That’s “little by little” in the Italian of the classical music world.
It often indicates a gradual change in the dynamics of a piece—a gradual crescendo or increase in tempo, perhaps.
Sometimes, when I think about how my life has changed over the past six or so years, it pops into my mind (visually, in that rather curly italic so common to classical scores 😁).
I think that happens for two reasons. First, so much has changed, and so gradually. Second, the ultimate effect on the listener of the direction poco à poco is often that of surprise: the dynamics change so slowly that, at some point, you suddenly awaken to the fact that the whole piece is dramatically different now, but you somehow didn’t notice the change happening.
Today I wrote a short bio for a thing that will remain top-secret for the moment, and in writing it I realized how much easier it has become to describe myself as a dancer, a teacher, and a choreographer.
I was struck with a powerful sense of gratitude, and that sort of delighted “I can’t believe this is really my life” feeling—but not, so much, the impostor syndrome of old.
When I began teaching, it was very much with the sense that I hadn’t really earned the role. I didn’t think I was a good enough dancer, really, to merit a teaching position.
Over the past year, I’ve watched my students grow in technique and confidence, and I haven’t really credited myself with that at all. I’ve sort of regarded it of an automatic process that happens if someone shows you more-or-less correct technique. Yes, now that I’m writing that out, I do suddenly realize how ridiculous it sounds, and that I wouldn’t say that about any of my teachers.
I think I honestly felt that my students were learning in spite of my deficiencies as a teacher.
I’ve begun to realize that, in fact, I have strengths as a teacher. One of them, I suspect, is being aware of the weaknesses in my own technique. It’s strange how glaringly obvious that seems now, when I spent all of last year thinking that the weaknesses in my technique were a reason that I shouldn’t teach.
It occurs to me now (and, yeah, not sure how I overlooked this, either) that even the best dancers have their weak spots, and that if your foundation is fairly solid, what matters as a teacher is knowing what they are so you don’t unwittingly pass them on to your students.
I’m heading into my second year of teaching with a much better sense of how to structure a class across the course of a year, which will help immensely.
I’m heading into my third year—my second “official” year—as a dancer in a ballet company similarly armed with a keener sense of what I need to learn and how to learn it.
I’m heading into both with a sense that this isn’t all some kind of fluke: that I may have taken a circuitous route, but I haven’t slipped in, uninvited, by some forbidden back door and won’t be discovered and unceremoniously ushered back out into the street at any moment. Or, well, probably not.
I wonder, now, if this is how everyone feels when they find their way onto their path. Or, at any rate, how many people feel, in that set of circumstances.
Would I feel differently if I had taken the more usual route through a pre-pro program and auditions or through a university-level ballet pedagogy program?
I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t, but I can’t say for certain that I would.
I can say that I feel more at home doing what I’m doing now than I ever expected to feel. I can say that I can imagine dancing and teaching deep into my future, and the thought doesn’t fill me with the dread and sense of being trapped that I feel when I imagined working at a desk for decades to come.
I can say that while I felt, at the beginning, that I hadn’t really earned my place (regardless of the kind words of my mentors), I failed to realize that even if that were true, I could earn it by staying in it and doing what that place required.
And so, here I am, at the start of a new season, ready to begin.
The past two weeks, while stressful due to lack of days off, have likely been the best in my career.
It’s hard to explain what’s happened, because I don’t entirely understand it myself. in short, I’ve begun finding confidence again, and the more confident I am, the more I’m able to improve.
Two weeks in a row, Mr D has commented on how much I’m improving. As dancers, we live for those moments, so that’s everything. He’s also started giving me.a ton of corrections in class (a sign,in ballet, that your work is paying off and that your work ethic is showing), not to mentiom notes in rehearsal geared towards making the roles I’m learning and revisiting really sparkle.
The better I do, the better I want to do, and the harder I work. Success breeds success.
Yet, at the same time, my focus continues to be so different than it once was.
It’s weird. At this juncture, there are still steps I don’t know (there are always steps you don’t know: Ballet has had 400 years to invent stuff for us to not know how to do, after all), but learning them is neither as daunting a prospect nor as urgent a goal as it once was.
You reach a point at which you begin to feel that if you need a certain step for something, you’ll pick it up. You find yourself doing steps you’ve never learned and learning how to ask for help if something doesn’t click.
This week Mr D threw revoltades at us again, but I didn’t quite see what he was showing and thought it must be some variant of an assemblé en tournant. I tried it and it worked just fine, and then I thought, “Wait, that’s revoltade, is what that is.”
Anyway, it turns out that if you want to do revoltade, all you do is pretend you’re falling down drunk and then do assemblé en tournant.
So, anyway, learning new steps isn’t the main focus. Every day, I work on aplomb, on.feeling my body, and on control without tension (so, basically, I work on standing up straight, actually managing my limbs and core, and getting out of my own way). I work on what L’Ancien would call “organizing the bones.”
This, in turn, improves everything else.
A couple of years ago, BW gave me the specific goal of maintaining demi-pointe balances on one leg for eight seconds at a go. Some time between them and now, I got there.
Some time between last year and now I learned to walk powerfully and gracefully, with presence: to say with my walk, without executing a single actual ballet step, “Look at me:I am a dancer.”
Some time between the beginning of this season and now, I stopped being afraid to ask my fellow company dancers when I’m.unclear aboit things.
I stopped being afraid to work on pas de deux and variations in the back even though I might never do them. I stopped being afraid to throw myself in when someone’s missing in rehearsal (as a result, I know all of Flowers now 😁).
I can’t put a finger on the specific moment when any of these things happened (though I can identify the day Mr D tricked us into learning revoltade). But they have happened, and that’s a very good thing.
Earlier this week, with my balance all awry thanks to a sinus infection, I knocked myself off my leg hard in the middle of a turn (too much force, too much internal leveling mechanism failure) and recovered by automatically transforming the failed turn into a spinning jump. I didn’t think about it at all: it just happened. I kind of let go of the ground, landed smoothly, and on I went.
This is what I missed so desperately when I didn’t dance. That deep trust in my body; the knowledge that it’ll figure things out. I missed not even having to think about it.
The jump that resulted from the equilibrium failure wasn’t the step Mr D gave us (it actually does have a name, but I can’t seem to summon that name right now o.O) but it was cool and graceful and I think it actually looked pretty good.
I can’t express how helpful that experience was.
So much of confidence is knowing how to bail out gracefully, and knowing that if you fail, you’ll still be okay. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like that in my life before now.
We’re on break this week, then we return with two weeks until Nutcracker. I feel good about this year’s production: last year, I was learning what seemed like this vast and complicated rôle, and constantly afraid I’d forget something or miss a cue generally make an was of myself.
This year I’m fleshing it out, playing with it, enjoying myself. I still screw up, of course, but now I mostly laugh it off.
It’s amazing what feeling accepted does for a person. It’s amazing how you can blossom once it’s safe to come out of your shell.
I look at myself now and I still, of course, see the mistakes and the missing bits of technique and the occasional complete brain failure, but I also see—really see—the potential that Mr D must’ve seen when he asked me.to come and dance.
Once in a while, I even see a powerful, graceful danseur: I may not be the finished, polished article yet (spoiler alert: I don’t think any of us ever feel that we are, anyway), but sometimes I can see how that polished article will look.
In the specific alternate universe that is ballet, it’s easy to spend all of your time being horrified by how much you still have to learn. There’s simply so freaking much material that it’s essentially impossible for one single human being to learn all of it in any neat, systematic sense.
That’s why a consistent focus on the basics is so essential: if you have placement, aplomb, a general sense of the structural logic of épaulement, and the deep training of muscles and brain, you can generally learn any step that a choreographer throws in your path.
You don’t have to actually know, for example, pas de harp seal. You see it and do it a few times, and because the laws of ballet are written on your bones (and muscles, and brain) in relatively short order you’ve got an acceptable ballet step[2, 3].
Still, as human beings, we’re wired to look ahead from time to time—and that can be terribly discouraging. We may find ourselves thinking, “There’s so much I still have to learn!” and reaching for the nearest pint, be it of ice cream or beer.
As such, I think it’s healthy, once in a while, to look back. Sometimes it’s very surprising to realize how far you’ve come.
Anyway. Yesterday, at Cirque rehearsal, I was standing on a bouncy tumbling track waiting for one of my partners to return, and because I can’t stand still I randomly did a whole bunch of entrechats sixes.
It didn’t occur to me then, but it wasn’t, in the overall span of things, that long ago that I did my first entrechat six.
It was only a few years ago that I learned Albrecht’s variation at LexBallet’s SI and found it, to say the least, rather a stretch. It was only five years ago and change that, having just returned to ballet, I struggled to get my brain back around glissade-assemblé (which isn’t really a compound step, but as well be, since it shows up all the time as a kind of balletic comma).
When I think back, I can recall the sensation of being vaguely daunted by the appearance of a pas de Basque, since I was taking a class in which knowledge of the same was considered a given and I hadn’t done one since middle school. At the time, I had to think of it as a handful of steps instead of as one entity.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit how recently balancé felt challenging (thanks again, Brian!). I spent a year or two just crossing my mental fingers and hoping it would come out right before Brian schooled my entire class by breaking it down, then putting it back together in a way that makes sense.
Two years ago—okay, as recently as a year and a half ago—I hated chaînés (mostly, to be fair, because they seemed to hate me).
Likewise, a year and a half ago and change, I realized that I needed to completely deconstruct my turning technique, and immediately despaired of ever getting back to a reliable triple. Two ear infections and a lot of concentration later, I’m just now at the point where I feel it coming: but my turns look so much better than they used to.
I used to hate adagio. I don’t know exactly when I fell in love with it (though I know I wrote about noticing it one day in class), but In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that long ago.
Last year, quick sissones fried my brain every time.
I’ve reached a point at which learning new steps isn’t a major goal. Once in a while one comes down the pike—Mr D taught us revoltade a few weeks back—but mostly I’m honing what I already have; learning to use my body as a collected and polished machine. Picking up new steps isn’t usually difficult, so I don’t focus on it on the same way.
In learning ballet, we necessarily work from the specific towards the general.
The first things we learn are profoundly specific: the five positions of the legs and feet become the foundation of our entire body of technique. The coordination engendered by always using port de bras informs every movement in the canon, even if it’s in the unspoken, “The canonical port de bras for this step is backwards.”
Over time, as we absorb the language of ballet into our bodies, we learn to speak it fluently, with no trace of an accent. When I watch video of myself dancing now, I see that process in progress: gaps in my absorption of the language appear as hesitations and faults that might or might not be imperceptible to an untrained eye, depending on circumstances. Where I’m closest to fluency, I’m finally beginning to actually look like a proper professional dancer.
When I look at video from last year—Nutcracker, for example—I’m surprised by which things I clearly have to think about, and by the fact that what now feels like an instinctual awareness of the audience which governs things like the angle of my body in a moment of stillness was definitely not instinctual then. I can see myself thinking about it, and I can see myself forgetting to think about it.
(I suspect that a year from now, I’ll say the same thing. I’ll watch this year’s Nutcracker video and say, “Oh, no! How can you possibly have forgotten to open your downstage shoulder just another ten degrees?!” Maybe I’ll be saying that for the rest of my working life.)
When I look back at video from two or three years ago, I see what I’m guessing Mr D saw when he first invited me to come take company class: a lot of potential coupled with a whole lot left to learn.
All of this reminds me that, although there are days that I feel I’m standing still, or even rolling backwards down Mount Ballet, I’m not. I’ve come a long way.
I’ve written several times about how, in ballet, the goal posts keep moving.
I think that will always be true: ballet is an athletic pursuit, but first and foremost it’s an art. Once you approach raw physical mastery, there’s infinite room for improvement in artistry. Indeed,one governs the other: the requirement that each step be executed with beauty and feeling shapes the way we train our bodies.
But the endless progress of the goalposts doesn’t mean we don’t also progress.
It just means that we are never without the joy of pursuit.
- This is not a real step, unless it’s the step where you finish a demanding dance and just lie on the floor and wonder why your AD is trying to club you to death with choreography.
- …Though the meaning of “acceptable” varies by context. Because my arms like to do their own thing, it takes me a bit longer to get them to a professional standard than it really should 😑
- The caveat is that it may take you years to really feel that you perform the step in question beautifully: but an acceptable minimal professional standard will look beautiful to the bar majority of people who aren’t dancers.
Don’t worry, as far as I know “temps de fugue” isn’t a real ballet step. It’s just a half-baked play on “tempus fugit.”
Yesterday, at a show in which I probably knew 60% of the dancers and 90% of the choreographers, I ran into Killer B in the audience.
This season, Killer B made the leap back into life as a company dancer. We were talking about our respective seasons, and she said something like, “Can you believe it’s almost over? It went by so fast!”
And it hit me (again, because it had already hit me, but harder, because it wasn’t just me thinking idly about it) that all at once I’m basically a week from the end of my first full season in Actual Ballet Company.
The past year has been one of vast, wild changes.
In a way, it’s been like a graduation.
BW matriculated to Nashville Ballet. BG matriculated to a directorship at a youth ballet. Killer B matriculated back into the folds of Louisville Ballet, where she has, predictably, been killing it. K has jetted off to California. I fumbled my way into an Apprenticeship at Actual Ballet Company, which I still refuse to name in this blog for some reason even though I’m forever posting links to our shows ^-^’
- In case you hadn’t noticed: dancers be superstitious, y’all.
My friends from Pilobolus’ intensive, meanwhile, are literally all over the map. Several have toured the globe with Pilobolus. One is out there dancing with Momix. Two created an amazing project of their own that’s taken off and is selling like, well, muffins (that’s kind of an in-joke; I’ll try to post a link at some point). Some have graduated from undergrad dance programs. Others have matriculated into graduate dance programs.
Friends that I’ve worked with locally outside the ballet, too, have begun building bigger, better things: like the show that I attended yesterday, where I ran into Killer B and we agreed about how much we miss everyone and also about how happy we are for everyone. Like the show that I saw on Valentine’s Day, where my friend Dot (a total sister-from-another-mister, if every I met one) and a nascent company in Frankfort knocked my socks off (I auditioned for their summer show on Saturday, and it was both fun and awesome; more on that in a few).
Improbably, perhaps even implausibly, we’re all out here working our booties off (both literally and metaphorically) and actually doing it. Some of us are doing it with greater financial rewards than others, but we’re all out here moving and shaking and making dance happen with a dedication that even the Puritans would’ve had to appreciate.
And it’s so very, very weird to be part of that: but also so very, very good.
For me, also, this season has been all over the map.
There have been some really, really hard things. I struggled socially, which I should’ve expected but didn’t. I also struggled technically, at times, which I kind of expected but not necessarily in the right areas. I managed to stick it out anyway, and because of that I’ve learned an enormous, enormous amount, and not just in terms of technique.
I feel like things are beginning to gel, now. My balances are so much better, most of the time, than they were back in September (they’re not so great when I have a sinus infection that messes with my inner ear, but that’s to be expected). I know how to use my body in ways that I didn’t before. When I drop in on classes at home, I pick up the choreography so much faster than I used to.
Épaulement—never my greatest strength—is becoming more thoroughly integrated into my technique. My arms mostly know what to do with themselves, though not always, in ways they didn’t before. My hands do not constantly insist that the only ballet is Don Quixote.
At Saturday’s audition, I felt comfortable with my strengths and my weaknesses. The company in question is deeply eclectic, which is really cool, so we all tried a bit of everything: jazz, contemporary, ballet, and tap.
I was completely fine with the fact that I have basically no idea what I’m doing where tap is concerned; I muddled through anyway, following as best I could with very little idea as to what I was doing, and enjoyed the heck out of it. As I prepared to run the tap combo, I said to K (the resident tap maven—really, she’s amazing), “I’m just going to desperately follow along and hope everything works out,” and she replied, “That’s fine! I’ll just borrow your extensions for the ballet parts!”
What I enjoyed most, though, where the moments when A, who gave us our barre at the beginning of the audition, would say, “…And let go of the barre,” and I was generally able to just let go of the barre and balance (except for the attitude balance on the right side, when I put my foot into a little warbly spot in the floor and it took me a bit longer to set up as a result).
I enjoyed that, of course, because static balances have long been a white whale for me, and here I was at an audition just, like, balancing.
To make up for it, of course, I blanked on the beginning of the ballet combination when it came time to run it … but so did basically everybody else for some reason. Now that it’s over, I will never, ever forget the beginning of that combination ^-^’
When I drop in on classes at LBS, where I rebooted my ballet life five years ago, I’ve begun to be able to see how far I’ve come (I never, of course, lose sight of how far I have left to go … those goalposts just keep receding).
That’s a good feeling: like, yes, time continues to fly, but in one sense I’m flying with it for once in my life. I’m making progress in something that means a great deal to me.
Five years ago, I don’t think I could have begun to imagine the life I’m living now. It makes me wonder where I’ll be in another five years, and another.
I’m in no hurry, don’t get me wrong: but I think it’ll be something to see.
…And belated third-quarterly #goals review 😛
I’ve lost track of which week we’re on, since it turns out that break weeks aren’t counted in the company calendar and I apparently can’t be bothered to check ours while I’m writing this.
This week was all over the place. I felt pretty good on Monday and Tuesday, left my brain at home and just couldn’t even on Wednesday, wasn’t at the ballet on Thursday (I had a previous engagement for Cirque), and had a pretty darned good Friday, even though I was in Goldfish Mode* throughout most of class in the morning.
*Yes, I am aware that goldfish actually have decent memories. Work with me, here, people.
Technique-wise, this wasn’t always the best week ever. I realized during break week that since I’ve managed to stick myself with the Shawty barre, I need to learn to work with it and not just be like “OF COURSE I LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT THIS BARRE IS WAY TOO SHORT FOR ME.” Which in turn made me realize that I’ve been using the Shawty Barre as an internal excuse for things like leaving too much of my weight in my heels (note to self: WTF?), not being tall on both sides of my body, only halfway pointing my feet, doing this bizarre thing where I let my weight drift towards my free leg which doesn’t help anyone, etc, etc, etc.
So this week was, like, Remedial Ballet 083 while I concentrated on undoing all the stuff I did to my body while I was being an idiot. Which meant sucking it up and dialing down the turnout, etc.
On the upside, Mrs D gave us this useful and memorable correction about using our cores: “You know those six-packs** you all have because you work so hard? DON’T LET THOSE CANS FALL OUT OF THE FRIDGE.”
**The visibility of mine varies … but, holy heck, am I ever growing some abs.
For whatever reason, that particular visual is really helpful for me. It also made me realize that when I notice that I’m getting swaybacked, I tend to try to use my actual back to fix the problem instead of re-engaging my core, which is how you really fix that problem.
I guess that none of those things are really negative, now that I’m thinking about them. Working like this every single day, twenty-plus hours per week, gives me a lot of time to think about everything.
Also, I finally nailed my first double cabrioles through the sheer force of peer pressure … or, really, the effect of a sentiment very like, “If they can do it, I can do it; don’t want to let the side down.”
So that’s a couple of goals knocked off the Great List Of Technical Goals.
We’re well into Nutcracker now, and next Saturday is New Works & Other Voices (which, due to some marketing SNAFUs, has garnered such nicknames as “New Works & Other Stories” and “Works and Other Works”). We’re going to be sharing the stage with a pair of artists who will be painting a giant mural as we dance. Depending on the materials that the muralists will be using, it’ll either be really cool or, “Dude, waaaaaaaaay far out bra.” Good thing that the works and other works are pretty contemporary.
In related news, I’m now on the company page on the website under “Trainees,” which is AWESOME, though I don’t have a headshot yet because I wasn’t there on headshot day. I will content myself for now with being the official Man of Mystery (regarding which, I am as mysterious as a shoebox, y’all). I have a cute li’l bio and everything.
…Which brings me, albeit indirectly, to the quarterly-ish goals review bit.
I’m rather surprised to say that I’m making quite good progress on them. I’ve finally nailed down that pesky double tour, and the progress of my turns has been solid–not in terms of the number of revolutions I can achieve, but in terms of the overall quality of the turns themselves.
I’ve gone to enough auditions this year that auditioning is starting to feel fairly routine, and I’ve had more work at times than I’ve known what to do with. I didn’t actually audition at LexBallet, but I’ve wound up dancing there anyway, which in turn is affording me the opportunity to work on artistry, coordination, and all that stuff consistently.
I set the first two-thirds of “Tenebrae” and had an opportunity to show it at an actual, real dance concert; I choreographed and performed “Loverboy;” and I’ve made vague advances towards working on “Bolero,” which is no longer part of Simon Crane, but simply a dance about riding the South Shore Line into Chicago.
The one glaring oversight is the commitment I made to BW to work on balances. I paused that effort a while back when I was getting over that case of strep that made my ears weird, and it’s time to really get back on it.
Back at the beginning of this year, I hoped I would be where I am now, but I don’t think I really believed that I would.
Now it’s up to me to keep working and to actually begin using my brain as a dancer. I still have a lot to learn, and because I’m a bit older than your average company trainee, I need to learn it fast and well.
Also, because I faffed around forever with headshots on Thursday, here, have this one:
It’s Cultural Pass day here, which means the classes at the school studio are free, so of course I grabbed an extra class.
Advanced Class ends at 10:30, leaving me two hours to sort out before Beginning/Intermediate class. I ran some errands, then settled down to watch the Intro class.
- Not free, because it’s in the main studios downtown and attracts a different crowd.
It was fascinating: there were a couple of ringers in there (one girl from BG’s Spring Collection, one girl who I’ve seen in every class but Advanced), but many of the dancers were clearly new, and they all used different strategies.
Some of them sketched the idea of the steps, dancing through the combinations even if they aren’t yet entirely technically correct.
Some of them worked with great precision, focusing on placement and articulation, even if it means the feeling of dancing isn’t quite there yet.
Some fell somewhere in between.
I would wonder which strategy works better, only I think you have to use the one that works for you.
I’m evolving into a technical dancer, but I’ll always belong at heart to Team Just Flail On Through; Team Fake It ‘Til Ya Make It.
My friend T, meanwhile, belongs to Team Build It ‘Til You’ve Killed It (in a good way). She’s only been dancing for three years, but I admire her lovely placement and her beautiful precision.
Anyway, both classes went quite well today, though I had issues remembering the grand allegro in advanced class.
After advanced class, JB rolled up to ask if I was taking this week’s master class, and told me that I’ve come a really long way this season; to keep at it and take class as much as I can and keep working. He actually used the phrase, “The sky’s the limit.”
He’s the second person who’s said that to me in the past twelve months or so, and it means rather a lot coming from him (meant a lot coming from Dr. K, too). I used to be really nervous around him, because he’s so freaking good. I don’t have quite the level of Hero Worship going on with him that I do with BW, but I also haven’t seen him dance as much.
In BG’s class, everything went smoothly and well (okay, except the part where my left shoe twisted during a turns combination).
The final combination was a lovely medium allegro—
sissone faillie, assemble; sissone faillie, assemblé; sissone faillie, assemble, plié and hold;
piqué arabesque, step step, grand assemble en tournant, repeat, walk off
—and those sissone faillie, assemblé bits finally felt good. I also managed not to turn my grand assemble en tournant into entrelacé. Much as I can do any turn inside out and backwards, I can turn almost any jump with rotation into entrelacé. SMH.
Killer B is right: when I do my GAET correctly, doubles are possible. Now if I could just overcome my big stupid mental block about double tours, since they’re almost the same thing…
Anyway. I’m back to feeling like a reasonable ballet boy with a reasonable dose of talent. Turns are improving (did a double en dehors in attitude from 4th today by accident whilst marking a turny adage; couldn’t reproduce the result, but at least I know it’s physically possible for my body now 😛 Jumps are improving. Turny jumps, unsurprisingly, are also improving.
Even my arms are getting their act together, bit by bit. I really wish I could repost BG’s video from the class with all the sissones—the bit where I, like, flap my arms when I start to get tired is pure comedy. Swan lake, indeed.
More like Pelican Beach. Pelicans are heckin graceful once they get going, but their departures and arrivals tend to be less than balletic.
So that’s today. JMG tomorrow, and I’m probably going to sign up for this week’s masterclass, since I’m here. I think it’s well worth the $100. I’m hoping to take Philip Velinov’s as well, but that depends on auditions.
Oh, and I managed to do the dreaded attitude tour lent en dehors straight into attitude tour lent en dedans without falling over. That was in JB’s class; in BG’s,we did the same thing, but at passé, AKA the single hardest way to do tours lent. So there’s that, too.
- Tour lent is often called promenade, but our AD reserves the term promenade for the partnery version.
D and I are now rehearsing our #Playthink piece.
It’s actually going much better than I expected it to.
As one does, I’ve re-written essentially the entire piece now that I’m setting it on actual people and not just on myself prancing about in the studio and waving my arms to vaguely represent the acro moves.
Initially, I had one vision in mind. Because I was futzing around with it by myself, it involved a lot of ballet.
Now, of course, that has changed. I mean, there’s still ballet: there’s always going to be ballet because, hello, it’s me. That’s kind of what I do, apparently.
But choreography has a way of getting away from you. You begin with one vision, and as you actually create a dance and actually set it on actual people, it transforms.
I suppose that this is because, in a way, a dance is sort of a living thing. It’s a little like having a child (though, of course, on a very different scale) or maybe an elaborate pet. You might think, of a horse, “I’m going to train this horse to be the best cow pony ever,” but the horse might actually not be any good at being a cow pony. It might turn out to be a dressage beastie or something else.
- My philosophy on training horses was very much shaped both by my childhood trainer and also by the trainer of my friend’s lovely Arabian gelding, which began life as what the Arabian show world in the US calls a “park horse,” morphed into what the Arabian show word in the US calls an “English pleasure” horse, did a brief stint in Arabian-show-world western pleasure, and then eventually found his calling as an endurance racer. Basically, the lady who was responsible for training the horse felt that you needed to figure out which discipline suited the horse, and then train it to be as good as it could possibly be at that discipline. I think that’s a good way to do it.
Anyway. I digress.
So this dance is now almost a steady stream of rather-balletic acro and physical theater, and I’m okay with that. One of my goals was to build a dance that tells a story, and in this case, the story is kind of funny and implausible, and acro and physical theater are good ways to tell it.
I’m not going to try to force this dance to be something it isn’t. I have an entire lifetime in which to craft ballet pieces on ballet dancers (I keep joking that I have this entire three-act ballet in my head, now I just need about fifty dancers and a million dollars or so to get it off the ground … but, really, I do have an entire three-act ballet in my head, and it’s taking up a lot of space!). Right now, I’m working with one ballet dancer (me!) and one Denis, and that presents its own set of challenges and limitations.
Honestly, in creative work, it’s so often the limitations that free us to innovate (just as necessity—or, just as often, laziness—gives birth to invention).
The neat part is that this has led us to inadvertently create a new acro move. I mean, probably someone, somewhere has done it before, but I’ve never seen it. It happens to be one that requires that the flyer have a legit center oversplit (among other things), so probably there are a lot of people who can’t do it. Bony impingement is real, it’s just not something that I experience.
Anyway, the sequence involves moving from this:
…via returning to a standard vertical candlestick, then opening to a straddle and rolling down onto the base’s feet, and then rotating your legs back and around into the position above (the arms also have to do a thing, obviously).
The same basic end could be approached by moving from the vertical candlestick into a pike candlestick and lowering both legs down that way, but I don’t think it would look anywhere near as cool.
Annoyingly, when I snagged these screenshots, I completely failed to get one of the straddle transition. At the time, I think I was like, “A still photo of this isn’t going to impart any useful information.”
Anyway, you really have to have a perfectly flat straddle for this particular sequence so you don’t just rip your legs off, because your hips take a lot of your weight in the middle of the transition. Basically, if lying face down in a center split feels stretchy, this isn’t the sequence for you.
You also kind of need really good turnout in order to do the rotation bit.
The fact that D literally cannot straighten his legs in an L-base also means that I kind of drop myself onto his feet. Eventually, I’ll reach a point at which I can do a complete smooth rolldown whilst upside-down in a full center split, which will make things a little easier, but right now there’s a gap between the end of my smooth rolldown and the end of Denis’ range of motion (because my core strength is still only pretty good, and not completely awesome).
I wanted to use a sort of grand rond de jambe as an exit, but that also takes more adductor power than D has right now. If I bring my downstage leg to second, then rond it over, the force makes his right leg (which supports my left hip) shift, and I fall off 😀
We’ll get it eventually, but not in the next two weeks.
So there’s that.
Anyway, classes were good-ish yesterday and today.
Yesterday’s, in fact, was fairly lovely. Today’s was our first Advanced Class with JAB (OMG, his initials are seriously JAB!!! XD), who really does actually give an advanced Advanced Class.
On the upside, I’m finally (FINALLLLLYYYYYY) jumping again for real: grand allegro and everything. Cabrioles with turny bits, even (though I think I kept turning them into some kind of cabriole-scissor hybrid and landing on the wrong leg).
On the other hand, possibly because I went to a party last night and didn’t get to sleep ’til almost 4 AM (and then had to wake up and eat a sandwich, which was surreal because I was still pretty tipsy and more than half asleep), my brain was for the birds today.
I struggled because there were gaps in my recall of Every. Single. Combination. once we left the barre. The bits that came off, though, mostly went pretty well (except for a weird disaster in adagio during which I basically fell off my leg and then couldn’t get back on because gravity is the worst thing sometimes).
I also hit up a new class at Suspend, which is basically floorwork for acro.
You already know how much I love floorwork, soooooo…
Anyway, we got to break out our improv for the last 10 minutes of class, which resulting in some video that’s party really cool and partly like WHY DO YOU KEEP NOT COMPLETING THE MOVEMENTS WITH YOUR ARMS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.
But, anyway, here are a few nice shots from this morning’s video, just because I like them:
Also, I feel like in the arch picture, my butt looks like a couple of angry badgers having a fight. Muscular angry badgers, though.
The tape, by the way, is just there because a tree stabbed me in the foot yesterday
Anyway, I was being annoyed with myself for not making the effort to do quadruple turns today, and then realized that I’ve somehow, like, sideswiped my ballet goals without realizing it. Like, basically, I’ve made a significant dent in them and didn’t even notice.
Basically, one of my major goals for this year was to nail down reliable triples and unreliable quadruples, basically. And, bizarrely, I have achieved that goal. I had this weird epiphany on the way home from class yesterday: I realized that, like, a year ago or so, even doing one little triple turn more or less by accident was the most amazing thing ever.
And now I’m like, “Meh, triples, yawn,” when I don’t try for quads.
So, basically, I need to pause and appreciate how much progress I have made.
For what it’s worth, I’ve also got turns in second sorted. They’re not always beautiful (or, let’s be honest, even pretty), but I can always do them. Just not always sixteen of them.
So, yeah. There you go. I feel like I’m “back,” more or less, right now.
Of course, Choose Your Own Intensive begins Monday, soooo… . . .
Okay, confession taimz.
In class on Thursday and Sunday, I caught my balancé in the mirror and thought, “Hey, that looks really nice!” And I gave myself a mental pat on the back.
- Don’t worry, my humility was immediately restored on Thursday when I couldn’t remember which was my left leg on the return trip and again on Sunday when I traveled too much, did too many loose-canon chaînes (which, for some reason, my legs insisted on doing in fifth), and lame-ducked myself right into a fecking doorframe.
This has been fairly consistent of late, at least when I remember to make note of which flavor of balancé I’m supposed to do.
If, on the other hand, the choreography calls for leading off with arrière and instead you travel à gauche, your beautiful balancé will shortly turn into an awkward evasion as you attempt not to crash into the poor soul who has rolled up to go behind you in your group.
- I, for one, favor the “jump straight up like you’ve just been stung” approach, particularly when you’re supposed to be channeling Balanchine. I feel it fits well with the glittering verticality of Mr. B’s style. For a more Russian approach, however, gracefully and dramatically collapsing to the ground might be a better fit: the Russian style places so much emphasis on expression and character, after all. Or I suppose one could simply try to remember the entire combination.
Either way, I’ve grown rather pleased with my balancés, and it seems that in the process I’ve forgotten what bastardy horrors they were to re-learn.
Tonight, an old entry of Dorky’s reminded me of how gum-blisteringly weird balancés feel before you
brute force finagle your way into them, and how infuriating that can be given that they look like such a natural, breezy step.
Of course, I say all of this after first receiving the Secret Brute Force Balancé Hack from BG, and then being constantly corrected and guided and occasionally actually manhandled until my balancés, too, look springy, fluid, and effortless.
Which, it turns out, more or less seems to sum up the way one learns ballet. Each step, each skill, is drilled into one’s bones by a process of repetition and refinement that begins with, “I’ll never find it! Never, never, never!” passes through the murky waters of, “I can do this, ish, but I suck at it,” to the Island of, “Hey, I don’t even really suck at this anymore!” and eventually to the distant port of, “I’m actually kinda good at this, though not as good as X Famous Dancer/Company Member /Turns Girl (to borrow someone from Yorksranter)/Adagio Wizard/Jumps Boy.”
- “Jumps Boy” is the role I’m growing into in my own cohort of Ballet Nerds. It sounds better than “Impulsive Grand Allegro Fanatic.”
And in time, you lose the savor of those early days of struggle.
And then Memory comes along and slaps you with a dead salmon and says, “Oh, you’re not so great! Here, have an outtakes reel of everything horrible you’ve ever done with balancés!”
And for a minute, you stand there gobsmacked, because Memory really is a first-rate b*tch sometimes.
And then you realize that the very fact that you can even be horrified at how very, very bad you were at balancés means that you’ve come far enough to know how very bad you were, which is at once terrifying (“One year from now, I am going to cringe so hard about literally everything I think I know how to do right now o____O'”) and edifying (“But you guys! Look how much LESS BAD I am now than I was one year ago!”).
So there it is. Pretty much the whole reason that ballet is Not For Everyone (even though, in a greater sense, it is for everyone): you need a strong stomach for your own shortcomings; an ability to say, “Well feck this right out the window; it is literally the most unreasonable thing,” after class on Tuesday, then show up anyway on Wednesday, because somebody has to show the newcomers how it’s (not) done.
Set two more segments of the dance tonight and ironed out half the costuming issue.
I say “set,” but they’re really only half-set, as we didn’t run them with music (we were all too tired to screw around with all that). I did set them with the music in my head, though.
I have another phrase in my head, but I don’t feel like I’m quite hitting what I’m trying to say, so I’m going to sit on that one this week.
This piece is very adagio and really quite serious, which means we need to approach it a little carefully to prevent accidental silliness.
^This is actually right at the beginning of this dance. Which is good, because this movement begins on one knee and one foot and involves pressing sloooooowly up into attitude without falling on each-other. The supporting leg basically does all the work getting you from “on bended knee” up to attitude (and then you arabesque, and then you penché, and then you failli…). In short: engage all the things.
Definitely the kind of thing you want at the beginning rather than the end (not that I’m any nicer at all to us about the end).
It’s a screenshot from a video, btw, hence the slightly pixelated image quality.
Also, it is not easy to eat your lunch with 16 pounds of cat in your lap. At least not when your lunch is ziti with red sauce and the cat insists on interfering with your working arm(1). Just saying.
- You might be a dancer if the best way you can think of to describe your arms in the act of dining is as “working arm” and “supporting arm”…
Anyway, I felt stronger and better than last week, though still a bit chaotic. On the other hand, the part of my brain that perceives what’s happening deep in my hips came back online in the midst of doing frappés on relevé. Since I was doing them en relevé very much in hopes that such a miracle might occur, it was quite satisfying.
Also, my coupé balances were boss.
I forgot to mention that my brain re-engaged with my turnouts yesterday thanks to modern class. That, the work I’ve been doing on balances, and the input Killer B gave me last week all coalesced to allow long, steady coupé balances avant and arrière on both sides.
That actually surprised me.
My turns, on the other hand, were basically a roving disaster (or, they were during terre-a-terre). Too much attack, not enough preparation, and I kept panicking because I had assembled the combination in the wrong order in my brain (today was not a great day for remembering combinations, for me). In short, there was a thing where you piqué soutenu turn into sus-sous, pick up the front leg directly into extension, give it a breath, and tombé onto it. It was lovely, but I couldn’t remember to which of the two piqué soutenu turns in the combination it was attached, and consequently kept getting myself muddled.
As such, I did the first side twice; once in the first group (nobody else stepped up, so I went even though I knew that I didn’t know the combination), then once in the last group.
New Boy came back, and he now has a name, which begins with F. I can’t remember his surname, but I suppose he can be New Boy until he’s come back to class one more time. After that, I’ll have to figure something else out. Perhaps that will be my new rule for naming people. They can be New Person until they establish themselves as regulars by attending at least three Killer Classes without dying.
I wound up unintentionally attached to New Boy’s group as a function of having repeated the first side of the terre-a-terre. I just basically stayed there afterwards—partly because it seemed weird to run back around to the front of the group, and partly because it gave me time to watch the combination a million times.
I still did it incorrectly at least once more, but that was a function of the fact that learning by doing is, for me, more powerful than learning by watching (also figured out that one of the things I’d been doing was turning too far on the first piqué soutenu and facing the wrong corner of the “box” (basically, turning to effacé instead of croisé).
At least petit allegro went surprisingly well today, though, so there’s that? We did a little combination that went sisson simple-sisson simple-tombé coupé-assemblé, changement-changement-echappé, changement-changement-changement-entrechat quatre.
I may have too many changements in that last little phrase, come to think of it.
For once, my legs not only grokked sisson simple, but also grokked tombé coupé-assemblé. I forgot the echappé once on each side, though, because…I don’t even know why, actually.
It’s not like I can’t normally do those steps, by the way. I’m just not great at doing them cleanly and at speed. As such, this is progress, particularly since I haven’t been doing anything speed-work wise.
Ran into BW after class. I’m looking forward to his class (and modern) tomorrow. After that, I’m looking forward to sitting on my behind on Friday 😛