After Pilobolus intensive, I semi-intentionally put Simon Crane on a back burner for quite a while. I had discussed it with a couple of people whose insights made a lot of sense, and I wanted to let their wisdom percolate for a while.
I meant to get back to work on it in a month or two, but life being life, I kept feeling that it wasn’t time yet.
Anyway, today it resurfaced on its own, with a very clear thought about Acts I and III.
Specifically, there’s a very explicit transition in Act I from the world of the marsh, which follows one set of (magical) “rules” to that of the city, where the “rules” at least seem more prosaic (I think cities have their own magic, but that might be a different ballet). This is part of what allows the arrival of The Flock, with its wild magic, to be threatening in Act II, even though The Flock believes it is acting in the best interests of its own lost member (that is, Simon).
The connection I had failed to make, though, was that the reverse should also be true. The journey of the Naturalist in search of his lost/stolen beloved must explicitly be one that involves the transition from the Naturalist’s world, in which he feels that he understands the “rules,” to that of the Marsh, where he does not.
This thought makes it easier to structure Act III: before, I wasn’t entirely sure how to frame to Naturalist’s journey, or to explain his trepidation even to myself. I don’t want him to be a swashbuckling hero (as much as I love a good swashbuckling hero/ine)! I want him to be a very human man caught up in something he doesn’t understand, doing his best to cope because that’s what you do when you love someone.
The other thing I’m contemplating is “Bolero.” I love the dance in my head, and I’m going to set it sooner or later either way—but E at PSW pointed out that the music already has a powerful life of its own, both as music-qua-music and as a famous ballet. It wouldn’t be wrong to use it, but it might overshadow the rest of the work.
I’m still thinking about that: I might be standing too close to the problem; it might also be that the “Bolero” section of Simon Crane really is strong enough to work.
Lastly, I think I’m going to revisit the score. I’m very unsure about Satie for the opening dances. I’ll have to listen to it again, and see what’s what. Act III might also need to be reset.
Class today was sound, given that I’m tired and sore from a very long Saturday. It took me til centre to really wake up, but once I did some decent work happened.
Everything was reasonably functional this morning, which was good, because Advanced Class began with four of us and two had to leave after barre. The remaining pair of us got quite a workout.
JB was like, “I always end up with two students,” and I said, “It’s a sign. You should be teaching pas de deux class.”
Sadly, we did not get Pas De Deux 101 (or even 095: Remedial Pas De Deux–Topics In Not Dropping The Girl And Not Kicking The Boy In The Hereditary Storehouse).
- True story, which I’ve probably already told: when we were rehearsing Vivaldi Variations, two of the three girls in the Sirens group were convinced that they were going to kick me in the, erm, shenanigans. In case you’re wondering, the best way to guarantee that you’re going to kick the boy in the Hereditary Storehouse while doing assisted fouettés is to be afraid that you’re going to and thus stare directly at his No Fly Zone. The foot goes where the eyes go.
Instead, we got a demanding class that was entirely about weight transfers.
Most of it was good. Since I know I can do quadruple turns, I’ve been dialing back the quantity factor in order to improve quality. As such, turns and terre-a-terre went quite well, except when I got a bit too excited about a developpé à la seconde balance from sus-sous and knocked myself off my leg.
During petit allegro, for some reason I could do royales during the mark but not during the actual run. WTF even is that?
I still hate royales, but that probably means I should work on nothing else until I nail them down.
At least now I’m able to do them in such a way that they don’t look like a complete afterthought: JB does them really cleanly, and I finally got my head around the idea that a royale isn’t so much a lame, beaten changement for people who can’t do entrechat six as it is a showy little flutter: you beat out-in (front)-out-in (back).
I think that in the past I’ve always beaten the first stroke of my royale to the front instead of to the side, which makes it both nearly invisible (en fact, in fact, it can be completely invisible) and probably not actually a royale—it occurs to me that, basically, only cabrioles and assemblés battus do that.
Our grand allegro went something like:
sissone faillie (passing through a clean first!!!)
fourth arabesque à terre
[something else might have been here?]
coupé-chassé-rond de jambe (en relevé)
tombé-“pas de bouchassé”-brush-grand assemblé
pique third arabesque
some other kind of chassé-developpé sequence
repeat on other side
- At first I kept doing some weird kind of cloche thing, which made it difficult to get to the arabesque à terre efficiently.
It was a really cool combination. My tour jetés were kinda lame (like, BW would’ve made me go back and do them again, and HIGHER, and SHARPER), because I was pretty cooked by then, but I’m still so happy to be jumping again that it didn’t really matter that much.
- …Even though the part of me that likes to impress my teachers with my prowess as a jumper was really annoyed.
I think, though, that as much as I’m happy to be jumping again, my favorite combination today was a waltzy thing in which we changed facings via passé from fifth to a lunge in fourth three times in a row.
It was really quite pretty, and I think I managed to do it without getting the arms backwards at all … which, honestly, is one of those awkward ballet things. Internally, I’m half like, “YESSSSS! NO BACKWARDS ARMS!” and half like, “WTF are you doing still getting your arms backwards, you jackwagon? Aren’t you past that yet?”
- The answer, of course, is, “Mostly.” It still happens on occasion, at apparently random intervals, and thus I live in fear of doing some or another combination otherwise beautifully, but with the arms entirely backwards. What even is that.
We also did a nifty center tendu in which we paddled ourselves around the eight points of the stage using ronds de jambe à terre. It felt, I don’t know, contemplative might be the right word. It reminded me of doing fancy paddling tricks in a canoe.
I want to say that was the same combination in which we ended with a tour lent en dedans at passé through to attitude derièrre. When I picked that one up, I initially thought that the tour lent was supposed to be en dehors, which in turn made me wonder what we’d done to make JB hate us so much 😉
It was hella awkward with the tour lent going the wrong way, since the transition into attitude derièrre happened during the turn, which meant that if you did the turn backwards, you had to work twice as hard to keep everything together (because momentum, and turnouts, and physics, and stuff).
Anyway, it’s all improving bit by bit. There are days that I suddenly really feel that I’m a better dancer than I used to be—like, I feel it in my bones, with a kind of immanent certainty.
Today wasn’t one of those days, but it was the kind of day on which I can see that I’m making incremental gains. I think the difference is that sometimes everything just comes together, and I dance well enough that I feel legitimately gifted, whilst on other occasions I just feel, you know, serviceable.
But, honestly, my goal is to be a serviceable danseur. There’s much to be said for being serviceable: it bears with it the notions of reliability and competence. Yes, when you’re having one of those “gifted” days, your teacher or AD or whatever tends to take notice: but over the long run it’s important to be serviceable, reliable, and competent.
Speaking of which, my sissones did not suck today. So there’s definitely that.
In other news, after listening through a couple more times, I’ve decided to stop banging my head against the impossibly huge wall of Late Romantic Era music and just leave the score for Simon Crane as it is for now. If it proves impossible to actually set “Isle of the Dead” effectively, I’ll sort it out later.
For now, I just need to keep listening to it and working the story into it.
In semi-related news, I have a playlist on Amazon Music called “choreography,” and I have no memory of adding half the things that are on there. On the other hand, one of those things is the first movement of Beethoven’s “Waldstein,” which I suspect might be as fun to choreograph as it is to listen to and to play[6, 7].
- Which is in fact probably shorthand for having, at some point, decided that it would be fun to choreograph the whole thing.
- Which, you guys: if you know how to play the piano passably well, go get yourself a copy of the music for the Waldstein—Sonata No. 21 in C Major—and give it a whirl.
- Seriously, the first movement at least isn’t terribly hard. I figured a lot of it out by ear in high school before I ever clapped eyes on the music. I do have a very good ear, but honestly it’s pretty friendly.
One more class (maybe two, if get antsy I take class Monday morning before I leave) and one Pilates session before Lexington. I’m trying to be chill, but honestly I’m so excited I feel like I might explode.
Oh, and while we’re on it, here, this is finally up on YouTube thanks to CM:
I’m vaguely iffy about posting this at this point, because I feel like I’ve come a long way since then 😛 But there it is, finally. 11 girls and me in BG’s “Vivaldi Variations.” I’m still pretty pleased with how well it came together, given our broad array of experience levels and our abbreviated rehearsal schedule.
Feel free to laugh at all my weird attempts to compensate for the fact that I’m scared out of my mind of wiping out due to the whole Shoe Incident. Also, there should totally be a drinking game that goes with this; something like, “Put the video on repeat and drink 5 shots if you actually spot the shoe” (you can, in fact, see it—and once seen it’s hard to un-see); “Take 1 shot every time Asher drops his arms;” etc. Edit: Oh, yeah, and “Take 1 shot every time Asher lets his turnout go,” though you probably won’t make it to the end of the first repeat if you use that one.
I was having an awkward kind of morning: got a little tipsy last night, stayed up too late, slept badly, woke up early (whichever one of us taught my cat that it’s possible to awaken humans by tap-dancing on their bladders needs a swift kick in the tuchas), started reading, lost track of time, failed to eat, etc.
This translated to a wonky start at barre. I couldn’t figure out where my pelvis was or find my lateral obliques or keep my arm from wandering off to do its own thing. My head kept getting ahead of my arm. I tendued to second, then went, “Hmm, no,” and adjusted (which drives both JB and BW crazy).
Midway through one combination, during a sus-sous balance, JB sauntered over, grabbed me by the back of the neck, reset my head and neck, and then used both hands to physically move my entire ribcage.
I tried not to do the weird thing where I respond to someone touching me much in the way that a sea anemone responds to the touch of a potential predator, though it took a little doing.
Anyway, I had mostly sorted myself out by the time we got around to going across the floor and doing jumps, though I was momentarily distressed by this bizarre phenomenon in which, during a mark, my brain went, “assemblé!” and my legs went, “CABRIOLE, MUTHA****A!”
On the other hand (foot?), there were some nice cabrioles in there, so…?
Since this entire combination was assemblés changing direction and leg until none of us could remember which leg was which, that obviously would’ve been a problem.
Anyway, tomorrow should be better. Today the plan is (in no particular order, except for the “early to bed, Nyquil if necessary…” bit):
- catch up the finances
- mow the lawn
- make dinner
- early to bed, Nyquil if necessary because insomnia and insane allergies are making my life difficult
Oh: I’m considering Schumann’s A minor ‘cello concerto for the third act of Simon Crane. I haven’t listened all the way through it yet, but the first movement sounds promising.
For all that, though, I’m still not at all sure that I want to do away with “Isle of the Dead.”
Woke up in a terrible mood again today. At this juncture, though, I recognize that it is what it is, and it will pass. We’ve been around this block before. It’s easier to cope if you can say, “Just hold on for a minute; this, too, will pass.”
I did, however, actually get some sleep last night (better living through chemistry, heh), which should help.
At any rate, something spurred me to get back to work on Simon Crane, so I’ve been gathering a possible selection of music and stringing it all together in a playlist in order to determine whether or not it’s musically coherent. I don’t think I’m ever going to be the kind of choreographer who goes in for an incoherent score, as much as I suppose that could be a useful theatrical device.
This whole process makes me very grateful both for the exposure my parents gave me to good music (literally from before I was born) and for my formal musical training. It helps to know about things like relative keys, and so forth, and to possess at least a basic understanding of stylistic epochs within classical music.
At the moment, the score for Simon Crane begins with piano works by Satie, then transitions in the second act to orchestral works by Ravel (the famous “Bolero,” with a bit of choreographic homage to Béjart, because I think it would be an insult not to acknowledge his “Bolero”) possibly followed by either Saint-Saëns (‘Cello Concerto No. 1) or Vaughan Williams (Oboe Concerto).
The Saint-Saëns is quite difficult to play, evidently, which might be problematic, but a listen-through last night suggested some real choreographic possibilities. The overall arc of the piece rather nicely fits the part of the story that I’m trying to set.
I haven’t listened to the whole of the Vaughan Williams yet, so I have no idea if it’ll really work at all. I just happen to love Vaughan Williams, and the feeling of a lot of his music would fit the overall mood of the ballet pretty well, I think—though, ironically, Vaughan Williams might not be a good fit for the second act. Act II is distinctly urban in tone, while Vaughan Williams frequently evokes the English countryside. We’ll see how it goes.
Regardless, I haven’t listened to “Bolero” with either of the other two pieces yet, so that’s on my agenda for today while I’m finishing up some really boring yard work. It’s possible that neither will actually be a good fit and that I’ll have to find something else. Thank goodness for the sheer profligacy with which the Romantic and Impressionistic composers as a whole deployed their musical gifts!
The final act begins with Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead;” I think it may, in fact, stick with Rachmaninoff all the way through the final act, though that may or may not make every dancer who ever gets saddled with this thing hate me. I don’t know. I quite like dancing to Rachmaninoff, to be honest.
I’m debating whether or not some of this plan entirely works: not so much the use of the two long transitional pieces (“Bolero” and “Isle of the Dead,” both of which practically constitute entire acts in themselves from a storytelling perspective) as whether I’ve worked out an effective transition from Satie’s spare piano works to the lush Romantic orchestral works that follow. Right now, Act I ends with Satie, and Act II begins with “Bolero,” the opening of which is very far-off and spare.
I still have no idea how one, having conceived an entire ballet on this particular scale, goes about trying it out on actual dancers and eventually setting it if one doesn’t already happen to have access to an entire ballet company.
I do think I should be able to set bits of it, however. In particular, the opening scene from Act II, in particular, seems like it’s pretty amenable to performance as a standalone piece, perhaps with some small modifications.
Regardless, I sometimes find myself wishing that I had the slightest sense of how to compose for ballet, or at least for this ballet. Part of it is that I don’t feel like I compose well enough to create an original score for Simon Crane—if there’s one thing that drives me crazy about a lot of the great classical ballets, it’s that their scores are at best trite and at worst practically unlistenable. One accepts them because the dances that go with them are sublimely beautiful, but finds them irritating in the absence of dancers.
- I could see setting dances to some of the music I’ve written, but not this ballet.
I don’t want to beget yet another such score. I’d rather borrow music written by people who knew what they were about and be done with it.
Besides, Simon Crane began with a small piece set to one of Satie’s “Gymnopedies,” and I kind of think that you have to honor your muses. Apparently Terpsichore didn’t see fit to issue me a ballet with original music.
That’s fine. If she had, knowing me, I would probably never actually finish the damned thing.
Update: Having just listened through the Ravel-Vaughan Williams-Rachmaninoff option, I’m pretty sure that the Vaughan Williams is probably not “it.” The transition from “Bolero” to the Oboe Concerto is really quite nice, but I’m not sure that the Oboe Concerto A) fits the moon and B) won’t be a complete nightmare to choreograph, set, learn, and/or dance.
Going to listen to the Ravel-Saint Saëns-Rachmaninoff option now…
Further update: I’m listening to Grieg’s A Minor ‘Cello Sonata, and while it steps back from the complex orchestration of Ravel’s “Bolero,” as it’s written for ‘cello and piano, it might actually be a good fit, as well. Even if I don’t use it for Act II, I should keep it in mind for Act III, assuming that the rest of it fits. I’m only halfway through the first movement.