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)!
I’m not sure that break weeks count as weeks in the company calendar, but I’m counting them anyway.
This week was a step forward. I began figuring out how to adapt to the fact that I have inadvertently assigned myself to a barre that’s significantly too short for me (and for my counterpart, who’s about my height) so it doesn’t screw up my entire day. I remembered how to use my turnout muscles. I realized that I’ve been letting my standing leg be lazy … or, well, not so much lazy as shy.
For whatever reason, I’d been having a gigantic crisis is confidence in myself as a dancer (partly because I had a rough several days distributed between weeks 2 and 3). I also realized that my innate shyness was probably coming off as standoffish. As such, I decided to take it upon myself to actually, like, talk to people this past week, and to apply every performing artist’s favorite maxim:
Fake it ’til you make it.
Basically, I decided that I’d pretend to be confident in hopes that it would actually work.
Lo and behold, it did. What a shock (yes, I’m being sarcastic).
When you’re not confident, the natural tendency is to kind of shrink into your body. Not only does that look ridiculous on someone with my build, but it makes ballet about a thousand times harder. You can’t do a good piqué turn on a tentative leg, let alone the triple-turn-on-demand that our AD routinely requests in class. You can’t do a double tour if you don’t commit.
The funny thing is that when you start acting with confidence, you dance better, and that makes you more confident.
On Friday I actually got a positive shout-out from another dancer in class while we were doing turns … and, amazingly, I did not then proceed to hose up the rest of the combination.
I did eff up the left side, but not unexpectedly. I’m having an intermittent issue doing things when the right leg is in the standing role due, I suspect, to way the heck too much driving. I’ve figured out how to work on that, though (pop the pelvis back together as needed, then do the piriformis stretch and all the hip flexor stretches as frequently as possibly).
Anyway, we started in on Nutcracker this week, and I’m learning my rôle and enjoying it. We’re two weeks out from our next show, I have a Cirque show the week after that, and then we’ll be in the teeth of the Nutcracker before we know it.
That said, I also have an audition this morning, so I must close here and get my butt in gear. I have some thoughts on technique that I’ll try to write up soon.
Last year, I published my list of ballet goals for the new year on December 18th.
Almost a year later, I can say I’ve made good progress on them (for one thing, I actually understand brisée now, instead of just doing the balletic equivalent of whacking at it with a big stick whenever it approaches). It’s been two steps forward, one step back, but overall the long arc of technique bends towards … um … better technique.
Anyway, I’m formulating next year’s goals now.
It’s funny—last year I focused on making my goals more concrete. This year, I intend to make fewer really concrete goals.
Part of this is that I’m not sure what’s next in terms of technique: obviously, I don’t know everything. I don’t think anyone alive knows every single step, if only because some of them exist in one stream but not in another, and most of us come primarily from one stream (Vaganova, RAD, Cecchetti, Balanchine, Bournonville) or another. That said, without the guidance of a syllabus program, it’s quite hard to say what should come next.
Last year, things seemed pretty obvious: the double tour is a standard feature of men’s technique, so it’s worth having if you’re going to audition; I had nailed triple turns and quadruples were obviously the next thing and also useful; etc.
This year, I don’t know that I need to focus on adding new steps as much as polishing existing ones. It would be nice to have a solid revoltade, but it’s not essential.
Anyway, I’ll have to remember to ask my teachers, especially BW and Killer B, for their thoughts on ballet goals. The elusive Reliable Double Tour has eluded me; if I don’t nail it down by December 31st, I suppose that’ll stay on the list.
More of my goals for next year have to do with pushing myself out into the world a little more—auditioning for more things—while shifting my focus a bit.
They say that it’s easier to get a job when you have a job, and I think that’s certainly true in the usual working world. I suppose there’s a corollary in the performing arts: it’s easier to feel confident about auditioning for things when you’ve already got a gig.
I don’t feel like I have to audition for every single thing out there. I have a gig that I like and that I’d like to continue with. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a paid ballet gig, of course, but I enjoy working with CirqueLouis. I feel like I can be a selective about my auditions, and like there’s less pressure: I am, rather surprisingly, on my way to my goal of making dancing pay, at very least, for itself.
I have my eye on some specific auditions, and I feel pretty relaxed about them.
Choreography-wise, my goals are a little more specific.
I think I’d like to actually see about setting the opening to Act II of Simon Crane—the traveling piece set to Ravel’s “Bolero,” which will stand on its own rather nicely. I’ve also rather completely re-envisioned the first piece of choreography I auditioned (that seems like about a thousand years ago now!). It began as a solo piece; I’m resetting it for two dancers (though more could work if I can lay hands on more dancers).
To be honest, I’m not sure it’s really even accurate to call it the same piece, at this point. It’s still set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” and it still centers on a theme of loneliness and grief, but beyond that it has almost nothing in common with the original version. It has inherited some ideas from “Work Song,” some from “Fade to White,” and some from the Pilobolus intensive. I’m hoping to snag L from Sunday Class, but I don’t know if I’ll manage to, as I haven’t seen him in ages. Either way, I’m really hoping to figure out a way to make that one happen.
Intensives-wise, only LexBallet and Pilobolus (all 3 weeks) are currently on my radar for 2018. I’m hoping LouBallet will run the master class series again. I might add another ballet-specific intensive and I might not.
It depends on what I’ve got on the calendar, how our finances look, and whether I can get a scholarship. Proposed changes to our joke of a healthcare “system” are set to significantly increase our insurance premiums, which will mean tightening the belt with regard to what I can afford to do out of pocket. I’d like to hit Ballet Detroit’s open intensive week, though, if I can.
So that’s it.
In summary, here’s the list:
- Technique: consult the masters. Overall, though, I want to improve the quality, consistency, and artistry of my technique.
- Auditions: LexBallet, Allegro Dance Project (maybe), Inlet Dance Theater, a couple of dancer/aerialist gigs with touring companies and/or cruise lines (haven’t decided which ones yet), Pilobolus if they hold auditions this year, other gigs as they appear on the horizion, probably.
- Intensives: Definitely LexBallet and Pilobolus. Possibly Ballet Detroit.
Quick update: if you’re not completely sick of Nutcracker yet, there’s a really nice version from the Dutch National Ballet on YouTube here.
A bazillion (okay, six) years ago, when I was training in Muay Thai(1), there was a “How Do Armbar” meme that circulated the Mixed Martial Arts forums and made us all snicker uncontrollably and snorf our drinks at school and work.
- If you dance and are looking for an effective stand-up fighting game(because who isn’t, I guess?), I highly recommend Muay Thai, because A) it’s hella fun and B) your existing flexibility, rond-de-jambe, grand battement, and ridiculously powerful legs give you a totally unfair advantage starting out. Basically, Muay Thai is a lot like ballet, only when you kick people in the head (for which, btw, you use your shins, not your feet), it’s on purpose and sometimes they grin at you and your instructor gets all joyfully goggle-eyed. Also, you get to learn the arcane art of hand-wrapping and how to legitimately punch a mofo, should need arise. There is much less face-punching in ballet. Usually.
Anyway, I apologize for committing not only meme necromancy, but obscure meme necromancy, in my title.
Regarding which: OMG, you guys! Why did I never think of recycling worn-out socks into phone armbands?
It literally couldn’t be easier. Here’s the source (lots of other amazing Mixed Martial Homemaking stuff on this blog, too, by the way):
For dancers, this is probably also a good way to repurpose that pair of legwarmers that looked amazing at the store, but started unraveling as soon as you took them off after class (I’m looking at you, sparkly legwarmers.)
Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I think I’m going to work on a version that folds over at the top and buttons, because dance, amirite? No way my phone is going to stay in an unsecured sock-based armband during tombé-coupé-jeté. Not for a minute.
But this kind of thing could be incredibly useful for earphones-required rehearsals (Bluetooth earbuds are the best invention ever) and backstage warm-ups and everyday life (and running, and bike rides). Maybe I’ll sew them into pockets, too. Easy hand-sewing project, there. There are so many possibilities, here.
I may never have to wear actual trousers with actual pockets again!
In other news, I went and got my Pathetic Fanboy on last night, and it was so worth it (though the music for “Mother Ginger” always gets stuck in my head, presumably because #AncientAliens).
First, it’s weird watching The Nutcracker year after year and ticking off the parts you could actually do (and those you could do if you just had a reliable tombé-coupé-jeté: regarding which—in men’s technique, tombé in second to achieve maximum liftoff, apparently; forgot to mention that yesterday).
The last time I saw Nutcracker was two years ago. It was a totally different thing. I was really just climbing back into ballet, optimistically (and impatiently) forging my way back through all the stuff I’d learned as a kid. I had no experience of partnering. A lot of the men’s technique, in particular, still seemed further from my reach (let alone my grasp) than I cared to admit to myself.
This year, much of the choreography seemed reasonably in reach—partly thanks to simply having learned a lot, and partly because learning Albrecht’s variation taught me that I’m more capable than I think (though, like Albrecht’s variation, maybe I would have to learn things with single tours subbed in ’til I have solid doubles).
Anyway, watching BW dance was, as always, enlightening.
First, I think it may have given me some insight into nailing down my double cabriole, which is one of next year’s #BalletGoals.
Second, BW’s technique is beautiful and clean and classical. Likewise, he legitimately makes partnering look so natural and effortless that it could be the kind of thing that just happens while you’re walking down the street or what have you(2).
- I don’t recommend just, like, ambush-partnering people, though. That might be taken wrongly, all things considered. So, in short, don’t roll up to the bus stop and be like, “Greetings, my good lady/fellow/etc,” and loft people above your head. They really might not appreciate it.
And he seriously has the most beautiful legs. He has gigantor thighs like mine instead of sylph-like, Hallbergian ones, which rather flies in the face of our collective assumptions about what ballet bodies look like(3). They’re robust, yet so finely sculpted that you can practically see the individual muscle fibers(4, 5).
- Though maybe less so for people who don’t constantly simmer in a vat of ballet. Honestly, I’m pretty convinced that when the average American pictures a male ballet dancer, they always picture Baryshnikov, Nureyev, or possibly Carmen Miranda, although she was neither male nor a ballet dancer.
- To my great vexation, a month of sitting on my butt has largely de-sculpted mine #FirstWorldDancerProblems
- Also, no, I didn’t just spend the whole ballet creeping on BW, though it totally sounds like I did. White tights, you guys. They hide nothing(6).
- Which is why(7) we have dance belts.
- Well, that, hernias, and testicular torsion.
The other bit that seemed interesting: I noticed a few moments in which things subtly Didn’t Go According To Plan, and also why. I don’t know if that’s just a function of two years’ more experience and technique, or if it comes in part of watching painful video of myself dancing and thus learning to see why tiny error A leads to less tiny error B(8). Possibly both?
- As a whole, I think only one of these would have been visible to audience members who are neither dancers nor true balletomanes.
The second-act Sugar Plum pas de Deux wasn’t quite on form, though. I haven’t seen BR do classical partnering before, so I’m not sure if it’s not his thing or if it was just an off night.
The casting for Arabian seemed a bit strange. BB commented that this may have been intentional; our new AD is into pushing dancers out of their comfort zones.
Anyway, MK is the company’s resident Central Casting Classical Ballet Prince—and I mean that in a good way. That said, he’s not by nature the sinuous kind of mover the music demands. To my eye, he looked uncomfortable, and it translated into a stiff-ish performance.
His partner, on the other hand, was perfectly cast. If I remember correctly, she also danced Sugar Plum opposite BW’s cavalier in the other cast, though I can’t remember her initials right now to save my life.
Also, an errant paper snowflake drifted down from the rigging and upstaged (well, technically, downstaged) everyone during the last part of the pas de deux. If there had been, like, ten snowflakes, it wouldn’t have been quite as funny. Instead, it was just just the one snowflake that maybe was asleep or something during the snow scene.
Frankly, it was pretty hilarious, but I refrained from from laughing out out loud or narrating (“Omigosh, how did I miss my cue? Well, the show must go on—BANZAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIII!”).
On the other hand, no little kids waved to their parents. Apparently that happened once last year, and will now circulate in the Horror Story annals of the company and the school forever.
Of course, Nutcracker doesn’t close ’til the 22nd, so a wave could still roll in.
The flowers, on the other hand, were really lovely this year, as were the flutes or Merlitons or whatever they are in our production (I suppose I could go find my program?). Tea—a solo in this company—was playful and skilful, while Spanish chocolate—a quartet—danced with brilliance and playful flirtation.
On the whole, everything was beautiful and magical, as it should be. HUK shined as a very non-creepy Drosselmeyer, and one of my favorite dancers, SV, owned the Russian dance (our company’s rendition isn’t my favorite, but it’s still pretty fun).
So that was Nutcracker, and now it’s on to whatever’s next. I know The Sleeping Beauty is coming up, and I’m looking forward to that.