So it’s the second day of Spring, and we seem to have something like four inches of snow on the ground. I was going to update my header banner image to the Spring one today, but I think I’ll skip it for now!
Author Archives: asher
Totally failed to write about my own show, as you do. 😆
It went well—not perfect, but well enough that the audience thought it was. I got a nice word from our director, BG: “Your musicality was perfect.” As a dancer, that’s not a word you hear often.
Also quite a few nice words from folks in the audience—friends and perfect strangers both. E’s husband told me: “You stole the show—I mean that as a compliment!” That was a lovely thing to hear, but I think the best thing was K’s friends, who described my dancing to her as “powerful,” among other lovely words I wish I remembered right now.
K, meanwhile—my friend-turned-ballet partner who made me take myself seriously as a dancer some while back by telling me that I reminded her of Nureyev— described my attitude turn as beautiful, floating, and apparently effortless, with the free leg raised to 90 degrees.
I was glad to hear that, because in both the tech run and the full dress run I didn’t account for how remarkably grippy this particular batch of Marley was and wound up with 3/4s of an attitude turn and the world’s tiniest promenade 😅 During the actual show, it felt great, but that’s not always the most accurate barometer!
In the end, I think everyone was pretty happy with things.
There’s an immense peace that comes over me when I’m on stage. It’s like being immersed entirely in the stream of the present. Time is at once infinite and fleeting. Choreography appears like a divine gift. I don’t have to think about it: it’s just there.
There was a weird moment right at the beginning when I realized, with surprise, not only could I actually see part of the audience quite clearly, but was sharing a moment of eye contact with a woman out in the seats. That was really, really cool—also a crystal-clear visual memory that I’ll carry forever.
- In many theaters, the lighting renders the audience effectively invisible. You might catch the glare off an eyeglass lens, but that’s about it.
There’s something special about realizing that, hey, there are actual people out there, and they’re connected with what you’re doing, and it means something to them. For some performers, that’s kind of a nightmare, but I loved it—especially for this piece, which was full of emotion and human connections (both literal and metaphorical).
Anyway, we followed our terpsichorean triumph with one heck of a party, then hauled our heineys outta bed for class (my calf was iffy, so I opted not to jump—Memorial is a beautiful house, but the floor is pretty hard, and we did a bunch of jumps in our warm-up class before the show). Followed that with an hour of contact improv and 3 hour rehearsal: #dancerlife never stops 😛
This morning I opted to stay home and rest the legs a little, even though I’m adding Monday AM to the rotation. Back to class as usual tonight.
Possibly the best news: BG asked us at our party how we’d feel about performing more often. He has plans in the works. Obviously, I’m so there.
In the meanwhile, though, the next blip on my radar is another gala thing, this time with an excerpt from the Culture of Poverty, on April 30th.
Four years ago, when I stepped back into the studio, I never would have imagined living this life.
Honestly, if you’d described it to me, with all its chaos and exceedingly complicated scheduling, I would have, like, fainted (though it was wouldn’t have changed much, if anything).
In the end, though, this is what happens when we stumble into a driving passion: it, like, you know, drives.
And now, back to our regularly-scheduled laundry day.
Somehow, it’s Thursday already.
Today we’re loading in. I volunteered to help, so I’ll meet BG and S and the rest of the load-in team there at noon.
Last night’s rehearsal was meh for me in terms of technical execution (I was bizarrely exhausted for some reason) but better in terms of timing, so I’m feeling better about my solo bit, which I kept launching early in previous runs because I wasn’t sure about the musical cue.
I’ve managed to snag some extra sleep this morning, so with any luck tonight’s rehearsal (our tech run) should be better.
I’m sad that we only get to do this piece once, because it’s frankly a beautiful piece. BG named it “Tango For Those Forgotten.”
Anyway, time to take a quick shower and head out.
This morning, perhaps due to the time change but perhaps also due to the fact that we’re all up to our eyeballs in alligators right now, the struggle was really, really real.
Barre was … well, meh about sums it up. It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever done, but I also wasn’t entirely awake, and my legs felt like they weighed about 48 kilos each.
Center tendus were … ugh. More like tendon’ts. I got through the first version without too much awfulness, but when we ran the reverse I kept changing the facing of my hips when I shouldn’t have and, as a result, winding up on the wrong leg, and then having to do this tendu-failli-tendu thing, and then sometimes I’d have faillied the wrong leg somehow and I’d still be wrong, and I’d just go, “Feck it,” and coupé over in whatever way would get me to the right place ’cause ain’t nobody got time for dat.
Adagio was at least back to meh, instead of actively WTF-worthy. When I’m “on,” adagio feels fairly effortless. When I’m off, I adage like a spatially-challenged stork with some kind of substance-use disorder. I still get through it, but it’s … um.
So basically I made it through the adage at a more-or-less acceptable level while lamenting Thursday’s effortless extensions and wondering why my legs continued to experience enhanced gravity, whether last night’s sleeping pill would ever wear off, and exactly how much postnasal drainage could actually dump itself down my throat before something horrible happened (the answer: a lot, apparently, as nothing particularly horrible happened during the remainder of class, regardless of the constant stream of sinus goop working its way down the back of my throat).
Going across the floor, things finally began to improve. First off, the talking-to L’Ancien gave all of us about using our weight and our plié shook free of the cobwebs (I think it probably happened while we were doing 6th port de bras in the adage) and rolled into play, and some very, very nice turns resulted (though there was that one triple with way too much force … sometimes I get excited about turns and forget that you don’t need to use all the grand allegro booster rockets).
Second off, I realized that we were all struggling along together.
To whit: uur first turns combination was exceedingly simple—tombé-pas de bourrée to 4th-en dehors-repeat-repeat-rotation-en dedans, then straight into the second side—and did exactly what we all expected it to do so nobody had to think.
Our waltz, on the other hand, was simple but remixed familiar elements in a new way.
We’re all good friends with balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn-tombé-pas de bourrée and then whatever.
This time, JMH gave us:
balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn–CHAÎNÉ-CHAÎNÉ-CHAÎNÉ (petit developpé)-tombé pas de bourrée to fourth-en dehors-tombé back-en dedans (dancer’s choice: I did attitude turn en dedans because it’s in our Showcase piece; finished to arabesque allongé).
We all had to mentally yell at ourselves to keep from going balancé-balancé-waltz turn-waltz turn-tombé-pas de bourrée… I suspect that must’ve been pretty funny to watch. There was much visible gnashing of teeth, though we mostly kept the wailing on the inside.
Still, the waltz overall managed, amidst great struggle, to somehow turn out quite nicely. Against all odds, the repeat was rather lovely.
By the time we got to little jumps, my brain was beginning to light up, and the major mistake I kept making was adding extra jumps—in one combination, I kept adding extra changements when the prescribed step was a simple sussous balance. WTF.
I actually yelled at myself about this out loud at one point. Specifically, I said, “Why am I punishing myself?!” as I failed, yet again, to prevent myself from putting in extra changements. Jeez. On the other hand, they were quite decent jumps, so there’s that.
Moreover, my petit assemblé has stopped being a disaster area (my legs actually assemble in the air like they’re supposed to, you guys!), and I finally seem to have programmed that weird coupé-coupé weight shift into my brain somewhere along the way. We finished with jeté-temps levée-coupé coupé-brush jeté, and it was just … there. Like magic.
Anyway, today’s Theater Week Prep Day, during which I will Make All The Food and Clean All The Catbox and Wash All The Dishes and Finish The Stray Laundries and basically prepare for the fact that for the next six days I am unlikely to accomplish anything other than dancing.
The primary goal, really, is to make enough food in advance that I won’t have to really cook until a week from today: instead, I’ll just be able to throw things in to reheat as needed. Obviously, things like scooping the catbox that can be done quickly will still happen. Just not a lot of cooking, because I am unlikely to feel like cooking, but extremely likely to feel like eating, when I get home after rehearsals.
So that’s it for now. My legs feel like blocks of lead, and I plan to soak them in epsom salt solution for as long as my conscience permits later on. If the cat ever deigns to return the use of my left arm to me, anyway.
My schedule has officially gone plaid again, so I’ll probably be brief for the next couple of weeks.
We’re in the theater next week, and with a little good grace from the Powers That Be, our piece will be lovely.
Here’s my epic developpé near the end:
… And here’s what happens when I wind up too close to the column right next to BG:
In other news, I thought I would hate having to wear jazz pants, but actually I kinda like these ones?
I often write as if I believe in myself, as if I believe that what I’m doing in the world right now makes some kind of sense.
It was really, really hard when I came back to dancing after my surgery last summer. Day after day, I would literally look at myself in the mirror and be unable to stop the words, “You have no idea what you’re doing. You’re out of your mind,” from coming out of my mouth. I literally said to myself, out loud, over and over, “Give up. Give up, give up, give up.”
For a couple of months my interior life was one long bout of who do you think you are? I turned on that wild insecurity the only weapon I had: stubbornness.
My Dad was stubborn. My Mom is stubborn. My sister, holy cow, is she ever stubborn. In my family, we mostly live a long time, and the whole time we vex the world with stubbornness.
Every day I would wake up and look at myself in the mirror and say, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
And every day, the answer was pretty much a shrug, the gritting of my teeth, and the decision to do it anyway.
I write this to remind myself: not very long ago, less than six months ago, I was back to thinking that my singular aspiration in life was completely mad and that I should possibly think about going back for a master’s in something boring but profitable.
Thank G-d for stubbornness. I can’t take any credit for that. It appears to be entirely temperamental. Something in my nature is deeply, deeply perverse. If you tell me I can’t, I’m not capable, I’ll never be capable … well, really, there’s no better way to get me to prove to you that I can.
Apparently it works pretty well when I tell myself that, too.
I mentioned my recent successes in a facebag group made up of my dance peeps (mostly because several of them were involved in creating those successes and I wanted to thank them), and one of them described those successess as “much deserved.”
That meant the world to me, because there’ s still something inside me that says, now and then (especially when I have a not-so-great class), You’re crazy. You’re out of your mind. You have no right to do any of this.
And today I realized that sheer cussedness isn’t the only weapon in my arsenal anymore. Now I can wave my contracts and my gigs and the fact that I somehow get paid actual money to actually dance??? at that voice like a banner and say to it, STFU, Imposter Syndrome. I’ve got work to do.
L’Ancien continues to rebuild us.
Today was not my best dancing day, but it was acceptable at times. Weather fluctuations are leading to mold blooms and so forth that make my allergies crazy. Ears are connected to noses and throats; all three of mine develop problems.
My hearing gets iffy. I miss bits of combinations (L’Ancien delivers his combinations very quietly, which makes us all listen as ahard as we can) and I start to get stressed out and tense, even though L’Ancien tells us over and over again, “Don’t worry if you do the wrong step. This is class. This is an exercise. That’s not what I’m looking for.”
He’s really not. He cares less what you do; more how you do it. An approximation of the exercise done beautifully will make him happier than a perfect log of the steps done without feeling.
But still, sometimes I get nervous when I feel like I can’t hear.
Still, there were good things: the petit allegro combination in which we did fancy pas de bourrees of a kind that none of us (not even Killer B) had learned because evidently almost nobody teaches them(1)—that is, pas de bourrée a quatre pas and –a cinq pas—coupled to entrechats quatres. My entrechats are a thousand times better for L’Ancien’s insistence that we JUMP! and show essentially a second position in the air around the beats.
- They’re taught in RAD Advanced 1, apparently, but RAD syllabus programs aren’t exactly a dime a dozen around here.
It’s not just switching the feet: I can do that all day. It’s launch STRIKE! beat STRIKE! land fifth.
Last year, I learned to prevent “flappy feet” by thinking about my beats happening higher up in my legs. L’Ancien is transforming them into something worth looking at.
…Which is good, because apparently my assumption that I’m not built for petit allegro is incorrect.
After class I thanked L’Ancien for reviewing and clearly explaining petit battement. He pointed out that the configuration of my pelvis, which is rather shallow, is good for quick batterie.
I suppose I should’ve figured this out earlier, as I was the first member of my first childhood ballet class to nail down entrechats and so forth.
A few weeks ago L’Ancien mentioned our dancer RS, who does a stellar Bluebird (so much so that when my brain chooses to reboot and I can’t get his name to come to mind, I refer to him as “our Bluebird”), and how his shallow hips and relatively short torso make him well-suited for petit allegro. He said the same thing to me today, about my own body.
This is one thing I really appreciate about his teaching style: he teaches to his individual dancers, and not to some nonspecific imaginary dancer, as much as he can.
It’s worth noting that he does this not only by pointing out our weaknesses, but also by pointing out our strengths. By ballet standards, I’m a muscly kind of boy (which always results in a frisson of cognitive dissonance when I’m moving in cirque or modern dance circles, where I’m borderline dainty).
Too often, as dancers, we find ourselves lamenting what we don’t have (in my case, David Hallberg’s “imperially slim” build, with its endless, beautiful lines) instead of celebrating what we do have (…what K calls “that Bolshoi body,” with the enormous, ridiculous Legs of Power and square shoulders that let you do Bluebird left like it’s NBD).
- If you know this poem, you know that it’s beautiful and also a tragedy. I’m not calling Hallberg a tragedy; I just like that phrase. It sounds like him.
In the end, we have to learn to work with the bodies we have: to make the most of them. I think I’ve touched on this before.
Up until now, I have been learning technique—building the elements of movement—but perhaps haven’t learned my body as well as I could have.
By way of analogy, this is like painting in watercolors and being frustrated that they don’t behave like oils. I’m rather a good watercolorist, and that’s partly because I understand how watercolors are and I work with them accordingly.
As a dancer, then, I need to begin to understand how my body is and to work with it accordingly.
I suppose that, once again, it comes down to this basic principle: start where you are.
That means don’t force your turnout, but it also means, discover your gifts.
If you only ever know what’s not great about your body, you’ll never optimize your training as a dancer. Quietly, gently, firmly, L’Ancien says to us, Learn what is great about your body. Every body is different. Every body has gifts.
But also start where you are. Know your strengths; know your weaknesses; train accordingly.
I’ll try to remember all this tomorrow at the BDSI audition, though I’ll also try to just have a good class and enjoy the singular pleasure and specific torture of Vaganova technique.
I hope that I’ll make the cut—not so much because it would make me feel good about myself as a dancer (though I’m sure it would), but because I think two weeks of Nothing But The Vaganova, imparted by a roster of master instructors, is enough to make anyone a stronger, better dancer.
And, possibly, a good way to learn to optimize on one’s strengths.
Today I started setting my piece for CL’s upcoming collaboration with University of Louisville.
I tapped my friend L, who was my reader for Death Defying Acts and who I’ve had as a student in the Dance for Aerialists class that I co-taught for a while. I don’t remember exactly where the initial impulse came from, but it was a good one. She has time right now, and I think we work well together.
L doesn’t have a lot of dance training, but she’s an aerialist and she practices yoga, so she has the kind of “educated body” that dancers have.
I had two goals for today’s rehearsal: first, teach her how to Tall Ladies (the easy part!); second, set the first phrase of the dance. Both goals were achieved, and it turned out that L and I make really good collaborators. I put in, among other things, fish lift to fondu arabesque (ganked from BG’s piece :D); she added a sub-phrase developed from triangle pose that played really nicely with my instinctive “next thing.”
Choreographing this dance is going to be an interesting challenge. Since the musicians will be working within an improvisational framework (you’re right, that kinda sounds like an oxymoron), I’m programming a series of phrases that can either be used in a set sequence or mixed and remixed in an ongoing improvisation.
I came into this rehearsal with only the most basic sketch of an idea: start with Tall Ladies, set L down facing the audience, rise, work through a series of smooth, circular movements in which we appear to be working together to manipulate the ball (in fact, she’s doing all the ball work at the beginning of this phrase).
The lift grew organically out of the initial ball path: that was a cool discovery. L’s triangle sequence also came about on its own. She was experimenting to see where her body wanted to go from the arabesque (the ball passes from her hand to mine as she transitions out of the arabesque), and I liked what came out.
This is the first time I’ve actually set a dance that’s explicitly a partnered piece, as opposed to one in which bits of partnering occur incidentally to the greater momentum of the piece. I think I’m going to enjoy this particular challenge.
Coincidentally, this is also the first time I’ve partnered a girl who is significantly smaller than I am. L is legitimately tiny, which is both awesome and complicated. It’s awesome because she weighs next to nothing and is super easy to balance (she’s also great at engaging through her body, which really helps). It’s complicated because, in trying to be a good partner, I’m finding that I have to adjust a lot.
That’s actually really good for me, as a guy who enjoys partnering and wants to do more of it. The first three rules of ballet partnering for guys might be, “Don’t Drop The Girl[A],” but the fourth rule is Pay Attention to What She Needs.
Does she feel like she can get her leg under her coming out of Fish? No? Maybe you need a deeper fondu, then, doofus.
Anyway, I think the resulting piece is going to be pretty cool. L and I work well together, and I think we also look good together. That doesn’t hurt, either.
A. Appendix 1: The First Three Rules of Partnering
- Don’t drop the girl.
- DON’T drop the girl!
- DON’T DROP THE GIRL!!!
The Showcase Piece IS DONE!!!
…And I really like it. Next week we workshop the partnering bits and clean the piece. Pretty exciting stuff.
Last week, or maybe the week before, I was watching Killer B do turns in class and had this revelation about her back.
I don’t quite know how to explain it: her back, like, goes straight up and down, like the proverbial elevator car that probably everyone’s ballet teacher has harped on about at some point when teaching relevés. Nothing changes. Everything just spins together, lovely and open, on an invisible axis (seriously, she spins like Baryshnikov).
I thought about how that would feel, physically—the back open and traveling straight up and down—and decided to try to work on achieving that feeling.
But what really made me get it, to be honest, was last night’s modern class.
We did and improv at the beginning that was all about different qualities of movement. We began frozen in concrete, wiggled first one part, then another free, then the concrete slowly transformed into thick, heavy, sucking mud. Eventually the mud gave way to buoyant ocean water, where we could swim and float. Then, slowly, we reversed the process.
Later, LWF gave us a visual that related (in a way) back to that: she asked us to imagine holding two heavy buckets of wet sand, and to feel them pulling our arms and shoulders down and open even as we allowed the back-tops of our heads to grow taller.
This made perfect sense to me, because it’s exactly the way I accomplish that kind of thing in real life. There’s something in my nature that refuses to look downtrodden—so when I’m asked to carry heavy buckets (or suitcases, or what have you), I engage through the lats and traps and so forth but let my chest and shoulders stay open, and I reach for the sky with the place where my occipital and parietal bones come together while keeping my head level.
Anyway, I did that last night (though for some reason, in my mind’s eye, the buckets morphed into suitcases?), and suddenly everything started to make sense.
This morning, Killer B said halfway through our Fondagio®, “Wow, your back is completely different today! What are you thinking about there? Keep doing it!”
I was able to tell her that it was, in fact, her back I was thinking about (and managed to do so without losing track of the combination too badly).
She then said, “You have so much more freedom in your eyes, too!”
And I said, “Oh, that’s Bruce!”
…Which got a chuckle from everyone who’s ever taken class from L’Ancien.
So, anyway: for me, the best answer for my back has been a combination of Killer B’s amazingly beautiful turns, the suitcases-full-of-sand image, and also Señor BeastMode’s instructions to pull up my suspenders (which counters my tendency to stick mah booty out) and to be strong.
I think the suitcases-full-of-sand thing might have a pretty universal utility. We’ve all carried heavy stuff at one point or another.
The weird part was how strangely observable the difference was.
Usually, you change something critical to your technique, and it’s so infinitesimal that your teacher will only catch if it she’s using that special eye on the back of her head* under the light of a super blue blood moon and walking widdershins around the Grave of Giselle or something. Usually, it’s clear that you’re dancing better, but not quite as clear exactly a how.
So, anyway, there you go. If, like me, you’re a Leaner, a kind of Overaged Teenage Sloper, you might give the suitcases-full-of-sand image a try.
In other news, K and I worked through a partnering thing after class, and since BG was there he gave us some pointers. By the time we got done, it was looking really great.
I also pulled off this beautiful, controlled, super-high developpé à la seconde en relevé completely at random while thinking out loud with my body about a note that BG gave. He looked at me and said, “Just like that!”
I don’t actually do that developpé there, but I think I use it later in the piece, so I’ll have to keep it in my back pocket … Or stuffed into the waistband of my dance belt (wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve kept there :P).
For whatever reason, I feel like I’m growing by leaps and bounds (gahhhhhh, sorry) as a dancer right now. It’s a good feeling, after working so long just to come back from the surgery and regain what I lost while I was on the bench.
*Speaking of this … I’m teaching a workshop at PlayThink this year. Do you just wake up one day with that extra eyeball? Because I might need it.