Category Archives: class notes

Captain Shakylegs and the Mystery of the Grand Allegro

“Dear heavens, it’s 8 AM already,” he said.

Or, at any rate, he tried to. What came out, instead, sounded more like, “Mrrrghghhhh.”

*****

You’ve probably guessed that today wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had in class. I don’t think it’s so much the getting in at 1:30, which isn’t the end of the world really, or the getting up at 8 on slightly less than 6 hours of sleep.

I suspect that it was the combination of NyQuil (taken to fend off a sinus headache and extra congestion brought on by dry air and so forth: not sleeping was not a viable option) and getting up at 8 on slightly less sleep than it would’ve taken to give the NyQuil time to wear off.

Possibly adding Adderall, a further decongestant, and a cup of coffee to the mix this morning wasn’t the greatest idea.

On the other hand, I made it to class without dying, killing myself, or forgetting my shoes, so there’s that.

At any rate, I wasn’t alone. In one way or another, everyone was heroically Living The Struggle this morning, including L’Ancien, who was mysteriously detained (he apologized profusely).

pexels-photo-52608.jpeg

I searched Pexels for “struggle” and this was the only result. Close enough.

I do think, however, that I was the sole member of the class who began barre with legs that trembled like the voice of an ancient soprano on Easter morning.

Even standing in fifth was, erm, challenging. I mean, standing in fifth is inherently challenging, and some days your body does it better than other days … but I can’t remember any other specific day on which the challenge in question involved, like, vibration.

So that pretty much alerted me to the fact that it was going to be an interesting class.

By the time we got to the section of our highly-compressed barre that I’ll call “fondu de rondu,” the trembling had stopped. I was grateful for that, and because frankly it was, in fact, a little frightening: imagine balancing, for example, at passé in the midst of a rolling earthquake, for example.

However, the end of the tremors and the lovely high extensions that showed up out of nowhere (and with no conscious effort on my part) conspired to lull me into a false sense of security.

I should’ve realized it when I could tour lent in the mark, but not in the actual run. Obviously, something was rotten in Denmark.

Still, I bulled my way through the adage, through some not-great turns, and through the little jumps (in which I made L’Ancien a little happy by actually jumping, which his the one thing I can do reliably, almost (see below).

And then came the grand allegro. It was simple: pique, chassé, entrelacé, failli, tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, grand jeté, then four more grand jetés just for the hell of it, en manège.

Except when L’Ancien gave us the combination, somehow my amazing brain decided that the first phrase (pique, chassé, entrelacé) was performed left, and that it changed directions via a fouetté or something.

Evidently that wasn’t at all correct, and I can now tell you that it’s quite alarming to fund that you are unexpectedly grand-allegroing yourself towards the person on the next corner and yet, simultaneously, that you can’t seem to make yourself stop…?

That’s not where the mystery comes in, though.

The mystery is that we ran it again, and I did the same thing.

I DID THE GRAND ALLEGRO BACKWARDS TWICE, YOU GUYS.

TWICE.

So, all told, far from the best class I’ve ever had. Not quite Depths of Despair quality, just a whole lot of WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME THIS MORNING?.

Failboat

I have only two questions: Why me? Why now???

To which the answer is obvious. I’m cooked, and perhaps too many drugs. In short, the equivalent of taking class with a hangover, minus the headache.

At any rate, I’ve managed to eat some lunch and now I’m thinking about having a lie down before my audition (though, at present, only thinking, because I’m horrible at taking naps and I’d really rather just power through and get it behind me).

Here’s hoping that things will go a little better this afternoon. We’ll see, eh?

A Gem from L’Ancien

“The dance is in the stillness between the steps.”

—L’Ancien

I’ve been trying to think of a way to think about this ever since I returned to dance.

That’s it, guys. Right there ^^

Without the stillness, dance is just chaos. In modern, sometimes chaos is the goal—but even in the most chaotic moment in the most chaotic ballet, you’re always showing the audience a series of living stillnesses.

This is why, even at the barre, the moment of full extension in tendu is important, but so is the moment when you stand in fifth.

The stillness between the steps is where ballet lives and breathes.

Incidentally, this is why my group had to do the first grand allegro twice: we didn’t really show the arabesque in the air in our temps-levée arabesque.

We thought we were getting there, but we weren’t. We were still moving through from point A to point B instead of reaching through the stillness of the arabesque as we soared

We also got called out for not really jumping: I have begun to suspect that L’Ancien would rather see me really jump and be a little late than not really jump and be exactly on time. I’m built for big jumps. I should really use them.

Anyway, we fixed ourselves on the repeat. I have no idea what my TLA looked like because, for once, I was using my eyes correctly.

After class, L’Ancien said to us, “You’re completely different dancers than you were even two weeks ago.”

And then he said these three beautiful words:

“Very, very good.”

That is the best possible way to close out a ballet class on your birthday.

This afternoon and evening: trapeze class, audition, dinner, party.

Simon Crane, Revisited

After Pilobolus intensive, I semi-intentionally put Simon Crane on a back burner for quite a while. I had discussed it with a couple of people whose insights made a lot of sense, and I wanted to let their wisdom percolate for a while.

I meant to get back to work on it in a month or two, but life being life, I kept feeling that it wasn’t time yet.

Anyway, today it resurfaced on its own, with a very clear thought about Acts I and III.

Specifically, there’s a very explicit transition in Act I from the world of the marsh, which follows one set of (magical) “rules” to that of the city, where the “rules” at least seem more prosaic (I think cities have their own magic, but that might be a different ballet). This is part of what allows the arrival of The Flock, with its wild magic, to be threatening in Act II, even though The Flock believes it is acting in the best interests of its own lost member (that is, Simon).

The connection I had failed to make, though, was that the reverse should also be true. The journey of the Naturalist in search of his lost/stolen beloved must explicitly be one that involves the transition from the Naturalist’s world, in which he feels that he understands the “rules,” to that of the Marsh, where he does not.

This thought makes it easier to structure Act III: before, I wasn’t entirely sure how to frame to Naturalist’s journey, or to explain his trepidation even to myself. I don’t want him to be a swashbuckling hero (as much as I love a good swashbuckling hero/ine)! I want him to be a very human man caught up in something he doesn’t understand, doing his best to cope because that’s what you do when you love someone.

The other thing I’m contemplating is “Bolero.” I love the dance in my head, and I’m going to set it sooner or later either way—but E at PSW pointed out that the music already has a powerful life of its own, both as music-qua-music and as a famous ballet. It wouldn’t be wrong to use it, but it might overshadow the rest of the work.

I’m still thinking about that: I might be standing too close to the problem; it might also be that the “Bolero” section of Simon Crane really is strong enough to work.

Lastly, I think I’m going to revisit the score. I’m very unsure about Satie for the opening dances. I’ll have to listen to it again, and see what’s what. Act III might also need to be reset.

Class today was sound, given that I’m tired and sore from a very long Saturday. It took me til centre to really wake up, but once I did some decent work happened.

Week 3 With L’Ancien

I’ve fallen in love with L’Ancien’s teaching style. Today he did a lot of pulling us up short and making us start over, but always with a very specific point.

We corrected, and several times got a “Good!” or, “Oh, that’s so much better!” or even the coveted, “Beautiful!”

My extensions are returning. My supporting leg is getting through tours lent. At one point, L’Ancien stepped in and reshaped my arabesque: free leg well above 90; back pulled way up, in the midst of our adagio.

I didn’t believe I could hold it myself—and yet I did, and I made it through the tour lent, and through the rest of the lovely adagio.

Last week I felt as if I couldn’t remember a combination to save my life, and as if I was constantly pulling my body back together. I was coming down with the thing that knocked me flat for a few days, but didn’t know it yet.

Today I felt, once again, like a dancer working on learning his trade. It’s been a while.

After, I went to an advanced acro workshop and got to throw people and get thrown, and then finally made it to Trapeze class, where I nailed half-mill to half-Russian with no difficulty at all, even though the last time I did it was probably a good year ago, and I struggled with it because my arms are short.

Tonight, I’m performing at our opera company’s gala, and then I hope to fall into bed and sleeeeeeeep.

Honestly, I’ve missed using my body this much. A day like today reminds me that this is why I do the work that I do. At the end of the day, there is a deep satisfaction in using my body to do the things that I’ve done today.

~

I had a lovely conversation with L’Ancien after class. I stopped to thank him again for teaching is, intending to tell him that I’d been thinking a lot about something he’d said, but I immediately blanked on whatever it was (probably because it was everything).

He told me a bit about his early days as a dancer: he started at fifteen, with three years to learn nine years’ worth of material, knowing nothing. His teacher told him, “Don’t worry about what anyone else can do; just think about yourself.”

He passed that thought along to me, with the coda: You’re here because you love to dance.

I’m glad he can see that, even when I’m struggling in his class (though today there was much less struggle).

Anyway, I hope he’ll stay with us for a good while. I feel like I can learn a lot from him.

This is a man who’s been dancing for significantly longer than I’ve been alive.

Also clearly a man who loves to teach.

I’m glad he has come to teach us. Immensely glad.

A Good/Bad Weekend

No class Thursday night because BW had a show, and Friday is currently my day off, though in this case I spent it driving D around.

On Saturday, my second class with L’Ancien was profoundly mixed. I got a “Good!” at barre once, which was really nice, but I was a total disaster at jumps. Like, all the jumps.

L’Ancien gave us a warm-up jump combo that went:

first, fifth, changement, entrechats quartre, trois, cinq

Only, for some reason, what I kept actually doing was:

first, entrechat quatre, changement, wtf, oh no, where even am I, jeté battu?

L’Ancien came over after and stood directly in front of me and made me mark through the steps by myself while he talked me through them. I still had trouble with it, but didn’t figure out til I left class that part of the problem was not knowing where I was supposed to close fifth the first time.

I knew the trois was supposed to finish in back, and was constantly doing mental math to try to make that happen. I thought about it in the car, I thought about it whilst making dinner, and I’m still thinking about it.

L’Ancien did preface that exercise with, “This one’s for your brain.” Which it was.

I think I’m going to ask BW to let us do that exercise on Thursday this week. Also to review odd-counted entrechats, which I’ve had to do twice in the past week-and-change, but haven’t done prior to that in more than a year, if memory serves.

I also flailed through grand allegro. It started with chassée, and I realize now that I was doing tombé instead. At one point I even tried to add the chassée, but didn’t subtract the tombé. You guys, what the actual?

I realize now that it may simply have been the opening salvo of whatever illness has knocked me onto the ropes. I am definitely thinking with far less clarity than usual right now.

That said, Saturday’s show, “Death Defying Acts,” was really very good.

DDA was based on a book of poetry, and the author came for the second show. Fortunately, our intrepid director chose not to tell us that the author was in the house the until the show was over.

Even I would’ve found it a bit nerve-wracking to, in the closing performance, interpret a poet’s character knowing that the poet was right there! (It would be totally different if the poet/author was involved in the rehearsal process, of course—the challenge in this context is that of not knowing if you’re fitting their vision, or at least interpreting in a way that they find satisfying.)

After, the poet told me she was in awe of my Zorada, which meant the world to me. I also got a couple of nice mentions in facebag reviews, one of which described me as a “graceful dementor”—which is rather exactly what I was going for.

Here I am, gracefully dementing with my friend AM, who played a very leonine lion.

I also literally didn’t drop the ball (except when I was supposed to) and while I think I’ve actually done the piece better in rehearsal a couple of times, I think my performance was entirely acceptable even by my standards.

Yesterday, I woke up with a sore throat, a headache, and a fever. I opted out of class, but did go to see “Chicago” (a friend of mine gave tickets) which was awesome even with a really terrible headache. We did hightail it out of there after the first curtain call, though, even though the orchestra plays a fun little set after. My head was ready to explode, and I just wanted to buy some DayQuil and lie down.

After that I went home, ate a chicken pot pie, went to sleep, and, excepting a brief period in which I woke up and read for a little while, I stayed asleep until this morning, when I had to get up to take Denis to work. I would probably still be asleep if still being asleep was an option.

D kindly let me sleep until about 15 minutes before we had to leave, which I appreciate. It takes me basically no time to throw on some warm-ups and make a cup of coffee, and that gave me about 45 more minutes of shut-eye while he showered, shaved, and so forth.

I’m skipping class tonight so I won’t give whatever I have to everyone else (and also because I’ll probably be asleep). I’m hoping that my intensive rest plan will have this licked before tomorrow evening’s modern class, or before Wednesday’s evening class and rehearsal at the outside.

The Piece Evolves; I Also Evolve

We added a new segment tonight. It’s got a really cool bit of partnering-by-eyeball. Hard to explain it: my partner and I don’t touch here, so the connection is all in the eyes. It’s super cool when it works! (Which it did, beautifully, once the pieces were in place).

We have another boy, though he’s tentative about being in the Piece. He’s a ballroom dancer, though, so I think he’ll be fine. It’s very tango-influenced, and BG is really good at fitting his choreography to the strengths of his dancers.

In other news, I’ve now registered for a couple of auditions, and I’m looking into a third. The third is for a ballet SI, so it’ll depend on timing and cost. My schedule is about to go plaid through the middle of June, more or less, when I’ll catch my breath for a week or so before summer things really get started.

I’m really rather floored, now and then, by the knowledge that somewhere along the line I somehow became someone who dances professionally. I mean, that was always a goal, but honestly one that seemed distant and possibly unattainable and maybe a little pie-in-the-sky.

And then, boom, I’m confronted with the evidence: people pay me actual money to dance; I audition for dance things more or less as a matter of course, more and more often without asking whether I’m really good enough to be thinking about it. I find myself having to consult my planner thingy to figure out whether I can commit to a dance thing because I might be committed to some other dance thing.

I simultaneously do and don’t understand how this all happened. This I grok: I had good early training; I continue to train with excellent teachers; I have devoted myself to the study of dance; I have been given a body that is suitable for the discipline. That it has all come together like this still seems strange and dreamlike (merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…).

Perhaps most importantly, though, I feel more and more capable as a dancer. There’s a kind of joy that I first tasted as a wee little kid that comes with trusting your body. When I dance, I feel whole and strong and capable for minutes at a time, but in a way that’s un-self conscious. To dance, sometimes, is to enter the stream of being a little more fully.

I feel perplexed and grateful about all this, which I suppose is as good a way as any to feel.

In Which We Do Ourselves A Heckin’ Bamboozle

Tonight literally half the class (including me!) promenaded the wrong way in the adage at the same time. Like, the entire stage-left half. And once we’d started, we realized our error, and looked around at each-other in horror, but couldn’t actually stop or reverse.

I’m pretty sure this is a sign of the impending apocalypse. It might even have been some kind of (shameful) world record.

Also, T momentarily forgot how to glissade, and I kept turning a pas de bourré at barre into something more like a pas de burrito or something (to be fair, it was counter-intuitive in a number of spots—like an en dehors turn when you’re expecting an en dedans) and adding extra steps at centre.

Other than an outbreak of mass hysteria in the form of a complete inability to retain combinations accurately (everyone screwed up constantly), though, class wasn’t bad. I did two completely random entrechsts six more or less as a joke while marking the petit allegro (also fit one in once running the combo, which I ran like six times because evidently I’m insane). And when I wasn’t completely doing the wrong thing, I occasionally managed to look like I was dancing.

Threw back a beer with the Beastie Clan after. I think we all earned it!

Such is life. Next class will be better. Sometimes, you just have to be wrong together and laugh about it.

First Class with L’Ancien; A Few Words About Grieving

First, my apologies for being way behind in on blorg in general and on my Leibster post specifically. This week has been less hectic than last week, but still pretty hectic, and when I’ve been home, I’ve been burying myself in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods[1], Two Dots, and Dots & Co[2]. Some of this has been a function of trying to wrap my head around the fact that an old friend of mine died recently. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, but we kept in touch, and it’s a weird thing.

  1. …Another book I waited way too long to read because soooo many people were like YOU HAVE TO READ THIS! which always makes me go nooooooooooo lalalala I can’t hearrrrrr you until finally I read whatever THIS! is and it turns out that I’ve been an idiot about it for ten years or what have you.
  2. Addictive phone games.

Then, grief is always weird. I have done enough of it that I’ve learned to expect it to be different every time, which is about the only thing you can expect, except for the basic elements of grieving (which will show up entirely on their own schedule).

Too often we’re taught to think of the “stages of grief” as a process of passing through discrete checkpoints on a one-way path. Anyone who has ever experienced actual grief (which, in time, will ultimately be everyone) will be comforted to know that Ross and Kessler never intended their “stages of grief” framework to be understood this way. They’re not unidirectional; heck, they’re not even necessarily discrete: rather than a one-way train track with stops at Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, they’re more like a transdimensional TARDIS trip in which one might simultaneously visit, for example, Denial and Anger whilst shuttling back and forth between bargaining and depression, or what have you.

In short, it’s bigger on the inside; also, confusing and muddled. On the upside, if you miss your stop at Anger and don’t get your ticket stamped, you don’t have to ride back to the contrôle in the fog at four AM with a stiff rear derailleur and … I have now completely jumped ship into randonneuring analogies. Then, anyone who has ever logged so much as a single populaire understands that cycling can, at times, be remarkably like grief. Only you burn off all the extra food you shove in your mouth rather faster.

I suppose the same can be said for ballet: in fact, the learning of ballet involves the same sort of transdimensional weirdness, wherein you might simultaneously be good and horrible at ronds de jambe[3].

    1. …Which, as L’Ancien confirmed this morning, much to my smug satisfaction, are the most important thing we do at the barre. Probably, though, it’s not just because I like them the most[4].
    2. This is relatively new. It used to be that grand battement was my favorite part of barre—not because it’s last, but because you get to show off how well you can kick yourself in the face, and I’m strong, flexible, and a giant show-off by nature.

 

Class this morning was much like that: at one point, I was thinking so hard about what I was doing with my hands, eyes, arms, and weight that I forgot to change my facing … which was the first step in the exercise o_______o (The worst part is that I did this on both sides.)

But, ultimately, it was so profoundly good-bad because L’Ancien, as he shall heretofore be known, is a phenomenal teacher (you guys, he might even be a better teacher than BW o.o’).

He is, in fact, not terrifying, even when he’s horribly disappointed, because he approaches his moments of disappointment with humor.

Also, he doesn’t let us get away with all of the bad habits we normally engage in just because We’re Grown Folk Now, like noodling (even if it’s in an effort to better understand a correction) or not being already prepared on the and or not actually finishing the exercise with the music (WE HAD A REAL PIANIST, YOU GUYS!).

In fact, at one point, L’Ancien asked our pianist, J, to play the final chord again and just sit on the pedal and made us get back into a lovely fifth, stand, and wait ’til J took the pedal off.

That was instructive. I’ve realized, lately, that I have rather a bad habit of “clocking out” at the end of an exercise: I hit a nice fifth (or first, depending), hold it for a heartbeat or two, and then let everything fall apart. That doesn’t fly, does it? You’re supposed to let the music tell you when you’re done, not just go, “Meh, I’m good,” and break for coffee.

So I concentrated on not doing that, until I got too busy concentrating on other things. I hope I didn’t revert to clocking out, but who knows? I had hands and eyes and fingers and a neck to worry about, and that’s just the beginning. Except, of course, the goal really was to not worry about things—more to find the way to do them without thinking about them.

Which is, of course, how it ought to be done.

L’Ancien also called me out on my habit of starting class with my eyeline somewhere around, oh, my navel. I don’t know when or why I developed this habit, but at the beginning of class, especially when facing the barre, I tend to look at my feet.

As the song says, “Your feet are going to be on the ground.” You don’t really need to look at them to figure out what they’re doing (though sometimes I have trouble feeling what’s going on in my hips, since my body is crazy). If you do look at your feet, it will make your whole body sort of curl up like you’re a salad shrimp, and you’re basically gonna have a bad day (or your teacher is going to come over and physically grab hold of your head and fix it).

pexels-photo-583880.jpeg

This is really more a bar exercise than a barre exercise, tbh. (Via Pexels.)

So, L’Ancien is very into the physical corrections, which is great by me, as I find them extremely memorable. He fixed both my foot and my head on the first side of the very first exercise, and we continued from there.

We also had a lovely chat after class when I stopped to thank him for teaching; this one specifically about my head and how I might fix it. Among other points, he mentioned (justly) that he thinks it’s a question largely of where I rest my eyes—something I’ve noticed in my quest to improve my balances.

He also pointed out that I have very square shoulders, which is interesting. Like, it’s something I’m aware of, but I don’t think I’ve literally ever thought about it in a ballet context before. Rather, I’ve thought about not letting my shoulders creep into my ears, or collapse in on themselves, or do that weird thing where they get behind my body in bizarre ways—but never, really, “I have very square shoulders; what does this mean for me as a ballet dancer?”

But, obviously, this is not something you think about in the studio. Rather, it’s something to know about yourself, when you sort of visualize your body, so that you can use your body to its best advantage.

Anyway, this is long enough, and I have to dash off to a trapeze class.

 

The Weather Grants A Stay Of Execution

(Adorable, chubby baby tiger is unrelated, but adorable.)

We’re having a kind of ice-snow storm thingy, so the Powers That Be have prudently cancelled morning classes tomorrow to give the road crews time to work their magic.

This means I don’t have to face class with Le Directeur Ancien until next week.

My chicken-flavored heart is partly glad and partly horrified that I’ll have ANOTHER WHOLE WEEK in which to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong (though also another week in which to get into somewhat better shape).

Possibly it will turn out that I have nothing to fear. The worst he could do is regard me through eyes brimming with the Disappointment of the four hundred years of ballet teachers who came before hi…

Oh, G-d help me.

Technical Notes: Biiiiig Bada Beats

Tonight JMH gave us a really useful note about beats, especially the ones that don’t change the legs:

Beat on the way up, not on the way down.

This reminded me instantly of the weird sissone-thing at the beginning of Albrecht’s variation, in which you essentially launch as if you’re going to soubresaut yourself into orbit, then open in mid-air (I’ll see if I can find video of this in the morning; there are other versions that use a sissone failli or something battu or whatevs—men’s variations are really, erm, variable).

Anyway, running the combination, this made all the beats (which were legion) feel so, so much better*.

*When I was doing the right combination, anyway. We did one that went, echappé 4th, jump – beat; echappé 2nd jump – beat, and so on all the way round, and I kept reverting to a combination BW gave us this summer that went echappé 4th, jump – beat – 2nd; jump – beat – 4th; etc all the way round, which was both wrong and harder than what we were supposed to do. I also “opted” to put fecking extra entrechats and royales into an exercise designed to leave room to rest.

WTF, brain?

Regardless, this will also help with cabrioles—you want to beat the bottom leg against the top and throw the top leg higher, which is easier if you’re beating on the way up in the the first place. Also helps prevented bad landings.

In other news, I hate royales, and today we were required to do them A LOT, and I eventually found myself doing what one might call “velociroyales,” with my arms in full-on Jurassic Park mode.

To my defense, I was having a rough time in the breathing department, and pretty much had a choice between using my arms and using my legs—so what begin as a acceptable first position collapsed into despair.

And this is what happens when your asthma acts up during class, but you hit that inhaler and keep going anyway. Specifically, you get through class, but sometimes you look really dumb for entire combinations at a time.

I also ruined my really nice grand allegro by making Effort Face the whole time 😛 In my case, this seems to involve leaving my mouth open, then tucking my lips behind my teeth. In case you’re wondering, it looks exactly as balletic as it sounds >—<

I didn’t do going left (that I know of…), but only the entrelacé and the last leap (I chose pas de chat Italien going left, of course; on the right, I threw a beautiful, lofty regular pas de chat with my face like this: :||) were anything to write home about on that run.

The combination in question, by the way way, went:

sauté arabesque, failli, assemblé, sissone failli, assemblé, sissone failli, assemblé

piqué arabesque, chassé, jeté entrelacé, tombé, pas de bourré, glissade, leap of your choice

…So not hard at all, but lovely, unless you ruin it by making Broken Robot Face.

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