in my skin

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I’ve been standing in the shower for far longer than necessary, letting the hot water patter over my shoulders and steam up my sore body. Two thick strips of kinesio tape flank my pulled lateral quad. A pillow of gauze inflates with water between my scarred baby toe and my bruised fourth toenail. The biggest toe on my other foot hides its half-nail under a bandage cap. Ballerina feet indeed.

That morning, finally seeing my podiatrist after a week of phone tag, he jokes that I’m lucky he doesn’t have a jealous wife. I have 3 voicemails in my inbox that say, “Hi Kirsten, it’s me. I’ll try again later.” This morning the office is empty save for my mother, the secretary, the doctor, and me. He’s wearing full scrubs, gracious nature brings him in to cut away bits of my skin before heading to the hospital for a full day of surgeries. My mother- bless her brave soul- is enlisted as accomplice, er assistant, in the scraping of my toe gunk. She patiently holds back my pesky wiggly toe- the one that’s had a bit of bone removed by that very wonderful podiatrist himself several years before- and never even squirms at its squishy ilk.

Today begins a week of 12-hour days. Beginning in the studio at 9:30am and wrapping in the theater at 10pm when the union crew turns out the lights on us, we will work. We will warm up, we will rehearse, we will warm up again. We will space, we will learn, we will dance. We will correct, repeat, perform. Repeat. A week quite literally full of ballet. Equal parts intimidated and excited, a recipe for the best kind of butterflies.

Here goes.

sugar and spice and snow and dew

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This weekend marks my eighteenth year performing in Festival Ballet Providence’s The Nutcracker. That’s right, folks. My Nutcracker career will officially be a legal adult with voting rights by Sunday evening. I am equal parts giddy and flabbergasted. Where the heck did the time go?

The most remarkable thing about this 18-year marker, I think, is the fact that after hundreds of Nutcrackers, there is still something new; This year I will be dancing the role of Snow Queen for the very first time. Snow pas has always been a favorite of mine…the triumphant horns, the imminence of spritely snowflakes, the sweeping lifts. Misha likes to describe the pas de deux like the beginning of a snow storm, little pockets of icy air chasing each other into swirls. A is the wind and I am swept up in him, spreading diamonds over the stage with my crystal wake. Ah, to be Queen of the Snow…

Of course I am also honored and excited to manifest visions of Sugarplums and whirling Dew Drops once again! If you find yourself in Providence this weekend, you can find tickets here.

 

photos by Emma Margulies.

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