sugar and spice and snow and dew

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This weekend marks my eighteenth year performing in Festival Ballet Providence’s The Nutcracker. That’s right, folks. My Nutcracker career will officially be a legal adult with voting rights by Sunday evening. I am equal parts giddy and flabbergasted. Where the heck did the time go?

The most remarkable thing about this 18-year marker, I think, is the fact that after hundreds of Nutcrackers, there is still something new; This year I will be dancing the role of Snow Queen for the very first time. Snow pas has always been a favorite of mine…the triumphant horns, the imminence of spritely snowflakes, the sweeping lifts. Misha likes to describe the pas de deux like the beginning of a snow storm, little pockets of icy air chasing each other into swirls. A is the wind and I am swept up in him, spreading diamonds over the stage with my crystal wake. Ah, to be Queen of the Snow…

Of course I am also honored and excited to manifest visions of Sugarplums and whirling Dew Drops once again! If you find yourself in Providence this weekend, you can find tickets here.

 

photos by Emma Margulies.

a premiere in which i did not touch the ground

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This weekend A and I danced our first Christopher Wheeldon ballet. Well, part of it anyway…

We (rather unexpectedly) performed the pas de deux section of Wheeldon’s The American, a lovely ballet set to Dvorak’s triumphant score of the same name. The Company will perform the full ballet as part of our February mainstage, but this weekend PVD got a taste of what’s to come in the Black Box Theater. I’ve been describing this little ditty as 6.5 minutes of being either off your leg or in the air. Poor A never gets to let go of me. But somehow we made it through! Relatively smoothly! A triumph. And now for my own enjoyment, but if you care to see, a rehearsal code run down of one of the hardest, sweetest, most frustratingly beautiful pas de deuxs we’ve done to date:

that hard promenade, the first backwards lift, the lift that kills your arms, the nervous arabesque, the backpack press, the cartwheel, the tricky promenade, the split and scoot, the getting up, the run around, the impossible lift, the weirdly difficult fouetté + fall, the traveling baby lift, the birdy, the slow roll, the floor, the spiritual moment, the walk-walk, the run around, the flip lift, the swizzle, A’s least favorite lift, the drop, the rock, the running, the big lift, the craddle lifts, the backwards cartwheel, the second tricky promenade, the hip killers, the second swizzle, the drapey lift, the last backwards lift, the slow floaty pirouette, the bourrées, the end.

weekend update

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Season 40 is off to a roaring start, and this beautiful beast shows no signs of slowing. In 5 weeks the company have learned almost 6 ballets; One new work is still in the creation phase, and our first full length Widow’s Broom is currently a collection of scenes. I have eight countable bruises on my legs and a fire in my belly. The time is now.

Speaking of full seasons and carpé-ing diems, this weekend M and I are off to the city to see New York City Ballet’s Here/Now program on Sunday. Wheeldon, Wheeldon, Ratmansky, Peck. What an incredible lineup! I will be reviewing the show on The Wonderful World of Dance, so stay tuned.

a ruby anniversary

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with Alan Alberto in George Balanchine’s Rubies, photo by Zaire Kacz Photography, choreography c. The Balanchine Trust.

DISCLAIMER: There are a lot of exclamation points in the post. I do try to use them sparingly, but sometimes there is just a lot to exclaim. Here goes.

In just a few short weeks, Festival Ballet Providence’s 40th year kicks off, celebrating our “Ruby Anniversary” with a packed season. The full schedule is on the website, but a few things I’m looking forward to…

The return of Viktor Plotnikov’s The Widow’s Brooma gorgeous production based on the work of an author who is near and dear to my heart, Chris Van Allsburg.

The 40th year (and my 18th!) of The Nutcracker at PPAC. My FBP Nutcracker experience is a legal adult. She’s graduating highschool and registering to vote. This is BIG, you guys.

The Director’s Choice mixed bill in February (on the weekend of my 26th birthday) featuring Christopher Wheeldon’s The American, George Balanchine’s Rubies, and a world premiere by Viktor Plotnikov set to Igor Stravinsky’s iconic The Soldier’s Tale (with live music and narration!).

A little tour (!) to the University of New Hampshire in April.

The Little Mermaid in the spring! My niece will flip.

I would also like to formally announce that for the 2017/2018 season, I will be joining the staff at FBP as Assistant to the Communications Director!(!!!) Look out for a whole new angle of behind-the-scenes peeks from what I predict will be a very busy Keeks!

Okay, now I am done.

Will I see you at the theatre?

moments.

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I’ve been collecting moments throughout this dear little career of mine. Writing them down, sharing in this space, keeping them safe here where I can return to them when they are needed. Last Saturday night amidst multiple mediums of fire and water, I scooped up a pretty powerful one. It’s past my bedtime, but I’ve got to get this out, down, locked away here in my safe space…

At 8:14 I crouch behind the basin stage. In full red unitard and crimson pointe shoes, it would be tough to hide me even without the hundreds of fiery crystals and plumed feathers crowning my head. Our elliptical audience catches my heart beats then tosses them up like sparks spit from blaze, left to scatter down wildly into the water below.

At 8:20 the performance begins. At 8:24 the first torches are lit. At 8:27 it starts to rain.

Then comes my cue. Stravinsky’s Firebird is reaching its swell, behind thin black capes I make my way to center stage. I enter the huddle of students, worriedly whispering, The stage is so wet! Be careful Miss Kirsten! and as the horns exhaust I am hoisted up from the group.

The music takes a sharp breath in while the audience applauds. Slowly in cadence with the petering cheers, I feel wet ground replaced beneath me and I stare boldly into the crowd. A bassoon guides my sanguine step forward, carefully onto pointe and then downstage. Red feet are less timid than mine. Looking through the layer of thin black smoke and metallic raindrops between us, I finally break gaze with the crowd to twitch my chin down with the quick recoil of my wings.

Oboes lead me through my trance before the flames assemble and the horns creep up again. We board the boat and push into the river as the finale builds. I peak. On a platform in the center of this wobbling wooden vessel, I can feel the warmth of four huge torches surrounding me. I stand in a deep lunge, never feeling more balanced and unstable. Stravinsky’s creation lets out its largest blast. I peek. Up into the weeping night sky, bending back toward flapping wings. It’s then the crowd’s cheers fall silent and I’m wrapped up in my moment. Under water, over water, through fire and cloaked in it, I cry.

This perfect, strange, magical moment, between PVD and me.

 

photo by John A. Simonetti.

a dream is a wish your heart makes

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“Enjoy it,” they said, “Have fun. Finish every movement. Be in the moment. Be present. Be proud.” So I did. And I was.

And I’m still reveling in the magic of this dream coming true…

{two more chances to catch FBP in Winthrop Corey’s Cinderella}

all photos by Brenna DiFrancesco.

theatre week

Things have been BEYOND busy around here; Last week was our final in the studio before hitting the stage and closing the 39th season this week. So yeah. I’m not too proud to admit there were tears. There was blood. And oh, was there sweat. Buckets and buckets of sweet, salty, sweat (see post-run sweat-stained selfies above).

For me, the week culminated in my first Cinderella-as-Cinderella run on Friday night, 2 more runs as Fairy Godmother and Summer Fairy on Saturday, and a big long 40th Season photoshoot on Sunday. Today it’s Monday, and the week still seems to be ending, not beginning, with an extension of yesterday’s photoshoot this morning. The life of a ballet dancer!

It’s been hectic and exhausting and stressful and consuming, but I’m trying to let myself get swept up in the weight of it all knowing that one week from today, my carriage will turn into a pumpkin and my waltzing feet will wear sneakers instead of slippers.

for tickets.

prokofiev’s waltz

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Prokofiev is back in the studios, leading us through his most valtziest, schmaltziest of scores: Cinderella. Lately that classic melody has been filling every bit of free space in my head with its eerie brimstone canter. Daa-na, da na na na naaa…

This time around I’m doing a bit of a straddle across the ballet, dancing roles in every realm from corps to principal. That’s the beauty of an unranked company; you never know where the next rehearsal will take you! Wednesday morning I was in the back of the grand studio, a shivering Cinderella waltzing with her broom, then a Summer Fairy, attempting to personify the haze of balmy weather through a casual roll into plié. Next I was swept off into the ballroom by my handsome Prince Charming, only to be whisked into the wind as the ethereal Fairy Godmother. At night I returned to the studios a ball guest, giving in to the dark saccharine theme permeating the room.

The career of a ballet dancer hinges almost entirely on brain power. As much as it will impose upon your body (hello, angry calves), it will challenge your mind even further; “Can you learn an entire ballet- and keep it together!- in a week?” Ballet wants to know. “Can you portray an orphan child, a rich party goer, and several types of mythical creatures? Can you do it earnestly, genuinely, can you really?” Well, let’s find out.

 

photo by Samantha Wong.

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.