The Showcase Piece IS DONE!!!
…And I really like it. Next week we workshop the partnering bits and clean the piece. Pretty exciting stuff.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
My schedule has officially gone plaid again, so I’ll probably be brief for the next couple of weeks.
We’re in the theater next week, and with a little good grace from the Powers That Be, our piece will be lovely.
Here’s my epic developpé near the end:
… And here’s what happens when I wind up too close to the column right next to BG:
In other news, I thought I would hate having to wear jazz pants, but actually I kinda like these ones?
The Showcase Piece IS DONE!!!
…And I really like it. Next week we workshop the partnering bits and clean the piece. Pretty exciting stuff.
It’s super easy!
Just get yourself a nice case of food poisoning or a really aggressive gastrointestinal bug. If you can arrange for it to take hold around the time you go to bed, all the better–by the time you wake up and find that you can’t even keep liquids down, you’ll already have gone hours without eating or drinking!
Don’t worry. I do not, by any means, intend this as actual advice.
I was just really startled when I stepped onto the scale today and discovered that the roughly sixteen hours that I could neither eat nor drink yesterday–that is, the sixteen hours that it took me to remember that I had some really effective anti-nausea meds on hand–coupled with the profoundly minimal amount I have eaten and drunk since then has added up to a literal five pound drop in my weight.
Obviously, most of that’s water weight. That doesn’t make it any less startling as a demonstration, though. Dehydration is for reals.
Also, the wicked dehydration headache (unless the headache is part of whatever led to the, erm, gastrological pyrotechnics) is, you know, kind of 0/10 Do Not Recommend.
Fortunately, between the Ondansetron and my immune system having time to work on whatever this is, I’ve now regained the ability to drink and to eat dry, crunchy stuff like saltines (I’m still afraid to try anything else, thus far, though I literally had a very involved dream about chocolate milk).
I did grit my way through my endocrinology appointment yesterday (though I was very, very grateful for the single-user restroom, and was profoundly nauseated on the way home). Based on my previous labs, Dr. P prescribed a moderate dose of Androgel, which is kind of what I was hoping for. It should prevent the overdosing thing that happened last time I tried HRT.
I didn’t make it to either class or to rehearsal, and I find it absolutely hilarious that earlier in the day I imagined I actually would, somehow, at least make rehearsal. In fact, during the time that I would’ve been at evening class and rehearsal, I was asleep (though I was pretending to listen to podcasts).
I was particularly sad to miss this session, as KW from the company–AKA my Ballet Spirit Guide, since I inherited his tights last year–came in to teach class and do some cleaning and polishing of The Piece.
I hope the girls were okay without me.
Except possibly for the bits with C, I think it’s not too hard for them to mark through the partnered sections.
Meanwhile, I’m not usually very important to their spacing, while their spacing is critical to my ability to do my part. I’m forever running through flocks of girls in this piece, so if their spacing is off, it starts to look a bit like sportsball-sans-ball.
Anyway, while this was certainly the second-worst gastrological upset I’ve had (the worst, bar none, was the time I ate some bad shrimp when I was eighteen), I realized yesterday whilst contemplating my fate at the foot of the porcelain throne that it’s actually been quite a while since anything made me puke.
Also, despite being fairly dehydrated, my resting pulse yesterday clocked in at 53, which is pretty nice, and my blood pressure was 100/60, which is about typical for me. I figured my vital stats would be all over the place, but they were fine.
So that’s it for now. I’m planning to attempt to eat some yoghurt, after which I’ll probably resume “listening to podcasts,” also known as sleeping. BW’s class is cancelled tonight, conveniently for me, so I feel no great pressure to attempt ballet heroics.
I don’t know what’s happening here, but my butt looks good?
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.
So! Our AD emeritus, who once gave me an extremely memorable correction about my supporting leg, will be teaching Advanced Class going forward o.O’
I don’t know why I find him intimidating (possibly because he’s been dancing longer than I’ve been alive?), but I do. As such, I’ll be working on relaxing and keeping my head together. Which I’m working on anyway: I don’t get nervous on stage, but I do get very charged up, and sometimes that translates to doing things faster than I should. Learning to dial things back will help in either situation.
Anyway, Le Directeur Ancien takes over next Saturday.
I’m hoping he’ll take us to task on port de bras. Yesterday, I finally remembered to ask Señor BeastMode for input on this year’s ballet goals, and his answer was, “Get the whole body working together—that coordination will take you to the next level. You’ve got the legs and the feet.”
That’s strikingly similar to BW’s input. Also a pretty nice vote of confidence from the BG (AKA Señor BeastMode).
I haven’t checked in with Killer B and J yet, but I’ll try to do that this week. I should see both of them tonight at J’s Monday night class.
Saturday class this week was edifying, except for the moment in this very simple balancé x2 — soutenu — balancé combination when I was thinking so hard about refining my balancé that I forgot to soutenu. Erm. Oops?
It didn’t really screw anything up, though, since that was the option for newer students anyway. There were 15 of us all jammed into the tiny studio, so BG came up with a waltz combination we could all do at center without killing each-other (we also did a nice terre-a-terre waltz). The only time I’ve ever seen more people in Studio 5 was the time Paul Taylor Company showed up en masse.
My piece for the show on the 28th is essentially done and dusted. I ran it about 10 times today with Denis reading for me (the whole show is set to poetry), then I took a break and danced with my scarf (which is definitely going to become a thing in my flow repertoire).
I also got to chat with my actual reader, L, about prosody. Next Saturday, we’ll run the piece together a couple of times, and I think we’ll be set. The show is the final weekend of January. It’ll be a nice way to launch this year in terms of performing.
Tonight I’m finalizing my application to perform at PlayThink, even though I really have no idea what I’m going to do, since I don’t have an acro partner. Basically, I need to decide whether to choreograph a solo piece or recruit a partner. I’d really like to work with a partner, but I’ll have to poke around and see who’s going.
I’m really excited about the beginning of rep class and our upcoming piece for Spring Collection. It’s looking like we’ll have more of us than I expected, which is nice (though it would’ve been cool in its own way if there were only three of us).
This week we have two Cirque workshops as well as the normal array of classes and so forth. It should be an awesome week, but also heckin’ busy—as will be the rest of the first half of the year.
So that’s it for now.
The variation felt good tonight, except the bit when I came in too hot right at the beginning.
Note to self: tombé is not a leap.
Not usually, anyway.
The girls, meanwhile, look amazing. The thing that impresses me most is that they’re all so beautifully synchronized.
Tomorrow we ride.
Tonight, though, I’m exhausted and I need to roll my legs, so that’s it for now.
Tuesday, after a fairly hard conditioning class and a not-difficult-but-demanding technique class, we began learning variations.
Wednesday, after a very restorative conditioning class and a lovely technique class, we continued with them.
The girls are doing the Swans’ entrance scene. There are only four of them, so they have a lot of ground to cover, but they already looked pretty great at Tuesday night’s brief “show ‘n’ tell” session.
Meanwhile, my variation (one of the many versions of Seigfried’s) is a challenge in the small studio even though there’s only one of me—it’s packed with big leapy bits, all of which seem to land me precariously close to the walls when I do them full-speed. Thus, I wind up doing a lot of marking and semi-marking. There seem to be a lot of walls in that studio.
Still, I was quite happy with the sauté arabesque-balancé-tombé coupé jeté sequence last night (it varies from the video we’re using as a model, which involves a bunch of revoltades, which I still am not sure how to do on purpose). Also feeling better about Bournonville jeté, although I still tend to jump through my arms. We worked on that a lot last night.
I couldn’t remember about 20 seconds of the version that C taught me (which doesn’t have tours in it), and since I was working with J last night, we subbed in some tours just because. They feel a lot better this year—I’m figuring out how to use a relaxed plié in grand allegro instead of hanging onto tension, which makes a huge difference.
To be honest, though, just having another year under my belt also makes a huge difference. I don’t have to think about choreography anywhere near as much: I’m better at remembering chains of steps, instead of individual steps. That makes a huge difference.
Likewise, even though we don’t get to do grand allegro anywhere near as often as I would like at home (especially since BW is in Europe for the summer), there are a lot more steps I can do without having to think about them at this point.
The most invaluable corrections this far have been as follows:
The central thing I’m taking away from this intensive is that I need to focus on one idea:
I used to ride a horse with whom the same basic principle applied. You had to ride him forward, or he would just slope lazily around and pretend he didn’t know from dressage.
The highlight of last night was when I came in way too hot on the first tombé-coupé and instead of the standard jeté, it turned into something spinny and impressive whose name I don’t know. It’s definitely a thing—I’ve seen it in other variations—I’m just not sure which thing. I’ll have to see if I can find it in Tarasov when I get home.
Anyway, J said, “Ooh, that was fancy!” Sadly, since I’m not actually sure how to do that particular thing on purpose, I’ll just have to file it away for now (with revoltades) and save it for some future date.
Last year, I think I was a bit wary of speed and power. I was forever doing Albrecht’s variation as if I had a check-rein on: behind the motion, without abandon. I was too busy thinking about the steps and trying to be precise, and I was definitely a little afraid of running myself over.
This year, I feel like I’ve made friends with speed and power, and when I get out of my own way, I can harness them. Confidence goes a long way!
In other news, my adductors are pretty sore, which is okay, since they’re one of the bits that need to be stronger. My beats look better for it, though in class yesterday I kept doing jeté battu on the wrong foot (wtf?) and decided to just do plain jeté like everyone else. I should try breaking out the entrechats sixes today. Quatres were nice yesterday.
Anyway, I should go do my laundry. I’m not going to walk down there this time; it’s 3 miles round-trip.
Tonight we polish up the variations; tomorrow we get to show them off.