Category Archives: summer intensives
Usually I go to intensives and spend the whole time thinking, Wow, there’s a whole week left or whatever.
LexBallet this year has felt completely different, possibly because I’ve been driving back and forth each day (turns out that it is less expensive even than AirBnB). I’m used to either having the days or the evenings to just loll around and read during intensives, so this is pretty different. Even though the total drive time is only about 2.5 hours each day, I’ve also been at home, doing the things I normally do: going to class, running errands, doing laundry, cooking, amusing the cat … which is really quite different from hanging out in a guest capacity somewhere and not having to do anything except feed myself and eventually put clothes on.
So here it is, almost Friday already. I’ve learned quite a bit. This year only four of us are doing rep, and we’re all in the mix together, learning a scene from Paquita that’s usually all girls but which has a bunch of nice little variations. I am, of course, doing the one with lots of big jumps.
I’m wrestling with some of the corps part still, but feeling pretty decent about my solo (which involves three sauts de Basque, so of course I love it). I’m looking forward to showing it off a little tomorrow.
What comes after gets filed partly under Continuing Education and partly under To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent. The CE part is masterclasses: one (maybe two) at LouBallet and one at LexBallet. The other part (parts, really) I’m keeping under my hat for now.
Suffice it to that sometimes you see a fork in the road approaching, and you have to make some decisions, and while either branch has its merits, sometimes you really find yourself rooting for the new horizon.
L’Ancien continues to rebuild us.
Today was not my best dancing day, but it was acceptable at times. Weather fluctuations are leading to mold blooms and so forth that make my allergies crazy. Ears are connected to noses and throats; all three of mine develop problems.
My hearing gets iffy. I miss bits of combinations (L’Ancien delivers his combinations very quietly, which makes us all listen as ahard as we can) and I start to get stressed out and tense, even though L’Ancien tells us over and over again, “Don’t worry if you do the wrong step. This is class. This is an exercise. That’s not what I’m looking for.”
He’s really not. He cares less what you do; more how you do it. An approximation of the exercise done beautifully will make him happier than a perfect log of the steps done without feeling.
But still, sometimes I get nervous when I feel like I can’t hear.
Still, there were good things: the petit allegro combination in which we did fancy pas de bourrees of a kind that none of us (not even Killer B) had learned because evidently almost nobody teaches them(1)—that is, pas de bourrée a quatre pas and –a cinq pas—coupled to entrechats quatres. My entrechats are a thousand times better for L’Ancien’s insistence that we JUMP! and show essentially a second position in the air around the beats.
- They’re taught in RAD Advanced 1, apparently, but RAD syllabus programs aren’t exactly a dime a dozen around here.
It’s not just switching the feet: I can do that all day. It’s launch STRIKE! beat STRIKE! land fifth.
Last year, I learned to prevent “flappy feet” by thinking about my beats happening higher up in my legs. L’Ancien is transforming them into something worth looking at.
…Which is good, because apparently my assumption that I’m not built for petit allegro is incorrect.
After class I thanked L’Ancien for reviewing and clearly explaining petit battement. He pointed out that the configuration of my pelvis, which is rather shallow, is good for quick batterie.
I suppose I should’ve figured this out earlier, as I was the first member of my first childhood ballet class to nail down entrechats and so forth.
A few weeks ago L’Ancien mentioned our dancer RS, who does a stellar Bluebird (so much so that when my brain chooses to reboot and I can’t get his name to come to mind, I refer to him as “our Bluebird”), and how his shallow hips and relatively short torso make him well-suited for petit allegro. He said the same thing to me today, about my own body.
This is one thing I really appreciate about his teaching style: he teaches to his individual dancers, and not to some nonspecific imaginary dancer, as much as he can.
It’s worth noting that he does this not only by pointing out our weaknesses, but also by pointing out our strengths. By ballet standards, I’m a muscly kind of boy (which always results in a frisson of cognitive dissonance when I’m moving in cirque or modern dance circles, where I’m borderline dainty).
Too often, as dancers, we find ourselves lamenting what we don’t have (in my case, David Hallberg’s “imperially slim” build, with its endless, beautiful lines) instead of celebrating what we do have (…what K calls “that Bolshoi body,” with the enormous, ridiculous Legs of Power and square shoulders that let you do Bluebird left like it’s NBD).
- If you know this poem, you know that it’s beautiful and also a tragedy. I’m not calling Hallberg a tragedy; I just like that phrase. It sounds like him.
In the end, we have to learn to work with the bodies we have: to make the most of them. I think I’ve touched on this before.
Up until now, I have been learning technique—building the elements of movement—but perhaps haven’t learned my body as well as I could have.
By way of analogy, this is like painting in watercolors and being frustrated that they don’t behave like oils. I’m rather a good watercolorist, and that’s partly because I understand how watercolors are and I work with them accordingly.
As a dancer, then, I need to begin to understand how my body is and to work with it accordingly.
I suppose that, once again, it comes down to this basic principle: start where you are.
That means don’t force your turnout, but it also means, discover your gifts.
If you only ever know what’s not great about your body, you’ll never optimize your training as a dancer. Quietly, gently, firmly, L’Ancien says to us, Learn what is great about your body. Every body is different. Every body has gifts.
But also start where you are. Know your strengths; know your weaknesses; train accordingly.
I’ll try to remember all this tomorrow at the BDSI audition, though I’ll also try to just have a good class and enjoy the singular pleasure and specific torture of Vaganova technique.
I hope that I’ll make the cut—not so much because it would make me feel good about myself as a dancer (though I’m sure it would), but because I think two weeks of Nothing But The Vaganova, imparted by a roster of master instructors, is enough to make anyone a stronger, better dancer.
And, possibly, a good way to learn to optimize on one’s strengths.
I’m a bit tardy in reporting that I made it home safely from Connecticut after a lovely weekend with my parents.
Since then, I’ve been muddling through the side-effects of the antibiotic I’m taking, which has caused me to feel like I’ve been run over by a truck or something.
I’d forgotten how thoroughly this stuff hoses me up by the end of a course. This was not in any way improved by driving for 14 hours straight on Monday 😛
Fortunately, I took my last tablet last night. It’ll take a few days to get back to normal. The challenge with this stuff is that it causes fatigue, pain, tightness, and weakness in the muscles and can cause tendon ruptures, so one must be careful.
I managed not to rupture anything at Pilobolus’ intensive, though—the side-effects were accumulating last week, but hadn’t peaked (and I forgot to take my dose a couple of times).
I went to class yesterday but skipped out after barre because everything in my body felt like it was about to snap. My grand battement was pathetic. I spent much of the rest of the day asleep (so I woke up at 5:30 this morning … Yay?).
Not sorry at all to see the back of this prescription, though I’m glad it has sorted my sinuses.
I’ve got so, so many thoughts gleaned from my week in Connecticut. I’m slowly organizing them. I’ll try to report back soon-ish.
Rather ironically, I celebrated by mostly not dancing.
Well, there was some dancing, in the morning, before I headed for Mom’s. And my friends carried me down the hall to the door when I left.
Pilobolus Summer Workshop was beyond words—or, well, beyond words that I can find when I’m happily exhausted because I spent the week dancing and creating feeling and spent Friday night singing and drinking and dancing and talking and talking and talking…
Went to bed at 7 AM on Saturday. Woke up at 10:50 AM. My body didn’t feel tired, but I could tell my brain was tired.
Anyway, I’m rolling all this stuff around in my head. You leave Pilobolus’ workshop ready to work, but in need of some time to think.
Anyway, instead of writing, today I’ve been taking pictures. Here’s a few from today and a couple from the week for your enjoyment or what have you.
Just a couple of wee thoughts. We’re working so much and dancing so much and talking so much and just living together so much that I’ve been spending my alone time just reading and breathing.
Anyway, this intensive has been amazing for so many reasons, not least because it has put me in touch with feelings I haven’t really addressed in a long time.
First, it has forced me to very directly face my difficulty approaching people. Every day this week, we’ve spent the morning doing exercises with one partner or set of partners, then repeating or iterating them with another, then another.
I hadn’t realized how much it still freaks me out to choose partners. Yesterday I got seriously rattled by it—but I actually mentioned it to the person who chose me, and they helped me through that moment. It was amazing.
I realize I’ve been feeling like, “This person or that person probably doesn’t want to work with me,” which isn’t fair either to them or to myself. That’s their call. I shouldn’t try to make it for them.
Second, I’ve realized that one of the things I love so much in dance, and especially in this kind of dance, is the giving and receiving of touch in an atmosphere of deep trust.
To do the work we’re doing here, you need to touch your partners and you need to trust them. Somehow, the process we’re working with creates an atmosphere of immense trust. We are all safe here in each-other’s arms (or feet, or whatever).
I came to this understanding by a circuitous back route. There’s one guy here who I kept desperately wanting to work with—to dance with. I wanted to feel his arms around me and his body against mine, but in a way that wasn’t about sex .
- Or, well, mostly wasn’t.
I kept trying to figure out why (leaving out the fact that he’s beautiful in a very unique way) and finally I realized that it’s the way he partners: he’s solid and steady, and when he holds anyone—anyone—in his arms, you can feel the power and the tenderness of that connection from across the room.
I’ve worked with him a couple of times now. In one piece, I caught him and sank to the ground holding him in my arms (in that particular dance, he had just died).
It was an incredibly powerful moment. I’m not sure how to explain it, except to say that in that moment he trusted me with his body, and that trust felt like a sacred thing.
But also it just felt so damned good: just a human body touching my human body, which is so strangely important, without any need to be afraid or guarded or aggressive.
Rather the opposite: the dance involved me catching his wrist as he took a slow backwards fall, pulling him into my arms and collapsing to the ground with him. I couldn’t be afraid or guarded or aggressive; I had to be fast and strong, but soft. I had to get both of us to the floor without anybody getting hurt.
I don’t know how to explain how that feels, but it’s pretty incomparable.
Today there was a dance in which a girl trusted me to catch her mid-flight, redirect her momentum, and throw her halfway across the room; in which I trusted her to pull me straight to the ground out of an arabesque as I pulled her to her feet. That felt incredible. There aren’t many places where you get to feel that kind of thing.
Anyway, that’s it for now. The creative process here never ceases to amaze me. Groups of dancers who had, for the most part, never met a few days back are, each afternoon, creating dances I’d happily pay to see, working in groups as small as two and as large as six, with only minimum input from our teachers.
That, too, is an amazing thing.
I arrived home on Saturday, went out with friends on Saturday night, stayed out way too late, got up and went to class anyway on Sunday, and took a planned rest day on Monday.
- It was a surprisingly successful class, except for this one moment during which something crazy happened in the preparation for a renversé and I literally said, out loud, “What just happened?!” With that exception, I managed to remember combinations and execute them with a fair degree of élan. I also spread the gospel of Bloch Pro Elastics by handing off the pair that’s too big for me to T, who immediately fell in love with them.
Unfortunately, in the midst of said planned rest day, D’s truck decided to fry its alternator again, which means he’s using the Subaru right now, and I’m Riding the Combat Express (which is, you guys, very different from Going Commando)—you know, hoofing it, with a side of bicycle. This (coupled with uncertainty about whether I’d need to be available in the morning to facilitate picking up the truck from the shop) resulted in Tuesday being an accidental rest day, which might not actually be a bad thing.
Today has been iffy. It’s not impossible to get to class without the car by any means, but it involves a different decision-making process with different criteria in the analysis.
One of them is: am I a sleep-deprived wack-job right now?
I am, predictably, having difficulty sleeping this week—partly because I never sleep well in the middle of summer, but also because physical exhaustion really helps with that whole sleep thing and I’m both still adapted to last week’s exercise load and not getting anywhere near as much exercise.
Anyway, last night I managed to get to sleep by midnight (not going to lie: better living through chemistry, there—a little Nyquil because I’ve either got a cold or am at present violently allergic to the universe). That said, I woke up at 4 AM and didn’t succeed in getting back to sleep until 8:30 AM. Not helpful.
Under the circumstances, I decided against spending 3 hours on the bus (round-trip) to make it to Killer Class, even though I normally would have done exactly that. I wasn’t particularly worried about actually killing myself in class. Rather, the idea of coping with humans and scheduling and bus transfers just seemed impossible.
Instead, I went back to sleep for a couple hours.
Anyway, I’m hoping things will work out so I can deposit D at Suspend, hit up evening class, then roll back down to Suspend for acro.
In the meanwhile, I’m doing the books and serving as a cat-rest—or, well, my right foot is serving as a headrest for the cat, who is sleeping on the footrest under my desk. It’s all very restful.
In other news, I’m off to Pilobolus on Saturday: I plan to leave right after Advanced Class and complete as much of the drive as possible on the first leg, so as to leave less driving for Sunday.
I’ve received the instructions for checking in to the dorms and so forth, so I’m feeling more relaxed about things. In a way, it’s very much like going to summer camp—you get a list of what to bring and what not to bring, details about how dorm rooms and room-mates are assigned (first-come, first-served and dancers’ choice, as it were).
My brain has been percolating choreographic ideas I might want to play with in Connecticut. I’m looking forward to working with a bunch of complete strangers, since it always results in interesting outcomes.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Back to Modern tomorrow; will probably take class Friday morning to make up for my generalized delinquency this week.
Until then, I’ll be here, being a pillow for the cat.
Things I noticed in my rehearsal and performance videos that are incredibly frustrating:
- I occasionally let my turnout go when I need to get my tuchas accross the floor, pronto
- OMFG why did I prepare for my turns in such an effing huge lunge? BW would kill me all the times
- My arms still really like to creep back behind my shoulders
- When I get spooked, I let the music push me. To misquote Hagrid, “I shouldn’t’a doon that!”
- I did these beautiful assemblés battus all week and then left out the battu on the big day
- I still tend to end the arm movements too quickly
- Also, when I get tired, I still throw my head back in turns.
Things I noticed that are at least okay:
- So much less Flappy Hands! Yay! Nobody wants to watch Seigfried Flappy Hands, even if Tim Burton directs.
- Great traveling sauts-de-chat, Batman!
- Me legs. They look pretty amazing. Also like eleventeen feet long in those tights.
- Before I got spooked, some of my port de bras was actually pretty okay.
- I played off my mistakes pretty well even though they pissed me off royally in the moment (the AD showed up)
- The nice moments are much nicer than last year’s nice moments.
I’m sure I’ve got plenty more thoughts, here, but I’ll brain-dump them later. Tonight I’m going out with ballet peeps from home just to play 😊
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:
- In saut de chat, focus on travel rather than on elevation (the elevation takes care of itself)
- In Bournonville jeté, imagine leaping over a hurdle. This imparts the graceful ballon that makes it such a nice leap.
- Also in Bournonville jeté, think about reaching forward with the arms, then opening them. This both looks better and prevents me from hyperextending my back and shoulders, which screws up the momentum of the jump and looks weird (though probably okay in modern contexts?).
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.
…A giant registration system SNAFU almost scuttled the whole thing! But! A bunch of us showed up anyway, and N, the director of the school, called us in for a huddle after class and said, “We can still make this happen!”
So we’re back on.
Tonight, whilst everything was up in the air, we just did the Intermediate/Advanced Open Class. It was a really good class, though!
After a tough morning in class at home which I couldn’t keep brain and body together (seriously, we did an awesome manège which I managed to screw up by losing track of which cycle I was on–did an extra on the first side, left one out on the second), it was a relief in to not go full Baby Giraffe tonight.
Tonight I apparently mostly remembered how to dance. W00t. There was one combination I didn’t pick up right, but I got it on the second run.
Also, heckin grand jetés across the floor. Evidently, I haven’t forgotten how to fly.
Tomorrow it’s back to the regular intensive schedule. We have, in essence, three days to learn variations o_O’
I have no idea what we’re doing, but Friday night we’re showing them, G-d help us!
Honestly, though, if I can dance like I danced most of tonight’s class, I’ll be fine.
In other news, C opted out this year, so I’m the Onliest Boy again. I guess it wouldn’t be right to make it through a summer without that?