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Danseur Ignoble: the Playa Plague

We had a rough burn this year – lots of chaos during setup week, then I came down with what we’re calling “the Playa Plague,” which closely resembles a proper bout of ‘flu. I spent the last two and a half days of burn week in bed, feverishly griped my way through tear-down, departure, and all the airports, then went back to bed for another two days. I’m still coughing and “feeling puny,” as it were, but the fever at least seems to have abated.

Needless to say, ballet-related Playa plans were greatly modified over the course of the burn. We had fun doing the first couple of barre classes; the performances, on the other hand, didn’t get off the ground this year because it’s really pretty hard to direct a performance, let alone perform, when you’re in bed with a fever, hacking cough, and no voice o.O

I’ll have to plan for that contingency next year — somehow, it hadn’t even occurred to me that being rather seriously ill on the Playa was even a possibility. I also think I’m going to schedule less stuff — one or two Open Barre sessions, a Taupe Party (which is the logical follow-up to Wednesday night’s White Party), and one performance event, for which I’ll have to appoint a deputy director in case my immune system decides to crap out on me again.

In other ways, this year’s burn was possibly the best yet for me. During the time that I was still up and about, I rolled around the Playa with our camp family on an amazing Mutant Vehicle while our friend John DJed an awesome set, had an utterly transcendental 4AM walkabout with amazing friends, provided ice-schlepping services and improvised dance performances at Arctica, and danced for hours with complete strangers to hits of the disco era in our own little cozy dance bar.

…And even when I was lying around in bed being “pale and interesting” (and mostly asleep), in the moments that I was awake I concluded that I’d still rather be where I was than anywhere else on earth.

I did crawl out of bed on Sunday night for the Temple Burn, which meant a lot to me. We’ve never actually been on the Playa for the Temple Burn before, and at the end of the day I feel like the Temple is a locus of significance.

It’s hard to explain why: as in any sacred space, I guess, each person’s experience is different. For whatever reason, my heart and brain have chosen to invest the ever-changing, transient Temple with particular meaning.

I was surprised by that, the first year. Prior to my first burn, my inner cynic staunchly refused to assign spiritual potency to the Temple simply because it’s the Temple; turns out that once we arrived, my inner cynic had no say in the matter. If there’s anywhere on earth that you discover what it means to take things as they come, it’s in the ephemeral cosmopolis of Black Rock City.

Which is, in the end, what this year’s burn was all about, for me: taking things as they come. Things didn’t go as planned (okay, at Burning Man, things never go as planned, but this year they really, really didn’t go as planned) in so many ways, and yet even in the moments of deepest, grumpiest frustration, I would check myself and ask, “Is there anywhere else I’d rather be on earth right now?”

The answer was always no, which reminded me yet again to be here, now.

Which, in the end, is the only way to take Burning Man — you have to be here, now, because it is much more pressingly clear that later on, the here you’re experiencing won’t be.

The same is true, of course, in every other place on earth: it’s just more obvious in a city that’s built, thrives with the vivid intensity of a post-rain desert bloom, and then is demolished again in a matter of weeks.


PS: There were bugs. I counted exactly three: two different wasps (one of which seemed terrifyingly determined to be my BFF, or something like that) and some kind of lacewing-ish thing.

The stinkbugs and seedbugs had moved on by the time we arrived on Monday of Build Week.

Also, the high desert through which one passes to reach the Playa was decked in heartbreaking, shimmering green. I’ve never seen anything like it. I wrote some more coherent thoughts about it, but I’m not sure where I stored them.

Such is life.

Danseur Ignoble: Night School

I set my alarm wrong, so did night class today.

It went brilliantly, except for two parts — first, the part where I misunderstimated my travel during petit allegro and nearly ran the dude next to me into the piano twice … TWICE!!!; second, the part where I hosed up the final combo because I didn’t quite grasp what was supposed to come between the flying pas de basque (not to be confused with saut de basque) and the saute arabesque/cabriole.

I’mma have to practice that flying pas de basque thing. It’s fun, but my legs go a little Baby Giraffe Mode getting from that to other steps.

Brian taught tonight. His teaching style is playful and energetic, so his classes are fun.

Seriously; while this is probably not something that he would really do, there’s something in his personality that makes me think he’s going to come around and tickle us: that makes you stand up REALLY FREAKING TALL, by the way. Some atavistic part of my brain that is stuck in pre-school pre-ballet is like PULL UP TALL SO THE TICKLE MONSTER CAN’T SEE YOU!!!

Artist's conception of the Tickle Monster.

Pro Tip: If you pull up tall, the Tickle Monster can’t see you.

The best general bit of advice (not really a correction, because we hadn’t broken out the passés yet) tonight? In passé and retiré, imagine a meat hook grabbing and lifting the muscle at the top inside of your thigh. Yeah, kind of a gristly image, but it works brilliantly for me. It makes me stop thinking ROTATE ROTATE ROTATE and, predictably, going CLENCH CLENCH CLENCH.

Clenching makes balances, like, 1,000,000% harder, you guys.

Oh, and I did all three bazillion little jumps and only screwed up the petit allegro a little**. Yasssssss! Getting that back has been surprisingly difficult, so it’s good that it finally felt like dancing.

**This was the point at which I realized I was going to run the guy beside me into the piano and completely panicked o.O’ Sorry, Guy Beside Me.

Also, the little jumps looked good. So there’s that.

Now! Other business!

I heard back from Lexington Ballet, and their adult SI was a resounding success this year, so they areplanning on doing it again, and they would very much welcome out of town dancers. I’ll keep an ear to the wind for updates on that.

I’m going to see if I can get a group of LBS students together to go (Field Trip! … Er, Week-Long Field Trip!). If not, I’ll still go by myself; it doesn’t conflict with any of the Sun King weeks that sound interesting.)

Our Tutu Tuesday costumes are complete (mine is packed, even!) and look fabulous. I am not allowed to post pix until our camp-mates have seen them, though, so the whole internet is just going to have to sit on its hands until then (because I know nobody has anything more important to do that wait for pictures of our tutus).

I am totally miffed about this, really, because I now have the most adorable picture ever of Mr. Merkah playing in Denis’ tutu*** and I can’t post it until we get back.

***…Which is precisely what The Momma predicted the Merkah would do, by the way.

That’s it for now. I really need to think about finding something to eat and then going to bed. Between mowing the lawn, riding the bike, and dancing, I have Burned All The Calories today and am Way, Way Tired.

Danseur Ignoble: 11th Hour Costume Fitting — Literally

Tonight we went to pick up our Subaru from Denis’ brother’s house in Elizabethtown and then to my Mother-in-Law’s house for our second fitting for Burning Man costumery things for TuTu Tuesday. We got there at 11 PM, no joke. We are usually in bed by 10:30 or so, so that’s saying something.

Fit on my bodice is now spot-on (it was huge before), so it’s ready for lining (in the pix, it’s wrong-side out). The shrug/bolero thingy is coming along nicely as well, but I didn’t get pictures of mine. Denis has pix of the green lining fabric of his; the outside isn’t constructed yet. My tutu isn’t ready yet, so I didn’t get to try that on, but Denis’ looks respectable.

We opted not to go full pancake, because it is already going to be a grade-A beast getting these things to the Playa and managing them there. Besides, there is a part of me that really feels like I’m not a good enough dancer to deserve a pancake tutu (even in drag :P). I’m in that weird spot where I dance well enough that I feel weird rocking the ironic look, but not well enough that I feel like I can go Full Pancake and really own it.

In short, I am not ready for the Trocks to call just yet 😀

Anyway, here’s tonight’s photodump!

The bodice, wrong-side out.  We opted to do three pieces: bolero jacket, bodice, and tutu.  We'll probably both wear them over unitards.

The bodice, wrong-side out. We opted to do three pieces: bolero jacket, bodice, and tutu. We’ll probably both wear them over unitards.

If anyone isn't sure why I love this man, here you go.

If anyone isn’t sure why I love this man, here you go.

The final version of the bolero jackety thing will be lime green on the inside.  It will also look incredibly cool.

The final version of the bolero jackety thing will be lime green on the inside. It will also look incredibly cool.

I just included this one because I like it.  Doesn't really add much to the equation, but my shoulders look awesome. Also, I'm wearing my glasses in this shot.  Amazing!  (I usually wear contacts, because peripheral vision is awesome.)

I just included this one because I like it. Doesn’t really add much to the equation, but my shoulders look awesome.
Also, I’m wearing my glasses in this shot. Amazing! (I usually wear contacts, because peripheral vision is awesome.)

Denis and our costume department: Aunt Beverly at left and Phyllis — aka "The Momma" — at right.   They told us to say that if anyone asks, they're retired.

Denis and our costume department: Aunt Beverly at left and Phyllis — aka “The Momma” — at right.
They told us to say that if anyone asks, they’re retired.

Oh, and I got my hair cut yesterday. I had it cut extra, extra short so I won’t have to get it trimmed before we head for the desert.

Tomorrow we’re driving to Nashville on Porchlight Express business, so I’ll be doing double class on Saturday again. Saturday night, we’re going to a partay! w00t!

I will, of course, post pictures of the whole shebang when it’s ready. I am, as you’ve probably figured out, not what one would call camera-shy, though I am pretty sure that these pictures are about as close to naked as I’ve ever been on the internet. So there’s that.

Oh, yeah -- and this is because I just can't resist meming my husband.

Oh, yeah — and this is because I just can’t resist meming my husband.

The Glass Project: Part II

I’ve been thinking about how to implement my collaborative choreography project thing.

I’ve chosen the music (both pieces by Philip Glass: “The Poet Acts” and “The Light”*) — because even a collaborative project has to start somewhere.

Initially, I thought, “Eh, what the heck, I’ll just come up with some stuff over the next few months, recruit some dancers when I get there, and wing it from there.”

…And while this is very much typical of my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style of doing, um, basically everything, there are some major logistical problems, here.

First, while I have no problem whatsoever with the idea of teaching a few basic steps to some total n00bs game enough to step onto my little stage, I would like to collect at least a few people who know from ballet.

I would also like some of them to be better dancers than I am.

As much as it would be awesome to think that I’ll be ready for prime time by August of 2015, I can identify at least 1 week I will totally not be able to dance, plus another 3 – 4 during which I’ll be partly incapacitated. Thus, while I expect to have my waterfowls in a much closer semblance of a linear array than at present, I also don’t expect to magically transform into David Hallberg — or even Eduard Forehand, PDG, or PDG2 by then (though miracles have occurred).

With 50,000+ people in attendance at Burning Man in any given year, the odds are good that at least a few people will be attending who know their turnout from their detourné. Thus, trying to get in touch with a few of them a few months before the gates open (even though whether or not one gets tickets can be a bit of a crapshoot) sounds like a better idea than spending the first day back Home cruising the desert for would-be dancers.

Fortunately, through the Power of the Internet, it should be possible to do this thing.

Second, That Thing In The Desert is only a week long, and as I may have mentioned before, it seems unlikely that tons of people are going to want to spend a week playing Let’s Pretend We’re At Summer Intensive between (or, worse, during) dust storms. Sure, that sounds like my idea of a good time, but we have probably established by now that I’m not exactly normal (to be fair, neither is anyone else who goes to TTITD).

Thus, it’ll be good if most of us walk on with some sense of what we want to do — a few combinations strung together, or whatever.

I’m not yet entirely decided on how to do that part.

Do I say, “Come with with x number of measures, and we’ll fit them in somewhere?” Or do I say, “Come up however much stuff you want, and we’ll throw it all at the wall and see what sticks?”

Or do I say: “Here’s a theme: redemption. Bring something with you that you feel evokes that idea.**”

Third, I’m going to have to consider logistics. Maybe someone else will have a stage we can borrow; maybe somehow my camp will manage to make one happen. Even then, a proper spring floor with a nice surface is deeply and abidingly unlikely (that stuff’s expensive, y’all, and the Desert eats everything).

As such, I probably want to come up with choreography that can be performed pretty much literally anywhere. So while I may have visions of grand jetes en tournant, in reality we might need to eschew really big leaps in favor of not destroying everyone’s joints and so forth.

Fourth and last (for now) — I realize that this is going to be a real test for me.

I am not a collaborator by nature. I’m a control freak. Like most artistic people, I very easily become entrained in the wake of my own vision, and that can make it hard to work with other people.

On the other hand, dance is by its very nature a communal art form. Dancers are constantly collaborating, whether we realize it or not. Every time Brienne gives us some horrible fondu combination designed to cull the weak from the herd or some beautiful adagio designed to make us all look like we just arrived straight from The School of the Celestial Ballet or whatever, and we take it and make it our own.

We listen to the music (which someone else probably wrote) and run through the combination (which Brienne invented), but we interpret it through the lens of our own being. And if we are fortunate we do so without kicking the person behind us (which I totally did in class today; sorry, girl behind me — I hope that weird little high-five between the edge of my foot and your hand didn’t hurt).

I am (amazingly enough) actually reading Ballet Technique for the Male Dancer, and Tarasov stresses over again that dancers shouldn’t just copy steps. He explains it better than I do, and it’s nearly 3 AM (yaaaay, isnomnia!), so I will have to dig up a solid quote later.

But, anyway where dance is concerned, I am already collaborating, just as I have collaborated as a musician with other musicians as a member of an orchestra, a string quartet, or a choir. I think I am mature enough now to come into this thing with a good basic mini-ballet set to go, but also ready to accept and interpolate the ideas and idioms of others.

So there we have it. A thought overflow holding tank for the Glass Project (which now needs a name, I suppose).

Having recorded all of this, perhaps now I’ll be able to sleep.

That’s it for now.

Be bold, my friends.

*I will say that even this isn’t set in stone. “The Poet Acts” is pretty much a given, but “The Light,” which is much longer, may or may not make the final cut on the Playa. I have other pieces in the queue for which I’m constructing choreographic skeletons, just in case.
**And try not to make it too hard, because there’s no guaranteeing we won’t get 15 game noobs and 3 people who at least know how to tendu.

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