Abstract contemporary dance is interesting to a point. Classical ballets have their place. But what if these narratives made their way onto the scene? Choreographers, start planning!
Muskrat Lake: Surprise, surprise...Odette has a brother! When he tries to protect Odette, Von Rothbart is not happy and lays a special type of curse on him as well. Little does Von Rothbart know that he's going to face down the muskrat rugby team in the climactic 4th act!
Harry Potter the Ballet: forget Carabosse; there's a new ballet villain in town. Voldemort gets to dance an exquisite pas de deux with Harry, who's played by a ballerina, and Hermione essentially fouettes to the top of the class. Warning: strobe lights are used in this production.
Juliet!: what if Shakespeare's classic, tragedy-bound heroine was able to counsel the other impulsive females in the ballet canon? And what if she was actually really, really funny? In this quirky tale, Juliet is a ghost but able to reach Giselle, Cinderella, Aurora, and even Onegin's Tatiana to change the course of their lives. She combines the historical wisdom of a matchmaker with the gentle practicality of a college advisor and everybody wins!
2 & 3 Part Inceptions: much like Christopher Nolan's layered movie "Inception" (and this hysterical musical parody) this loosely-plotted ballet features dances within dances within dances...Oh, wait, basically it's all divertissements. The scenic and costume designers will have a ball accommodating the technical requirements of this one.
Goodnight, Moon: Each character in the beloved children's book gets a sweepingly classical variation. There will be short intermissions every ten minutes so that the kids in the audience can run around and make noise; however, by the final adagio, the music has slowed down enough in tempo that it's expected most patrons will be asleep.
About ten years ago (maybe more, though realizing it's been that long gives me a bit of a fright) I thought in poems. Really. A stanza of a poem would appear in my head entirely of its own bidding and it would follow me around until I wrote it down-- finished it out-- and tidied it up. Sometimes I'd also see/hear pieces from other poets, maybe because my school system emphasized the memorization of literature, but most of the time I just thought of original poems without having to do any real work. A walloping disclaimer here: they were not good poems. They're what you would expect from an angsty teenager who proudly listed Bach and Beethoven under her musical tastes on MySpace. And still-- and still-- when I go back and read them, I see an earnest heart underneath the stilted vocabulary. Maybe I did write bad poems, but they came from an organic process and helped me develop a love for language.
That ability to "see" a poem doesn't exist for me anymore, not properly. Every now and then I'll feel a line or phrase that needs to be turned into something, and then when I sit down to write (sometimes on the catwalk at the theatre...by the ambient light of a follow spot...when I have a break from cues) the effortless part just dissolves into labored thinking. It's as though the more I know about what good art is out there (and there is so much I have yet to learn!) the more hesitant I am about putting my own meager efforts into the pile. And maybe I'm just busier with real-life things, such as car maintenance and laundry, so that I don't have the time to daydream like when I was younger. Inspiration is a funny thing. You want to use it as an impetus for creation, not an impediment.
Oy. I'll stop being long-winded and post a rhyming poem here.
Henceforth it shall be winter
and this is the last spring;
(the flowers will die, the grass will sigh
and birds will cease to sing).
The ground will be frozen thick
enough to break each limb
that tries to sow (and trees won’t grow
for the sky is getting sick).
Say a farewell to the sun
as it rotates off to dusk
leaving the blooms in shells or their tombs
amidst the wet leaves’ musk.
This is the last spring,
and summer brings us nearer curled
(then comes the fall and fear of it all
as winter becomes the world).
Admittedly, it's been more than a fortnight since I have posted here. I got caught up in the things that life requires, such as raking the yard (a real hamstring strengthener!), choreographing dances for the small children's Christmas recital, and trying not to panic when I realize that I've forgotten all of my high school calculus. Our brains get stuffed awfully full, don't they? I think that, especially in this digital age, it's easy for us to be overwhelmed by the torrent of information that pours down on us, from songs and advertisements on the radio to hilarious videos of Conan O'Brien trying to dance with the Alvin Ailey company.
With all this information, though, there are so many resources for younger dancers that I wish I'd had access to when I was a student. That sentence makes me sound ancient, but it's true. Technology has evolved so quickly in the last decade. YouTube was in its infancy when I was in ballet school. Facebook still had "bumper stickers" and no such thing as live video. Even blogging was new. Where did I turn to answer all of my questions about the dance world, you ask? There was and is the ever-lovely Pointe Magazine, which did an excellent job of interviewing professionals, offering stretching tips, and displaying gorgeous photos from companies around the world. I also exhausted my library's trove of ballet- and theater-related books, right up until high school homework made it much more challenging to just read for fun.
I humbly present to you, below, the things that I did not learn right away from those books/magazines, the things that it took real life experience to get through my head. Dear 14-year-old Laurel, please take heed:
1. Knees are so terribly important. Other body parts are certainly essential to your ballet technique (hips, spine, ankles, and the like), but you only get one pair of knees and they do a LOT for you. Your knees are what catch you when you land a jump, help you take off for a pirouette, and unfold when you developpe. Please do not force your turnout from your knees; please take care of your knee injuries right away, rather than trying to do triple pirouettes barefoot after 5 hours of Saturday class.
2. Pointe shoes can get more comfortable, even if you think you like your current pair. Feet may change over the years, or pointe shoe technology might, and you'll suddenly slip into a pair of shoes that will make you say, "Wow!" One brand or maker could be what you swear by for eight years, and then a shoe representative will hand you an unfamiliar pair that changes your life. #Suffolks
3. It's not necessary to cram bobby pins into your head until your scalp bruises. Yes, I understand that you don't want your hair to flop out during fouettes, but there are good pins and hair elastics and bun-making techniques that can prevent all of the pain. At least just use half as much hair spray as you want.
4. Teachers are not there exclusively to make you feel bad about your life; in fact, sometimes they push your buttons just so you can discover how to take your dancing to the next level*. They're trying to unearth what they know you have inside, and build as strong of a dancer as possible, not to bury you in guilt and self-doubt. You'll understand when you're a teacher...and you probably will teach at least one workshop class at some point.
*this one took me over a decade to learn
5. It's a fact of life, but your body will become less limber as you age. The nutritionists and physical therapists don't say this to scare you, only to make sure that you're using your time wisely and protecting your body while it's still resilient. Even those dancers with insane flexibility will start hearing weird popping noises with time. These changes are normal and they teach you how to be a smarter dancer so that you can use your technique to maintain a high performance level.
6. And lastly, Marzipan/Mirliton/Commedia/Bo Peep...whatever you call it...is one of the hardest variations in Nutcracker. Or ever. The music is sweet and perky, but I guarantee you that you will feel less than perky once you get offstage. Enjoy the ride!
In the interest of being honest with the general public, I'd like to start off this blog by telling you about the worst I have ever danced (at least by my own opinion; my teachers over the years may beg to differ with an even worse moment). My website only shows the "best," so I want to talk about the worst.
There are multiple moments that contend for this title, actually. I could tell you about the time I did an entire piece of choreography...facing backwards onstage. Luckily it was only a spacing rehearsal.
Or I could tell you about the time I went "splat!" in the middle of Kiyon Gaines' "Bolero." That was embarrassing, and slightly funny, but it was my slippery pointe shoe that let me down, not my dancing.
I also once took class with a new choreographer after pulling an all-nighter to work the load out of the national tour of "Wicked," launching straight into a full rehearsal day with 0 hours of sleep. And I auditioned for the SAB summer course with pointe shoes that had never been worn prior to that day (I didn't get in, but I did get spectacular blisters). And I did a 4-hour audition with staph infection.
No, all of those were memorable moments, but the one that stands out as the most terrible representation of who I was as a dancer definitely occurred in my sophomore year of college. I'm sharing it with you because professional dancers don't often call their own dancing "bad." They talk about difficulties with their technique, or limitations in their bodies, but most prefer not to share when they hit rock bottom.
We all start out awkward: usually elementary school children, we have little control over our gangly limbs and our parents videotape recital dances that end up being hilarious years and years later. As we get older, we see significant improvement. Our dancing is on an upward trajectory...mostly. I'd say that my sophomore year of college was a notable exception.
I attended a public university in the middle of the country that has a reputable dance department, with gorgeous facilities to boot. Every semester, the ballet company puts on a big production where it gives each of the 50-or-so ballet majors a chance to experience some stage time. I was really happy to be a student at this school; everyone was friendly, and I got to dance all day, and we performed "real" ballets. This spring's show included Act 3 of Sleeping Beauty.
At the beginning of the semester, I approached casting with a hopeful mind. Maybe they'd notice me? I was a sophomore, after all, and had good training. The problem was that I was nowhere near in dancing shape by that point of college, and had a rather ungainly disconnect between my feet, my arms, and my core. It was as if my prior twelve years of ballet had decided to take a sabbatical and leave a poor schmuck in its place.
The second problem was that I had NOT prepared for our first rehearsal at all. I'd decided to coast along on my quick-thinking brain, wrongfully assuming that picking up choreography was all I'd need to do. I do memorize patterns with alacrity. However, I stepped into the studio (along with all 49 other dancers) and heard, with dread in my stomach, the music for the Temperance Fairy coming out of the speaker. Watch this video here to see some of what the dancing entailed.
It was too fast. I couldn't do it; I couldn't coordinate; I couldn't nudge my way out of the crowd of women learning the variation. The real kicker was that I had gotten lazy about keeping pointe shoes in good condition, and this particular pair was completely dead in the box and shank. In ballet-speak that means it feels like your toes are being ground through the jaws of a paper shredder.
So there I was, clumsy and red-cheeked, behind the music, struggling just to stand on my battered pointe shoes. That's not what a 19-year-old ballet major should look like. That's not who I was trained to be, but at that point in time, it was who I had set myself up to be.
The professors wisely did not cast me in any solos for Sleeping Beauty. They stuck me in the back, instead, with a heavy dress that came down to my ankles and choreography that consisted of basic mazurka and polka steps. I deserved it; I needed to have that awful terrible WORST rehearsal/audition in order to know that real dancers can't afford to be lazy.
Real dancers move on from their mistakes and prep their pointe shoes. They get up when they fall (and they do, sometimes even onstage) and study choreography that doesn't come naturally right away. They cross-train and stay humble and remember that dance is a gift, not a given.
I hope that I've become just a little bit more of a real dancer since that day in college.