prepared

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I’m a planner.  Routines, lists, schedules…my piety is in preparation.  But some things cannot be predicted.

This year’s was by far the most dramatic Nutcracker of all my seventeen.  Through a partner swap, stolen costumes, and an injured principal pulled from the production the evening before, I found myself performing Sugar Plum Fairy with my best friend as Cavalier on opening night.  My life had suddenly become a cheesy Hallmark Channel special, but with actual dreams coming true.

No amount of planning could have prepared me for those 14 glorious minutes on stage, or for my devastation the following morning: Halfway through warm up I learned that the dear woman who gave me my first barre had just died.  Unable to finish class, I sloppily collected my things from the stage and fought through tears toward my dressing room, only to be stopped by my sweet partner.  He had awoken with a seized back and would be unable to perform Grand Pas in our scheduled matineeé that day.  Twenty of my friends and family were already gathering in the velvet-softened house; I sat in the light of my glowing mirror and cried.  I wept for Miss Ann, for the theatre whispering her name through its walls, and the stolen costumes crafted by her skilled hands.  I cried out exhausted, heaving breaths for the little girl who loves lists and the abrupt destruction of a preparation so righteously designed.  I sobbed, I crumbled, and then I stopped.  I began the meditative making up of my face, my hair, my body.  I found solace in this pre-show ritual.  I found comfort in knowing that dancers around the world were doing the exact same thing at that very moment.  I took a deep breath, and I prepared.

The next day, A’s back had improved significantly, and we performed Grand Pas for a sold out house.  Yes!  For the first time in my professional career with this company, all 3000 seats at PPAC were filled with bow-adorned children and the tired grown up arms on which they pulled.  Little voices asked for explanations, and equally excited wiser voices answered back.  As we took our bows at the end of curtain call, a roar was felt- not heard.  I sensed a closing in as the audience took to their feet, shortening the distance between stage and house.  In that cavernous space so filled with joy and appreciation was a warmth I’m sure will not soon leave me.  I’m learning, slowly, that the best preparation is a conscious opening of one’s self to the unexpected nature of life.  The reward is in the acceptance.

 

photo by Jacob Hoover.

hansel & gretel go downtown

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Early yesterday morning, just as the sun started to backlight the grey rain clouds overhung from last night’s shower, we made our way downcity to my favorite theatre.

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PPAC was filled to its maximum with excited children, field tripping to the ballet as part of Providence’s community arts outreach program.  What a wonderful way to debut our cast of Hansel & Gretel, on the biggest stage in the state before thousands of enthusiastic kids.  They make the most interesting spectators, don’t they?

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Maybe I’m projecting my time as a child of the theatre, but I feel so fueled by the spontaneity of a young audience.  A rogue chuckle here, a random gasp there, reactions unfiltered and not one emotion held back.  It’s so helpful to be reminded what it feels like to see the show with fresh eyes, after hours of rehearsing the same scenes again and again.  Even when a show feels stale (which trust me, this one definitely does not!) you can always count on a child audience to teach you something new about it, purely through their physical reception of the performance.

The gloomy weather in Providence this morning also lent itself quite well to the dark tone of this story.  Then again, I have been known to relate outside surroundings to inside feelings…

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Projections of my psyche aside, with well-timed applause, hooting and hollering aplenty, I’d say the show was an overall success.

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There are 3 more chances to catch us in Ilya Kozadayev’s brand new production of Hansel & Gretel, this time in our black box theatre on Hope Street.  Don’t miss it.

For tickets.

whirlwind

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in a whirl of tulle

and white lights

and lace

rosin’d pointes rock away

sticky grid lock

in their place12370988_10102539865236501_2810790328239385870_o

parties move on

from Silberhaus to 

my own

a growing tree stacks its dust

where festive bulbs

once shone

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flower petals brown

in dark skips where

they lie

whispering of stale sweets

and waltzes 

gone by

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gauzy ghosts of dancers

now wisp in 

their place

flooding the empty theater

with a harrowed

hallow grace

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final bits of chalky snow

flake away and off

the stage

a calendar completely cracked

it must be time to turn

the page…

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creepy poetry by a sleepy me, photos of FBP dancers by the talented Jacob Hoover.

for more from Mr. Hoover and his ultra cool camera, head on over here.

discovering dance

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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 saw Into 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.

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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.

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one final push

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My feet are currently submerged in a bucket of ice, there are toe pads soaking in my bathroom sink and I have 3 different doctor’s appointments today.  Nutcracker season has ARRIVED and it is making its presence known.

In a small company (we’re all of 25 dancers total- including trainees & apprentices) each one of us plays a crucial role (no pun intended) in getting our Nutcracker to the stage.  In some shows, all I have to focus on is dancing Sugarplum, but in another I’ll be hosting the season’s greatest Christmas party as Clara’s mother, ushering our little heroine and her prince into the Land of Sweets as a Lead Snowflake, and finishing the evening off with all of the sass as a chocolate-charged Spanish dancer.  Another set of shows have me maintaining the intricate lines and formations that create a storm on stage in the Snowflake Corps (one of ballet’s most important and difficult aspects!) and putting my tilted cheek and most turned out foot forward as a sweet- yet technically proficient- Marzipan dancer.

Besides a few quick changes in which a great deal of fake curls are replaced with a silvery sparkling tiara to the muted intercom version of an epic battle, the performances themselves are relatively manageable.  By the time we reach the theater, my stamina is such that, in fact, performing these roles does not cause much stress.  The rehearsal process, however, is vastly different…

Typically, during the last 2 weeks leading up to a show, rehearsals tend to go as follows: run the piece, go through and adjust all corrections, and run the piece again.  This process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the length of the piece.  It’s designed to make completely sure that our strength and endurance are high enough to perform at our best with two shows a day at PPAC.  It’s effective. It’s strenuous.  Okay, it’s brutal.  But it works, and it makes a (60 degree?!) Sunday in December spent almost entirely indoors completely guilt-free.

 

If you’re in the area, grab a ticket and come experience the marathon magic.

PS- My aforementioned crazy costume changes receive some videographic kin in Boston Ballet’s awesome time-lapse compilation of Second Soloist Paul Craig’s many different Nutcracker roles here.

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.