When I was two, my big sister’s girl scout troop attended Festival Ballet Providence’s Discover Dance performance of The Nutcracker, part of a program wherein schools, church groups, senior citizens and other small communities that may not otherwise have the opportunity are invited to view a daytime showing for a highly reduced rate. Since my mother was wildly active in all things field trip, volunteer, organization and arts, and I was just a wee little Keeks, I tagged along for the day.
Now, just to clarify, when I say my mother was(is) wildly involved in the lives of her children, I mean she was not just on the PTO- no- she ran the PTO. She not only attended every academic ceremony and school function, but would most often arrive several hours early to help plan. Perhaps best of all, though, was the special tradition my mom established at my old elementary school, a brainchild of hers aptly called Creative Awareness. A week-long celebration of the arts, my mom’s Creative Awareness embraced the unabashed creativity of the young, speckling the halls of Aitken School with colorful student artwork and rogue 5th graders flute, trumpet, and clarinet-ing their tiny, expressive hearts out. This art appreciation week culminated in an elegant evening talent show, featuring students framed in decor so classy it caused audience members to question their whereabouts and out-of-districters to purchase new properties (probably).
It comes as no surprise, then, that my mother- girl scout troop leader and overall art enthusiast- would orchestrate a trip to the ballet. At the ripe age of 24 months, I had been exposed to an impressive repertoire of live theater (pretty sure I sawInto The Woods from inside the womb), heck, my mom even co-created and directed a children’s theater group which I acted in for the first twelve years of my life! But this Nutcracker thing- this ethereal, floating, wordless bit of magic- this was my first experience with real ballet.
According to my mother, I sat on the edge of my velvet-wrapped seat for the duration of the 2 hour ballet, eyes glowing. When the curtain finally dropped, so did my jaw. In her telling of this particular story, my next move was to dismount from my perch, point up to the stage, and squeak out, with the utmost assuredness, “Mommy, I am going to do that one day.” (It should be noted that my first word was a full sentence. #grammarpolice)
Twenty years later, that know-it-all oddly accurate little girl has just fulfilled a pretty incredible dream. As my pointes brushed the hard stage of PPAC Friday morning and the child-dense house applauded my (rather shakey) double pirouette approximately 30 seconds into the grand pas de deux, two-year-old me craned her neck up. Little Kirsten smiled her smile across my face, bearing her teeth through since-painted lips. She leapt with abandon and reached her gaze up to the highest balcony, desperate to absorb every bit of this antipodal view before Tchaikovsky’s final horn silenced.
It’s difficult to express my feelings about FBP’s Discover Dance program. But doesn’t that tend to be the case when such unselfish things so directly effect your own life in a way that feels self indulgent? If from my performance last week, even just one child drew a fraction of the inspiration that I did in watching it all those years ago, my heart will surely be full for the next twenty.
As a child of performing arts, the view of an empty theater from behind the “fourth wall” is wildly nostalgic.
To me, the rows of vacant seats are not hollow, but filled instead with a warm familiarity.
They are balanced, orderly, reliable. Overflowing with the promise of their imminent fullness, but still an expression of beauty as they wait.
Arriving hours before opening to prepare for performance, I silently converse with the sacred space which lives in the absence of a dark red curtain. I see the theater in its polished glory.
I see its restful moments in between shows.
And so too, its occasional center stage nap.
Hamburg-born photographer Klaus Frahm created a series of images featuring European theaters captured from behind. The collection feels oddly personal to me, like a visual documentation of my relationship with performing. Equally insightful is Frahm’s philosophy regarding the art of photography as “revealing something laying under the surface”, a concept beautifully manifested in his work.
Though as diverse as the countries they inhabit, there’s a strange sense of continuity in a venue specifically intended for the sharing of performance art. I find looking out at a theater from the perspective of the performer always provides a sense of home, whether that stage be in Rhode Island or Russia.
Hello, all! I’m so pleased to finally be able to share with you a guest post from Rhiannon Pelletier of A Dancer’s Days. Ms. Pelletier had a chance to catch up with former Miami City Ballet soloist Sara Esty, who recently landed a role in An American In Paris, Broadway’s newest show that’s compelling dancers everywhere to hop a plane to the city- STAT. As a child of theater, I’m loving all the ballet representation on Broadway stages as of late, and could hardly contain my excitement to sneak a peek at what it might be like to actually experience this integration. Oh, and if the star-studded cast and original Christopher Wheeldon choreography weren’t enough, the Paris debut sent my Esty-envy right over the edge. For a behind-the-scenes dip into the life of a ballerina on Broadway, check out Rhiannon’s take:
“At my home, Maine State Ballet, there isn’t a person in the building who fails to snap to attention when the words, ‘The Estys are here’, trickle down the hallways. We all know who they are; their names have become somewhat of a legacy. Twins Sara and Leigh-Ann Esty, from small-town Gorham, Maine, have roots planted firmly with our school and company. They not-so-quietly climbed through the ranks and took on roles as prestigious as the Dew Drop Fairy in The Nutcracker. A dynamic duo they are.
Sara & Leigh-Ann Esty, respectively
The two eventually migrated down to take on the Miami City Ballet where they stayed for ten years. Leigh-Ann is currently a corps de ballet member with the company and Sara Esty reached as high a rank as soloist before an exciting opportunity came her way…
Sara was kind enough to work in between her busy schedule and indulge me with a Facebook conversation about her new and exciting life.
Firstly, congratulations on your life (no, seriously). You’ve certainly taken advantage of this blossoming crossover between ballet and Broadway. How did this opportunity come about?
Thank you so much!!! So I had been with the ballet company in Miami for about 10 years and one day I literally got a random Facebook message. It was from a casting director in NYC, saying she was working on a new project with Christopher Wheeldon for Broadway and asked if I would be interested in contacting her. There was no doubt in my mind that the answer was yes! Two of my favorite worlds were colliding – how could I not be part of it? I wrote her back and soon came to find they were looking around in professional dance companies for artists interested in singing and acting for a new version of An American in Paris. The rest is history!
That’s incredible. Has Broadway always been something on the bucket list?
I think I’ve always had a theatrical personality and drive about me, but it wasn’t till around high school that I made the promise to myself it would happen someday.
Coming from a small-town atmosphere, was the prospect of opening this premier Broadway show in Paris, one of the biggest cities in the world, overwhelming? … I mean, you are the “American in Paris!”
Haha! Yes, I mean all I was prepared for was to do what I know how to do… The rest was icing on the cake. I love the show and the experiences and places it has brought me so far. It can be overwhelming at times but mostly exciting and extremely gratifying!
What an adventure… Could you describe a typical day for the cast while you guys were in Paris?
Well, we had the mornings off typically and then would rehearse a bit after around noon. Shows were around 7 or 8. Other than that we had Paris at our finger tips!
I understand that you and Leigh-Ann have been blessed to work side by side one another for almost all of your professional careers. How are you coping with being separated for the first extended period of time?
Leigh and I have been dancing by each others sides for over 20 years. Being apart in life, let alone at ballet, has been a bit of a struggle. Good and bad I would say! The worst thing is just missing each other and having to catch one another up on our daily activities, people, and lives where as we never used to have to do that. We have gotten more used to it, and because we are so close, nothing changes whenever we see each other. It also came at an appropriate time I think. Independence is such an important thing for siblings, and we are really loving finding ourselves as individuals. Needless to say, I hope we get to dance together again one day!! This time is important and healthy though. :)
There are rumors twirling around that you’re dating a fellow cast member, can you confirm or deny them?
Haha, yes I can happily confirm them. What can I say, Paris is a magical place! We started out as friends. I’ve always wanted to find someone who is first and foremost a good friend :)
Last question! How did it feel to perform as the lead for the first time at the Palace Theatre?
It was unreal, surreal, emotional, empowering, exciting – all of the above! Life dreams – ✔
I can’t thank Sara enough for taking time out of her wonderful, busy life to indulge her fans! You’ll never meet more gracious, humble, extraordinary people than Sara and Leigh-Ann.
* Sara is dating fellow cast member Will Burton (and may I recommend them both as perfect candidates to stalk on Instagram). She will be performing the lead inAn American in Paris July 21-26. Don’t miss it. She’s incredible
UPDATE: Sara will now be performing the role of Lise for the production’s Wednesday matinee performances beginning July 15th.”
Thank you Rhiannon and Sara for your contributions. Such a fun read!
If you haven’t already seen Misty Copeland’s new ad for Under Armour, you have probably been living under a rock for the past week. The muscular beauty, who made her name as the first female African-American soloist with ABT, proves that ballet is more than tutus and tiaras in this gritty, striking commercial for the popular sportswear brand, which recently named Copeland as their latest spokesmodel. And boy, did they choose well.
When I first saw Misty Copeland dance in ABT’s Swan Lakea few summer’s ago, I’ll be honest- I didn’t think much of her. Clouded by the hype of her famous name, and skewed by the talents that surrounded her onstage, I remember being slightly underwhelmed by Miss Misty. Fast-forward 3 years, I’m following an old dance friend from RI on this season’s series of So You Think You Can Dance, and sitting next to Nigel So-and-So, is a woman so graceful even in her judge’s chair, she almost danced as she sat. First I noticed her toned biceps, then her delicate collarbones. She swiveled in her chair, and her calves suggested a runner, but her ballerina bun contended otherwise. Her gracefully athletic, elegantly powerful build gave away her identity before she even spoke; It could only be the unlikely ballerina whose story of “adversity and grace” she penned into a best-selling novel, her infamously strong and “un-ballerina-like” body heightening the debate of whether or not ballet is considered a sport. I was quickly impressed by the insightful constructive criticism she had for each dancer on the show, and the eloquence with which she delivered her comments. Just like that, in the most unexpected of mediums, Misty Copeland became someone I admired.
Only a few weeks later, Ms. Copeland’s much-awaited commercial for Under Armour was released, and my adoration grew. The ad supposedly crushes the debate over whether or not ballet is a sport, featuring the voice of a young girl reading real rejection letters received by a younger Misty, as Copeland herself cuts through the stage with all the strength and power of a professional athlete. Of course, it begins with a slow, controlled, relevé, displaying a level of poise only possessed by a prima ballerina. So in the great debate of ballet: Art or sport? A little of both? What do you think?
Today is the day! I’m very excited to finally share the music video for The Bynar’s Time vs. Money. We worked so hard to create this, and I think the final product tells that story itself. I am beyond proud to have been a part of this project, and hope you all enjoy watching.
Remember that music video A and I began working on just one day after Peter Pan? Welp, folks, it’s been edited, cut, stretched, snipped, nipped, pasted, fluffed and smoothed, and it’s all ready for the big premiere next Monday, July 21st. I just saw the final version this morning and guys, it’s good. Between Viktor Plotnikov’s choreography, the genius of the film crew and the charged music of The Bynars, this video is a true collaboration of artists.
That’s what I’ve loved most about this summer, so far; It’s been a summer of artistic collaboration. I’ve taken every opportunity that has come my way, even the ones that have always scared me (hello, teaching!), without trepidation. It’s like I’ve broken through this barrier that’s held me captive in my own skin for so long. I’m not sure exactly when it happened (did something dissolve while I was hovering above the stage the first time that harness lifted me up to Neverland?), but what really matters here is that something did happen. Something changed in me. And isn’t that what your twenties are all about anyway? Trying new things and saying “yes” even when it seems like the worst thing to say? This new mantra has lead me to so many places I never thought I’d be this summer, one of which I visited just last week, with yet another photoshoot…stay tuned.
first photo via Shaun Clarke. second photo via my instagram.
Stepping into the shower this evening, I glanced down and noticed some foreign lines marring my bareness. Invisible leotard straps and criss-crossing pointe shoe ribbons wrapped their ghostly paths around my shoulders and ankles, in their wake a trail of redness and a transparent echo of my daily uniform. Three hours had passed since the last rehearsal of the day, but there the lines of my dancewear remained, stamped on my skin like a calling card. Ignoring the steam that now poured from my overripe shower, I traced the lines in my ankle, wondering how a ribbon so soft could cause such a dent. Like a ringing in the depths of my eardrums, the longer I focused on the interloping lines, the harder it became to distinguish their origin; Were they really the product of some external force, or were they manufactured within, existing all along and just bracing for the most perfectly random moment to surface? Right on cue, a bottle of shampoo fell from its shelf, splashing its way into the hollow tub, disrupting my existentilism and urging me not to abandon it there. Appeasing that impatient shampoo, I pushed past the shower curtain and tested the scalding stream with my toes, finally considering the imminent eradication of the ghost lines, soon to meet their watery demise. It was then that I realized, these lines were more than just grooves in my skin; They’re a literal representation of how closely my work follows me home each night.
Some people think that a dancer’s job pauses when they leave the studio, but they couldn’t be more wrong. It exists in every health-consious meal, every exhausted shower, every early Saturday morning, and every excruciating ice bath. It circles our ankles, scales our tired backs, and spills from our every pour at the end of each day, sticking to the air around us and resonating like that catchy song you just can’t quit humming. “Dancer” isn’t just a job…it’s an identity.
“All around her, all glances were riveted, all mouths open; and, in fact, when she danced thus, to the humming of the Basque tambourine, which her two pure, rounded arms raised above her head, slender, frail and vivacious as a wasp, with her corsage of gold without a fold, her variegated gown puffing out, her bare shoulders, her delicate limbs, which her petticoat revealed at times, her black hair, her eyes of flame, she was a supernatural creature.” -Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
My mom sent me this quote a few weeks ago when Alex and I started working on the pas de deux from Esmeralda. I just love it. Hugo paints such a vivid image of his gypsy girl, from her unveiled arms up to her flirtatious shoulders, while leaving the more suggestive bits to the implications in his transitions; Her limbs are bare, but only when occasionally exposed by a wildly dancing petticoat. You can almost see Esmeralda’s designing mind in the way Hugo describes those piercing eyes it lives behind. Perhaps even more significant in the illustration of her enchantment are the reactions of those around her: Glances riveted, mouths open, is there any better way to leave your audience?
As it turns out, learning and preparing a classical pas de deux in less than 3 weeks is just as close to impossible as it seems. Nonetheless, with very little time to rehearse, Alex and I have been working overtime to ground our tricks, balance our lifts, and settle our pirouettes before tomorrow night’s opening. Of course it wouldn’t be the day before the show without a little drama and a whole lot of stress, right?
Here’s to hoping my inner-gypsy emerges onstage tomorrow, with a few shakes of the tambourine and a spirited smirk! Here we go!