in the studio: peter pan

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It’s day 3 of theater week, but I thought I would share some photos from last Saturday’s run through in the studio, before this whole weekend flashes by and they all become irrelevant.  My, my, I sure do get tossed around quite a bit in this ballet.  And with some elaborate hairography, I might add.  It’s an interesting thing, dancing with your hair almost completely down, when you’re so used to winding it up into a bun every day.  Suddenly your ‘do goes from a tame knot to a feral creature that seems to live and breathe, and without much capacity to be controlled.  Most of the ballet it swings like a rope, whipping into the faces of whoever dare attempt partner me and my wild mane.

In other news, and I do mean news, the interview Misha, Ian and I did with Cox Sports Media has been finished and posted.  For once in my life, I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out (curse of the self-depricating dancer, I suppose), and now I’m feeling adequately prepared for my appearance on The Rhode Show tomorrow morning.  It’s going to be a busy, busy week!

second photo by Cemal Ekin, the rest by Jim Turner

look at me, way up high

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” – J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan10245314_694116947317300_7691376629189028144_n

Yesterday was a very special day.  For the first time in my life, I flew.  I soared 30 feet above the stage, swinging from one edge to the other, pointing my toes harder than ever and clutching my beloved Peter Pan.  Upon initial takeoff I released one single squeal (and several pathetic whimpers at the height of our flight), but wore nothing less than an ear-to-ear smile for the duration of our flying practice.  Because guess what…I loved it!

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I have a complicated relationship with heights.  Well, after the invasive harnessing process (think Forrest Gump meets chastity belt) the butterflies in my stomach started doing actual backflips.  Not only was the leather contraption extremely difficult to move in, being all buckled in meant there was no backing out of this flying business.  It was go time.  The straps seemed to close in tighter and tighter on my chest with each restrained breath.  I could feel my legs loosening up like warm jello as I watched Brenna fly, then Melissa, then Ian, then…it was my turn.  They hooked me in, placed me next to Ian, and asked if we were ready.  Grabbing Ian’s hand with my own notoriously clammy one, I made one final attempt to flee, pleading with the stage hands, something along the lines of “I really don’t like this, I don’t like it at all, can we wait a little while or just raise me up one foot before we go for the full monty or maybe I’ll just watch from down here?”, but they shook their heads crassly, eager for their coffee break, and I realized none of those options were available to me.  So instead I remembered how my Grandma (Gma, as we call her) told me that I would do it, because I had to, and I’d be damned if I let the fear hold me back.  Ian looked at me with his impish little grin, gave his arm signal to the wings and with the tug of a rope we lifted off.

Weightlessly rising from the stage, up into the air, I squeezed Ian’s hand even tighter.  Our first flight was a bit bumpy, and I imagined the blinking on of a seatbelt sign overhead and a stewardess’s pursed voice informing us of the slight turbulence up ahead.  I swung out to grab Ian’s other hand, so we were suspended face to face and I refused to take my eyes off of him, afraid of where they might end up if I did.  Before I knew it, we touched back down to the marley, then flew up again, and again, about 4 times until the stage crew could stave off their thirst for coffee and a comfortable chair no longer.  We de-harnessed, bundled up in warm knits, and I realized that I was actually excited for our next flight.

It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it?  How experiences can fly so completely off from the track that exists in your mind, like that first time you tried chicken salad or mint toothpaste.  Something you expected to taste so bitter turns out to be quite refreshing and the surprisingly good reception of it all is really liberating.

going up

The first time I met Jorden Morris was after a very tense audition class.  Three different couples had been selected to learn the roles of Peter and Wendy, and we stood anxiously in the grand studio, unsure of how to act around his new, momentous presence.  After some quick introductions, Jorden stepped back slowly, as he does, and asked if anyone in the group was afraid of heights, adding an uneasy laugh that made me think if someone answered affimatively he was going to throw them out of the rehearsal then and there.  I hesitated.  Of course, in my head I was already reliving my first (and only) ferris wheel experience-traumatizing- and as much as I tried to smoosh it down, my aversion to all things ‘high up’ overwhelmed my mind in those next few seconds.  I remembered the swing set I would escape to in my childhood backyard- the place where I learned of my first ever acceptance into FBP’s Nutcracker, as an angel at age 8.  My memory seemed to take me for a ride, swinging up and down, holding onto chains encased in electric blue rubber, swinging higher and higher until I felt my stomach drop into my hips, a sensation that I have always disliked.  I recalled all of those declined invitations to spend the day at an amusement park with friends, all of the embarrassment on a “trust building” school field trip, where I refused to harness up and jump off of a platform with the rest of my class.

Heights have always been my nemesis, anchoring me down to the safe, albeit slightly stagnant, ground.  A few more seconds passed by and I looked around to see my colleagues shaking their heads nonchalantly.  Jorden was smiling and it looked as if he was about to move on from his inquiry and begin teaching us choreography, but I couldn’t ignore my inner reminiscence any longer.  I slowly raised my hand up and let my head sink into my shoulders like a dog who just got caught drinking out of the toilet.  “Me”, I said, “I am not so good with the heights”, I admitted in a strange broken English that I’m still confused about.  After my confession, Jorden made eye contact with me for the first time ever, strode towards me and stopped about 2 inches away from my face.  “It’s really not such a big deal.  You’ll be just fine.  Let’s start learning, shall we, Wendy Girl?”  His quick confidence caught me off guard.  I was still nervous about the day I would have to swing from the top of the VETs stage, but I liked this man and his strong conviction.  With a simple reassurance he had momentarily dissolved my fears and brilliantly distracted me with choreography.  But I knew in a few months that day- the one where I would have to swing from the top of the VETs stage- would arrive.  And, my dear friends, that day is today.  Yup, today Peter, Michael, John, Tink and I head into the theater to practice our flying skills, and I’m a whole mess of emotions.  Beginning with terrified, nervous, and maybe (to put a positive spin on it) excited to conquer a fear that has plagued me since childhood? Only one way to find out…WISH ME LUCK!

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photo by Jim Turner

reflecting

Every part of my body aches, from my swollen feet to the nape of my stiffened neck.  A strange soreness shoots daggers through my poor pinky toe at the slightest touch.  My right forearm has inflated considerably, just another physical sign of my recent time spent wielding a steel sword and fighting off pirates.  The sweet score of this ebullient ballet beats incessantly on my eardrums, choreography dancing around my mind every time I close my eyes.   It bounces up, down, left, right, rebounding off the inside of my skull tirelessly, on repeat, on autopilot, without my instruction.  At night my dreams are filled with sideways visions of dark houses down below, as I swing from the top of the VETS stage, clutching to the hand of a boy who won’t grow up.  During the day, I’m waist deep in fairy dust, looking down to see my feet being swallowed by pointe shoes more often than not.  I’m utterly exhausted, yet completely content.  In less than two weeks, I’ll take the stage for the most important premiere of my life.  Now seems like a good time to do some reflecting…

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These past few weeks I have trained longer and harder than ever before.  The level of self discipline required of a ballet dancer is nothing new to me, but this volume of work certainly is.  Most of my days are spent dripping in sweat, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, navigating each ache and pain as I weave my way through the challenges of dancing such a major role.  I’m learning as I go, teaching my body to find moments of relaxation and breath so that I can carry on dancing through to the very. last. scene.   It’s impossible not to grow through an experience like this one, but I could have never imagined a personal evolution as substantial as this.

When I compare this process to my physical status at this time last year, it’s almost hard to believe.  One year ago I was fractured, broken…crippled on the couch.  And now, I feel stronger and more able than ever in my life.  Ballet has this amazing power to nourish you, if you’ll let it.  Its provocation feeds you not only with physical fortitude, but with a mental resilience to rival your darkest of days.

Now, as I alternate between nerves and excitement, I keep reminding myself that- for better or for worse- performing this ballet will be a huge milestone in my career, and I must do all that I can to diffuse the stress and enjoy this moment.  Because once you leave Neverland, it’s hard to know when you’ll return.

 

[photo by Christine Manory]

lights, camera

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Just wanted to share some snapshots from my first ever photoshoot with FBP.  Never thought I’d be doing one of these but as they say, there’s a first time for everything, right?

Anywho, I’ll be sharing the final photos from the shoot when they are available, but for now, enjoy these blurry, b&w teasers of Peter Pan.  

PS- Since you can’t see much in these shots, I’ll just go ahead and tell you these Royal Winnipeg costumes are beauts.

PPS- Also, for the record, I am holding a thimble on my finger in that second photo, not flipping anyone the bird.  Just thought you should know. ;)

when you learn an entire ballet in 3 weeks

 

This past week…month…year? (so far) has been one of the most challenging of my life.  We set the entirety of Peter Pan in just 3.short.weeks.  In terms of working days, that would be only 15 of them.  Which meaaaans, Act I was learned in 6 days, leaving the last 9 to memorize Act II, continue rehearsing Act I, and finish the marathon off by running the ballet a total of 4 times start to finish.  Sweaty, unpolished- dare I call it flailing- dominated those last 4 days of Jorden‘s stay.

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I didn’t make it out of my own mind much during that last week, enveloped in the stresses of dealing with extreme fatigue, soreness, and some nasty toe problems (has anyone else ever suffered from chronic corns?).  One of the most frustrating ailments of the week, though, was a lapse of the brain, not of the body.  As I stood in Act II rehearsal, on the deck of Captain Hook’s ship, surrounded by pirates, the Lost Boys, and my “little brothers” Michael and John, something strange happened.  We were practicing the Victory Dance we’d set the day before, and all of the sudden  I was a complete blank slate.  I knew it was my turn to dance, but it was as if I had never learned the steps.  I turned different movements around in my brain like a wine connoisseur swirling 10 years of the same Malbec with their tongues and pretending to taste the difference.  Only my brain was so blank it couldn’t even pretend anymore.  I had completely forgotten the choreography.  My head was so crammed with piqué turns, saut de chats, and sword fights, I just couldn’t retain any more information.  Learning a full length ballet in 3 weeks is a seriously demanding endeavor.  I never stopped searching around my mind for cues to help me remember, from the time rehearsal began each day, to my head hitting the pillow at night.

But what I haven’t yet mentioned is that all month I’ve been sort of sharing my brain, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I’ve been sharing my skull, with the brain of Wendy Darling.  More on that character arch to come later.  For now, it’s time to hang on the couch with a cup of tea and zone out.  Until next time…xo.

all this has happened before, and it will all happen again

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Growing up, I was a Disney kid.  Some lived for Nickelodeon, others were Looney Toons Lovers, but in my world it was only Disney.  And I don’t mean Disney Channel, no, my little heart beat only for the animated musicals that began with a blue castle and ended with a lesson well learned.  Princesses, pirates, animals that can sing…in my wide eyes, Disney was the stuff dreams are made of.

My mother kept our impressive collection of Disney videos stacked in a big wooden cabinet in the living room.  Some of their cases were torn and faded, a sign of that movie’s prominence in the rotation (and probably residual stains from being clutched by my grilled-cheese-greased hands).  One of these “more loved” cases was the one that held Peter Pan.  Disney’s 1953 version of J.M. Barrie’s classic play-turned-novel(turned movie-turned broadway musical-turned ballet) was always one of my favorites, indulging my young imagination with its constant adventures.  Now, taking a trip down memory lane with Tinker Bell and Netflix, suddenly I’m enlightened.

Rewatching Peter Pan in my 20s, I realize the message here is so much deeper (and a bit more racist) than what’s seen on the pixie-dusted surface.  In the opening lines (the title of this post), the narrator suggests the cyclical nature of this story; The audience is joining in a little late, but this will not be the final telling.  Peter has visited the Darling house before, and you can bet your second star he’ll be back again.  His life is a succession of new children, new friends, new stories.  Saying hello, and saying goodbye.  It’s really quite sad when you consider it.  I was never truly able to wrap my head around the story’s meaning as a youngster, but suddenly Peter’s fear of growing older and Wendy’s dreams of a land where kids stay kids forever sound like a page from my own diary…

At some point I think we all feel a nostalgia for younger times.  But then maturity sets in, responsibilities take hold and we realize that growing up isn’t so scary after all.  What makes this story worth hearing is the contrast between Peter’s unyielding grip on youth and Wendy’s choice to ascend into young adulthood.

Of course, as the reality of my fast-approaching 22nd birthday sets in, I’m still clinging to that youth, spending my days sword fighting in Neverland with Captain Hook and The Lost Boys.  How’s that for employee benefits?

{photo above of me in my younger years, c/o Thomas Nola-Rian}

work shoes

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The first full week of Peter Pan  rehearsals has come and gone, leaving a trail of battered pointe shoes and swollen feet in its wake.  Last Friday I strapped on the satin death traps and didn’t stop once.  I’m hurting all over, and we’ve only learned Act I.  Woof.

Clearly demonstrated by my lack of activity here on the blog, I’ve been pretty swamped with rehearsals and PT and getting over a cold and sewing pointe shoes and reading for my new online Physiology course and…trying to stay sane?  Am I the only one who has a hard time separating studio life and real life?  Is it hard for anyone else to transition from work time to playtime?  Sometimes I forget that the weekend is not only a time to rest and recuperate my body, but also a chance to see friends, drink wine and cheat the diet (if we’re getting specific ;).  I’m hoping to do a better job of balancing all that out next weekend…although I’ve heard rumors that a 6-day work week is approaching tomorrow…wish me luck!

a dark audition day

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In the ballet world, auditions are a fact of life.

Sometimes you’re competing against thousands of ballet students for a scholarship to a summer intensive, sometimes you’re rivaling hundreds of young dancers for a spot in a professional company, and sometimes your up against 25 of your closest friends and colleagues for a role in an upcoming ballet.  Regardless of the exact setting, the pre-audition jitters are universal.

Friday was FBP’s first full day back to work (thanks, blizzard!), and we were welcomed warmly back to the studio with an audition.  Of course, this came after I overslept, lost my keys somewhere in my own apartment and almost wiped out in the snow on my walk in.  I blame those pesky pre-audition jitters.  Nonetheless, not a particularly good start to my day…

Now, the first day back after a two-week nacho-eating-marathon resting period is a lofty endeavor in and of itself, but dancing your first class back while being stared down by Jorden Morris, the mysterious Peter Pan choreographer whom you’ve never met, is a true challenge.  I entered the studio the same way I always do, warmups in hand, back contracted and shoulders rounded to keep the cool draft off my chest, and feet scurrying quickly beneath me.  I stretched my quads, hamstrings, calves, hips, warmed up my back, did some ab exercises.  Then the waiting began.  The ballet mistress and several dancers would be arriving late, the roads were terrible, our director announced.  After 20 more minutes of excessive calve stretching and crunches, the last dancer settled into their place at the barre and we began with pliés.

Somehow we all made it through that painful first class back, only to be rewarded with a rather awkward waiting session between the audition and the cast posting.  We all shimmied back into the warm-ups we’d shed during class and rolled out, stretched out, ate apples and checked Instagram important emails, trying to keep things light and ignore the obvious tension in the air.  That’s when something strange and unexpected happened.  Our artistic director entered the green room and calmly told us that an ex-FBP principle dancer, Jaclyn Ricci, also the younger sister of a current FBP dancer, had passed away the night before.  I felt my hand clap over my gaped mouth and I froze for a minute.  She was 36.  I just saw her two days ago.  This can’t be real.  The tangible stress in the room was abruptly cut with a collective held breath.  A dark cloud hung above us.  Then the casting went up.

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again; being a ballet dancer is one of the most intense jobs in existence.  Far more theatrical than the stories our bodies tell on stage, the day to day life of a professional ballet dancer is never lacking in drama.

I would like to dedicate this post to Jaclyn Ricci.  She was a beautiful dancer, warm spirit, and an inspiration to so many dancers, including myself.  Her bright smile and poignant sense of humor will live on forever in our memories.  RIP.7545_644331578962504_571349828_n

PS- stay tuned for an update on the outcome of the Peter Pan audition!