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?

a bold statement

There is something that has been on my mind, but I’ve been too timid to declare it. It’s not exactly revolutionary, revealing, or remarkable, but in the interest of documenting my thoughts, it must be stated (and adequately mused on, let’s be real) here.

Justin Peck and Sufjan Stevens are the modern George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky.

There, I said it. In big letters, too. Okay, okay, before you go and roll your eyes and point out all of the differences in style and situational relationships, hear me out. I don’t mean to say that these choreographer/composer relationships are identical, but simply that Peck and Stevens’ partnership excites me in a similar way I could imagine a 25-year-old bunhead living in the mid-20th century would be excited by that of the late great(s) Balanchine and Stravinsky. I should add one last post-pre-text disclaimer to this preface and state that these are all very personal opinions of mine. Bear with me…

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New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Serenade, source unknown.

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New York City Ballet in Justin Peck’s  Year of The Rabbit, photo by Paul Kolnik.

One of Peck’s first choreographic endeavors at NYCB resulted in his Year of The Rabbit, an iconic piece set to Sufjan Stevens’ 2001 electronica album Enjoy Your Rabbit. One of Balanchine’s earliest works, Apollo, also marked his first collaboration with classically alternative composer Igor Stravinsky.

Stevens and Stravinsky share more than the double consonant start to their last names. Stravinsky made a name for himself as a musical revolutionary by changing the way people saw rhythmic design. Similarly, Stevens is known for his irregular time signatures and variation of genre and style.

There are endless parallels to be drawn between the two choreographers as well. Peck and Balanchine share a propensity to utilize the corps de ballet, emphasizing the strength of a body of dancers and creating architecture on stage. The two use a similar vocabulary and technique, pushing dancers to extend their limbs fully and consume the stage. I think the most essential comparison, though, is that both Peck and Balanchine are of the moment; well, of their moment.

For Balanchine, “of the moment” changed from the sweeping romanticism of Serenade in the ’30s to the paired down black and whites in the ’40s to ’50s Americana with Western Symphony, Square Dance, and Stars and StripesJustin Peck’s moment is this one, and he is certainly taking hold of it. His ballets seem to always be just what the audience doesn’t know they need. In 2014, Peck’s lively Everywhere We Go set to an original cinematic score by Sufjan Stevens marked the next major collaboration between the two artists, awaking even New York audiences with it’s contagious energy. In 2015, Peck paired up with street artist Shepard Fairy to create Heatscape for The Miami City Ballet, using the city’s colorful backdrop to weave culture into the ballet. Just last year, Peck and Stevens worked together yet again to create In The Countenance of Kings at San Francisco Ballet. Though all I’ve seen of it is the video below (at least 12 times, mind you) it’s already one of the best pieces of music and choreography I have ever experienced.

So when I hear Justin Peck and Sufjan Stevens are at it again, their newest collaborative work The Decalogue premiering in just a week, I can’t help but imagine myself several generations back, giddy over the news of a new Balanchine/Stravinsky ballet.

In his February interview with the Chicago Tribune, Peck mused on the importance of relationships between choreographers and living artists:

“What’s always interested me the most about ballet is it’s this great opportunity for many different artistic mediums to come together to create a cohesive experience,” Peck said. “I think the future of ballet, as I would see it, is to continue the conversation between all these different worlds and have ballet be the platform for these different conversations. … That for me is what makes it so exciting and universal. There’s something for everyone to get out of it. I think the art form starts to fade when we forget that.”

 

some strange magic

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Tchaikovsky’s most famous holiday score has swiftly replaced the vivacious one which filled my fall.  We’ve plunged so steadfast into Nutcracker preparations, it’s almost as if Up Close On Hope didn’t happen!

But it did.  I stood in the wings as the lights lost their lume and the theater went black.  I felt the corps step silently into their wheel as those two impish notes carried Elyse’s playful chant back to us all, uh oh…

I attempted to raise my heart rate in preparation of the cardio to come.  I hopped from one foot to the other, letting my achilles feel their way around satin shoes.  I released all the air from my lungs, filled them again, and counted four eights.  I thought about all of the things that needed thinking, and then I forgot them all.

My face smiled without cheek wiggles, my arabesque sailed around under me.  I felt comfortable, and confident, challenged and true.  I let my port de bras fly and my feet sing along.  Post-perfornabce, by way of some strange magic, I managed to remember all of the good things I’d done, and forgot all the bad.  But I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised- there is “some strange magic” in all of Mr. B’s ballets.

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.

a word with elyse borne

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As the opening of our performance season approaches, rehearsals are ramping up.  In a rare moment of downtime, I corresponded with Balanchine répétiteur Elyse Borne to get her take on working with FBP and Mr. B…

Hello!  Let’s just dive in: What makes Allegro Brillante different from other Balanchine ballets? Why is it special?

Allegro is not exactly different but incorporates the speed, clarity, technical difficulty, musicality, and neoclassical style so closely identified with Balanchine.

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Your schedule is so busy!  You’re always traveling somewhere new to set another ballet.  Where else have you staged Allegro in the past?

I have actually staged Allegro for FBP before! I’ve also done it in San Francisco, Vancouver, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Singapore etc…..

That’s right, this wasn’t your first visit to Providence. What was your experience like working with the dancers of FBP this time around?

I had a great time with your dancers. They learned the choreography at breakneck speed and expressed a real interest in executing the ballet correctly.

“I love walking into a studio where no one knows the steps and seeing it all come to life in just a few hours.”

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If you could describe Allegro Brillante in 3 words, what would they be?

I would describe Allegro as fun, gut-buster, and energized!

What is your favorite part of the staging process?

I love walking into a studio where no one knows the steps and seeing it all come to life in just a few hours.

After retiring from NYCB, you were ballet mistress at Miami City Ballet for eight years and then San Fransisco Ballet for six.  You’ve been in the ballet world for your entire career, but now staging ballets, you have such a unique job.  How did you become a répétiteur?

I always had a propensity for learning quickly so this was a natural inclination. I gained a lot of knowledge being a ballet mistress and still face challenges with relish when I have to learn a ballet I’ve never staged. I feel honored and privileged to be allowed to stage Balanchine and Robbins.

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What is it about the Balanchine style that you enjoy so much?

I think I must have grown up with Balanchine style in my blood. It is so natural for me. Dancing at NYCB was a dream come true.

You premiered in The Nutcracker with Mikhail Baryshnikov. What was that like? Do you have any favorite memories of working with Mr. Balanchine or at NYCB?

My scariest and favorite experience at NYCB was doing the Sugar Plum Fairy with Baryshnikov. Alone everyday for 5 days in a studio with the 2 of them, Balanchine and Misha. Awestruck and nervous and excited all at once. My memories go on and on. I think I will have to write a book! I was so lucky to work with such a genius.

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…and we would love to read your book.  Thank you, Elyse!

all photos via

meditation and manifestation

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I’ve always been a little afraid of the dark.

There’s something about pitch black space that has never sat well with me.  It seems to swirl about shapelessly, taunting my confused pupils with invisible threats.  For when darkness is unavoidable, which it so often is, I’ve discovered a little trick to escaping its grip: with closed eyes and deepened breath, I slip into the serenity of my very own eclipse.

Standing in the wings before Apollo, the house lights go down and ceremonious Stravinsky inflates.  For several measures, alone in the highest wing stage right, I must wait in darkness.  Trapped in emptiness and the discomfort this holding brings me, I dive into my darkness.  Eyes closed and hands in anjali mudra, I meditate.  I press my palms together and study the shifting of my weight, attempting to create an equal and opposite energy inwards, gently squeezing every muscle towards my center with a special focus on the connection of my feet through the shanks of my pointe shoes and into the floor.  I am careful to correct any asymmetry in my stance, to quiet the flicker of my eyelids and to kindly remind myself of my own nowness.  I am here, I am here, I am here.  The final chord carries up with it the rising of the booms from respite to brilliance and my eyelids part on a slow count of 8.

The first 6 movements have passed and I’m returned to my corner.  A wave of emotions wash through me watching the naturally serious Mindaugas noticeably gleeful in his pas de deux with Vilia.  He moves freely in the steps given to Mr. Balanchine’s Apollo, portraying the character with an ease that cannot be planned, taught, or otherwise artificially obtained; It is manifestation- a serendipitous expression of the perfect meeting between dancer and ballet.  It is beautiful, it is magical, and I am honored once again.

 

all photos by Brenna DiFrancesco, Apollo choreography by George Balanchine©

honored

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Apollo Mikhail Baryshnikov with, from left, Heather Watts, Elise Bourne, and Bonnie Bourne Credit Photo ©Paul Kolnik New York City Ballet Choreography by George Balanchine

IMG_4822Perhaps it speaks to my slightly dramatic nature, but I can’t help but reflect profoundly on what will occur just 12 hours from now.*  Tonight I will make my debut performance in one of Balanchine’s greatest (and first) ballets, the iconic Apollo, and I am feeling allllll the feels.

There’s something so special about dancing a Balanchine ballet- working with the illustrious Trust, perfecting each stylized step and unusual count- that changes you.  There’s some stirring sensation in knowing that exactly those movements your body transmits now were carried through time and passed from dancer to dancer, finding their way from emulation by some of ballet’s most legendary to your very own splayed fingers.  It invigorates in such a different way than work choreographed on your body can.  Highlighting the deeply historical nature of our art form, Balanchine ballets not only challenge a dancer’s ability to adapt in technique, but also to punctuate with a pinch of her own spice.

It has been a bit of a turbulent ride, but we had our first dress rehearsal yesterday, and this evening I will join the ranks of some truly incredible artists who have danced this ballet before me.  Mindaugas, our Apollo, is one of the best this role has ever seen (Sandy’s words!), and I can hardly believe I will be dancing with him in his final few Apollo‘s.  To say I feel honored would be an understatement.

If you are in the RI area, do not miss this bit of history.  For tickets.

*Can you reflect on something that has not yet happened?  Is this a new level of overthinking for me?  Uh oh.

Apollo across generations: Jacques d’Amboise, Jean-Pierre Frolich, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and FBP’s own Mindagaus Bauzys.  Thank you to Brenna DiFrancesco for snapping the photo of us in yesterday’s dress rehearsal.

Apollo choreography by George Balanchine©