I mean, like, literally.
I’m talking about weight-sharing, here.
When you weight-in, you pour your weight into your partner, who pours their weight into you. Ideally, you should find equilibrium: you’re not pushing Terry* over, and Terry’s not pushing you over.
*Our gender-neutral partner du jour
When you weight-out, it works the same way, except instead of pushing, you’re pulling.
This is the lovely thing about weight-sharing: it’s a style of partnering that depends on both partners carrying their share of the weight. If you’re distributing the load equally, you can do all kinds of crazy things that way.
The piece I’m setting to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (I’m kicking around the idea of calling it “Tenebrae”) combines traditional ballet partnering and weight-sharing, which makes for some interesting transitions: early in the piece, we fold from a shared arabesque en fondu through a moment of weight-sharing into a ballet-standard supported arabeqsue.
The challenge for K, as a ballet dancer who hasn’t worked in a weight-sharing modality before, is surrendering her weight into me at moments that it feels really counter-intuitive. She has the hard part of that move: basically, all I have to do is reach back with my free leg, set the foot on the floor, and get my arms to the right place at the right time so she can use them for leverage at one point in her end of things.
She’s tasked with the bizarre challenge of yielding her weight to me as I recover from the arabesque, rolling into my lap without bringing her working leg down, then fouettéing back into an arabesque.
She pretty much got it from the word go, which blows my mind. At first she wasn’t quite getting enough of her her weight down into me in the middle of all this, but it’s getting better and better. The fact that she springs right back into the traditional ballet mode with no difficulty is amazing.
Regardless, the more she pours her weight into me as we sit back together, the easier the transition is for both of us.
Anyway, the piece is going well. We’re well into the third minute of the dance. I’m not sure about the exact time because the last run we were behind the count and I left out a phrase that I’m pretty sure I want to keep. Regardless, given that we’ve put in about 2.5 hours, I’m very happy with how much we’ve built.
There will, of course, be some rebuilding involved once I start setting this with a larger cast—not least because right now we have the entire stage, and we use the heck out of it.
- Though, in fact, I need to dial back my travel … the space in which we’ll be showing it is smaller than the studio where we’re rehearsing, and there’s one point at which I’m not only off the stage but probably outside the actual building XD
We’ve started taking video of basically everything, because I have this habit of finishing the part we’ve already worked and starting right into the next section, and it can be hard to remember what, exactly, I did sometimes. Most of the piece is pretty clear in my head, but where it’s vague, I tend to just let the music drive and I, like, forget to remember.
Couple more for posterity 😉
This week I have one more rehearsal for this piece, plus one for Thursday’s show (ArtWorks) and about a million for Weeds, in addition to the usual class schedule.
Class, overall, is going well: I’m working on relying more on my inner thighs, working from my back down through the floor, and trusting my balances.
Oh, and also not doing dumb things with my hands or letting my shoulders creep into my ears when things get complicated. That, too.
This weekend, a friend of mine and I talked about art.
Specifically, we talked about creating art. He’s a straight, cis-male photographer, and at one point I suggested that should he work on shooting nudes, it would be useful to his work overall if he shot men as well as women.
At the time, I didn’t do a great job explaining why. I’ve had some time to think about it now, and a lot of it comes down to this: art demands individual vision. Often, we sharpen the individuality of our vision by doing the things we don’t naturally want to do. They help us learn to see more clearly, and to see things that perhaps we don’t when we work within our comfort zones.
(Likewise, there’s an enormous amount of privilege involved in feeling that, for example, as a straight male, you only need to depict females in your art. That’s another post, for another time.)
In high school, I attended a profoundly rigorous arts magnet as a writing major (I didn’t audition for the dance major Because Reasons, which is also a different post entirely). Even being accepted into the program was no mean feat—but I think it’s fair to say that we all began with a fair amount of natural ability and only the bare minimum of skill.
In the first semester of the first year, we were all required to take a course on the fundamental mechanics of poetry. The course in question required us to learn and work within a number of highly-specific technical forms, from villanelle to sonnet to sestina to haiku.
At the outset, it seemed extremely dry—but it was a requirement, and so on we went.
Over the course of that semester, we learned an incredibly valuable thing: although poetry is expressive, it is also specific. Whether or not we enjoyed working within the strictures of the forms in question (I love writing sonnets and haiku, personally, but could take or leave villanelle), their strictures forced us to make decisions.
As writers, those decisions sharpened us. They honed our ears and our eyes; our senses of rhythm and meaning. They taught us to be specific, but also taught us how to say things by leaving them unsaid.
It was very, very hard work. It forced all of us to learn to take our visions and voices and cram them into someone else’s form, often with an assigned topic (which was inevitably very specific: write a villanelle about a window; write a sonnet to a garbage truck). We were constantly reading, writing, workshopping, revising, re-workshopping; sometimes to the tune of five poems assigned Monday and due Tuesday, with revisions due Wednesday and further revisions due Thursday (and that’s not counting the reading assignments!).
Not everybody survived that semester in the program. The rate of attrition was high: many more people want to write than want to revise. Writing poetry entirely for your own satisfaction is a totally good and valid thing, but if that’s your only goal and you hate the idea of revision because you feel that poetry is all about feelings and revision somehow betrays the feelings that went into the piece, you’re probably not going to like the workshop process that takes place in that kind of setting.
Basically, it’s not at all about validating your feelings. Instead, it’s about: “Why did you use the word ‘jump’ there?” and “The tense shift in stanza 3 feels unintentional, and seems kind of distracting,” and “The third line in the second stanza is awkward, but I’m not sure what to suggest to fix it because I don’t actually understand what it’s trying to convey.”
At the end of the day, though, the writers that came out of that program were very solid. We entered and won serious competitions; we applied to and won scholarships to extremely competitive colleges and universities. We published. We wrote and wrote and wrote.
We all arrived on day one with ability, but ability wasn’t enough. We also needed skill, and we needed to find our voices as writers (which is far less airy-fairy a process than it sounds: it’s not about woo, it’s about diction, scansion, mechanics, tone, experience…). We gained skill and found our voices in no small part by working within the restrictions of form: just as a ballet dancer begins at the barre, or an equestrian begins in the ring (or even on the leadline).
I entered the program as a writer who was primarily uninterested in poetry. I liked fiction and wanted to hone my ability as a writer of fiction. Ironically, it turned out that I was much, much better at poetry than at fiction—which is to say that although I created breathing characters and wrote beautiful and vivid prose, the mechanics of plot would continue to elude me for quite a while. They still elude me whenever I’m not paying very, very close attention. So much of writing fiction is deciding which moments from your characters’ lives to leave on the cutting-room floor, and (SPOILER ALERT!) you’re going to wind up leaving most of the moments. Ugh.
The kinds of decisions imposed by writing formal poetry improved my craft overall, however: they made me better at making music from language, but also better at making decisions about things like plot and character in fiction; better at evoking the specificity of place that makes setting real; better at discerning which details to include and which to leave out. It’s about showing the reader that this isn’t just a burger, but a burger that sizzles on the tongue full of every lingering evening in July; of the faintest smoke of every campfire (always tempered down to coals) breathed back across the sun-warmed grass by a cooling breeze off the iron-scented lake…
In short, I didn’t want to write poetry: but the program forced me to, and it made me better at what I actually wanted to do, which was write fiction (the fact that it made me a rather good poet is kind of a bonus, really).
Having to do things I didn’t want to do as a writer forced me to see and hear things I wouldn’t otherwise have heard or seen. It also helped me figure out what was my voice and what was an echo of other voices that I was simply used to hearing.
When we do only the things we want to do, it’s easy to see only the things we want to see. The danger in that is that it very quickly becomes trite: there’s a specific style of imagery very, very commonly created by straight, white men painting, drawing, or shooting women that is downright boring to everyone else. It may be authentic, but it’s also unoriginal. We’ve seen it. Really. Yawn. Even when well-intentionted, it devolves pretty quickly into cheesecake, simply as a function of its ubiquity.
The same can be said for some of the work produced by, for example, gay male artists—but it’s not as common, and I suspect that’s because chances are good that every gay male artist who prefers to depict guys has been asked a million times, “Why don’t you draw [or paint, or shoot] some women?” and heard almost as frequently, “Why do you paint naked men? Nobody wants to see that.”
Moreover, every gay male artist alive in the Western world has been bathed in the female nude essentially his entire life, while all too often the male nude is still an opt-in: without even trying, you can live a long time without seeing the male nude depicted in art, but the female nude, depicted in a handful of familiar poses, is everywhere.
- Until pretty recently, you could even get through an entire art-school education without being forced to really reckon with the male nude. There’s a whole bunch of posts there, but I’m sure lots of other people whose grasp of history is better than mine have already written them. And none of this even begins to address nonbinary people, or people who live at underrepresented intersections of queerness and race, and so on. Those angles, too, have indubitably been addressed by other writers more effectively than I could address them here.
I’m not going to be so prescriptive as to say that art only happens in the places where we are least comfortable. I mean, it does happen there—it just happens in other places, as well.
But when we force ourselves out of our comfort zones as artists, we also learn to understand our comfort zones in ways that allow us to work within them with greater originality and clearer vision.
Working outside of our comfort zones forces us to be more honest about our own vision. Especially where the human nude is concerned, it can move us beyond “I get a thrill out of looking at this.” (Which isn’t, as far as I’m concerned, an invalid impulse: it’s just all too commonly-represented an impulse, and perhaps a bit thin.) It also helps us see our weaknesses—even as they pertain to the work we do within our comfort zones.
I suspect that this is probably all the more true if you’re a straight male visual artist with a lifetime of being bathed in the work of other straight male visual artists. It’s like visiting another part of your home country and realizing that you have an accent: when you step out of your typical milieu, you hear or see the way in which that milieu marks your work. That allows you to make conscious decisions about those markers.
- if you’re not sure what I mean, go look at the vast majority of nudes displayed in American museums; the billboards displayed in almost any American city; etc. This post will still be here when you get back.
This is especially true if your particular comfort zone happens to be concurrent with the dominant thread of culture where you live.
By way of analogy, if you’re a country musician who lives in a place where you hear country music in shops and restaurants and on the majority of radio stations, you stand to gain a lot by taking time to listen to other streams of music. If, on the other hand, you’re a classical musician who lives in a place where country is predominant, you’re already gaining a lot of exposure to at least one stream outside of your own (but you should definitely make time to listen to some hip-hop, or Euro-metal, or whatevs!).
You probably won’t enjoy everything you hear when you go off on a musical adventure. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t—musical styles are very much like different languages, and often you have to listen for quite a while before suddenly something in your brain goes, “Oh! This is music!” and starts to enjoy them, or at least appreciate them as more than “just noise.” But you might come away with a better understanding of what ingredients you find compelling in the music that you do like, and over time you’ll broaden your ear in a way that will help you figure out which parts of your musician’s voice are yours and which are, in fact, actually the voices of, say, Shania Twain or Garth Brooks.
None of this should be taken to mean that straight guys should never make images of women: just that straight guys who step outside of the comfort zone of making images of women are, I suspect, very likely to end up making better, more original images of women.
Likewise, this isn’t to say that male heterosexual sexuality has no place in art: it does. It’s just that we, the entire world, have already seen an awful lot of it, and it’s much more interesting if an artist has something original—and honest—to say about it.
Which brings me to the last point I couldn’t figure out how to express. Too often, we try to be original by, you know, trying to be original. Which, in turn, almost always results in “just doing the opposite of the thing that you see all the time.” It’s very much like shouting, “TRY TO RELAX!” at someone who’s having a panic attack: frequently ineffective, and often entirely counterproductive.
Back to the aforementioned library of familiar poses featuring women seen through the eyes of heterosexual men: none of this means that nobody should ever draw, paint, or photograph those poses again. Just that it would be nice to see them done with honesty and clarity of intent (even if the intent is, in fact, “Hehheh, boobies!” … if I’m to set myself up as an arbiter, I’d rather see an honest, “Hehheh, boobies!” than “Hehheh, boobies!” dressed up as “The Womanly Virtue of Patience” or whatever the heck).
Sometimes part of figuring out how to be original is reacting against what’s already been done. That’s fine. Sometimes work that reacts against what’s already been done is, in fact, a kind of blunt instrument for intentional commentary, and that’s also fine.
In the end, though, there’s so much territory beyond all that: in the end, I suspect the most original works are generally works that never involved any thought of originality. They are simply clear, and honest, and present.
On Monday night, JMG said to us, “Bring your back with you!” as we launched a waltz terre-a-terre. This clicked right into L’Ancien’s note from a couple Saturdays back, and the combination made for a really lovely run: the kind on which even I caught sight of myself in the mirror and thought, “Okay, this boy looks like a dancer.”
I also found the heck out of my inner thighs during that combination, which had a bunch of soutenus that finished in long sous-sus balances. They just basically cranked on automatically without the glutes overpowering them, which was lovely and yielded a hella steady sous-sus.
Last night, during modern class, I worked on continuing to use my inner thighs in relevés, especially when working in turnout. It’s making my balances quite a bit more stable.
Today we had JMG again, since Killer B is away with some of the kids at the SERBA Festival right now. We had a fairly large, lively class: my favorite kind.
I wasn’t on my A game—I somehow managed to make it out of the house without taking either my nasal decongestant or my Adderall, which should give you a general idea of where my head was (or wasn’t?)—but I was, at any rate, on my B game. I didn’t feel as strong as I did Monday night, but I did feel reasonably strong. I didn’t add beats to anything, but I did throw out an awfully nice saut de chat during the grand allegro.
Regardless, it all felt like progress: like my fitness is finally almost back where it needs to be, especially where endurance is concerned. I feel stronger. My turns were stable and my jumps were light and high (except when I was busy hosing up the second petit allegro because, for some reason, I blanked on the world’s simplest combination: glissade, jeté, glissade, jeté, coupé over to chassée, chassée, chassée-assemblée.
Like, seriously, how do you even get lost in that combo???
- I’ll tell you how: you THINK. I was busy thinking about my arms, and things got weird in legtown, and I failed to change the orientation of my hips on first side/first run, and everything went to Baby Giraffeland for a hot minute.
Some of the gains in fitness and strength almost certainly have something to do with the fact that I finally started hormone replacement therapy three weeks ago, and that’s probably starting to make a difference at this point.
I’m taking a fairly low dose, so it’s not going to result in Superhuman GAINZ!!! (which I don’t want: I am muscly enough, thanks)—the goal is basically just to be pretty much normal, instead of functioning with effectively no sex hormones at all. The upshot, however, is that it should somewhat increase my red blood cell count, which is useful for oxygen transport, which is useful for ballet (and for dance in general).
It will probably also make me a bit stronger, which is also useful for ballet (and for dance in general). I’m not sure how much stronger, though, to be honest: I’m not training for massive gains in strength—gaining strength has never been particularly difficult for me. I intentionally chose a low dose in hopes of avoiding unnecessary hypertrophy. I already put muscle on really easily, which isn’t necessarily helpful in many dance contexts (Pilobolus and its relatives are exceptions: compared with a lot of Piloblus’ guys, I’m a slender little wisp of a boy).
Speaking of Pilobolus, it turns out that my rehearsal and performance schedule this summer means I won’t be able to do most of Pilobolus’ summer intensive after all. I’m planning to go up for teacher training, however, since it’s a single weekend and scheduled when I don’t happen to have any shows.
Speaking of progress, it still really utterly blows my mind that I’m doing all this stuff at this point.
It’s amazing what the combination of focus and opportunity can create.
In May of 2016, I was in the middle of a post-baccalaureate redirect.
Last May, I was involved in my first professional work: just one full-scale show and a piece for PlayThink, but every career has to start somewhere.
This year, I’m doing all kinds of crazy stuff.
To an extent, this happened because I’m focused and dedicated and have a reasonable degree of natural aptitude for dance. Mostly, though, I’ve had amazing opportunities.
Focus doesn’t mean anything if you can’t afford to take class; if you can’t find good teachers who believe in you; if there aren’t any professional gigs to audition for or if your life prevents you from taking jobs if you audition successfully.
I’m blanking on who it was, but not long ago I was listening to a podcast in which a successful actor talked about how she got where she is. She recounted moving to LA (or was it New York? Argh, I’m horrible at this) as a young adult—in short, going where the opportunities in her field were—but offered this extremely-sage advice: “Move to LA, but have a sponsor—someone to pay the phone bill while you’re working your way up.”
- I’m sure I’ve hosed that quote up pretty well. Sorry 😦
Her sponsor was her mom. My husband has been my primary sponsor—but I can’t overlook the fact that Pilobolus gave me a scholarship; that Suspend has offered me a substantial discount from early in my training; that LBS created a flat-rate tuition plan that lets me take every single class in the open division program.
BG has consistently given me feature choreography in our Showcase pieces. Killer B and BW have dusted me off when I’ve come back from auditions with a bruised ego. K and BB have believed in me when I wasn’t yet ready to believe in myself. M bumped me up to Trapeze 3 when I’d only been training for six months or so.
I’m grateful for all of that sponsorship, direct and indirect, tangible and intangible.
There’s another piece of magic involved, there, also: when so many people have invested in you, whether tangibly or intangibly, you feel a responsibility to rise to the level of their belief.
That helps you keep moving forward when things get sticky.
I’m looking forward to seeing where the next year takes me: that, too, will depend on a combination of my own efforts (gotta go hit those auditions, amirite?) and others’ willingness to invest in me.
Impostor Syndrome is less of a problem than it was a year ago. I hope that as I continue to move forward, it will continue to fade. I’m sure I’ll always feel a little bit like an impostor, especially given that I’ve taken a wildly nontraditional path towards a career in dance—and I hope that I’ll never let it really stop me.
I mean, yes, it gets in the way: but it’s like a lot of forces in the universe. Gravity is a jerk, but you ride your bike up big hills anyway, even as your legs insist that you can’t.
Impostor syndrome is a jerk, but you go out and audition and create dances and teach anyway, even as your brain insists that you have no right doing so.
On Saturday, a bunch of us from only weeds will rise in winter descended upon Churchill Downs’ opening night Fund for the Arts gala to perform excerpts from the show in pop-up form.
It went well (though I was a complete disaster on Sunday because I got dehydrated :P). We were a tad awkward at first, but as the night went on we got things nailed down and started tacking on a long-form improv after the set choreography. That just got better and better: the last round was awesome, even if almost no one was left to see it!
Anyway, I’m feeling more and more confident about weeds, even if I was a complete PITA to our choreographer-director on Sunday (sorry, AMS!).
- I was having an exceptionally difficult time with receptive language processing, but didn’t realize it ’til after rehearsal was over, so I was constantly screwing things up and being mad at AMS about it. Ugh.
In other news, I’ve started working on choreography for my PlayThink piece, and I think it’s going to be quite cool indeed. A friend of mine might be joining me, which would be even cooler. There are parts of it I can’t do very effectively in my house (too many obstacles!!!), but the performance takes place at an outdoor venue that doesn’t have a fancy floor, so now that it’s warm I can practice it in my back yard.
I’m hoping to have settled a group of dancers for shadowlands or whatever I’m calling it soon, because SUDDENLY IT IS ABOUT TO BE MAY WTF.
I am so not good at recruiting people, and really really not good at recruiting people when I have no idea where I’m going to take them to rehearse. Blargh.
On the other hand, L and I have come up with some really solid choreography for the CL/UofL collabo show, so that’s going quite well.
We also just launched rehearsals for the SPA show, which is going to be amazing.
Obviously, my schedule is completely wack right now, and I’m trying to learn how to eat and sleep in the midst of it. What works best food-wise, of course, is simply to cook a couple of huge batches of whatever when I happen to have time. Sleep-wise, on the other hand … eek, who knows?
So that’s it for the moment. Class notes later probably?
So it’s been, heck, like seven months or whatevs, and I haven’t updated the Topless Boys Live series in a bit.
Anyway, here’s where things are, with the new glasses as well (no special reason, just hadn’t put my contacts in yet).
I am also finally getting some definition back after several months of feeling podgy.
The most interesting thing about these scars is that the scars themselves are now thin, whitish lines–healing of some kind is still going on simultaneously alongside them, so my skin is a little pinkish there, especially when I’m cold.
I’m used to the way my body feels, but maybe not to liking the way I look. It still surprises me how much I do like how I look most of the time.
Long day tomorrow: class, rehearsal, different rehearsal, performance, different performance. Class starts at 9 AM; second performance ends at 11:30 PM.
Tonight, though, I’m going to go review choreo for an hour or so, then come home and crash.
*(Or, really, hit that dimmer switch. )
Just a quickie today.
I’m sure someone has told me this before, but today something that Killer B said really struck home.
When you’re balancing en relevé (and at various other times; I’ll try to remember to explore this idea in much greater depth at some point), you can help your adductors and deep rotators with their job by letting the glutes (especially those pesky maximi that think they’re responsible for absolutely everything) relax a bit.
Turn on the adductors; dim the glutes.
The gluteals are huge and super strong–so they easily overpower the smaller muscles. Curiously, this makes it much harder to balance in turnout.
It makes a great deal of sense if you just think about sous-sus: if your glutes are firing all of their guns at once, they’re kind of pushing your legs away from the center line. The adductors aren’t strong enough to overcome them, so we tend to either be unstable or comprise our turnout to place our legs in a position from which the glutes can push them towards each-other.
If you relax the glutes substantially (but don’t completely let them go) while keeping the adductors, deep rotators, and pelvic floor powerfully engaged, you stabilize your hip without compromising your turnout.
In fact, you might find a few more degrees of turnout than you thought you had (no promises, but it happens).
Of course, all this depends on your nervous system having figured out how to consciously feel and activate (or deactivate) those various muscles.
Still, this was enlightening to the degree that L’Ancien’s “grand battement starts in your back” was. Relinquishing some of the fearsome grip of my glutes made my balances better instantly … and it also improved my plié, which led to better petit allegro. I did a random entrechat six today in a combination with dancers’ choice on the beats, and it felt like nothing.
Right now, I’m a glute-clencher by habit. I’ll be retraining this consciously for a while. Eventually it’ll replace my current habit … and then I’ll discover some other awful thing, because that’s ballet for you 😛
Anyway, if you, like I, am a bendy person with ridiculous hip mobility, I hope this helps.
Yesterday, I crammed in two acceptable ballet classes and a fantastic acro workshop with a guy who’s here with Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo.
We expected partner acro, but it turned out to be basically floor exercise. As it turns out, a lot of my floor exercise repertoire is still very much intact. I got as far as back handsprings before I had to jet off to ballet. Aleks seemed pleasantly surprised (even impressed) with my technique and power, so I left his workshop floating on a cloud of happy.
I was, in fact, as happy as my cat in an empty bathtub. Also rather better at floor exercise.
Perhaps that’s why I spent today feeling pretty decent about myself. I’m occasionally floored by the capability of my body—simultaneously like, “Wow, cool!” and like, terribly grateful at my body will apparently do almost anything I ask of it.
Either way, during modern class I found myself staring into the mirror and kinda liking what I saw. I was wearing a racerback tank that makes me look as much like a gymnast as I do a dancer (and leaves acres of skin exposed to stick to the floor in modern class). For a few minutes what I saw was a broad-shouldered, graceful boy; strong and lean and vital; gleaming with a light sheen of healthy sweat. I saw an athlete; a rather magnificent animal, close-coupled and powerful. I saw, I suppose, what men sometimes see and admire in me. I was reminded of the time that I asked Denis what he saw in my calves, which he all but fetishizes though I have almost always disliked them, and he said one word: “Power.”
Last night, when I was feeling uncertain about doing round-off front handspring on our rather short mat, Aleks said to me, “You can do this. You have power.” It was exactly what I needed to hear: I gave the sequence more vertical punch and less horizontal travel, and there it was, just like when I was ten or thirteen or sixteen.
G-d alone knows what I’ll see when I’m staring down the barrel of the barre tomorrow morning. But it was refreshing to see what I saw tonight.
In related news, I evidently failed to inform my cirque company that I tumble, and they teased me (pleasantly) about that throughout the whole workshop. They were also impressed with how clean, graceful, and powerful my tumbling skills are. Needless to say I’ll likely be using those in upcoming cirque shows 😛
I continue to be terribly grateful that I can still do all this stuff.
Sometimes my body, like all bodies, is a giant jerk—but more often of late it seems like an old friend who’s just been waiting for me to drop by; one who has kept all my favorite games and can remember all the places I like to run and bike and walk. When I dust off a physical skill that I haven’t tried in years, it’s always with a sense of homecoming mingled with a sweet relief.
But looking at myself tonight was something else: the experience of having seen, bit by bit, a thing I somehow missed for many years, and then suddenly seeing it whole for just a moment.
Also, I’d rather forgotten how good it feels to launch yourself into a dead sprint, punch down into the center of the earth, and soar. (I mean, I that in ballet, too, but it’s in a different way.)
It’s good to have that back.
A few years ago I wrestled with composing a solo piece about grief set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
At nearly 8 minutes, it’s quite long for a solo, and I don’t think I had the choreographic wherewithal to make it work back then. I’m still not sure I do. I set it on the back burner, figuring maybe I’d come return it sooner or later.
I’m not sure, at this point, that I ever will. Instead, I’m setting a piece for seven dancers about being alone and unseen amidst the bustle of humanity to the “Adagio.”
The title of the original piece was “Shadowlands”–a reference to the film about C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, which is itself an exploration of grief, but also in reference to Lewis’ phemonenal book, A Grief Observed.
I might retain the original title. The new piece as it has evolved comprises seven dancers: the Four Sisters, the Lovers, and the Outsider.
The Outsider is consigned to the shadows at the edge of human connection, and often shadows the others.
That said, I’m leery of using that title, as it’s too close to Pilobolus’ Shadowland, which I hadn’t even heard of at the time I created the original solo piece.
The first draft of this piece will be shown at the June 1st meeting of Louisville Movement Exchange, a nascent choreographers’ workshop and dance-community connector. I won’t have a heck of a lot of time to set and rehearse the piece, but it doesn’t need to be polished (or even finished).
I’m trying to do as much development as I can beforehand, though I will very likely have to modify things based on the set of dancers I’m working with. I think I’m much better at imagining choreography than I was a few years ago—not least in terms of envisioning how to use the stage.
Given the exceedingly-limited rehearsal time at hand, I’m debating whether to concentrate on setting the first half and taking things from there, or just dive straight into the second half.
The advantage of beginning with the first half, of course, is that if we miraculously bash through it, we might get to the second half anyway … and, to be honest, it’s the part I feel less sure about.
The advantage of beginning with the second half is that I have a really strong, clear vision of it, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be quite good.
I suppose, ultimately, my dancers will determine how I approach the piece: the whole thing builds to a group overhead press-lift, and I plan to try to set that first, since it’s the thing that’s most likely to be uncomfortable for them. Most of them will never have done that sort of thing before. It’s not actually very hard (it’s literally six people doing the lifting, and they’re lifting one person), but it can be daunting.
I also kind of need to decide if I want to be in this piece if I have enough dancers that I don’t need to be. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I would, in fact, love to perform this piece, but setting a piece and learning it at the same time can be problematic, since it’s harder to adjust things on the fly when you can’t see what’s happening until you watch the video.
I’m also back to slowly sorting out problems with Simon Crane.
I think I might set the “Bolero” for a later meeting of the Movement Exchange. I’m not 100% sure it’ll make the final version of the ballet, but I really, really want to set it, and it can stand on its own.
I’m also fiddling with the score still: I’m now fairly certain that the third act will be set to Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony (E minor).
I’m still not entirely sure what to do with the first act.
I would, however, like to finish this ballet before I die (not that I plan on doing that any time soon), so at some point I’m going to just force myself to make a decision about Act I. So I guess it’s back to listening to Romantic/Impressionist music and seeing what fits the story arc.
As regards Act III, I am deeply fond of Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead,” but by itself it’s a bit on the short side, and it doesn’t afford quite enough range to really develop the story. I’d love to use it for something someday—maybe something that doesn’t even have an underlying story or concept—but trying to force-fit that with some other piece of music for the third act of Simon Crane isn’t going to work.
Saint-Saëns’ cello concerto will continue to anchor the second act; indeed, if I leave out the “Bolero,” it will be the entire second act.
So that—and the little piece I’m building for PlayThink, which is rather a lot of fun—does it for choreography projects for now.
More on the PlayThink piece later, of course.
When the great flood of class and rehearsals kicks in, sooner or later you reach a point at which you realize that you might be hella in shape when compared to the average human, but you’ve got, erm, room to grow according to the professional dancer standard.
Also, eventually there’s a point at which you can no longer be like, “I’m not feeling breakfast,” because you’re using up everything you put in.
L’Ancien often uses stories to illustrate key lessons. Today, he told us about a dancer who came to South Africa (where L’Ancien was dancing at the time) after the Chernobyl disaster because the world’s best research center for radiation sickness was there. This dancer from Kiev joined the company, and for six months L’Ancien watched his beautiful grand battements, mystified by how he was doing what he was doing.
And then one day it became clear: this man from Kiev, a principal dancer in his home country, initiated his grand battement from high in his back.
It didn’t begin, as all too horribly often it does, in the hip. It didn’t begin in the heel, or in the middle of the pinkie toe of the free leg (which is definitely NOT where your grand battement should begin).
It began in his back. The impetus pushed down from just below the shoulder blades, which both lent great energy to his legs and kept his back high and open.
Study this in second, L’Ancien told us, as he always does, Study everything in second; the en dehors and the balance are already there, so you never have to think about them.
Try it a couple of times, he said.
So we did.
It’s amazing what simply thinking about something a little differently can do. When you begin by sending your impulsion down through your back, not only does your chest stay high and free and open, but you don’t do abominable things with your pelvis.
I’ve realized I often short-change my own jumping power by dumping my pelvis and allowing my lower back to turn into a slinky, which absorbs some of the force that should drive me into the atmosphere. If I can jump pretty high whilst jumping that badly, I should be able to hit the ceiling if I just freaking well do it right.
I suspect that the same principle applies: begin with your back.
Now that I think about it, this reminds me of a principle in classical horsemanship: a horse can’t properly collect himself if he doesn’t know how lift his back.
We often think of this as bringing the hindquarters underneath, but it begins in the long muscles parallel to the spine, around the ribs, and in the core. In order for to collect his hindquarters beneath him (and to lighten his forehand and eventually lift it off the ground), a horse must lift his spine just a little—not so much he arches like a cat, but enough to make room and connect his whole body into a single piece.
In ballet, if we want our legs to go up, we must first send the impulse down through the back and through the heel.
I’m going to try to remember to ask L’Ancien about this next week—that is, whether I’m correct in guessing that this concept is also applicable to turns and jumps. Ballet is modular like that.
It’s an exciting thing: something that feels like a key to a few of my stubborn ballet problems (double tours, I’m looking at you).
Today L’Ancien said my posture is much better. That’s a huge step in the right direction.
Sometimes I feel like his goal as a teacher is to take us all apart, shake out the extra screws and pieces of gum and paperclips that accumulated while we were initially being assembled, and put us back together as more perfect dancers.
I, for one, am totally down with that.
Have I mentioned that this is a man who has been dancing for more than 50 years? He’s been dancing for more than 50 years.
To L’Ancien, we’re all beginners.