I started to write a year-end post, then got involved with doing a bunch of housework and never got around to finishing it–so, instead, here’s a year-beginning post.
It’s going to be short because it’s almost 11 PM and I’m tired. I have too many thoughts about 2020 to hash out in a single post, anyway.
Instead, this post serves basically one purpose: setting an intention.
I’m not a maker of “resolutions”–but last year I set an intention: Don’t Overcommit.
Curiously, although I still managed, at times, to pack more onto my plate than I perhaps ought to have done, I did pack much less onto my plate than I otherwise might have even in the midst of a global pandemic.
It wasn’t magic–it was just a kind of mindfulness thing. An opportunity would come up, and I’d remember this intention to not overcommit, and it made me pause for a second instead of diving headlong into absolutely every single thing like I usually do.
So that was really useful, and I’m glad I did it.
Anyway. Last year’s intention was influenced by the growing knowledge that I needed to stop stacking my calendar the way I had been, and I think that’s part of what made it actually work–it was addressing something that had already begun to surface in my consciousness.
Moreover, it was both concrete and actionable. Or … inactionable?
IDK. It’s weird when the goal you’ve set is to NOT do a thing.
So, basically, that intention became a way of giving myself permission to say, “No,” or at least, “Not this time.” I wasn’t sure I’d actually do it, but I did. Not perfectly, but that’s fine. It’s a learning process.
Anyway. I think last year I hit on a halfway decent formula for a useful intention: concrete, actionable, and already percolating.
So this year’s intention, which will also be a challenge for me, is simple: Ask for help and/or coaching.
One of the best lessons I learned while working on this year’s second Nutcracker is that there are a lot of people who like the idea of helping me become a better dancer, and are very willing to step up and work with me. I just have to ask.
I’m beyond grateful for that community, and also beyond grateful for the weird experience of trying to learn an apparently rather-complex pas de deux in the middle of a global pandemic, because it was the thing that finally made me brave enough to say, “Hey, we could use some coaching, would you be willing?”
I have some specific ballet skills things I want to polish up this year, and I feel much less afraid now to seek out help in reaching those goals.
So that’s my simple intention for this year.
Ask for help.
Just like it’s okay to say no to things, it’s okay to say, “Hey, I’m struggling with this thing, can we find a time to get together and look at it and work on it?”
Obviously, I plan to continue working on the whole Don’t Overcommit thing also, because that makes a huge difference in my life.
So that’s it for now. One fresh intention for a fresh year. Here’s hoping 2021 will bring better things than 2020 (I mean, not to tempt fate, but that wouldn’t really be too difficult in many areas, so even if we set the bar pretty low…).
CW: brief mention of suicide, albeit in a completely absurd context. Oh, and also body horror, oddly enough?
This dream is rated [ WTF ]: inappropriate for all audiences due to making no sense whatsoever and leaving EVERYONE hanging.
I give up on trying to understand my dreams.
I just had one that segued from wish-fulfillment-but-also-stress to SPOOKY AF. I started messaging a friend about it, as you do, but the message slowly turned into a really-quite-long review of the dream in question.
So, of course, I decided to post it here. As one does.
Gentle readers, I give you … Erm. Well.
Whatever you want to call this mess.
Dream Cinema: It Gets Weird
So, in this dream, I’m on my way to participate in a Muay Thai competition—never mind that I haven’t set foot in a MT gym in AGES—but on the morning of the same I have to film something with Louisville Ballet—never mind that I dance with Lexington Ballet.
At least the LouBallet bit makes some measure of sense, since I take class at LouBallet School on breaks, just finished a masterclass there, and have been offered the occasional character part that I can never take bc it invariably coincides with something LexBallet is doing *le sigh*.
For some reason, I’m staying with a huge swath of my family (Mom, Step-Dad, Sis, Denis, Momma Fluffy (my MIL), both Bros-in-Law and the wife and kids of Younger Bro-In-Law) at a … hotel? Campground? Both?
I’m still not sure, bc dreams be like “Why not randomly shift gears from hotel to campground in midstream, but also make it the weirdest campground ever and only vaguely imply that it even *is* a campground? #YOLO”
It’s also unclear whether they’ve all come along to specifically to watch me probably get my butt kicked or whether we’re just all taking some kind of giant and very strange family road-trip 🤷♂️
Anyway, I’m supposed to be doing a kind of subsidiary road trip to the Muay Thai thing with BR and ATK from LouBallet and my friend EMM from LouBallet school after we get done filming ballet stuff, but while I’m packing up I A] can’t find my dance belt and B] can’t remember the phrase “dance belt,” so I can’t really ask for help either?
The fam heads out so they can get good seats, etc, for the MT thing, and the rest of us stay behind to sort out the dance belt situation.
So we’re shooting the breeze and hunting for the mysterious Essential Thing, which I finally find. While I’m changing, the hotel-cum-campground transforms into BR’s house (specifically, his kitchen), which I have definitely never seen IRL, bc I barely know the guy. This, of course, doesn’t phase me in the least, because dreams 🤷♂️
I notice it’s starting to get dark, recheck my schedule, and realize that I’ve basically missed the entire competition. EMM has to go home but BR and ATK decide to accompany me to wherever the MT thing is anyway (I have this vague post-dream sense that it was in, like, Paducah?) so we can all … hang out with my family, I guess?
We’re walking out to the cars and deciding whether we should all ride with ATK (whose argument was the she has the best music, which is probably true bc she’s awesome) when my Mom calls to ask if we were okay and (I think?) we decide to wait for my family at BR’s place.
(Sidebar: this conversation includes my Mom being like, “Wow, I didn’t know you were into anything that violent! But it looks like fun!” Which I can 100% see her saying irl, no joke 🤣)
So we head back into the kitchen and we’re making snacks in the form of a charcuterie board and talking about BW (blast from the past!) when bit by bit the dream shifts gears.
Like: I kid you not, the charcuterie board turns into a dead guy being prepared for a funeral ON THE KITCHEN ISLAND (WTF, DREAM 😶).
The dream has somehow yeeted ATK right out, but for a minute BR plays the role of the sensitive and thoughtful mortician preparing the body. I’m there for a sec, and then I’m not there and have never been there (dreams 🤷♂️).
Then BR, aka The Mortician, is and has always been played by a tall, thin white guy, bc apparently my brain thinks morticians be pale, or something? #TvTropes
And then the dead guy’s distraught but also overweening Mom (played by Kelly’s Mom, Diane, who IRL is only about as crazy as everyone, and not as out there as Dream Mom) is somehow there (in the logic of the dream, she’s been there all along? Bc dreams be like, “I’m a dream; I don’t HAFTA make sense! #YOLO”).
Dream Mom is weepily trying to ensure that her baby boy will look as pure as the driven snow, which apparently means coating his entire person in literally clown-white foundation?
(I mean: C’mon, Dream Cinema, even in my sleep I can spot a blunt and clunky visual metaphor: like, okay, according to his mom, duder was a saint, or at least a harmless innocent, or we’re painting over the sins she fears he may have committed, or whatever, and this is how she’s trying to express it. Which seems vaguely racist. MOVING ON.)
By this point, btw, my dream-consciousness is alternating between camera/audience and being inside the head of the mortician. Occasionally both at once, bc dreams, amirite?
Anyway! At one point, the mortician turns away to look for a brush of some kind, thinking to himself that although Dream Mom is deeply distraught, he should maybe give her a bit more guidance, bvshe’s making decisions that she might later regret (qv: Literally. Clown-white. Foundation. 🤡☠️👻).
Dream Camera zooms in to show Mortician’s hand gently patting the hand of the dead guy and possibly? smudging some kind of charcoal powder into the creases of Dead Guy’s knuckles (by mistake, obvs).
The dream audience perspective goes, “Mom’s gonna be pissed if she sees that” and then “That’s not good” and then “Oh, shizzle, this is some kind of foreshadowing, isn’t it?” and then “WHAT IF THE GRIME IS RISING UP FROM THE DEAD GUY’S SKIN?! 😬”
Cut to Dream Mom and the Mortician still not noticing.
Cut back to the hand, which definitely looks grimier than before, doesn’t it? Or does it? Dream Audience can’t be sure.
The fingers twitch.
T w I T cH 😮
Dream Audience A] wonders if the Mom saw it and B] announces that it could just be leftover nerve impulses (WHICH: um, no).
Dream camera zooms back out to show that neither Mom or the Mortician saw the fingers twitch.
Mom is weepily thanking the Mortician for taking such good care of her baby boy (who was, btw, probably in his 20s or 30s? Just for clarity. And probably also a dancer, unless I’ve just been thoroughly enough immersed in a mileu comprised entirely of dancers to default to all semi-naked men in dreams being built like dancers). Mortician glances back, notices the black smudges, and turns back to wash his hands and find even more white foundation.
Cue growing sense of dread, though it’s not clear yet whether we should be afraid OF the dead guy or FOR the dead guy.
Dream Camera literally flashes back to the bit where they removed the organs to weigh them during the autopsy; likewise, as we return to the dream-present, my brain retcons in a gigantic autopsy incision (I literally remember being like, “That wasn’t there before … Was it?”), closed but very clearly evident. (Implied: what if he was somehow AWAKE during the autopsy???!!!111)
Dream Audience wonders whether they simply didn’t notice it before, or??? Dream Audience be gullible. (I literally remember being like, “Wait, that wasn’t there before … Or was it?
Mortician slathers more clown-white on Dead Guy’s hand, then does the other one for good measure. Dream Camera cuts to a wider shot of Dead Guy, clown-white and terribly still. Mortician is just in the edge of the shot, turning away.
Dream Camera pulls back a little further as Mortician busies himself at the counter behind him, seeking another brush or something again.
Mom-of-Dead Guy continues to talk to Mortician about how she knows her baby boy would never commit suicide but doesn’t understand why someone would want to hurt him (not sure how that came up, bc I don’t remember there being any sense of either having been a Probable Cause before? Pretty sure Dead Guy had originally drowned, and entirely by accident. DREAMS. UGH. 🤷♂️).
Cut to a wider shot of the room, which is still clearly a kitchen, but for some reason the Mortician is doing this job privately as he sometimes does (you just know things like that in dreams … bc D R E A M S 🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️). Both Mom and Mortician are still facing away from Dead Guy, talking.
Dead Guy kind of shudders and gives a kind of strangled moan 😰
Mom looks up anxiously; Mortician is also spooked but explains rather gallantly that sometimes trapped air can escape from the lungs and cause a moaning sound.
Dream Camera, and thus Dream Audience, knows the Mortician doesn’t quite believe what he’s saying, at least not in this case, because the lungs aren’t even connected anymore. Heck, they might not even be IN THERE anymore.
Conversation between Mom and Mortician stumbles back up to tempo.
A moment passes.
UP 😱😱😱 with a pained wail and vomits blood and … embalming fluid??? 😱😱😱😱😱😱😱
(Pedantic Dream Audience wonders how this is possible, given that there shouldn’t be any blood or possibly even organs left in there.Note that Pedantic Dream Audience is unconcerned with the plausibility of a DAD GUY SITTING UP UNDER HIS OWN POWER IN THE FIRST PLACE. Ffs.
Another part of Dream Audience is like, “Yoooooooo, Mortician is never cooking in that kitchen again.” SHUT UP, DREAM AUDIENCE.)
Also, for some reason, DEAD GUY IS NOW WEARING GLASSES.
DEAD GUY DOES NOT NEED GLASSES ANYMORE.
Besides, he wasn’t wearing them a minute ago.
(Pedantic Dream Audience notes that they’re a plot device intended to make Dead Guy more sympathetic—which, to be fair, they somehow do. He’s like a taller, hot, and [admittedly] very dead Rick Moranis, somehow? But Awake Me is also pretty sure they’re a direct callback to Dead Glasses Guy in Bly Manor.)
Mom and Mortician turn to look just as Hot, Dead Rick Moranis collapses into an effortless forward fold (obviously, my brain believes that all hamstrings, even dead ones, are dancer hamstrings).
Feeling of dread solidifies in the direction of fear FOR Dead Guy (OMG! CAN HE FEEL WHAT’S HAPPENING TO HIM? IF HE’S STILL ALIVE IS IT TOO LATE TO SAVE HIM??!! I mean it doesn’t make any physiological sense but CLEARLY PHYSIOLOGY NO LONGER MATTERS, HERE 😱) … but with the knowledge that Mom and Mortician are simultaneously afraid FOR and OF Dead Guy.
They both reach out to him; Mortician is trying to think of a way to explain this to Mom that will sound plausibly non-supernatural even though he now realizes beyond the shadow of a doubt that S**T JUST GOT REAL, YO.
They both grab hold of Dead Guy ANNNND
I EFFING WAKE UP.
WTF, dreams?!!!!! DEAD GUY CLEARLY HAS UNFINISHED BUSINESS. Or at any rate SOMEBODY does.
This is SO NOT FAIR to ANY OF US.
TL;DR: 3/10, compelling story but utterly absurd plot development and questionable continuity with a TERRIBLE CLIFFHANGER ENDING.
WHAT HAPPENS TO DEAD GUY?! WHAT INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT THING DOES HE HAVE TO SAY?
Or has he just, somehow, really been Only Mostly Dead the whole time?
The world may never know.
And I WANT MY MONEY BACK, Dream Cinema.
- It’s entirely possible that this was the fault of D’s phone ringing and not of Dream Cinema. But you know what? When the broadcast gets interrupted during a Live In HD performance, we’re always given the option of a refund or a comp ticket for another Live in HD show. Just saying.
Both of this season’s Nutcrackers are now behind me.
I’ve seen Lexington Ballet’s rather impressive video (link: Lexington Ballet: Nutcracker Reimagined), though FSB’s doesn’t come out ’til the 24th.
Concerns about the out-of-control COVID-19 infection rate scuttled FSB’s live performance (I was fine with that—Nutcracker is fun, but nobody needs to catch COVID-19 over it) and forced some last-minute cast chances, so we didn’t get to do the full Grand Pas after all.
I missed my OG Sugarplum, who is a delightful partner, but she’s at very high risk for COVID complications. I would rather that she remain healthy and whole so we can dance another day.
My Cavalier variation felt … less than great? But perhaps not terrible.
Or, rather, I was deeply disappointed, but everyone else seemed to like it.
I blended a couple of versions to suit the tiny stage, and for some reason during the actual recording my legs seemed iffy about the concept of brisée-volée. It worked fine the rest of the time -.-
I’m not satisfied with that on the grounds that, by definition, as a professional dancer, your worst day still has to be good enough for the people who’ve paid to watch you dance.
This wasn’t my finest hour, though it could’ve been worse. I’m hoping that I did a sufficiently convincing job faking it through the rough spots.
And then, a year ago, I couldn’t even really do brisèe-volée.
My friend Dot understudied Sugarplum, so we threw together a Coda literally at the last minute. It was fun, and I didn’t actually run into any scenery doing the tiniest tombé-coupé-jeté manège in the history of the world (though I got carried away and *almost* did).
In Nutcracker Prince territory, things were a little smoother because I’d somehow managed to have more actual rehearsal. (Y’all, I cannot really explain how I managed to get so little studio time for my variation. But there we have it. Rehearse it til you can’t get it wrong, or you WILL get it wrong.)
Battle Scene was the best-rehearsed part of the whole ballet (I mean, not counting the Grand Pas with my OG Sugarplum), and it was both fun and probably not too shabby. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
It had a ton of sword-fighting:
I choreographed most of a rather nice Snow Pas on our Clara and myself, though scheduling conflicts meant we wound up kind of semi ad-libbing the last 45 seconds or so 😅 Next year we’ll have existing choreography to work from (assuming I’m still in Kentucky next year).
This rather nice little jump was also in there somewhere:
Anyway, as my first guest performance with two principal rôles in a full(ish)-length ballet, it was … Reasonable?
I guess I won’t really know until I actually see the video.
I don’t usually write about aerials technique because the potential for disaster is way too high, but today I’m making an exception to address one minor but useful point.
I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who more or less specializes in bar apparatus, but it can be translated to vertical apparatus (fabric, rope, pole, etc) with a little thought. It’s useful no matter what kind of junk you’ve got in your drawers, but particularly helpful for people with dangly bits.
At the studio where I train, there’s a segment of the human anatomy we like to call the “No-Fly Zone.” It’s the zone you really, really don’t want to land on, or roll over, or otherwise crush, spindle, or mangle. I think you get the picture.
Anyway! That said, a lot of moves all but invite you to do exactly that—vine climb, almost anything you do in horse, arabesque on the bar, etc.
If you’re like most aerialists, you’ll Land in your No-Fly Zone maybe once or twice, and then your body will figure out ways to avoid it.
That said, the ways our bodies work out aren’t always as efficient as they could be—hence this post.
So here we go!
Here’s a sequence of stills from a video I took on class this morning. The sequence is simply a transfer on the bar from a hooked knee on one side to a hooked knee on the other side.
In the photo above, I’ve just straddled up to the bar and hooked a knee. Because I began with my grip a bit low. This lyra hangs fairly high, and I was tired so I didn’t take a higher grip that would require a bigger pull-up. As a result, I’m bringing my hands up higher on the apparatus to give myself room later on.
Depending on what you’re doing, that step may or may not be necessary, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Here, I’m beginning the process of rolling myself over the bar by pressing my top leg as I straighten it. At the same time, I’m using my arms to give myself a bit of lift.
It probably looks like I’m about to land right on my No-Fly Zone—but I’m not.
Above (although I apparently grabbed the screenshot from the other side … oh well), you can see what prevents me from crashing in the No-Fly Zone: squeezing the extended legs together as if I’m doing an assemblé.
This allows me to control how high the bar can travel on my legs. At this point, my arms aren’t really taking much weight at all—they’re just helping to steer.
Here, you can see how much control I have over where the bar goes. I’m squeezing my thighs together and using a moving very much like a soutenu to push it around relative to my body.
One quick note: this is easier to do on lyra than trapeze—on trap, you also have to manage rope tension relative to your movement. Same goes for rope, hammock, fabric, and sling: you can transfer this basic idea, but the mechanics are a bit trickier.
In this last shot, I’m transferring the bottom bar into the pocket of the opposite hip as I bring my head under the top bar. My No-Fly Zone is safely out of the way.
In short, what allows me to avoid a crash is pressing through a fully-engaged leg, then squeezing both legs (again, fully-engaged) as I pass over the bar.
For someone like me—someone whose pelvis is put together so there’s never going to be a thigh gap, but also a ballet dancer for whom this movement is inherently familiar—this is pretty easy to do.
- Seriously, even at my most underweight, 84 pounds at 5’4” when I was 13, there was no gap. My pelvis isn’t built that way.
For bow-legged aerialists (like D) and those with wider-set hip joints, it’s imperative to really cross the legs from the top of the thighs and squeeeeeeze.
This is one of many places where ballet training can be so useful for aerialists. The degree of overcross and engagement is almost identical to sus-sous, or to a strong assemblé.
In either case, the movement that you’ll use to pass over the bar without crash-landing is still very much like a soutenu turn. You’re squeezing the thighs as you rotate your hips.
In ballet, this turns your body; on lyra, it turns the hoop (on trap and other apparatus, the action varies, but the principle is the same).
Even if you’ve never taken a ballet class, if you’ve ever tried to hold something (a box, a bag, a curious dog that wants to run off and check out the neighbors’ dog) between your thighs while turning around to grab your phone, you’ve probably done this exact sequence on the ground.
You probably don’t want to squeeze your dog as hard as you’d squeeze the lyra, but the principle is the same.
One more note: take it as read that, sooner or later, you’re probably going to crash in your No-Fly Zone. Don’t take it as a sign of failure—it’s just how we learn. For many aerialists, it’s something that happens as we begin to feel more confident and to take risks.
And you’ll probably only do it once, maybe twice. Consider it a rite of passage in your #CircusLife. Trust me, we’ve all done that walk of shame.
I have no qualms about stating up front that my partnering skills are, well, roughly at the level that would, if this was a university class, require one of those 094-level classes (I can see it now: “Partnering 099: It’s Always The Boy’s Fault”).
I’m good enough at this point that I wouldn’t have to take “Partnering 088: Whatever You Do, Don’t Drop Her!” … but I’m definitely still rough around the edges.
Anyway, in the interest of offering some help to my fellow Remedial Partner…ers, here are some strategies that do and don’t work:
- stand too close
- stand too far away
- get nervous and slowly collapse closer and closer, drawing your partner into your collapse like the heavier star in a binary system, leading to a cataclysmic supernova
- panic about every single turn, every single time
- panic about any turn, ever, for that matter
- trust me panicking really doesn’t help
- go walkabout mid-promenade because your eyes are pointing the wrong way (I know this is groundbreaking info but amazingly a promenade should be a circle, not a square)
- fail to communicate … partnering is basically sustained communication, ideally with fewer words but, you know, better to speak than to do something dumb
- panic about penchés
- panic about steps you were doing fine yesterday
- fall into weight-sharing mode … weight-sharing is great, but it doesn’t work for a lot of ballet things
- panic about … anything, really
- REMAIN CALM
- feel out a good distance for various steps
- learn how to be there on time
- let your partner do her end of things
- talk through your dances together
- mark through your dances together
- walk through your dances together
- run all the things until you can’t get it wrong
- but make sure to stop before you both get super tired
- REMAIN CALM srsly it’s better to be Prince Valium than Prince Panic
- be willing to swap a step out for something simpler if you’re on a deadline and you’re having a rough time—it’ll build confidence, and eventually you’ll get the harder step, but that way you’ll know you’ve got something you can take to the stage
- COMMUNICATE! today we both kept going, “Okay that felt weird” from time to time, and discovered that what felt weird to one felt weird to the other (we’re also getting better at sorting out the why)
- ask for help … we’ve been super lucky to have not one, but two very experienced coaches step in to help because they want to see us succeed. Asking for help is scary, but it’s such a good idea.
- believe that you can do it … like horses, ballerinas can sense fear 😅
- and, of course, REMAIN CALM
That’s it for today. I have still neglected to take any photos, so I’m sticking in a screenshot for the featured image 😅
Every once in a while, you have an idea and you think, “Well, this might be a terrible idea, but it might be a great idea,” so you give it a go.
When I asked my (ballet) partner if she’d like to do FSB’s Nutcracker with me, there was a certain degree of that feeling. Like: I at least had some partnering skills … but doing the Grand Pas was going to be a sink-or-swim crash course in lots of partnering skills, including ones I’ve struggled with in the past.
Anyway, we’re now a couple weeks into really working on things, and while I don’t want to jinx us by speaking too soon, I’m rather pleased with how well it’s going.
Bit by bit, I’m learning to do the things. Just as importantly, I’m learning how to troubleshoot my own partnering problems.
We had a rough day on Wednesday. The floor was terrifyingly slick, we were both nervous as a result, and things that had worked in the past suddenly weren’t working. Our excellent pas de deux coach was there, but it was only her second session with us, so she wasn’t sure what was up either.
Somehow, somewhere in the midst of the struggle, one of the steps worked, and I realized that the difference was that I simply wasn’t standing as close to my partner as I has been all day. It was near the end of our rehearsal, so I applied that thought to the bit we were working on, then tucked it away.
Yesterday, we didn’t rehearse because my partner had some stuff she needed to do. I washed the floors so we’d feel safer, then walked trhough the dance by myself to cement some chances we’d made to the choreography, then dragged myself home via 2 hours of ridiculous rush hour rerouting (this, of course, is why I try to avoid traveling at rush hour). I reminded myself to stand a bit farther from my partner.
Today, faced with a very compressed rehearsal schedule and a studio that refused to warm up (the thermostat was working, but the furnace wouldn’t turn on o.O), I applied my idea from the outset … and it worked!
In fact, there were things that only kinda worked before that suddenly worked pretty darned well [1, 3] simply because I stood a little further off.
- Even with both of us stumping around in warm-up boots.
- You haven’t lived until you’ve successfully done an arabesque promenade with your partner en pointe with warm-up boots over her pointe shoes.
- See: “Ballet: it’s easier when you do it right.”
Obviously, “just stand further away” has its limits–but I think it’s probably a useful idea for a lot of people learning partnering.
Our instinct tends to be to get closer. It makes an instinctive kind of sense: if dropping your partner or knocking her over is bad, you want to be close enough to prevent it, or to rescue her if it does happen. This is probably especially true if you’re a T-Rex and your partner is relatively close to your own height: like, I’m pretty sure part of my tendency to stand too close boils down to instinctively understanding that my arms are short, yo.
But, as it turns out, sometimes that doesn’t work.
Anyway, we both left today’s rehearsal feeling more confident about the adagio movement of the Grand Pas (there’s some partnering in the coda, but it’s nowhere near as long or complicated).
And I left feeling more confident in both my current partnering abilities and about my potential for being a good partner.
This whole process has also reminded me, yet again, that when I’m calm, I’m actually pretty good at learning choreography. And that I’m capable of learning in general.
I’m lucky to have, as a partner, a ballerina who is kind, thoughtful, game, technically sound, and a fine teacher (and also a redhead … as someone who’s effectively a dark ginger myself, I’m quite partial to gingers!).
And we’re lucky to have the support of not one, but two good coaches, both experienced dancers with decades of performing between them.
I was very heartened the other day when E, who’s Coach #1, said she feels confident that we can do this, and do it well. Honestly, that reduced my ambient imposter syndrome level by quite a bit.
- And while this appellation has a specific technical definition, I feel comfortable using it here. Not only is she dancing a principal role and being a leader and stuff, she’s a highly accomplished dancer in her own right.
It’s a pretty cool thing to feel like you’re actually making real progress in the calling around which you’ve shaped your life. Which, in fact, I very much do.
Asking my partner to join me in this endeavour was a risk–but it was a good one, I think. I was hoping we’d both come out of it more confident and with a performance we could add to our CVs, and that I’d come out of it a more useful and employable dancer. Thus far, it’s looking like that’s the way things are moving.
Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to the next time we get a chance to dance without our warm-up boots.
- Which will be Sunday evening of this week. I can’t wait!
It starts like this: once upon a time (okay, five minutes ago), I decided (G-d alone knows why) to break the First Law of the Innertubes and read the comments.
The comments in question were those on this lovely rendition of the Adagio movement of the Nutcracker’s Grand Pas, performed by Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov of The Royal Ballet:
There were not, I should mention, any dick jokes. Or…well. If there were, I didn’t scroll that far.
But only because I got exactly far enough to discover a troubling undercurrent: an entire quorum of commenters who felt that, compared to the high drama of the musical score, the dancing was, in a word, boring.
Full disclosure: between the ages of, say, three and maybe twelve or so, I would’ve agreed completely, though presumably for different reasons. My reason was that I was, at least in that regard, the very stereotype of a little boy. Romance was GROSS, and also there were no big jumps or, like, explosions.
- Not tryna one-up anyone–but, y’all? MY COMPANY’S NUTCRACKER HAS ACTUAL EXPLOSIONS. Just, you know. Not during the Adagio bit of the Grand Pas.
I’m guessing the opinions of commenters old enough to have their own YouTube accounts are primarily based on less-childish criteria.
Now, I’m not saying people aren’t entitled to their own opinions.
First, that would be incredibly hypocritical, since you know as well as I do that I’m packed to the gills with opinions.
Second, it would be rude.
That said, I think there are probably quite a few people (maybe among these commenters, maybe not: I don’t know their individual ballet-commenting journeys, after all) who don’t actually know what the adagio movement is trying to accomplish, and who might be inclined to judge it by a metric that doesn’t fit.
The Nutcracker’s Grand Pas–and, in particular its adagio movement–is a bit of an anomaly.
It’s a subtle, exquisite gem set in a brash, flashy setting.
- The Snow Pas is sometimes played this way as well–one of the things I like most about our Nutcracker is the sweet tenderness of the Snow Pas).
The music is dramatic, of course: I mean, it’s Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky hid his subtlety amongst the broad, dramatic strokes. It’s part of why Tchaikovsky’s bombast works: when Tchaikovsky brings out the big guns, so to speak, he doesn’t neglect the battle as a whole.
- Listen to the horns calling back and forth at the beginning of “Capriccio Italien:” the opening fanfare is brassy, even brash, but the fanfare that echoes evokes one replying from a distant hillside. Now, listen to the music of the Adagio. In the most dramatic moments–usually while there’s some visually-impressive lift happening onstage–the highest woodwinds play a wild little descant in which you hear the wind and the snow and the wild spirit that is Sugarplum, who is choosing in this moment to be tame.
- Sorry, guys. This is the worst analogy. I mean, sure, it’s effective, but … battle? Couldn’t I think of something else?
The Royal Ballet’s version of the Adagio choreography, meanwhile, is very British. It’s deeply restrained, and its restraint lends it a specific kind of romance. The Grand Pas adagio isn’t always that restrained, but it’s almost never bombastic, even though at times the music is, perhaps, just a bit bombastic (I mean: it’s Tchaikovsky).
I will note that, perhaps, this particular performance could have been a bit more expressive even within the context of its restrained approach–but I don’t think that means the choreography itself is boring.
I think it means that this is Nutcracker, and that for all we know this particular upload might be video from a performance in which both artists had already done this show thirteen times that week, and fourteen times the week before that, and fourteen times the week before that.
In other words, it seems entirely possible that they were tired.
Dancers joke about hating Nutcracker, but what we mostly mean, as far as I can tell, is that OMFG IT’S EXHAUSTING. Most of us actually seem to either secretly or not-so-secretly love Nutcracker. We’re just also deeply traumatized by it ^-^’
Even in a small company with a relatively short Nutcracker run, three weeks of performing the same ballet 6+ times per week, with up to three performances per day, is physically and mentally taxing.
In a huge, world-class company like The Royal Ballet, Nutcracker is a sort of towering juggernaut; a gauntlet through which dancers must pass each year as if it was some kind of old-world rite of the Winter Solstice like:
WHO WILL MAKE IT THROUGH??? ONLY THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE!!!
So basically what I’m saying is that Nutcracker is a callback to our atavistic fear of the long dark of winter; a kind of sacrificial ritual.
Okay, so no: that’s not really my point at all, though heck, it sure is an interesting idea, and possibly worth revisiting?
But, anyway. My whole point was about the Grand Pas Adagio.
The adagio isn’t exciting in the usual way because it shouldn’t be exciting in that way.
“Adagio” derives from the Italian (wait for it) “ad agio“–literally, “at ease.”
(I’ll pause here so anyone who has ever, during a long adagio in class, wanted to die and then murder their teacher, but hasn’t been sure in which order to do so, can laugh uproariously. Like, “At ease! At ease??!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”)
L’Ancien likes to remind us that, musically speaking, this is understood to mean no stress–as in, no OOMPH. It’s not BOMP-chika-bomp. It’s aaaaaaaaahhh.
Adagio isn’t about grand allegro pyrotechnics. It’s about something far subtler. It is, more than any other part of a ballet, about acting.
And, there, both Nuñez and Muntagirov perform, if not flawlessly, then beautifully. There are some moments that they could, perhaps, be a bit more expressive. Those moments generally happen to coincide with doing things that are, in terms of technique, not so easy. Or lifts. It can be hard to look tender AF when you’re lifting another adult human, no matter how sylphlike they are.
- This is one of the things I admired about C, who danced with us last year. Not only was his technique superb and lovely and clean, but he almost always managed to look sweet and tender and loving or however else he was supposed to look while lifting other adult persons.
Ultimately, Nuñez and Muntagirov’s performance treats the Adagio exactly as it should be treated: gently, deftly.
As an audience, though, many of us aren’t used to that. We’re used to TRANSMOGRIFIERS: END OF THE UNIVERSE!!!
(Which … don’t get me wrong. That stuff is fun, too.)
Even our less-explosive fare tends to be terribly unsubtle (Remember the Twilight series? Subtle as a chainsaw -.-).
So maybe we’re just not sure what to think when we find ourselves hard against the Adagio, in the middle of what might be the Most Bombastic Ballet Ever if it weren’t for Swan Lake, which is what American movies would create if they created a ballet (and which, btw, is also one of my very favorite ballets).
- Okay, so … there’s also Spartacus. Which is even more bombastic, but I always forget about it because I’ve never seen the whole thing. Also Troy Games, hwich I Haven’t seen, but since it’s basically Men’s Technique: The Ballet, I’m assuming it’s probably got actual explosions and the audience probably has to sign a waiver. I’ve never seen any part of Troy Game (Y’ALL! I FOUND IT!!! And, um, it’s funny AF in parts), but I can state with conviction that I would LOVE a role in that ballet.
The grandeur in the adagio movement of Nutcracker’s Grand Pas derives not from virtuoso technical shenanigans, but from the power of the dancers to evoke emotion–in short, from their acting ability. Without that, there’s nothing to keep the audience hooked.
If what an audience expects from a ballet performance is a lot of virtuosic tricks, the Grand Pas Adagio will almost always be a bit of a letdown–as will some entire ballets, like Neumeier’s La Dame Aux Camelias (this will take you to Act I, but the whole thing is out there), which depend more on the dancers’ acting ability than on the (metaphorical) pyrotechnics we all know and love.
This, by the way, is what worries me a bit about audiences trying to make the leap straight from So You Think You Can Dance to full-scale ballet performances. SYTYCD and its kin have helped bring dance to audiences who, in the past, might never have seen it, either because they lacked access or because they didn’t think it was for them.
But, at the same time, because most of the dance-contest shows skew towards short performances built to please the general public, tricks are thick on the ground (and in the air), and subtle, expressive dance is almost unheard of. Same goes for Insta posts (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone): if you want to post video in your regular Insta feed, you get one minute, which really means like 58 seconds. Are you going to post 58 seconds of you staring fervently into your partner’s eyes, or are you going to post that hella cool manege?
Maybe I should swallow my own medicine and start posting the 58 seconds of staring into my partner’s eyes. Or, well, something like that. 58 seconds of nothing but staring could get weird.
Anyway. Watching ballet is like anything else: it’s a skill. When I watch American football, I basically haven’t the foggiest idea what’s happening (beyond the fact that our costumer would MURDER ME, s l o w l y , if I ever got my performance gear that dirty ^-^.
That doesn’t mean I’m an uncultured dolt; it just means I didn’t grow up watching football (my sis, on the other hand, has become an avid fan because someone mentioned to her that football is basically chess with big athletic dudes and she LOVES chess, so now she knows everything about football, too).
By way of a clearer analogy: I grew up on classical music and jazz, with a bit of the more obscure species of pop and folk thrown in here and there. The first time I heard classic rock, I was like, “Huh?”
In short, I didn’t speak the music language. But over time I heard it more and more, because my Stepdad is into classic rock, and I learned to speak its language and came to like it (a lot of it, anyway: there are dog farts in every genre–ballet probably has some, but since ballet is already pretty obscure, they probably don’t make it too far from the offending dog).
And while I usually use this analogy to explain why people often think they don’t like classical music, and then slowly evolve to like it, it works for ballet, too.
Which isn’t to say it’s impossible to dislike this specific Grand Pas adagio even if you’re a balletomane or a dancer. Maybe you just don’t like Muntagirov because he looks kind of like a deer who became a human but on some level is still a deer. I mean, I like that about him, but it might weird some people out. Maybe you like a different version of the choreography (there are a couple I do like better in that regard, though they overlap considerably with this one).
But if you simply think the choreography is boring in relation to the music, I invite you to watch like 25 different versions (as I have, G-d help me, bc I’m formally learning this pas de deux right now) as a means of learning the language.
You may find, of course, that watching 25 Grand Pas Adagios in a row really just makes you want to come to my house and demand that hour and a half or so of your life back, in which case, I cannot offer you a refund, but I’ll be happy to make you some tea?
On the other hand, you may begin to see the subtle shadings that make adagio so powerful when it’s done well.
As an artist, as a dancer who is also autistic, last-minute changes are the bane of my existence.
They’re also just part of the process, especially right now.
The process of filming, with its opportunity for multiple takes, is inherently different from the process of performing a show start-to-finish before a live audience. The certainty in the familiar shape of Nutcracker—the prologue always precedes the crossing, which always precedes party scene, which always precedes “Midnight Scare,” etc—evaporates.
We just finished filming Nutcracker at LexBallet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it was the single most stressful production of my working life this far—not because anything was mishandled, but simply because, as an autistic person, I feel comfortable when I’m accustomed to the process and stressed when I don’t.
Nutcracker is normally our most-familiar ballet. It’s the same ballet every year: adjustments are made to choreography, but the flow of rehearsal and performance are typically known entities. In a way, it’s like singing the alphabet song versus “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star ”: the lyrics might be different, but the music is the same.
- Shout-out to Autocorrupt, which was absolutely determined to make this, “Terrible, Terrible Little Star” 🤣🤣🤣 Autocorrupt be #judgy y’all
That isn’t a bad thing, but at times it was deeply frustrating. I’m sure it was even more so for dancers cast in multiple roles, who thus had to dash back and forth to exchange Costume A for Costume B and so forth. Drosselmeyer is only Drosselmeyer—the amount of undoing and redoing of costume, hair, and makeup it would take to be able to jump in and do, say, one of the second-act variations would be unmanageable during a live show.
Still, I’m learning to accept last-minute changes with less internal grumbling as I grow into this life. They still make me feel stressed and a bit recalcitrant (feels be like “I DON’T WANNA CHANGE THAT! …even though it actually works better the new way 😑”), but I’m no longer horrified that OMG MR D IS CHANGING THINGS A G A I N 😱😱😱
Instead, it’s just like: *shrug* *eyeroll* #dancerlife #yolo
In that same vein, I learned as I was packing my car that D had been exposed to COVID-19 at work again—he’s a healthcare provider, so it’s pretty much inevitable—and instead of returning home, I’d be landing at our friend KL’s house pending D’s test results.
Fortunately, I know KL well enough to feel comfortable in her home, though her catto (who normally likes me) was a little spooked about my unexpected arrival as an overnight guest.
Cats aren’t super keen on last-minute changes, either.
Anyway, I slept for 10 much-needed hours last night, and I’m recuperating. My body is definitely in restock mode: I’m super hungry and super tired, so clearly the stores of extra energy are tapped out (except, like: Hey, body? we actually do still have plenty of stored energy, so don’t expect me to eat 3500 calories today while I’m sitting on my butt! You’re going to have to manage on like 2000 or so).
My car, which was broken into at the least convenient moment during theater/filming week, is still sporting a temporary plastic driver’s-side window constructed from blue painter’s tape and a clear vinyl shower-curtain liner.
I’m debating whether to order a tiny grocery delivery or actually slither into the driver’s seat and go retrieve some food. Alternatively, I might just order some Chinese or something for today, since I have to go out anyway tmw to vote, rehearse, and teach 🤷♂️
- Dear potential thieves: please consider ANY OTHER WINDOW for your car breaking-in activities. I get that sometimes life puts you in a position where breaking into a car seems like the best or only option, but seriously, guys, come on.
- I’m highly grateful for being moderately-sized and flexible af right now. It’s the only way to get into my car rn without removing the temporary window 🤷♂️
Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m still exhausted and I’m seriously considering a nap, even though if there were a World Ranking for Success In Naps I’d be right at the bottom every time.
(For a month, anyway.)
It’s hard to explain how good it feels to return to the studio, masks and all. It’s good to be back with my people, but also to have externally-imposed structure to my days.
Going into the pandemic, I was beginning to understand how much I need externally-imposed structure. Losing it abruptly really drove that point home.
Getting back to serious aerials training made a difference—that gave me at least some structure, more physical exercise than I had been getting, and a reason to leave the house.
Returning to dancing full-time takes it to another level.
It also gets me out of my own head, which is helpful.
Different things work for different people, but in terms of really staying sane, this seems to be the best option for me.
I had a good class today, all things considered. Rehearsal also went well. Revisiting a role I know well is comforting in a way I never expected—perhaps because it’s a touch of normality in uncertain times.
Speaking of which: while I’ve been reflecting on what role I, as an artist, can play in the ongoing movement for justice, I found myself thinking a lot about how ballet will only evolve as we begin to step away from business as usual in terms of how we teach and recruit dancers of color, dancers with disabilities, and dancers from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
And while that’s an important thing to think about in its own right, it made me realize that I shouldn’t be as worried about not being good at doing the things that have been essential to running a ballet company in the “business as usual” sense.
I mean, I’m still going to be a person with autism and there are still lots of ways in which I will need the help of other people if I’m ever going to really get Antiphon off the ground.
But if, in some very significant ways, the way Antiphon operates looks different from the traditional model of how ballet companies work, then good—because part of its ultimate mission is to be a different animal.
I hope that it will grow to be a company that better reflects the diversity of dancers in terms not only of their physical beings, but of the experiences they’ve had as a result of living lives colored by the experiences that come with those physical beings.
- As an autistic dancer and choreographer, I think neurodiversity and psychological diversity should also be part of Antiphon’s mission. But I’m also super exhausted and couldn’t figure it how to work that into the sentence 😅 Sorry.
I hope that it will become something bigger than me, and that I’ll have the grace to get out of the way and yield the floor so dancers within the company can tell their stories.
I suppose if I do my job right, Antiphon will operate as a springboard: a diverse group of dancers who work together and know each-other well enough that when someone within the company steps up to create a dance, they’ll have a pallette with which they feel confident “painting,” so to speak.
Anyway, that’s it for now. More to follow, but I’m tiiiiiiired.