full circle

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When I was 9 years old, I took my first pointe class.  It was my first exposure to classical ballet, my first time hearing the word épaulement, and my first time using those barres around the studio walls for a non-playtime purpose.  I had stepped- rather abruptly- out of the world of sequins and trophies and into the rigorous schedule of Festival Ballet Providence’s summer workshop.

Because like many children of the ’90s my previous knowledge of pointe shoes came from posters of babies in green tutus, I strolled into that very first pointe class with my ribbons criss-crossed 3 times and tied just below the knee.  Yes, I know.  Luckily for me (and my pre-adolescent self esteem), gracious Miss Mary Ann put a gentle arm around me, chuckled, and guided me through the entire process from padding to relevé.

That first pair of properly laced pointe shoes was like a seal; I was irrevocably into it.  The next fall I registered for a few classes, then more, and by the following year I was diving into a full load of classes on the pre-professional track at FBP.

When the need for Summer Dance Intensive training wove its way into what I was beginning to subconsciously refer to as my “career path”, I was 11.  FBP’s was the first SDI I attended, effectuating my first impression of the demanding, rewarding, and, yes, intense experience these programs are named for.  Naturally, I was hooked.

The six summers that followed brought me from Connecticut to New York and back.  I performed with a pseudo-company of 22 international dancers at Jacob’s Pillow and studied under countless methodologies, including a Bolshoi program taught entirely in Russian.  Ras, dva, tri…

Just in time for my final Summer Dance Intensive, though, fate brought me back to FBP.  Those 4 weeks were some of the most physically difficult and spiritually gratifying I have ever experienced.  My body and mind were tested in that specific, euphoric way only exhaustive dancing can incite.  It was my divine confirmation.  This was the work I wanted to be doing.  This was professional ballet.

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If my summer dance experience seems to have already come full circle, well then consider this a second lap: I am thrilled to announce I will be teaching in FBP’s 2017 Summer Dance Intensive!  This July I will join the staff at FBP, instructing future ballerinas in variations and pointe.

The studios that fostered my love of ballet, equipped that love for the real world and have since become my second home will now grow with me once more.  I cannot wait to give back all that this sacred place has given me.  So come dance with me, will you?

audition tour dates.

more information.

collide

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This new season begins with collaboration.  A propitious brew of poet, choreographer, actor, dancer, observer, blended in pursuit of manifesting tragedy.  We’ve come together under a prolific score to leave some unique, yet to be determined impression on history’s most influential love story.  Creating and learning together, spoken expressions fusing with silent ones to produce some new form.

The past 2 weeks were certainly long ones, with Ilya Kozadayev in Providence creating an entire full length ballet in just 11 days.  Yeah.  We also welcomed 2 talented actors from Pawtucket’s Gamm Theatre as well as their director, Tony Estrella, into the studios to incorporate the element of dialogue into the show.  With words so beautiful, it’s only right to hear a few of them spoken by professionals.

Speaking of pretty words, as a lover of literature, I’ve been so appreciating hearing such expertly chosen arrangements articulated in the studios.  One of my favorites so far: “Come what sorrow can, it cannot countervail [this] exchange of joy.”  Ah, such lyrical beauty.  Here’s one that hits even closer to home: “Ladies that have their toes/ Ah, my mistresses!  Which of you all / Unplagued by corns will walk a bout with you.”  If you know my history with corns, well.

I’m quite looking forward to bringing this all to its decidedly unique fruition.  Stay tuned, friends.

 

photo via Festival Ballet Providence.

prepared

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I’m a planner.  Routines, lists, schedules…my piety is in preparation.  But some things cannot be predicted.

This year’s was by far the most dramatic Nutcracker of all my seventeen.  Through a partner swap, stolen costumes, and an injured principal pulled from the production the evening before, I found myself performing Sugar Plum Fairy with my best friend as Cavalier on opening night.  My life had suddenly become a cheesy Hallmark Channel special, but with actual dreams coming true.

No amount of planning could have prepared me for those 14 glorious minutes on stage, or for my devastation the following morning: Halfway through warm up I learned that the dear woman who gave me my first barre had just died.  Unable to finish class, I sloppily collected my things from the stage and fought through tears toward my dressing room, only to be stopped by my sweet partner.  He had awoken with a seized back and would be unable to perform Grand Pas in our scheduled matineeé that day.  Twenty of my friends and family were already gathering in the velvet-softened house; I sat in the light of my glowing mirror and cried.  I wept for Miss Ann, for the theatre whispering her name through its walls, and the stolen costumes crafted by her skilled hands.  I cried out exhausted, heaving breaths for the little girl who loves lists and the abrupt destruction of a preparation so righteously designed.  I sobbed, I crumbled, and then I stopped.  I began the meditative making up of my face, my hair, my body.  I found solace in this pre-show ritual.  I found comfort in knowing that dancers around the world were doing the exact same thing at that very moment.  I took a deep breath, and I prepared.

The next day, A’s back had improved significantly, and we performed Grand Pas for a sold out house.  Yes!  For the first time in my professional career with this company, all 3000 seats at PPAC were filled with bow-adorned children and the tired grown up arms on which they pulled.  Little voices asked for explanations, and equally excited wiser voices answered back.  As we took our bows at the end of curtain call, a roar was felt- not heard.  I sensed a closing in as the audience took to their feet, shortening the distance between stage and house.  In that cavernous space so filled with joy and appreciation was a warmth I’m sure will not soon leave me.  I’m learning, slowly, that the best preparation is a conscious opening of one’s self to the unexpected nature of life.  The reward is in the acceptance.

 

photo by Jacob Hoover.

the show must go on

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Like most professional dancers, my first ballet was The Nutcracker.  Unlike most professional dancers, though, the very first Nutcracker I ever performed is the same one I have been a part of every year since.  That’s right.  Next week my Nutcracker career- my Festival Ballet Providence Nutcracker career to be exact- turns 17.  I know.

As with any long term relationship, I feel deeply connected to this show.  Our special nuances separate the FBP production from all other Nutcrackers, a fact that I was unaware of as a child.  It was not until I poked my head out from my little Providence bubble into the ballet world at large that I realized how unifying this ballet is.  Companies everywhere tell this same strange story in this same snowed season.  But this one has always felt like mine.  When you are born into a certain production, this is all you know, after all.  The Silberhaus home feels like my own, its squeaky staircase a welcome greeting each December, that stenciled wallpaper a comforting hug.  Misha’s twinkling snowflake crowns represented a goal in my childhood, a badge of honor in my early corps years, and to this day are among my favorites to don.  From angel to marzipan, a great number of Nutcracker costumes have my name smudged into them.  So when I learned several weeks ago that over half of those beloved costumes had been stolen, my heart dropped.

You may have heard, or perhaps you have not, that around 60 Nutcracker costumes, headpieces and props were stolen from our warehouse.  You also may assume that with just weeks to cushion the shock, recover from the upset, and salvage the show, tensions might be at an all time high.  You might assume that our director is losing it, the dancers are spiraling, and the wardrobe department- well, lack thereof- is forfeiting.  But things are not so.  FBP, however stirred, could not be more merry.  The outpouring of love and support from the ballet world I once knew not of has been truly powerful.

To every person who has so generously aided in the piecing together of our dear Nutcracker, I offer 17 years worth of my most sincere thanks.  You are the spirit of December.

 

 

Another bit of light from the darkness, this letter from one of our youngest cast members:

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For more about our costumes and the companies supporting us:

The Rhode Show

Broadway World

Providence Journal

for tickets.

don’t count your nuts

Like so many, my first audition was for a role in The Nutcracker.  My eighth birthday had fallen in February of the previous winter, and having finally reached the age requirement, I spent six months excitedly preparing.  I was one plan-happy, eager little girl- that is, until the day of the audition.  I freaked and decided the thrill of the big stage would no longer outweigh the terror of the audition process, and I would “not like to do this at all, thank you very much.”

My gem of a mother knew better than to succumb to my nerve-induced sudden change of heart, so she took me to the audition anyway, thank goodness.  As you may have already guessed, it was a total blast and I was elated.  I came home and reenacted the entire audition for my mom, showing her how we’d shuffled across the floor like angels and even temps lie-ed with imaginary dolls like party girls.  I impersonated the artistic director’s Serbian accent as he thanked  me, “Number Seventeeeeen” again and again to make my mother laugh, and we started to imagine what the dressing rooms at PPAC might be like.  I repeated my version of the audition for my (patient) mother every night, while we waited one very long week for the casting to be available.  Seven days later, auditionees were instructed to call the studio to see if we’d made it onto the list (#itwas1999).  I stood by the phone in the kitchen with bated breath while my mom called in.  A strange sort of blue took over her entire face.  She hung up, shook her head, and hugged me.

I remember quite clearly the next two hours of sadness.  I ran straight for my swing set in the backyard, flopped onto my favorite swing with the padded blue chains and white rubber seat, and cried.  I’m sure there was some dramatic singing of a ballad (I think I was pretty into this one at that time), and lots of sad, slow swinging.  My mother followed me out to the swing set and, earning the place she defends to this day as my #1 supporter, cried right along with me.  We hugged and dangled from that swing like a couple of soggy sponges until the familiar high-pitched growl of the landline telephone shrieked from the house.  My mom ran in to put it out of its misery and returned moments later with that golden light back in her face.  “You got in.”

Apparently, half of the cast list had been misplaced.  I’d been “in” all along.  But those crucial two hours when I thought I hadn’t made it taught me a very powerful lesson.  In those few hours, I grew my thick skin.  Though it looked like a pity party (well, it was a pity party), those tears would be the fuel in my fire for a career in the rather merciless world of ballet.  To this day, my mother and I still half-jokingly chant, “Don’t count your nuts before they’re cracked.”

Never take anything for granted.  There is really no such thing as a “given”.  As a reward for sticking it out through this brash life lesson from the leaky eyes of an 8-year-old, I give you this very derpy me, in my first role with a professional ballet company:

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splash

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Last night, driving toward the last sunset of summer layoff, I was stumbling in the description of my own confusing feelings on returning to the studio, and M said something  rather poetic.

“It’s like you’re about to jump into a cold lake.  You have been standing on the edge for so long, counting down, 3…2…1…but it’s not time.  3…2…no!  3…2…

Once you jump in, you will feel so good.  Refreshed, energetic, in your element.  Comfortable, even.  You just need to make that first splash.”

His flawless analogy revealed more than the fact that I had obviously bloated his ears full of my bipolar, excited laments on the subject far too many times, but also that he was listening.  I mean, really listening.  The kind that defines passivity with its fervent opposition.  Listening with an attentive purpose, wheels turning, taking in every word and searching his own glossary of Kirsten closeness to dissect the true meaning in each one.

This morning I am grateful for the chance to dive in, and for the support of someone who knows just when to let go of my hand and whisper “Jump.”

 

 

collage by Merve Özaslan.

from the h o u s e

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Ballet is a living art form.  Its makers do not produce something to be hung and admired, used, or stored for the enjoyment of a future audience.  It is breathing and fleeting.  After a step has been made, so too it has vanished.  When a performance concludes, all that is left is a memory.

What a magical thing then, when another artist, in this case a photographer, is able to catch a bit of that living art and preserve it in time.  I am grateful to any brave soul who attempts the frustrating task of photographing moving art- especially one as precise and with such perfectionist authors as ballet dancers-  so much so, that I am able (in most instances, ha) to overlook technical imperfections and admire, commend, and spread the beauty such carefully captured art.

A small collection of photographs taken at a dress rehearsal, by the courageous and talented Saulius Ke

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