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.
Remedial Partnering: Strategies
I have no qualms about stating up front that my partnering skills are, well, roughly at the level that would, if this was a university class, require one of those 094-level classes (I can see it now: “Partnering 099: It’s Always The Boy’s Fault”).
I’m good enough at this point that I wouldn’t have to take “Partnering 088: Whatever You Do, Don’t Drop Her!” … but I’m definitely still rough around the edges.
Anyway, in the interest of offering some help to my fellow Remedial Partner…ers, here are some strategies that do and don’t work:
- stand too close
- stand too far away
- get nervous and slowly collapse closer and closer, drawing your partner into your collapse like the heavier star in a binary system, leading to a cataclysmic supernova
- panic about every single turn, every single time
- panic about any turn, ever, for that matter
- trust me panicking really doesn’t help
- go walkabout mid-promenade because your eyes are pointing the wrong way (I know this is groundbreaking info but amazingly a promenade should be a circle, not a square)
- fail to communicate … partnering is basically sustained communication, ideally with fewer words but, you know, better to speak than to do something dumb
- panic about penchés
- panic about steps you were doing fine yesterday
- fall into weight-sharing mode … weight-sharing is great, but it doesn’t work for a lot of ballet things
- panic about … anything, really
- REMAIN CALM
- feel out a good distance for various steps
- learn how to be there on time
- let your partner do her end of things
- talk through your dances together
- mark through your dances together
- walk through your dances together
- run all the things until you can’t get it wrong
- but make sure to stop before you both get super tired
- REMAIN CALM srsly it’s better to be Prince Valium than Prince Panic
- be willing to swap a step out for something simpler if you’re on a deadline and you’re having a rough time—it’ll build confidence, and eventually you’ll get the harder step, but that way you’ll know you’ve got something you can take to the stage
- COMMUNICATE! today we both kept going, “Okay that felt weird” from time to time, and discovered that what felt weird to one felt weird to the other (we’re also getting better at sorting out the why)
- ask for help … we’ve been super lucky to have not one, but two very experienced coaches step in to help because they want to see us succeed. Asking for help is scary, but it’s such a good idea.
- believe that you can do it … like horses, ballerinas can sense fear 😅
- and, of course, REMAIN CALM
That’s it for today. I have still neglected to take any photos, so I’m sticking in a screenshot for the featured image 😅
Putting the “Grand” in Grand Pas
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.
- Not tryna one-up anyone–but, y’all? MY COMPANY’S NUTCRACKER HAS ACTUAL EXPLOSIONS. Just, you know. Not during the Adagio bit of the Grand Pas.
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 Snow Pas is sometimes played this way as well–one of the things I like most about our Nutcracker is the sweet tenderness of the Snow Pas).
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.
- Listen to the horns calling back and forth at the beginning of “Capriccio Italien:” the opening fanfare is brassy, even brash, but the fanfare that echoes evokes one replying from a distant hillside. Now, listen to the music of the Adagio. In the most dramatic moments–usually while there’s some visually-impressive lift happening onstage–the highest woodwinds play a wild little descant in which you hear the wind and the snow and the wild spirit that is Sugarplum, who is choosing in this moment to be tame.
- Sorry, guys. This is the worst analogy. I mean, sure, it’s effective, but … battle? Couldn’t I think of something else?
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.
- This is one of the things I admired about C, who danced with us last year. Not only was his technique superb and lovely and clean, but he almost always managed to look sweet and tender and loving or however else he was supposed to look while lifting other adult persons.
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).
- Okay, so … there’s also Spartacus. Which is even more bombastic, but I always forget about it because I’ve never seen the whole thing. Also Troy Games, hwich I Haven’t seen, but since it’s basically Men’s Technique: The Ballet, I’m assuming it’s probably got actual explosions and the audience probably has to sign a waiver. I’ve never seen any part of Troy Game (Y’ALL! I FOUND IT!!! And, um, it’s funny AF in parts), but I can state with conviction that I would LOVE a role in that ballet.
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.
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.
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)!
Week 5ish Wrap-Up: Be Confident, Atreyu!
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.
On the First Day of December
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.
Pathetic Fanboy Redux; Also, How Do Armband?
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):
The Art of Doing Stuff: DIY Armband for Your Phone
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.