a week of wheeldon

How can 7 days feel like 28? Monday rehearsing, Tuesday teaching, Wednesday writing, Thursday sneezing, Friday performing, Saturday learning, Sunday running through.

Christopher Wheeldon’s The American is a 25-minute study of style. An energetic corps frames the ballet, the first and third movements clasping around the pas de deux like a joyful storm unable to disturb its tranquil eye. These rigorous bookends accentuate a languid pas de deux, ebbing and flowing at the heart of the ballet. One lift flows into the next with an unattainably smooth finish. It’s like treading water: keep both feet moving and you’re head will stay above water.

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That’s how this week has felt, too. Just keep moving. Put one foot in front of the other. Lean on each other. Lift each other. Confront discomfort. Find peace in solidarity. Work. Sweat. Love. Relax. We are searching for the strength, but first, it’s ice, massage, acupuncture, rest, then on to the next. 40th season, you are already a force.

prokofiev’s waltz

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Prokofiev is back in the studios, leading us through his most valtziest, schmaltziest of scores: Cinderella. Lately that classic melody has been filling every bit of free space in my head with its eerie brimstone canter. Daa-na, da na na na naaa…

This time around I’m doing a bit of a straddle across the ballet, dancing roles in every realm from corps to principal. That’s the beauty of an unranked company; you never know where the next rehearsal will take you! Wednesday morning I was in the back of the grand studio, a shivering Cinderella waltzing with her broom, then a Summer Fairy, attempting to personify the haze of balmy weather through a casual roll into plié. Next I was swept off into the ballroom by my handsome Prince Charming, only to be whisked into the wind as the ethereal Fairy Godmother. At night I returned to the studios a ball guest, giving in to the dark saccharine theme permeating the room.

The career of a ballet dancer hinges almost entirely on brain power. As much as it will impose upon your body (hello, angry calves), it will challenge your mind even further; “Can you learn an entire ballet- and keep it together!- in a week?” Ballet wants to know. “Can you portray an orphan child, a rich party goer, and several types of mythical creatures? Can you do it earnestly, genuinely, can you really?” Well, let’s find out.

 

photo by Samantha Wong.

down the l i n e

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When I remove my pointe shoes at the end of the night, a layer of expired white skin peels away with them.  The water in my plastic ice trays is not able to solidify at a rate expedient enough to keep up with my feet-freezing rotation.  I have noticed an undercurrent of those  few sections of the Swan Lake score to which I don’t actually dance taking on a cacophonic harmony to those pieces I am rehearsing in the flooded soundscape that is my thoughts.  The resulting contrivance is impossible to silence, nor ignore, so I’ve taken to humming along in appreciation of my mind’s attempt to remix Tchaikovsky’s compositional genius.  As Swan Lake side effects crop up, I’ve learned it is important to pick your battles.

At the risk of dramatizing the ballet world tp the delight of Hollywood, working through a ballet like this one does feel, at times, a bit like fighting a battle.  Pushing against physical limitations which weigh heavy, feuding with stubborn exhaustion as it begs you to crumble down into a pile of feathers on the marley…resisting the urge to relax in a would-be poised position through an entire adagio as sweat rolls down your wings and every last muscle contracts…darianvolkova2

In a late night rehearsal Wednesday, our prima-in-residence, Miss Milica Bijelic, who is here from Serbia to set her ballet, lingered upon the importance- and difficulty- in “working the poses”.  Arguably one of the most challenging aspects of Swan Lake, unbeknownst to the audience, is standing in a perfect diagonal and holding an active tendu front.  Perhaps because it appears stagnant, the difficulty in this position is often underrated.  Hips lifted, lower stomach engaged, inner thighs rotating forward, rib cage pulled in, shoulders down, chest forward, cheek turned, head tilted, eyes cast…the only muscles unflexed are those we must actively relax in the fingers, foreheads and the bottoms of our feet.

Doing this for 10 seconds is tough.  Collecting a corps of 16 very different dancers into neat rows and columns of identical swans, all practicing perfect posture for the duration of Acts II & IV?  Don’t be silly, that would require hours upon hours of grueling rehearsals.  No one loves artistic precision passionately enough to even pursue such a thing…right?

…oh, right.  See you tomorrow, Tendu.

 

Swan Lake photos by Darian Volkova.

s w a n week

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Last week was…tough.

The days were long and rehearsals seemed to bleed together for hours on end with nary a true 5-minute break in sight.  Oh, the joys of a non-union company.  It was my first week back in pointe shoes, back to dancing full out, back to a sore body and blistered feet.  BUT!  If you want to get through a week of intense Swan Lake-ing and maintain your sanity, try fearing you may not be able to perform for a few days beforehand.  Gratitude in movement will come pouring out of you.

This week is our last in the studio before tech begins at The Vets.   By Saturday evening, we will have gone through the ballet a total of 8 times, with 4 full runs and 4 work-through rehearsals of all 4 acts.  Thats 4x pas de trois, 4x waltz, 8x lead swans, 8x princesses, and perhaps most lethal, 8x swan corps.  In 5 days.  Translation: a WHOLE lot of arm flapping and bourrée-ing.   I am preparing myself (with ice, protein, physical therapy and acupuncture) for the familiar cycle of warming, using, exhausting, and rehabilitating my body.  Come on, Swan Lake, let’s do this.

monday distractions

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We’ve been back for one week and these tootsie toes are banged up!  Swan Lake is killing me/giving me life all at once and its a cocktail of crazy I am beyond excited to be chugging.  A few fun things from around the web…

Justin Peck’s first piece for San Francisco Ballet, In Countenance with Kings, looks mesmerizing. (Sufjan is my king.)

One of my favorite humans, Emily Bromberg, visited FBP Saturday and now I’m seeeeeriously considering hopping back up to the city in April to see Miami City Ballet perform at the Koch Theater. (just a 3-hour bus ride away…)

As a child of competition turned adult ballet dancer, I was so happy to read this article.  (artistry over acrobatics, for the win)

I’ll be diligently using these tips all week.  (emphasis on the sleep)

My engineer dad perked up a bit when my mom showed him this little video, explaining the physics of the Odile’s 32 fouettés. (#balletisscience)

Thanks Suffolk Pointe for sharing the insta-love. (duck, duck, swan)

Speaking of swans, tickets to FBP’s Swan Lake are on sale now. (don’t miss out)

photo by Alex Lantz

an update

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You may have noticed a lack of rehearsal-related posts lately.  Have you?

Maybe you’ve been feeling the absence of studio snapshots and soreness complaints and new warm-up excitement over on this little blog of mine.  Maybe you haven’t.  But just in case you’re curious, here’s a little update on ballet life lately…

That soreness you may or may not have been missing from this electronic journal?  Oh, it’s there.  Hansel & Gretel is well underway, and if you’ve never scurried across an entire stage on your knees, butt-scooted away from unidentified creatures for an entire scene or scrambled around like a terrified turkey to the sound of thunder crashing multiple times in one show, let me tell you- it hurts.  Dancing a playful, young, scared, brave, timid, triumphant little girl will do quite a number on your body (and mind), especially when you get to do it in the remarkably difficult style of Ilya Kozadayev.  His is such a musical, smooth, and balanced style of movement that feels so satisfying to perform- but not without a week or two of bruised armpits and skinned knees (sexy, isn’t it?).

Making my back ache and my brain work is Viktor Plotnikov’s new multimedia piece, a retelling of the Spanish play, The House of Bernarda Alba.  It’s a dark story, and though all of the “sisters” are supposed to be rather unattractive, I am known as the ugliest of them all.  There’s a hump on my back and a jealous fire in my heart, but dancing this familiar style with the added intrigue of a filming element (some portions of the ballet will feature acting scenes filmed in black and white and played on a moving screen over the stage) is a nice mix of comfort and change.  Not to say that Viktor’s work itself is in any way comfortable; Though the style feels more at home than most in my body after so many years, the break-dancing and shoulder-stands I’m doing feel no less arduous than they sound.

In stark contrast, Gino DiMarco’s Lady of the Camellias is bright and balletic and complete with parties for dancing and gossiping and all of those fun things you do in a french ballet.  I suppose it’s also riddled with illness and adultery and death…but let’s ignore that a moment, shall we?

Also making its way to and from the studio on the daily is my enormous informational history book!  Pictured above in all of its 800-page glory, this thing is pretty darn serious.  It’s chock-full of (extremely detailed) anecdotes about the founding of America, and after this course I’m expecting to be an expert on the subject.  My father will be proud.

And there you have it!  These days I’m doing lots of class en pointe, rehearsal on flat, homework and Whole Dancer worksheets.  So in case you were starting to think my life consisted entirely of hot chocolate, baby’s breath and snowday strolls…just an update.

new bruises, ancient worlds

For the past week, I have slept with a pillow under my left knee, I’ve had completely un-sing-able compositions stuck in my head, and the sweet start of a callus forming on my right big toe.  FBP’s 38th season is underway at last.IMG_2743

These days the studios are vibrating with a mix of Stravinsky (both Firebird and Apollo), Debussy, and Weber.  Our halls host Dominic Walsh (and his squeezable 6-month-old daughter, Vivi) for the setting of his Afternoon of a Faun and Le Spectre de la Rose for our October Ballets Russes Reinvented show.  You guys, this stuff is beautiful.  Dominic practices the challenging yet grounding method of “spiraling” through movement, in which the body continuously twists in opposition of itself, growing taller while sending energy out through the floor.  His choreography depends on a releasing of the muscles in the legs and neck, while engaging the back, ankles, and core from the center outward.  It’s such an anti-visceral way of working for me, but I am enjoying the freedom of expression this technique allows.  Practice, practice, practice.  Good thing I have sweet penny candy from a far sweeter guy to fuel me!  Anyone else have a strange love for this stuff?IMG_2742

As I don the many hats of nymph, princess, monster, and muse, I can’t help but feel transported back in time.  I’m reminded of the days of Russian monarchy, defection, and reinvention in a country to which ballet had yet to arrive.  This time of dramatic discourse between companies battling for fame.  A period of creative cultivation and collaboration between artists the likes of which has not yet been repeated throughout history.  This ancient world where Balanchine, Stravinsky, Nijinsky, Dalli, and Matisse spawned new work with a seemingly endless fervor.  And speaking of ancient worlds, I’m spending every off duty hour immersed in the Foundations of Theology, because, you know, the fall semester wouldn’t be complete without a course at Providence College.

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