bruises, blisters, and some pretty roses too

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My brain is battered, bruises shroud my knees, and a blister the size of my eye protrudes like a 6th toe from the back of my left foot (we shall call the him Jed).  Inside and out, my body is painted with signs of imminent destruction, which of course means theater week must be right around the corner.

Lately it’s been tough to find a moment to sit down and write, between sublimely hypnotic Coma rehearsals, and scrambling to learn a principal part in Études after one of our most important dancers pulled a muscle just last week.  As professionals we are trained for these unexpected changes and quick replacements, but the lack of predictability always thickens the blow.

In the world of ballet, it’s important to have coping mechanisms.  In this case, the best way to achieve something that seems slightly impossible, I believe, is to visualize the task being completed extremely well.  So for the next 8 days, I will be picturing myself dancing a very tricky solo with the confidence of that one girl in class who repeats the pirouette combination 4 times just to make sure everyone has seen her quadruple on the left, and floating through the double fouettés at the end of the ballet with so much ease the audience will be waiting for me to say, “it seems like there’s enough time for a triple, don’t you think it would be better if we all just did a triple?” (name that ’90s ballet cult classic).

As I leave my apartment for another day of dancing and dreaming, I only ask one favor; Visualize it for me, won’t you?  Just picture me running off stage buzzing, “Did you see how on I was tonight?” And then two strapping men will fight over me, as I push them aside to do another set of perfect fouettés.

trust fall

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For a moment I swear I was flying.  Cradled by the air I hung in suspension, held in that pocketed ballon that dancers are addicted to.  I was weightless…then breathless.  My body came smacking, hips first, into the ground and the wind rushed out of me like a bubble with a rock on it.  Confusion, then quick surprise, and dread of imminent pain inundated my brain, emotions angrily mobbing one on top of another, each demanding my undivided attention and the cells coiled within my skull swirled out from the center like a miniature big bang theory.  Knees shrinking into my chest to relieve the anchored hip, my ability to shift without triggering any shooting pain assured me that my pelvis was not shattered.  Score.  Faces circled around my folded figure as I asthmatically mouthed I’m fine I’m fine, really in a way that made me seem very un-fine.  Twenty seconds later, ice packs lined my left side and I was laughing sadistically at my own misfortune.

I have talked about falling before, but never have I collided so forcefully with the floor that another dancer looked down at me in horror, tears fighting at the gates.  She had seen the entire plunge transpire, from my squatted take off, to the five-foot high jeté, to the precarious flip and, ultimately, the aforementioned (is it too soon to brand it “infamous”?) body slam.  Cringe-worthy to say the least, but I got lucky; Just a bit bruised up and slightly embarrassed…or so I thought…

It really is true that there are times in this career where your personal life starts to echo your professional life- almost to a fault.  Bruce Marks said, “There are falls that happen when you dance fully…and that’s worth it.”  I’m sure you are all sick to death of the depressing nature of this blog as of late, so I’ll keep this as short as possible;  I have learned a lot in the past few months, and one of the most important lessons thus far has been this:  Being honest with yourself is vital.  Personal integrity builds a trust within one’s self and when this trust grows strong enough, a safe space is built.  This space allows for self-reliance, physically and emotionally.  Use this personal integrity liberally, cultivate it frequently, and trust only you with its care.  When it comes time to trust another with something as sacred as this safe space, do, but do so carefully.  Remember, when you dance, live, and love fully, you are likely to fall, and it may not always be the good kind of falling.

update

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Hello!

Sorry for the unannounced mini-break from blogging, life has been a bit crazy lately.  We finished our first series of Up Close On Hope performances Friday night, so FBP has quickly changed gears and launched into full on Nutcracker mode.  Another dead pair of pointe shoes hits the pink satin graveyard at the bottom of my locker each week, my rehearsals are candy-coated, and my daydreams, Tchaikovsky-themed.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

And it’s been made even more wonderful by the fact that I’ve just moved into a lovely new apartment- the first one I’ve ever been able to call my very own!  Of course, by “mine” I don’t mean that I’ve purchased it, but that I will be living here all by myself.  You know what that means?  Having way too much fun decorating it however my little heart pleases…

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Other perks of single-living?  Unlimited access to cheesy soap opera marathons, uncensored shower-singing, and shameless Saturday nights spent doing laundry and facial masks- it’s a glamorous life!

What do you like to do when you have the house all to yourself?

exploring the darkness

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For the past few weeks, A and I have been “setting the mood” with creative lighting in the studios before our Moonlight rehearsals.  Remember when we danced under chandeliers?

Yesterday, our director suggested this artificial form of inspiration was merely a crutch, stifling the growth of our professional artistry.  So we kept the lights on.  And I fell apart.

The first run was rough.  I kept catching myself in the mirror, hating what I saw (dancer problems), and throwing off the piece.  While I should have been deepening my plié and relaxing into the floor, I was self-consciously tip-toeing around the studio robbing this gorgeous pas de deux of all emotional purpose.  So, after some encouragement to dig deep into my emotional history, we ran the piece once more.  And I fell apart.  In a good way.

Without the dim lighting helping me to feign dissolution, I was forced to crawl into one of the darkest corners of my mind.  Here, in this routinely averted fold of grey matter, I became so distracted with the weight of my despair that I forgot to notice what my body was doing until the last chord rang out and our run was over.  If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it was.

chandeliers over swan point

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Friday night I had my first evening rehearsal of the season, and it was actually quite a lovely time.  Alex and I insisted on lighting the studios with the overhead chandeliers that are usually reserved for black box events like Up Close On Hope, and of course self-proclaimed perpetual youth that he is, our boss was all too happy to allow it.  Rehearsing moonlight doused in the soft glow of chandeliers was completely transporting.  A slow drip of darkness from the two large windows facing 4th Street wafted its way in and filled the studio with a fuzzy, dim weight.  Our chandeliers indulged us with their moony glow.  The alternative lighting left an effect on the room, like the entire space had closed its eyes and our rehearsal was its subconscious monologue.  We were that thing, that strange stream of movement it had no real control over imagining when its eyelids were pulled down.  It was then that I realized, I do about 80 percent of this piece with my own eyes closed, something I have never incorporated into a performance before.  Every step of the sleepy pas de deux felt notably more honest that night, my hollow hands paddling amidst an intangible, weightless mass, the invisible density of darkness.  Heavy, but completely immune to gravity.  How frustrating to be held captive in this impossible sensation.

Before heading off to said evening rehearsal, I decided to take advantage of my long break and the beautiful fall foliage by going out for a walk around Swan Point Cemetery, right at the end of Blackstone Boulevard.  Swan Point is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever wandered into, so much so that before I knew it I had myself completely lost amongst the red leaves and tomb stones.  What was meant to be a quick stroll turned into a 2.5-hour walk, but I don’t regret it for a minute.  Sometimes a long lonely walk with just the company of your own thoughts is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Definitely feeling the eerie October vibes these days, if you hadn’t already noticed…

ps- check out this video of choreographer Ilya Kozadayev, discussing one of the other pieces he set on FBP.

work therapy

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There’s a strangely unsettling sense of inner harmony that buds when your personal life and work life align.

Right now, every piece I’m rehearsing for Up Close is moody.  I am doing a collection of sad, detached, tenderly delusional works, and oddly enough it couldn’t be a more complete reflection of my emotions these days.  The exact subject matter is too personal to discuss here, but I thought my experience with this overlapping in emotion from home to studio may be relatable for some of you?

Last year, when we did Peter Pan, I didn’t realize it yet, but the story I spent my days evoking and my nights studying would soon begin to portray me right back.  That show was my first leading role, a right of passage that ended up changing me from girl to woman: an eerie echo of J.M. Barrie’s coming-of-age story.  After closing the final show, I headed into a  summer of extreme personal growth- unexpected, I admit, but a huge metamorphosis nonetheless.  For the first time, I began to really need, not just want, to be the best version of myself.  And just as Wendy Darling realizes, standing between her bed and the open window to Neverland, I learned that choosing to grow up is not easy.  It takes courage and strength to follow the unknown path, and no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to take everyone with you.

No matter how closely my character in Peter Pan predicted my summer, the universe could not have planned 4 more perfectly tragic pieces for me to dance this fall.  Conflicted with feelings of love and anger, I’m deliriously clinging to sentimental moments, torn between opposing requests from my head and my heart.  I’m telling you, a top shelf psychologist could not understand my inner turmoil as well as ballet seems to right now.

in the studio with boundless plotnikov

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There are just 4 short days until the opening night of Boundless Plotnikov.  We’re busy putting the finishing touches on the ballet before it’s time to hit the theater tomorrow night to begin staging.

It’s been over a month since I last performed, and I am really missing the stage.  The lights.  The wings.  The way our score fills up the house like helium into a balloon, sticking to the perimeter and engulfing every inch of empty air with its sound.  One of my favorite things about this profession is the electric and exhausting magic of theater week.  Bring it on.

For tickets.

Photos by A. Cemal Ekin.

work clothes

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TGIS, am I right?

Yesterday whilst eating a banana and mentally preparing for my last rehearsal of the day, I looked down and realized my work clothes are pretty badass.  Pointe shoes peeking out through my practice tutu, my anti-office-attire getup reminded me how lucky I am to make a living doing something I love.

This week has been a tough one for me in all senses of the word.  But that old cliché really is true- what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I’m determined to emerge from the tornado that has been these past 4 days even more resilient than I was before…and I’ve got one more day to do it!  Here we go.

zzzzz

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For the past few days I have been a ghost of myself.  Just a shadowy version of me, zombie-walking through life with sore legs and a blank expression.  But physical exhaustion will do that to a person, right?  It’s starts with a tired body, then the mental slump kicks in, and before you know it you’re surrendering to a meltdown and it’s complete emotional defeat.

It’s strange how bad things can snowball quietly somewhere in your spirit without you even knowing…and then explode in an instant.  Ballet has a way of creating these inner blizzards.  And when they surface, staying positive seems damn near impossible. 

Yesterday hit me like a ton of bricks.  Preparing for Boundless Plotnikov next weekend as well as our spring Up Close On Hope series (opening in 3 weeks) has me working overtime, and it’s been utterly consuming.  I flip from organic Orchis to comical Sharps and Flats to turbulent Surrender to Balanchine’s romantic Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux to the sultry La Esmerelda pas, learning even more choreography in between and leaving little time to just  be me.  As is par for the course in this profession, the drama of so much work eventually caught up with me.  And I got upset.  And then I got frustrated with myself for being upset.   It’s like what I said before about perception; I should be thrilled to be working so much right now, but I’m so caught up in my own exhaustion that it’s difficult to actually enjoy it.  But a wiser, calmer me once preached of the importance of rest and relaxation.  So for the rest of the week I’ll be taking my own advice by noticing the positive energy all around me, smiling, and getting to sleep extra early.  Sleep tight, all.

photo by A. Cemal Ekin

musings

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I apologize for the unexpected quiet around here these days, life has been busier than usual!

I would also like to apologize for the fact that most of this post may not make sense to you.  It’s my inner monologue of studio life lately, and when Plotnikov is around, sometimes you just have to be there.

Ahh, the many emotions of a Viktor ballet.  Excited, determined, bored, happy, jealous, sad, ashamed, embarrassed, frustrated, lonely, afraid, angry, annoyed, shocked, in love, infuriated, disgusted, dead…no attitude goes unexplored.  Rehearsing three of his (all very different) ballets right now feels a bit like a soap opera; One minute I’m gossiping with my girlfriends, playing our arms violins, the next I’m “between the sheets” sleeping with other people’s husbands as they watch anxiously from stage right.  That is all, of course, interrupted by my frequent tendency to morph into an orchid, blooming and dying again and again in a surrealist, silent-movie-chase-scene-warp-speed fashion.  Unconscious bodies, easy hands, round shapes, walrus stomping, human cellos, lycra waterfalls, matrixes and tangos; The directions we are given may not always be what they seem.  In and out of long skirts, pointe shoes, flat shoes, quadruple wrapped tube dresses with a face on either end, wardrobe changes happen on stage, in the wings, and without warning.  A style so discernible, every day I’m awed by the incredibly vast range in tone of these three Viktor works.  Orchis, Surrender, and the yet to be identified New Work have me in a constant emotional evolution.

…and it’s time to hop on the roller coaster for yet another 8 1/2 hour dancing day!  Until next time…