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.

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

hot town, summer in the city

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It’s been a whole month (!) since Swan Lake. Several days after the final performance, The Great Flu of ’19 knocked me down for 2 weeks and well, you could say I ran out of steam. My annual lofty goals to “keep dancing all summer” fizzled under piles of tissues, and needless to say, I’ve been looking for motivation to get back into the studio ever since. Well guys, I think I might have just found it…

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We know the magic of Zarely’s super soft tights (I love the recovery compression tights for going out after a performance when my legs need a little love!) and elevated activewear, but did you know they recently released two leotards? Well, listen up. I’m out here shouting it from the rooftops.

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Have I peaked your curiosity? Okay, the review…

In keeping with Zarely’s design style, the Alicia leotard is cut to flatter. I was worried about her higher neckline, but the material (made in Italy) hugs so nicely. The lining is soft but effective- trust a busty ballerina to give you an honest assessment when it comes to support that doesn’t strangle you.

The base fabric is  thick enough to smooth things out without puffing up, but I think my favorite feature is the mesh panel…

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The designers at Zarely pay special attention to lines when creating each piece, and woah baby, it pays off. I’m not typically one for wearing mesh on the front of my torso, but this leotard dips a toe into the trend without being over the top. I’m a fan.

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So, what do you think?! If you’re interested in trying out one of Zarely‘s new leo’s (or any of their well-made dancewear) and want a little discount, use code KIRSTENZARELY for 20% off at checkout.

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photos by Jenay Evans for STB.

that’s a wrap

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Two weeks from today marks opening night of Nutcracker and the first official day of winter. But dancers know Nutcracker season is already in full swing, and New Englanders (or other cold-weather-dwellers) know winter has indeed arrived.

Early sunsets and extended studio hours make for chilly ballerinas. Luckily, my absolute favorite dancewear brand, RubiaWear, has us covered. Literally. Hehe.

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I firmly believe everything Ashley Ellis touches turns to gold. The RubiaWear creator and Boston Ballet principal dancer has been growing her collection of ultra-soft and flattering warm ups (which began as a range of legwarmers), and I am all about it. I’ve waxed poetic on the perfection of Rubia legwarmers in the past, but have I introduced you to the Cora wrap?

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Made from the softest fabric in a rainbow of color options, the Cora is cut to the perfect long-enough-to-warm-you-up but short-enough-to-keep-things-light way that Ashley’s designs seem to nail every time. The cozy wrap multitasks as much as its maker, lending itself to a whole gamut of various functions. While I tend to wear it doubled up around my hips, I’ve also been known to circle it around my neck when my shoulders feel stiff, or blanket it over my knees backstage.

Versatility, coziness, and a ballerina-run business. Win, win, win, as they say.

Curious about Cora? Check out my chat with Ashley here and browse the full RubiaWear line here.

perform and protect

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Every year around the first week of November, my calendar fills up with acupuncture appointments and ice baths. My heating pad fires up multiple times a day, I sit down whenever possible, and when standing is a necessity, I consciously shift weight back and forth between my two legs to avoid (or let’s be honest, delay) the eminent burn out of my left calf muscle. That’s right, Nutcracker Season is upon us and my left leg is feeeeeeling it.

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If you have danced any variation of the “traditional” Petipa version of Grand Pas (affectionately referred to as Grandpa), you know what I mean. Each and every section of the 15 minute pas de deux- from adagio to coda- seems to depend heavily on the strength of the left leg. It’s the supporting leg in every pirouette, promenade, and balance and by the last cymbal crash, that baby is screaming.

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Swooping in to give my left calf any chance of survival this season, my favorite compression-tech dancewear brand, Apolla, sent over one of their newest products to save the day. The K-warmer (short for Kinesio) is made with a tight-knit to provide targeted compression to sore leg muscles. The special weave encourages circulation, which reduces inflammation and lowers the risk of injury. It’s sort of like having a personal physical therapist following your sore legs around, wrapping tape where you need support and applying pressure where you need blood flow.

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I love that the K-warmer provides support while still allowing my body to perform at its full range of motion. The warmers (which come in a set) can be extended for full leg coverage, but I like to double up on the squeeze-factor by folding one down around my calf for an extra warm hug. On particularly long days, I keep my K-warmers on when I leave the studio, so they can keep working their magic while my body transitions into rest mode. Performance and protection, double whammy! They are also antimicrobial (aka not stinky), sleek fitting (hello tutu time), and dancer approved.

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I really do swear by all of Apolla’s products and wear them daily. You guys know, I only work with brands that I genuinely love and think you will, too! If you want to get your hands on/legs in a pair of K-warmers, use code STB-ApollaDiscount-4 for 10% off at checkout.

PS- this is not an affiliate code- I don’t make any money from this, just want to spread the love and help you survive Nutcracker Season! Code is valid through November 22, 2018. xx

bippity-bopitty-boo

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You know those moments in life when everything seems to fall into place serendipitously? A stranger reaches out on Facebook, timing is right, and good vibes effervesce abundantly…

This was my Cinderella story. On Tuesday we drove to Connecticut and made a variation (with 3 menages!). On Wednesday we tasted a giant pretzel, then hit the stage with lights and fog. And glitter. On Thursday we dress rehearsed and dress rehearsed again. Followed by margaritas and tacos in the rain. On Friday we took a Tesla to lunch, we ran-through et voila, on Saturday, we performed for a sold out house. We signed autographs, we took pictures, we performed again. We ate tapas and crossed paths with old friends while forging ships with new ones. On Sunday, another sold out show, more signatures on playbills, and sweet words from the kindest of people. Goodbyes were harder than anticipated, for this crew I spent just 6 days with. But isn’t that what it’s all about? Experiences that leave you wanting more, and checking your toes for magical shoes, as you lay half asleep in your bed, wondering if the whole thing had perhaps been a dream…

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performance photos and beautiful experience via Ballet Theater Company.

swimming into spring

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It’s here! Spring sunshine, mermaid musings, and the final week of the FBP season! Whew!

What a long and fulfilling season it has been.  I’ve been a lonely widow, a playful courier of faith, a sugar-filled fairy, an icy queen, a dewy drop, a romantic American, a rousing ruby, a hyper fox, a slippery tippler, a gush of thrusting gust, a significantly more spritely American, and now, a marveling mermaid.

Here’s to a season of playing, dancing, stumbling, swooshing, and swimming. I am beyond excited to jump down under the sea this weekend. If you’re in New England, I hope you’ll join me.

a chat with lauren lovette

Lauren_Lovette_for_Zarely_1800_1000_1400x.progressiveNYCB Principal Lauren Lovette, photo by Zarely.

At the Vail Dance Festival back in August, I was walking through the park on my way back from the amphitheater when I happened upon Lauren Lovette. She was sitting on a park bench, headphones around her neck, smiling at the wind. Mere hours away from premiering her new work (in which she was also dancing) that evening, Lauren looked calm and comfortable. So I decided to say hello.

Two hours later, we had recorded an entire (2 part!) interview and were now veering into a most interesting topic- her recent foray into veganism. Having just watched What The Health? with the rest of the Netflix loving world, veganism was at the forefront of my mind, and chatting about it with Lauren only further excited me. It wasn’t until the imminent food poisoning incident that I actually went fully plant-based, but I recently re-listened to our veganism chat and found Lauren’s story pretty enlightening.

Ms. Lovette is insightful, down-to-earth, and honest. Plus, there’s no denying her perfect podcast toned voice. ;) She shares her struggle with keeping on weight, eating a junk food diet, fighting for endurance, a serious health scare, and healing herself with plant food.

If you are curious, pull up a park bench and chat with us…

Thank you so much, Lauren, for sharing your experience!

in my skin

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I’ve been standing in the shower for far longer than necessary, letting the hot water patter over my shoulders and steam up my sore body. Two thick strips of kinesio tape flank my pulled lateral quad. A pillow of gauze inflates with water between my scarred baby toe and my bruised fourth toenail. The biggest toe on my other foot hides its half-nail under a bandage cap. Ballerina feet indeed.

That morning, finally seeing my podiatrist after a week of phone tag, he jokes that I’m lucky he doesn’t have a jealous wife. I have 3 voicemails in my inbox that say, “Hi Kirsten, it’s me. I’ll try again later.” This morning the office is empty save for my mother, the secretary, the doctor, and me. He’s wearing full scrubs, gracious nature brings him in to cut away bits of my skin before heading to the hospital for a full day of surgeries. My mother- bless her brave soul- is enlisted as accomplice, er assistant, in the scraping of my toe gunk. She patiently holds back my pesky wiggly toe- the one that’s had a bit of bone removed by that very wonderful podiatrist himself several years before- and never even squirms at its squishy ilk.

Today begins a week of 12-hour days. Beginning in the studio at 9:30am and wrapping in the theater at 10pm when the union crew turns out the lights on us, we will work. We will warm up, we will rehearse, we will warm up again. We will space, we will learn, we will dance. We will correct, repeat, perform. Repeat. A week quite literally full of ballet. Equal parts intimidated and excited, a recipe for the best kind of butterflies.

Here goes.

hbd mr. b

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It’s Mr. B’s b-day and I’m celebrating with a little homework. Ballet homework, that is…

A week ago Balanchine repetiteur Sandy Jennings was in town setting Rubies for our February program and I’m feeling pretty dang honored to be rehearsing both Solo Girl (aka “Tall Girl”) and the Principal Pas De Deux. Eeep! So much excitement, so much responsibility, so many counts.

So here I am watching archival videos online, sipping on dandelion tea, and sitting on my NEW COUCH. If you’ve been following along for a while, you know how much I love arranging and rearranging my furniture, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve made such a major change in my space. Stay tuned for photos, it’s been a wild ride…