Scenes From A Nutcracker
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.
Last Minute Changes
As an artist, as a dancer who is also autistic, last-minute changes are the bane of my existence.
They’re also just part of the process, especially right now.
The process of filming, with its opportunity for multiple takes, is inherently different from the process of performing a show start-to-finish before a live audience. The certainty in the familiar shape of Nutcracker—the prologue always precedes the crossing, which always precedes party scene, which always precedes “Midnight Scare,” etc—evaporates.
We just finished filming Nutcracker at LexBallet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it was the single most stressful production of my working life this far—not because anything was mishandled, but simply because, as an autistic person, I feel comfortable when I’m accustomed to the process and stressed when I don’t.
Nutcracker is normally our most-familiar ballet. It’s the same ballet every year: adjustments are made to choreography, but the flow of rehearsal and performance are typically known entities. In a way, it’s like singing the alphabet song versus “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star ”: the lyrics might be different, but the music is the same.
- Shout-out to Autocorrupt, which was absolutely determined to make this, “Terrible, Terrible Little Star” 🤣🤣🤣 Autocorrupt be #judgy y’all
That isn’t a bad thing, but at times it was deeply frustrating. I’m sure it was even more so for dancers cast in multiple roles, who thus had to dash back and forth to exchange Costume A for Costume B and so forth. Drosselmeyer is only Drosselmeyer—the amount of undoing and redoing of costume, hair, and makeup it would take to be able to jump in and do, say, one of the second-act variations would be unmanageable during a live show.
Still, I’m learning to accept last-minute changes with less internal grumbling as I grow into this life. They still make me feel stressed and a bit recalcitrant (feels be like “I DON’T WANNA CHANGE THAT! …even though it actually works better the new way 😑”), but I’m no longer horrified that OMG MR D IS CHANGING THINGS A G A I N 😱😱😱
Instead, it’s just like: *shrug* *eyeroll* #dancerlife #yolo
In that same vein, I learned as I was packing my car that D had been exposed to COVID-19 at work again—he’s a healthcare provider, so it’s pretty much inevitable—and instead of returning home, I’d be landing at our friend KL’s house pending D’s test results.
Fortunately, I know KL well enough to feel comfortable in her home, though her catto (who normally likes me) was a little spooked about my unexpected arrival as an overnight guest.
Cats aren’t super keen on last-minute changes, either.
Anyway, I slept for 10 much-needed hours last night, and I’m recuperating. My body is definitely in restock mode: I’m super hungry and super tired, so clearly the stores of extra energy are tapped out (except, like: Hey, body? we actually do still have plenty of stored energy, so don’t expect me to eat 3500 calories today while I’m sitting on my butt! You’re going to have to manage on like 2000 or so).
My car, which was broken into at the least convenient moment during theater/filming week, is still sporting a temporary plastic driver’s-side window constructed from blue painter’s tape and a clear vinyl shower-curtain liner.
I’m debating whether to order a tiny grocery delivery or actually slither into the driver’s seat and go retrieve some food. Alternatively, I might just order some Chinese or something for today, since I have to go out anyway tmw to vote, rehearse, and teach 🤷♂️
- Dear potential thieves: please consider ANY OTHER WINDOW for your car breaking-in activities. I get that sometimes life puts you in a position where breaking into a car seems like the best or only option, but seriously, guys, come on.
- I’m highly grateful for being moderately-sized and flexible af right now. It’s the only way to get into my car rn without removing the temporary window 🤷♂️
Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m still exhausted and I’m seriously considering a nap, even though if there were a World Ranking for Success In Naps I’d be right at the bottom every time.
(For a month, anyway.)
It’s hard to explain how good it feels to return to the studio, masks and all. It’s good to be back with my people, but also to have externally-imposed structure to my days.
Going into the pandemic, I was beginning to understand how much I need externally-imposed structure. Losing it abruptly really drove that point home.
Getting back to serious aerials training made a difference—that gave me at least some structure, more physical exercise than I had been getting, and a reason to leave the house.
Returning to dancing full-time takes it to another level.
It also gets me out of my own head, which is helpful.
Different things work for different people, but in terms of really staying sane, this seems to be the best option for me.
I had a good class today, all things considered. Rehearsal also went well. Revisiting a role I know well is comforting in a way I never expected—perhaps because it’s a touch of normality in uncertain times.
Speaking of which: while I’ve been reflecting on what role I, as an artist, can play in the ongoing movement for justice, I found myself thinking a lot about how ballet will only evolve as we begin to step away from business as usual in terms of how we teach and recruit dancers of color, dancers with disabilities, and dancers from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
And while that’s an important thing to think about in its own right, it made me realize that I shouldn’t be as worried about not being good at doing the things that have been essential to running a ballet company in the “business as usual” sense.
I mean, I’m still going to be a person with autism and there are still lots of ways in which I will need the help of other people if I’m ever going to really get Antiphon off the ground.
But if, in some very significant ways, the way Antiphon operates looks different from the traditional model of how ballet companies work, then good—because part of its ultimate mission is to be a different animal.
I hope that it will grow to be a company that better reflects the diversity of dancers in terms not only of their physical beings, but of the experiences they’ve had as a result of living lives colored by the experiences that come with those physical beings.
- As an autistic dancer and choreographer, I think neurodiversity and psychological diversity should also be part of Antiphon’s mission. But I’m also super exhausted and couldn’t figure it how to work that into the sentence 😅 Sorry.
I hope that it will become something bigger than me, and that I’ll have the grace to get out of the way and yield the floor so dancers within the company can tell their stories.
I suppose if I do my job right, Antiphon will operate as a springboard: a diverse group of dancers who work together and know each-other well enough that when someone within the company steps up to create a dance, they’ll have a pallette with which they feel confident “painting,” so to speak.
Anyway, that’s it for now. More to follow, but I’m tiiiiiiired.
Nutcracker In September???
First, apologies for falling off the radar for a minute. The past couple of weeks have been, in a word, bizzzaayyyyyyyyy
Anyway! I’m back, at least for the moment.
Normally, at this point, my company would be a week or so into rehearsals for New Works, which is our usual first show of the year. Instead, we haven’t even started yet, because it’s #2020 and everything is CRAY.
Instead of a normal season, this year we’re doing Video Nutcracker Extravaganza! (that’s not its actual title) and … that’s it. Unless a miracle occurs.
So it’s September, we’re not even officially back in the studio until thw 28th, and I’m rehearsing Drosselmeyer all by myself. C’est “la vie 2020”, mes amis!
As ever, I’m recording video so I can fix myself. In that light, here’s an example of glaring hypocrisy in the form of me, dancing:
Okay, so: if you know that I’m mid-fouetté, here, this probably looks mostly fine at first glance. That standing leg could be a touch more turned out (okay, okay—it could be turned out at all), but the shoulders are down, engaged, and essentially square to the hips, and the lines are pretty nice.
Oh, and my feet are nice, because of course they are. They’re the only reliable part of my body. I mean, seriously, dat demi-pointe, doe. Dat arch 😍
Not too shabby, you might think.
Alas, friends! Were it but so!
Sadly, as almost-lovely as this moment is, in the very next second, I decouple my rib cage from my pelvis and failli without turning my hips all the way. Given that the next thing I have to do is run-run-tour de Basque directly across the stage, it makes for an awkward transition.
You know what the main cause of this subtle-but-powerful trainwreck is?
If you’re having trouble with arabesque, piqué arabesque, and fouetté arabesque, ask yourself, “Am I watching myself in the mirror?”
If the answer is yes:
We all want to see our arabesques, etc. We want to know:
- How high is my leg?
- What exactly are my arms doing?
- How are my lines?
Those are all good questions.
Staring into the mirror won’t answer them.
When we watch ourselves closely in the mirror, we create faults that might not otherwise occur.
We find ourselves arabesque-ing on an open hip, with unsquare everything.
We fouetté the upper body only 3/4s of the way and the hips only 1/2 way, and failli onto a parallel leg.
This is because the eyes lead the body.
If you’re ever skiing or riding a bike and find yourself inexorably drawn into the gravitational field of an obstacle, with which you then collide, congratulations! You’ve successfully demonstrated the very same phenomenon!
(Sidebar: Ugh. Sometimes it’s blisteringly obvious that I’m a child of the Participation Trophy Era and grew up with computers shouting things like, “Congratulations! You have successfully closed this file!”)
Likewise, if you find yourself riding a beautiful 20 meter circle on a dressage horse, it’s the same thing.
In the first case, you’re looking directly at the obstacle in an effort to avoid it, and because your body follows your eyes and your skis or bike follow your body, you crash into the thing you’re trying to miss.
In the second, you’re looking where you want your horse to go, and this subtly shifts your shoulders and hips in a way that tells the horse what to do. This is why good dressage riders and their well-trained horses appear to communicate through telepathy.
In the studio, the same principle applies. If you stare at yourself in the mirror, you’ll usually leave your hips and shoulders more open than they should be.
In a proper arabesque, the hips and shoulders are SQUARE and LEVEL.
- For arabesques above 90 degrees, it may be necessary to open the gesture hip slightly. This is why we first work on low arabesques: you must know the biomechanical rules in order to know exactly how much you can break them.
If they’re not, your body has to work much, much harder to maintain balance, placement, and turnout.
But, wait! There’s more! 😭
There’s another problem here.
If you look very closely at the photo of my fouetté, you’ll notice that I’m not in a crossed position. I’m in the infamous “secabesque,” with my gesture leg at like 4:00 instead of crossed to 6:00
This is because I failed to establish the position before making it move.
Just as it’s incredibly difficult to manage a clean, controlled turn from a preparation which your back leg is wide of the centerline, it’s nearly impossible to fouetté correctly if your preparation is wrong (and impossible to correct from there if you also stare into the mirror).
Here’s another example:
Technically, the Apollo jump is a variant of sauté-fouetté. While I can’t argue that this one doesn’t look impressive, I should’ve begun from a preparation facing de côte so at the peak of the jump (the moment captured here) my hips would be facing the de côte in the opposite direction, rather than en face. (In the Apollo jump, as opposed to a standard sauté-fouetté, you open the shoulders towards the audience and arch your body towards the gesture leg).
I should note that, in the case of the Drosselmeyer rehearsal pic, the fault is partly the result of not having actually decided whether an arabesque half-turn or a fouetté was a better idea here.
I have considerable leeway to modify this section of the rôle, where I’m Magicking All The Things prior to the Midnight scare scene, and I hadn’t yet clearly thought through the best way to accomplish this floaty change of direction.
The result is kind of a weird hybrid; a fouettabesque, if you will, that hasn’t decided who to be in life. I’ll have to try doing both—but not at the same time—and see which works better.
The photo proves the rule, btw, that a still shot can be beautiful even if everything that follows is it a complete mess. This is why we should try not to let Instagram get us down. With the exception of the occasional hilariously awkward trapeze video, I mostly post only things that look good, and even then, those pics don’t tell the whole story.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video tells the truth (or, well, more of the truth: video, too, can be deceptive!).
This is why I highly recommend, if at all possible, taking advantage of the powerful tool that is your smartphone’s video camera.
Record video so you won’t be as tempted to try to watch yourself in the mirror. It’s also super helpful for understanding the difference between what your body feels like it’s doing and what it’s actually doing, which can be rather startling. It won’t replace that guidance of a good teacher, but it will help you dial in your technique.
And it’ll also grant you the gift of absolutely hilarious moments like this one:
Join us next time when, I guess, we discuss how to walk off the stage without looking like either a blithering idiot (my default) or a smoldering idiot (see photo above)!
Oh Hecc, It’s 2020!
As it often does, New Year’s Eve crept up on me, then pounced 😅 So, erm, happy New Year. And, whilst very technically the new decade really begins NEXT year, since the current default Western calendar has no Year 0, Happy New Decade anyway.
I’ve been cleaning a bit, playing Sims 4, eating everything, and generally being a lazy schmuck.
This is simultaneously the privilege and the punishment of being a dancer on a company break.
On one hand, all the dance things are closed, so you have time to lie around and do nothing. Huzzah! On the other hand, all the dance things are closed, so you have time to lie around and do nothing. Oof.
I’m sure I’ll regret my general sloth on Tuesday when we get back to class. On the other hand, it’s good for the body to have a chance to rest and recover sometimes.
I did finally bite the bullet and purchase a new (to me) laptop. It cost $177 including taxes, which was most of my savings … hi ho, the theatrical life, as my friend RK always says.
It was time. My old laptop is still going, but ay caramba, it takes like 16 million years to do anything. The old machine will be getting an overhaul and becoming a Chromebook, while the new machine will be traveling to and from Lexington with me, as I’m hoping to pick up some light side gigs that I can do online, since Summer Is Coming, and with it…
Louisville Ballet School’s first Adult Intensive!!!!!!!
…It’s on that page, I swear. You have to scroll alllllllll the way almost to the bottom 🤷 (WRT MBB: It’s annoying that a program with such solid technical instruction still refers to itself as a “health and wellness initiative,” but whatever works, I guess?)
I’m going to that one even though I have to pay for it, when I can go to my own company’s for free. Which I’ll try to do this year, though I have work lined up as well, so it’ll depend on scheduling. I have a couple others, including Dancing Wheels, in my sights as well.
I may or may not go to an audition on Sunday. The upside is that it’s for a local company. The downside would be logistical—if I make it, it would mean commuting back to Louisville for rehearsals, which might be too much, what with teaching, CirqueLouis, Spring Collection, etc. I don’t know.
In short, I know I won’t turn down an offer of work, but I think I probably shouldn’t take anything else on right now that requires my physical presence and more commuting. On the other hand, I haven’t yet looked at the details, and if rehearsals don’t start ’til, like, March, it could be doable. Idk.
It’s also time to ponder Burning Man things. Last year’s Burn was both hella fun and transformative, but A] it’s expensive (though not as expensive as people think—any vacation is expensive to us, right now) and B] last summer I overcommitted like crazy and didn’t really get any time to decompress.
Really, I guess I need to get a sense of how my summer’s going to look, then move ahead from there.
So, yeah. I hope 2020 takes you to bed and exciting places, or steeps you in the comfort of familiar and restful ones, according to your needs.
Oh, and one last wee thing: here’s a shot from a wee project Dot and I have launched: