagan as Odette would probably be more of a turtleneck situation).  I snuggled up with my super soft new duds and chatted with the lovely Min about the dancewear brand that bolstered her in the wake of very personal despair…about-cloudandvictory-min-with-miko

Hi Min!  Let’s get right to it.  Tell us how Cloud & Victory began.

I had become anorexic and clinically depressed when I was in law school from pushing myself too hard, and had taken a year off to recover. A new ballet school opened near my home, and I decided to take some ballet classes. Ballet was really helpful to my recovery, and when I returned to university to finish my degree I decided to design and sell some fun ballet tops to cope with the trauma of going back to school – clothes I would want to wear. After graduation, I was still too ill and weak to take a full time job, so I decided to focus on the clothing thing for a few months while I got better. Even though it was supposed to be temporary, I took it very seriously! I knew that I wanted to offer a socially-responsible product, with clothing that was high-quality and ethically made. I did a lot of research and put a lot of work into it. The word got out very gradually, but the response was very positive, both from professional dancers and students, so I kept going and going. And I haven’t stopped!

It’s hard work but I love C&V and am grateful to have the chance to do what I’m doing. I’m also very lucky to have my family’s support – even though they initially didn’t have a clue about ballet and were pretty skeptical of this funny online thing I was doing! Cloud & Victory is actually a combination of my parents’ Chinese names.e1c9c0b921fb433123340ef412f0d9a8 (1)

Your story is really quite beautiful.  What has been the most special moment for you in creating this brand?

Oh gosh, so many! Shooting with my friends, like Joy Womack, Keenan Kampa and Miko Fogarty. A forthcoming collaboration with Gaynor Minden. Going backstage after an ABT performance and realising that a bunch of dancers knew about C&V. Diana Vishneva contributing her pointe shoes to a fundraiser I organized for Nepal earthquake victims. A woman e-mailing me to tell me that an interview I did with Royal Danish Ballet’s Carling Talcott about our experiences with anorexia encouraged her to seek help for her eating disorder. All the people I’ve had the privilege of meeting, collaborating with and befriending through C&V – I treasure all these moments and relationships. They keep me going when I feel discouraged or burnt out.SS16-Lookbook-8

The biggest one that stands out for me right now was going to Russia to shoot with Joy – I had my photographer and backup photographer cancel on me just days before the trip, Russia had just invaded Ukraine so there was a lot of uncertainty, and I was one of the few crazy foreigners going into the country instead of trying to get out. This short Chinese person, wandering into Russia. But thankfully it all worked out.

“I had never imagined when I started C&V that I would ever end up in this place, this ballet mecca, and pull off this crazy, incredible experience.”

 

I got to collaborate with Joy again and watch her perform, which was such a treat. I met and took pictures of some lovely girls from Vaganova school, some of whom I’m still in touch with – I couldn’t believe that all the way in Russia, there were dancers who liked C&V and wanted to work with me! odette

On my last night I watched the Mariinsky perform. It was amazing – my first ever Ratmansky! After the show, I was waiting by the canal between the old and new Mariinsky buildings for my friend Xander. I remember looking up at the night sky and crying: it was so surreal. I had never imagined when I started C&V that I would ever end up in this place, this ballet mecca, and pull off this crazy, incredible experience. And then Xander popped up next to me and I had to hastily tidy myself up without him noticing. Luckily it was dark!

Most of the Russians I met were really nice and helpful as well, I’ve heard from my Russian friends that this isn’t always the case!

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Wow, squad goals is right!  You have had some pretty incredible experiences so far.  What’s your ultimate pipe dream?

Well, of course every business owner wishes for their brand to be successful. I suppose my biggest goal would be for C&V to be in a position where thorough it I can contribute consistently and meaningfully to the world we live in, and to foster a ballet community where we can help and empower each other. It sounds terribly cheesy, but it’s true! Oh, and to be less stressed. Less tired, more inspired – that’s the dream!

AMEN TO THAT.  

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Thank you so much Min, for generously sharing your humor, your story, and your glorious designs!  Head over here to shop and learn more about Cloud & Victory on their blog. xx

All photos via Cloud & Victory.

theatre thoughts

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home is where the house faces

and up on high the white light traces

a hallow box the wing embraces

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home is where the curtain rises

to a careful grid of our varied sizes

we look, line, breathe and hope distance disguises

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home is where the booms stack and glow

creative floods do steady flow

and nurtured artists bloom and grow

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home is where the gold molding frames

setting and seating change their names

but forever our sanctuary the theatre remains.

{sleepy theatre thoughts by me | awesome dress rehearsal photos by Jacob Hoover}