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.

opening little windows

Dancers being dealt months of dormancy throughout the company’s most changing time has its obvious challenges. Less overt but perhaps more productive to consider, though, are the many openings that come with prolonged pause. Small but mighty things that contribute to grand personal evolutions when collected over time. Tiny victories and lessons gathered as the results of risks taken during times of rediscovery. Or maybe it’s just reacquainting…

Complicated technique that has slipped away paves a path for correcting old habits. Deep grooves that once sculpted your thighs have smoothed over for a new artist’s carving to begin. Even simple things become fun endeavors to discover; Considering a new brand of pointe shoes? Remember this old leotard you used to love? What about this rehearsal skirt that never got worn? Everything is just a bit more precious. There’s no need to save it for later. All cards are fair game.

These realizations are helpful when you are waist-high in creating a reimagined Nutcracker. One that’s not only different from the production you have danced through 19 Decembers, but different from any show you’ve ever even seen. Because it’s outside. In a parking lot. And there are masks, and skipped scenes, and forced heat. It’s amazing how a year of perspective-change training can make all of the “shortcomings” into miracles. How lucky are we to be given this grant, this space, this time to refocus on our craft? This is the process that gives us life, what makes us tick. The mundane, the repetition, the midnight ache. All of these thorns in our sides that let blossom our art.

As we watch cases rise around the country and here in RI, we remain hopeful that this new Nutcracker will move forward and that we will be able to bring some much needed cheer to our community this season. If you are around, consider bundling up and seeing something new here in Providence.

the perfect mistake

There have been a fair few new faces around FBP lately, and one that I have particularly enjoyed meeting is Christopher Anderson. His classes are fun but challenging, with an emphasis on placement, mind-to-muscle connection, and fluidity of movement. You know that refreshing feeling when you hear someone explain something you’ve been working on for 20 years in a way you’ve somehow never considered before? “Put your collarbones into your first position circle.” Lightbulb.

Christopher tends to call upon memories of his own training, sharing nuggets of wisdom he received from his teachers around the world. They are always golden tidbits, but one in particular stood out last week…

It was a story about a former teacher of his who used to skip around class exuberantly, cheering students on and giving corrections from all angles of the studio. The interesting bit was this: When a student would fumble slightly, but maintain placement or correct mechanics, his teacher would shout excitedly,

“You made the perfect mistake!”

The perfect mistake. This little oxymoron instantly clicked for me. It rooted itself even deeper when, that evening while coaching students for YAGP, one of my girls asked what she should do if her attitude turns don’t go well on stage. We spend a lot of time talking about performance quality and the point of competitions, which in my opinion, is not being judged, rather painting the stage for the audience. It’s about learning to set the scene and fill the space with dancers so convincingly that the audience can see them, too. It’s about finding your voice. If you can do this during a competition when you’re alone onstage, storytelling through dance becomes second nature as a professional. But I digress…

I try to impress upon my students the importance of “rehearsing options”. In other words, practice what you will do on stage if you fall out of that pirouette, or come down early during your hops en pointe. Don’t just stomp it off. Gracefully transition to the next step. Smooth things over. Make the perfect mistake. The mistake that shows your technique and mindfulness. I can’t help but think about how well this idea can be applied to every day life…

When you are over tired and accidentally order 5 too many jars of peanut butter during quarantine. But then you have a shelf-stable option that gets you through that stretch of sheltering-in-place where cooking an elaborate meal every night became an uninspired chore…for example. Or when you accidentally board the wrong train, end up somewhere in New Jersey with no cash, cry, find your way back to Manhattan, but then get to spend a surprise extra night with your best friend. The perfect mistake.

So I’ll repeat what we’ve all heard and know, but perhaps need to hear again: it’s not what happens, but how we deal with it. What’s more empowering than that? This truth brings the control back into our own hands, makes mistakes into opportunities. Accidents become lessons, chances to show our worth, our training, our humanity. Those little moments of impurity become the slivers of ourselves, little flashes of individuality, because how I deal with a mistake will be different from everyone else in the room. And that is where our voice hides. In the perfection. Only in those teeny cracks in our facade can we show the world who we really are.

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

four decades of dance

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You know how I’ve been complaining for the past year about how busy I’ve been? Well friends, I wrote a book.

What started as a simple chronicle of Festival Ballet’s 40 years became a thorough narrative not only encapsulating the history of the company, but showcasing photos and memorabilia that had since been lost in the depths of the archives. I spent many an afternoon elbow-deep in the chaotic filing cabinets that keep Festival’s past, riffling through playbills from the ’80s, checking facts and faces as I went. Many summer days spent sweating in the little conference room at 825 Hope, choosing fonts, resizing photos, playing graphic designer…

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I am a perfectionist. I am rarely happy with my work. For the first time in what feels like a long time, I am truly pleased. I have so many people to thank for their assistance and mentorship along the way. But here, in this special little piece of webspace where I can open myself up, I will say: I am proud.

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Stay tuned for the final version of the book, and information on how to order it, if you’re interested. For now, I’ll just remain unabashedly tickled. :)

 

photos of me by Michael Collins, cover photo by Jacob Hoover.

back to the stage

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Beethoven, Phillip Glass, unauthored cacophonies, but first ballet class…

This weekend I will (finally!) perform in my first real program of the season! That’s seven longs months offstage, folks. Despite last minute adjustments in choreography, costumes, timing, spacing (you know, the usual), I am feeling emotionally r e a d y. I’m dancing Plotnikov, Kozadayev, Yanowsky, and Douglas. Ooof, now say that all five times fast…

So tonight’s the night. It’s about dang time. Let’s do this thing. Go get ’em, tiger. And all those other clichés. See you on the other side.

 

Photo by Dylan Giles.

you want thing-a-ma-bobs?

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WOW.

It’s been almost a month since my foray under the sea, and I have yet to chronicle it here! What an interesting experience, to dance a ballet with no legs, hovering above the stage in a shimmering pseudo-fin. With some support from my undertow (blue unitard-clan men), I bobbed through back flips and press lifts, paddling through the waves with the wonder of a woman in love with a world she’s never known.

Of course, I owe the great fun of Act II to my Prince, whose garden grows greener and waltzing whirls worthier than any I’ve known. Okay, things are getting strange…enjoy some behind-the-scenes photos, I’m off!

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first 6 photos by Thomas Nola-Rian.

 

marveling mermaid

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Whoever said getting older meant “growing up” never met a professional ballet dancer. One of the best things about my job is the essential nature of imagination. The cornerstone of my career transforms “playing pretend” into “making believe”.

In one of my first story ballets, I flew on the ragged tunic-tails of a magical manboy, coated in pixie dust, second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. Neverland became real for a while, and I visited not only in my daily rehearsals but in my sleep each night. In a few weeks I will revisit the little Cinder girl who waltzes in glass slippers and rides a pumpkin to meet a prince, but first I inhabit a mermaid.

Comfort in the sea and pure wonder on dry land, I’m a wide-eyed child, reborn on the shore in awe. The Little Mermaid marvels most everything in this strange new world, an assignment whose endless benefits I do not ignore. There’s nothing quite like putting yourself in the wobbling young legs of a recently spellbound former sea creature. Tip toeing around a garden, clean of this world’s clutter and ready to receive. What a gift to be tasked with occupying this curious stranger.

And if you were wondering whether or not playing around with mythical beings and fairytales is a difficult thing to do “at the office”, note my derpy rock friend and the happy puppy in the background of the above picture. Man, I love my job.

 

If you are in New England, come check out Little Mermaid. Tickets here.

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…

nutcracker magic

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It felt coincidental when the first snowfall of the season came on our last long Saturday of rehearsals at the studio, little white flurries beckoning from the high windows, guiding us giddily into theater week…

It felt serendipitous when a fresh blanket fell in the wee hours of the morning just before our first Discover Dance performance, returning the world to wonderland…

But it felt utterly and undeniably magical when sparkling white flakes greeted me at the stage door after opening night, making their dizzying way down through the dark downtown sky.

Everything about the stage door at the Providence Performing Arts Center is nostalgic for me. Eight-year-old Kirsten instinctively emerged from the theater out into snowy December, half-mittened hands in the air and boots circling one around the other below. I looked up into the swirling night and felt a peaceful joy that can only be described as Christmas bliss.

Boy, what the adrenaline of opening night Sugarplum and little snowfall will do to a girl.

 

an article about my many Nutcrackers, here.

a review of last night, below…

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first photo by Cameron Morgan.