happy december

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New England homes will always let you know when Christmas is coming; twinkle lights crop up in every window, woven greens circle door knockers and the warmth of crackling fireplaces glows from the inside out, sending plumes of exhaled smoke up through colonial brick chimneys.  December is upon us.

The successful closing of Up Close On Hope | Apollo & Bach Suites brought a short holiday break for FBP, and now with bellies full of turkey we plunge head first into Nutcracker preparations.  Ah, Tchaikovsky and sore toes, you epitomize my December.  To get into the spirit, I’ve been  doing some decking of my little halls and a bit of Christmas gift gathering too (#shopsmall), with festive socks on my feet and a chai in my hand, of course.

Last night I trekked it up north to Ballet Arts Centre of Winchester to rehearse with the students for my Sugarplum guesting this weekend (eeep!).  Back in Providence, the next 4 days will be spent hopping from France to Spain to Germany, through blizzards and living gardens to a land made of sweets, accompanied by suites my body knows forward and back.  So goes the wonderful, gratifying, exhausting grind of December’s annual preparatory routine.  Gird your loins, dancing friends, the Nutcracking season is officially here.

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Today I am so excited to share some thoughts from the bright ball of sunshine that is Miss Shelby Elsbree.  In perfect sync with Tchaikovsky’s return to the studios and the migration of cloves towards the front of my spice rack, the ever charming Boston Ballet dancer muses on spreading joy- both to yourself and to others- throughout the holiday season.
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Happiness.
 
There are so many opportunities to seek it throughout our long days…shorter now with a shy winter sun. In the dance world, most of us are preparing to dive head first into our annual Nutcracker marathons, a sugar-coated race to New Years Eve during which Tchaikovsky melodies float endlessly in and out of our minds and bodies. The thing that I hold onto each December, the thing that re-energizes my soul and ignites my daily motivation is that solitary concept of spreading joy. The holiday season is so much about generosity.. giving of your time, your resources, your gifts, your love…all in the name of sharing happiness. This is what each performance of the yuletide classic gives us the opportunity to do. 
 
The luxury of happiness lies in the reality that it can manifest itself in so many different ways, unique to your own pleasures and pursuits. Perhaps your morning playlist puts the pep in your step, an afternoon coffee with a good friend, or phone call to your family…The light of a new day, the nourishment of a lovely meal, the pairing of a great wine/cheese…the most excited greeting home from your new puppy (…his name is Oliver :)
 
The thing about happiness is that it remains a choice we have to make – the old adage we’ve heard many a time could not ring truer this time of year, when summer sun is long gone and chilly days stake their claim. We can decide to harness positive energy, to share/spread light wherever our days might take us, to fixate on the good things (which inevitably sheds a healthier light on the not so good things). We can find moments in our day, or cadences in our conversation that not only strengthen our own perspective, but that inspire the motives of those we speak to as well…this forms a generous cycle of perpetuated happiness! 
 
This past season I’ve been contemplating the idea of meditation. The thought of finding silent moments to receive stillness, to allow thoughts to flow freely in and out of my conscious, to sink into the present, to find happiness…To be honest, I’ve never been one to indulge this discipline successfully — until that is, I realized my meditation comes in a different form than a cross-legged posture. Nearly every morning, dancers all over the world start their day with a class. A gentle barre to warm up the bones, to encourage the body, followed by a more liberating center. This, I realized, is how and when I set the pace of my day. 
 
Be it a more successful start (physically/mentally), or a day I feel faced with challenges, I strive to see the light in my steps, my words, my thoughts…Not every day is going to be perfect needless to say, but it will offer the choice to seek and share the one thing we all hope to find at the start, middle and end of each day, each week, month, year, season…a daily decision, a hopeful, contagious, incandescent choice to be happy. 

 

For more from Shelby, check out peeks of her life as a ballet dancer/experimental chef/budding photographer on her inspiring blog, Tutus & Tea.  Thank you Shelby!
xx

saturday morning realizations

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It’s been exactly 2 weeks since our Nutcracker, and I began my morning watching a video of the ever-charming Jeff Cirio and sparky little Misa Kuranaga of Boston Ballet dancing Grand Pas, also known as 10 minutes of movement and music I swore I would not be able to stomach again until November 2015.  But there I sat, on my comfy couch tea in hand, pointer finger poised in the form of a digital Mickey Mouse foam hand hovering above the play button, like an arsonist gently gliding a match against phosphorus- not heavy enough to ignite, but just to feel the coarse kinetics vibrate through their extremities. My willpower is wanting, so I click.

Nine minutes and fifty-six seconds later, the tracking line has gone red and the dancers freeze frame. For a moment I am in sync with their immobility, equal parts satisfied from such beauty and shocked at the fact that I have relived this particular pas in such close cadence with our closing. You can take the girl out of the Nutcracker…

After a moment of self-chastisement, I can’t help but acknowledge the glaringly evident fact that, despite my aching body’s attempt to tell me otherwise, I love my job.  I love hearing the same classical composition day in and day out for months, I love my stinging toes and cracking hips.  I love my internal rhythm running on a count of 8.  I love finding false eyelashes in the car and peeling the weekend’s worth of dried glue off of them with equal parts pleasure and disgust.  I love the runs in my tights, the marley burn on my ankles and the hairpins in my laundry basket.  I love being a creator, a soldier, a perfectionist, an artist, a dancer.  I love this crazy life in a way that I never saw coming, and am fairly certain I will never see go.

home for the holidays

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A small group of us decided to continue the cast party following the final curtain call Sunday night.  I guess despite our public disdain for what always seems to be the longest weekend of the year, inside we were all fostering a hidden desire to stretch it out just a few hours more.  As we shuffled down Washington Street, Stable-bound, I glanced to my left, completely randomly, and came face-to-face with the red luminescent glow that turns our city’s title into a badge of honor and beckons passersby to ignore their downtown destinations and surrender to the hypnotic nature that is a visit to the Providence Performing Arts Center.  It’s so mysterious a mirage to many, but so familiar a face to mine.

We kept on our way, but not before I gave in to my compulsion to snap a quick photo of the great PPAC in its quiet, midnight glory.  It looked so different post-show than during our residence, when the bulb-lined mirrors are the only reflections we are shown for the duration, and the gilded house greets us with open arms each morning.  How lucky we are to live inside of a music box for one week of each year.  Now that I think of it, I completely understand our subconscious geographical attraction to PPAC only hours after we’d cleared our dressing rooms and said the formal see you next year; its magic is not reserved for those gracing the iconic red velvet seats, no, it is shared by those who fill the stage as well. So see you soon, old friend, thanks for the memories.

moments

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Standing in the wings, I violently shake out my hands the way I always do before entering the stage.  Almost involuntarily, I crack my neck right, then left.  Time seems to have that warped, swirled paint effect, like when you spin a quarter and with each revolution it’s impossible speed slows ever so slightly, and somehow it becomes both clearer and more obscured all at once.  My swollen feet climb one shallow step, pause, deep breath in.  One more step up, my right foot joining the left, breathe out.  After a moment, those satin-wrapped feet make their final step up onto the platform.  Now just masked by the thin canvas column that supports the Land of Sweets, I bolster my own body with the deepest inhale my tutu-encased lungs can muster, and I realize…this is all real.

I’m all but onstage now, and I catch a glimpse of the Sugarplum Attendants, all lined up at the top of the stage.  The familiar counts and poses tug me back to a time when I wore that angelic white dress and tended to a Sugarplum of my own.  They settle into first arabesque, two diagonals forming arrows for our entrance and I sift across the busy stage for Alex’s eyes on the other side.  There he is, matching my gaze, and I can feel his breath in sync with mine from stage right.  Identical smiles have claimed our faces and we nod together, a silent sign of our concurrent eagerness.  The horns belt out, it’s time.

We stride out towards each other, join hands, fouetté to face the audience, and everything that happens next is a surreal blur of sugar-coated magic.  There was just one moment of clarity, during the menage in my variation, when I wondered wordlessly to myself, Is this what it feels like to have your dreams come true?

view my impromptu interview with The Rhode Show here.

more on collecting moments here, here, here and here.

lights & lucky things

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This is it- here we go!  My morning begins with a cup of tea, a warm up onstage, a live Rhode Show interview, and my first performance of Sugar Plum Fairy at PPAC for over 1400 people…

This year’s Nutcracker seems to have snuck right up on me.  It feels like a minute ago I was in Minnesota wrapped up in a heated blanket, and now here I am getting ready to perform in the exact show which first shook awake my ballerina soul.  In case you’re wondering, no, this does not feel real.  But, I’ve got months of preparation in my bones, a lucky number 2 in my dressing room, and Essie’s Ballet Slippers on my hands…let’s do this thing!

If you’re in RI, tune into The Rhode Show at 9 am to see FBP’s full Nutcracker spot, my interview will happen around 9:40 :)

For tickets.

a midwestern nutcracker

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Saturday, December 13th, 2014 marks an important date for me;  Not only was is my first time ever performing as the Sugarplum, but also my first time dancing in a Nutcracker performance outside of FBP’s show at PPAC, which I’ve been a part of for 14 years of my life.  A pretty big deal, to say the least!

Being a guest artist was such a lovely experience, and our hosts showed us some really exceptional hospitality, with bountiful gift baskets upon arrival, hand drawn cards from the students wishing us luck, heated blankets backstage and in our dressing room, and a seemingly endless supply of cold water bottles to keep us hydrated.  The performances went fairly well, considering the less-than-favorable stage conditions, my bursitis, and a mild case of pre-performance jitters.  Although I must say, I think my favorite part of the trip was the cast party held “in our honor”, complete with an adorably inspiring question and answer session with the students.  Some of the highlights:

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In addition to the adorable notes of encouragement, and inquisitive/informative questionnaires from the littles, I especially enjoyed sharing the story of my injury recovery and some motivational words with a young dancer who had recently been diagnosed with a spinal stress fracture, just like mine.

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I boarded the plane homeward bound with a full heart and an inspired mind; A change of scenery and a fresh audience can work real wonders on a tired body.  Stay tuned for the scoop FBP’s Nutcracker opening this weekend, and our premiere of Grand Pas at PPAC!

all photos via STB’s new instagram

planes and pains (+ an announcement!)

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Tonight (or more accurately, tomorrow morning at 5 am) A and I leave for our Nutcracker guesting with the North Ballet Academy in Minnesota, and we are beyond excited!  Of course, since timing always seems to spite me, I came down with a pretty bad case of bursitis in my left foot (re: sort of a giant deep blister on top of my bunion, lovely, I know) this morning and wasn’t able to do much dancing today.  Lucky me, right?  But! I’ve got a few prescriptions and a determined mind to help me through these next few weeks.  I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

In light of this fun journey and a few other collaborations/surprises coming up on Setting The Barre, I’ve decided to open an exclusive STB instagram account, so I can easily share updates on my travels and behind-the-scenes peeks with all of you!  To follow along, find STB @settingthebarre on instagram.

Let the madness begin…xo, k.

it’s beginning to look a lot like…

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A relaxing Sunday morning spent washing toepads and sewing pointe shoes…ah, the joys of Nutcracker season; That special time of year where dancers everywhere exhibit a juggling act of contradictory feelings ranging from excitement to dread.  For me, the anticipation of cracking nuts for the masses has always produced a perky nostalgia that can only accurately be described by this scene in Aristocats, where the music of Carmen sends bouncy ol’ Georges Hautecourt into a spirited, albeit knobby-kneed, tango spell.  What can I say, creepy courageous wooden dolls, giant mice and dancing snowflakes really get me going.

While attempting to scrub the stink out of the aforementioned toepads in my bathroom sink this morning (they are still soaking in bleach as we speak- results to follow), one slightly overzealous squeeze shot a stream of bubbly bullets onto the tiled wall over the toilet.  As I wiped up the foamy streaks, I shook my head and couldn’t help but smile at the strangeness of this Sunday morning brunch alternative.

Alex and I have been working like crazy to prepare for our new roles as Sugarplum and Cavalier, and are very excited to travel to Minnesota next week for our first performances as rulers of the Kingdom of Sweets!  Follow along on instagram (@keeksevans) to see how our guesting turns out.

PS- Not too busy washing toepads this morning?  Check out this shout out to our music video for Time vs Money :)

update

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Hello!

Sorry for the unannounced mini-break from blogging, life has been a bit crazy lately.  We finished our first series of Up Close On Hope performances Friday night, so FBP has quickly changed gears and launched into full on Nutcracker mode.  Another dead pair of pointe shoes hits the pink satin graveyard at the bottom of my locker each week, my rehearsals are candy-coated, and my daydreams, Tchaikovsky-themed.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

And it’s been made even more wonderful by the fact that I’ve just moved into a lovely new apartment- the first one I’ve ever been able to call my very own!  Of course, by “mine” I don’t mean that I’ve purchased it, but that I will be living here all by myself.  You know what that means?  Having way too much fun decorating it however my little heart pleases…

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Other perks of single-living?  Unlimited access to cheesy soap opera marathons, uncensored shower-singing, and shameless Saturday nights spent doing laundry and facial masks- it’s a glamorous life!

What do you like to do when you have the house all to yourself?