the final round

Madison Penney FR17 VAM 1.jpg

Junior Grand Prix Winner, Madison Penney in Variation from La Esmeralda. Photo by VAM productions.

 

Tiny netted buns flock from all directions toward Lincoln Center, filling the surrounding sidewalks with even more bustle than usual. It’s April in New York City and that means flowery trees, energetic birds, and equally excited young ballet hopefuls buzzing backstage at Youth America Grand Prix.

Wednesday night’s Final Round filled me with all kinds of nostalgic warm fuzzies, a feeling that never quite managed to find me while I was actually competing all those years ago. As the gold curtain rose on little Remie Madeleine Goins, first competitor of the evening, those fuzzies shifted from nostalgia to pure adoration (is there anything cuter than a beautiful, 12-year-old teeny Harlequinade?). About 7 seconds in, that feeling shifted again to one of astonishment; Little Miss Goins whipped out some pretty spectacular pirouettes with gusto and sass to match. She went on to win the Shelley King Award For Excellence, and excellent she was.

From there the performances ebbed and flowed, with standouts in a seas of Esmeraldas from ultimate Junior Grand Prix and First Place award-winners Madison Penney and Hannah Park, respectively, as well as a technically clean and precisely French Satanella from Elisabeth Beyer. The crowd fell hard and fast for Taro Kurach’s Basilio (the longest applause I’ve heard at YAGP since Jim Nowakowski), but for me, the true highlight of the night came from sweet Viola Pantuso’s Fairy Doll variation. Though her success was no huge surprise (Miss Pantuso hails from Ellison Ballet, aka New York’s Leading Compete-erina Factory), a rather serious tumble mid-solo did leave things hanging in the balance a bit. What impressed me most was not the way she popped right back up without missing a beat, gorgeous technique highlighted by a tastefully sparkling costume, but her unmistakable stage presence- that thing that simply can’t be taught. It can be coached, though! And ex-FBP Ballet Mistress/dear old friend, Jolanta Valeikaite (who was previously honored with YAGP’s Teacher of the Year Award), is just the woman for the job! Leave to sweet, tough, brutal, loving Jolanta to put her whole self into nurturing a perfectly polished performance. Bravo!

a beautiful day in the neighborhood

IMG_2894IMG_2911IMG_2912

IMG_2913IMG_2917IMG_2910IMG_2915IMG_2919

On the first Sunday in weeks together and alone, You and Me set out to see the city on foot. White shoes, sunny skies, let’s try this neighborhood on for size. Somewhere between breakfast and lunchtime, turn up our noses at donut lines, beeline for eggy Portuguese treats, with a side of cilantro and fresh lime. I love Foxes and maybe that’s the Point, after all, therein lives your favorite coffee joint. All the way down Gano to the pink non-hotel, under the bridge, green river smell. Approaching our new regular- the one full of expectancy- we spot silly kids dangling atop our catalyst of synergy. All the while you play harmonica and I speak in rhyme, tomorrow singing Yesterday will be today’s paradigm.

boat house love

17352777_10209139401390680_828054085_n.jpg

blue glass

blue china

blue sky

blue sea

a long weekend for lobster

and a fluffy dublin tea

late night whisky scrabble

leaks into breakfast babble

sticky griddle we will dabble

breakfast for dinner, dialogue for dessert

warm wood surrounds us

empty space confounds us

still this young love abounds us

drowns us, pouring over every day

with

nutella lips

ginger sips

goosey quips

my person sticks

to yours like beans 

bean legs

soda breads

looking out

where the ocean ends

tiny hands

frozen sands

perfectly aimless

weekend plans.

gilded & floral

img_0869img_0807-2img_0920

IMG_0935.JPG

When I looked back through my photos from last weekend in New York, I felt a wave of gold and pink.  Gilded and floral. Luxurious and blooming.  These hues really do best describe our trip.   Of the many gilded fixtures and blushing bouquets, though, one of each proved truly special…

Tiny Golden Loop, A Love Story

Friday was meant to be “my birthday”, for our celebratory purposes.  Unfortunately, I had been slightly handicapped by some strange spine-bending stomach pains that morning.  BUT!  Knowing me too well, my friends had arranged for us to spend the day in one of my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods, and no belly ache could keep me from Catbird.  We hopped off the subway and I shot straight for the little jewelry boutique, tucked into 219 Bedford.  My goodness is that place magical.  Swept up in a sea of my own ooohs and ahhhs, it was like being pulled from a trance when T summoned me to the back wall looking excited.  My three best friends looked at me with bright eyes and wide smirks and pointed to a tiny bowed box on the shelf.

“Look how cute!”

“Yes, tiny box! You guys know how I love tiny things.”*

“Yeah! You should open it.”

After some “Huh, you want me to open this?” investigating, I started to catch on.  My trance reinstated.  I untied the teeny golden bow, and inside the bitty little black box I found an ever teenier little gold ring.  Feeling overwhelmed with surprise and excitement, I peeled the beautiful specimen out to read the engraving: a m i s ; meaning friends in French.

Are you wondering if I freaked out?  Oh my goodness did I ever!!!!!!  Choked up, I squeezed them into group hug after group hug, several times in the tiny boutique, once more outside on Bedford, again in the Tea House, and a few more times back at the Plaza.  I also developed this strange affectation of slow, exaggerated spirit-fingers-ing to subtly show my appreciation for their love, now forever suspended in gold and wrapped up in my hand.

img_0919

Briar Rose, A Breakthrough

I have seen the New York City Ballet live twice before.  The first time at Saratoga when I was a wee one, I think it was an excerpt from Harlequinade?  Hard to say.  The next time was several years ago on a December trip to the city with my dear Mama.  We saw The Nutcracker and, perhaps too infatuated with our own version, agreed that Ashley Bouder’s Dew Drop (and Waltz of the Flowers in general), was the stand alone wow.  Last Saturday night, though, I had the honor of witnessing Lauren Lovette in the second show of her Aurora debut, along with quite a few corps de ballet dancers who would be promoted to soloist the very next day (congrats, Indiana!).  Now I can say, with full reverence of the word, wow.  Wow, wow, wow.  What a show.

Lovette was the most perfect Princess Aurora.  Sweetness seeming to drip out of her in place of sweat, she eased her way through the ballet as if the character were hers from birth.  Every glance felt genuine, every touch appeared to affect her deeply, giving the impression that Aurora’s experiences were crossing over her own in the moment.  The sad, sweet, scary elation of such a momentous debut.  Her lines were sculpted yet understated, never sacrificing rotation and shape for alien extension.  Lauren is certainly one of NYCB’s more lyrical principals, but not for a lack of clarity in the crispier choreography.

The rest of the ballet was spectacular as well- those transforming scrim scenes leading you into the castle!- but Lauren really charmed us the most.  I mean, T wept through the entire Rose Adagio, so.  Yeah.  Safe to say seeing Miss Lovette blossom into this beautiful Briar Rose was a most worthy birthday gift.

 

*I managed to take home 3 TINY TINY TINY bottles of Tabasco from The Palm Court.  Yep.

img_0937

full circle

FullSizeRender 124.jpg

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.

FullSizeRender 128.jpg

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.

a contemporary classic

We’ve traded Tchaikovsky for a delicious mix of Prokofiev and Bizet, and oh, what a welcome trade.  There’s nothing like a new soundtrack to wash away the worn and sing kinetic life.

This month and next are filling quickly with material- both the newly created and the boldly revisited.  Between R&J rehearsals, videos of Viktor Plotnikov’s first full-length rewind and play, rewind and play.  Fourteen years ago, our beloved Viktor reimagined this classic drama in that way only he can.  Then a fairly new choreographer, Carmen was one of his first collaborations with the company whose roster he now graces.  A decade and a half later we wake Viktor’s steps to discover them somehow still innovative; his is an ever revolutionary form of dance.

During my first year as a trainee with FBP, I performed as a (rather intimidated) “factory girl” in Viktor’s Carmen.  I remember reveling in the genius of his unforced mime and celebrating- though timidly- my body’s ability to use his powerful and strange dance vocabulary.  This season I am honored to be learning the role of Michaela, Don José’s betrothed who, in this version, also has the privilege of acting as a bit of a narrator.  Finding herself in quite the assortment of situations, Michaela’s choreography is both sweet and mature, and I am all sorts of excited to dance it.

 

for tickets.

beyond the barre with mahallia ward

My friendship with Mahallia is one of the most unique I’ve ever encountered.  This is likely due to the fact that we have never actually met.  Well, not in the conventional shake-hands-and-how-do-you-do way, at least.  Shared passions and the vast interwebs introduced us in that marvelous and strange mathematical way I’d rather pretend was serendipity.  Cyber-sations be damned, we’ve taken to exchanging actual, real life letters, and it turns out what snail mail lacks in speed of interaction it makes up for in depth.  It’s been so fun getting to peek into her world, I thought you might like to do the same…Snow Queen.jpeg

K: Let’s start from the very beginning.  What is your earliest dance-related memory?

M: My mom was my ballet teacher when I was really little. I remember our class performance when I was about five years old. My mom was on stage with us and she wore these huge butterfly wings. We all followed her around doing our best “butterfly arms”. I also remember she wore her huge plastic frame glasses on stage, the hipstery kind that are popular now (but weren’t then). I thought she was great.

That’s adorable!  So in high school you trained at the Harid Conservatory for 3 years.  What was it like being at a ballet boarding school?  Do you ever feel like you missed out on “normal people high school experiences”? 

I definitely didn’t have a “normal” high school experience, but I feel like I had a very rich one. I became close with girls who understood my desire to dance and the dedication that it took. I also gained an early sense of independence and responsibility. While some students felt caged in by the boarding school rules and curfews, I felt like I had plenty of freedom. All I wanted to do on the weekends at that age was go to Whole Foods, grab a bag of trail mix, and eat it in the cookbook section of Barnes & Noble with my girlfriends. I was pretty satisfied, haha.

Interplay.JPG

Definitely living the dream, haha.  After graduating from Harid you were a given a traineeship with the Joffrey Ballet for one year, before receiving a company contract the following year.  Was it difficult to transition into company life? 

My first year with Joffrey was so much fun. I loved living in the city and wearing whatever I wanted in class. I felt very welcome in the company and of course it was awesome to get paid. I met my best friend that year and my future husband. I just soaked it all up. The rep, the touring, the newness. The challenge of the transition from student to professional came later for me. I had to learn how to motivate myself without a teacher and how to manage jealously and unhealthy comparison. In school I was always amongst the top in my class and I benefited from those opportunities. It was difficult to adjust to the very high level of competition in a professional company, and to start near the bottom again.

Infra.JPG

What has been the most personally significant onstage moment or role in your career thus far?

I’ve been fortunate to dance many fulfilling roles in my time at Joffrey. But what comes to mind now is the role of Lady Capulet which I performed for the first time last week and will perform again this weekend. I am three months pregnant, and dancing this role has been gratifying beyond my expectations. Prokofiev is gorgeous and Lady Capulet’s character is complex and heartbreaking. But most significant for me is the confidence and enjoyment with which I am able to perform this role. My path in ballet has been riddled with insecurities and it feels incredible to have reached a level of maturity at which I can fully appreciate what I am doing, especially since (or perhaps because) my life is about to change so drastically.

sylvia

Okay, let’s talk life changes.  You are married to a non-dancer.  Is it difficult to explain certain aspects of the ballet world to someone who is not directly involved, or do you find it refreshing?

The only time I find it difficult to explain the ballet world to my husband is when I’m in the middle of the extreme highs and lows that can come with it. Sometimes after a great show, when I’m still hyped up on endorphins, I wish he could be up in that place with me. And other times, when I’ve felt absolutely crushed, I feel like he can’t truly understand the emotional toll that a disappointment can take after investing in something since childhood. But mostly my husband is a steady source of comfort and encouragement. Because he’s not in the ballet world with me, he offers clarity and perspective that is extremely helpful to me in navigating this profession. He has also developed a pretty good eye for a non-dancer. He’s always ready to talk to me about a performance with thoughtful comments and critiques.

handm

So it’s all about balance, it seems?  How fitting!  As you already know, I am such a fan of your blog, on ballence.  You are such a talented writer and photographer, where do you find the time to cultivate these passions?

Thank you! I like blogging because writing and photography serve as a reflection on my life as it happens. Material for a post or photograph is everywhere, and I love the exercise of noticing an experience and turning it into a beautifully documented memory. The more frequently I post, the easier it is to find the time for it. When I write a lot I write more easily. For me, the challenge is to find consistency in something I’m doing as a hobby.

Fairy Godmother.jpg

I completely relate to that.  It’s difficult for dancers to find the time for hobbies, but I think it’s so important!  How has blogging and pursuing other “extracurricular activities” shifted your perspective inside the ballet studio?

I saw the sweetest kid’s book the other day called “What to do with a problem” by Kobi Yamada. In the book a little boy discovers an uncomfortable problem. He tries to ignore it but it grows and grows. When he finally confronts the problem he realizes that inside of it lies and opportunity! The nice thing about writing is that in any situation; be it wonderful, challenging, or even mundane…there is an opportunity to turn it into something thoughtful and beautiful by writing about it. If I have a bad day at work, well at least I have post material.

embarc

On a lighter note, you are expecting your first child, CONGRATULATIONS!  This kind of life change certainly spawns reflection, I’m sure.  Do you ever contemplate life beyond the barre? 

Yes all the time. Especially right now. At the moment my career seems to be simultaneously shrinking and growing in significance. With the anticipation of a child I feel less attached to my identity as a dancer and also more grateful for it. I am surprised and delighted to find myself in this state. I feel at peace with how far I’ve come in my career and whatever unknowns lie ahead.

bump

Lightning Round:

Breakfast this morning was…French toast with honey

Favorite ballet? Lar Lubovitch’s Othello

Favorite place in Chicago? I really like the coffee shop Dollop in the South Loop. It’s near our theater and has the best chicken pot pie ever. Whenever my family comes to town for a show we hang out there all the time.

Current pointe shoe brand/style? Capezios. I copied the specs from another dancer’s special order and I’m loving them.

Thank you so much for sharing, Mahallia!

cinderella

photos 1, 4, 6, 9 by Cheryl Mann ; photos 2 & 3courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet ; photo 7 by Alejandro Mallado, all others via Mahallia Ward