Category Archives: choreography
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!!!
I … think? … I’m done with auditions for the rest of the month, at this point.
Yesterday’s was actually rather a soaring success, except for my usual habit of forgetting some bit of the modern combination and faking my way through that part so I could get to the next bit, then remembering it right after … but there are two thoughts that cheer me up.
First, nobody had the combo down cold. We all missed bits and pieces.
Second, that’s one of the skills they’re looking for at dance auditions. What happens when you fall off the script (because it happens even to top-tier dancers)? Do you freeze like a deer in the headlights, or do you roll on just as if you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to? (Bonus points if you can fake your way through well enough to make it look like everyone else was wrong. I don’t think I accomplished that, yesterday, but I didn’t freeze, either.)
The dance improv bit was, of course, a blast, because I love improv.
The trapeze bit went pretty well despite the fact that apparently whatever demiurge manages music for trapeze auditions believes it’s great fun to mess with mine. I recovered from that and had to improvise a fair bit, but it turned out rather well. And, of course, I didn’t fall off the trapeze this time.
- Last year’s audition for “Orpheus” is still the one and only time I’ve fallen off a trapeze. It’s also my number-one go-to story to tell when, inevitably, groups of people start reminiscing about stupid moments in their lives. There’s something special about making what seemed, in the moment, a very logical decision to drop myself off a trapeze from ten feet in the air rather than risk breaking my arms. Dancers get it; circus people get it; athletes get it. That said, there are entire hosts of people who think I’m crazy, and they’re probably right—but I’d still do it again in a heartbeat.
Once again, at this audition, they’re not necessarily looking for a polished cirque-style act: they’re looking for expression, musicality, and the ability to command the audience’s attention (and also sound technical elements, obviously). The piece that I showed is one I’m slowly working on set to the Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears,” and it’s intentionally struggly, so it probably didn’t really hurt anything that I was, in fact, wrestling with my own choreography (much of which I didn’t apparently remember).
The acting part was flat-out awesome, and reminded me how much I actually really like acting, my anxiety about struggling to memorize scripts notwithstanding. Maybe what I really like is cold reading. Who knows? Anyway. I really liked the part they handed me, and ran with it.
Today’s audition was also lovely. Almost nobody showed up, so it was really just three of us mostly doing some improv stuff. I already know that our AD likes the way I improvise, so that was just pure fun. I showed the bits of my piece that I could, given my lack of a partner, and described the idea as a whole. Both our AD and the guy from U of L whose group we’re collaborating with liked it, so it looks like it’s a green light there.
My next audition is a couple of weeks away, and I’m happy to have a bit of a breather. The stretch from the past couple of gigs through now has been pretty intense.
Not that I’m complaining. The other night I was kvetching about some company-related annoyance and suddenly though something like, “Oh, hey. I’m complaining about work because that’s what we do. If it wasn’t a pain in the *** sometimes, it wouldn’t be work.”
And that actually felt, in its own way, rather lovely: like, this is my work, and it’s work that I love. And I think I’m becoming rather good at it. Maybe not world-beatingly good or anything but, you know, serviceable. Which has, to be honest, always been the goal. As a ballet boy I’m smallish and muscly and I bounce like a rubber ball, which puts me squarely in the demi-character camp, and I’m fine with that. Not everyone always has to be the prince (and, honestly, there are a lot of ballets in which the prince never gets to do anything cool outside of the pas de deux). As a circus artist, I’m reliable, adaptable, and versatile: not a specialist, but a generalist, and the kind of generalist who can pinch-hit almost anywhere.
I feel like that’s a good thing to be. I’m not here for glory: I’m here because I love to move; because I can’t not move.
And if sometimes that means I’m stressed out and hounded from pillar to post … well, that’s part of it. That and Auditioning for Poverty are pretty much hallmarks life as a dancer, or indeed as any kind of performing artist, or indeed possibly as any kind of artist.
You do the Work because the Work is what moves you … sometimes more literally than other times.
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.
We added a new segment tonight. It’s got a really cool bit of partnering-by-eyeball. Hard to explain it: my partner and I don’t touch here, so the connection is all in the eyes. It’s super cool when it works! (Which it did, beautifully, once the pieces were in place).
We have another boy, though he’s tentative about being in the Piece. He’s a ballroom dancer, though, so I think he’ll be fine. It’s very tango-influenced, and BG is really good at fitting his choreography to the strengths of his dancers.
In other news, I’ve now registered for a couple of auditions, and I’m looking into a third. The third is for a ballet SI, so it’ll depend on timing and cost. My schedule is about to go plaid through the middle of June, more or less, when I’ll catch my breath for a week or so before summer things really get started.
I’m really rather floored, now and then, by the knowledge that somewhere along the line I somehow became someone who dances professionally. I mean, that was always a goal, but honestly one that seemed distant and possibly unattainable and maybe a little pie-in-the-sky.
And then, boom, I’m confronted with the evidence: people pay me actual money to dance; I audition for dance things more or less as a matter of course, more and more often without asking whether I’m really good enough to be thinking about it. I find myself having to consult my planner thingy to figure out whether I can commit to a dance thing because I might be committed to some other dance thing.
I simultaneously do and don’t understand how this all happened. This I grok: I had good early training; I continue to train with excellent teachers; I have devoted myself to the study of dance; I have been given a body that is suitable for the discipline. That it has all come together like this still seems strange and dreamlike (merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…).
Perhaps most importantly, though, I feel more and more capable as a dancer. There’s a kind of joy that I first tasted as a wee little kid that comes with trusting your body. When I dance, I feel whole and strong and capable for minutes at a time, but in a way that’s un-self conscious. To dance, sometimes, is to enter the stream of being a little more fully.
I feel perplexed and grateful about all this, which I suppose is as good a way as any to feel.
I dreamed that I had decided to do a tap number for my PlayThink piece, regardless of the fact that A) there’s not really a stage at the venue suitable for taps and B) I haven’t tapped since I was, like, ten.
But, much as in real life, I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a complete lack of appropriate facilities and the required skill set get in my way 😛
In fact, I’m doing no such thing. Rather, I’m choreographing a rather syncretic piece to Queen’s “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy.” Admittedly, that would make a sound platform for a tap dance, if I knew how to tap dance, but I don’t particularly and I don’t plan to spend the next five months doing Emergency Tap Class.
As it stands, “…Lover Boy” has a very Vaudeville feel that calls for jazz-infused choreography, which falls outside my comfort zone (which, basically, comprises “ballet and trapeze”), but not so far out that it feels unreasonable.
I had intended to use something a bit less up-tempo; something similar in tone to Trenet’s “La Mer”—but sometimes one’s Muse cracks one upside the head and says, “You’re gonna do this and you’re gonna like it.”
Muses can be jerks sometimes.
Anyway, after being assaulted by the Muse (which sounds, to be honest, like a title you’d find in the Romance section of the Kindle Unlimited catalog), I spent a little time last night putting together some ideas. I think it’s going to work, and I have until July to make it work. I have also imagined some ways to incorporate Denis that will be possible even though he won’t be able to really use his right arm yet, but we’ll see if I can talk him into it.
I’ve also got kind of a choreography workshop thingy coming up that should be cool. I don’t think I’m going to workshop this specific piece, though: rather, I’m going to see if I can find a partner for Barber’s “Adagio” or start working on either “Bolero,” one of the the pieces for Peace, or the opening piece for Dancers Watching Dance, which is (of course) the Four Little Swans.
I’m leaning away from DWD, though, because as much as I love the idea, it’s explicitly comedic ballet, and I feel like “…Lover Boy” is borderline-comedic and could stand to be balanced with work on a serious piece. “Bolero,” as a standalone piece, falls somewhere in the middle: Simon Crane is a reasonably serious ballet (which is to say that in the great tradition of ballet, we suspend our mirth at the idea of people madly in love with birds and vice-versa), but “Bolero” is very much a kind of production number that could be played for laughs.
It’s really interesting how quickly I click back into Ballet Boy mode. I’ve spend my break consumed by self-doubt, and several times thought about throwing Simon Crane out the window and never trying to choreograph a full-scale story ballet at all … and yet here I am, thinking very seriously about choreography again.
One last bit. I’m kicking around a plan for a wee choreography or improv retreat weekend some time this summer (or late spring). I’m basically the worst planner ever, so this is a terrible idea, but I really want to try to make it happen, and I think I have some good ideas. Having a camper that sleeps four in dedicated beds and up to seven if you convert all the things helps: we can snag a site with a picnic pavilion at a state park or whatevs and people don’t have to necessarily tent-camp. I think that if I start planning now, it might actually happen.
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.”
I thought I’d nailed down the score for Simon Crane, but once I gave it a listen it turned out that the first act was, erm.
It was very Satie.
Don’t take me wrong—I more or less love Eric Satie’s entire oeuvre. But as the score for a ballet, it turns out that “All Satie, All The Time” isn’t really all that effective.
During the last two days of this past week’s masterclass, I found myself wading hip-deep in frustration.
My extensions were good, my turns were clean—but I felt weirdly tense and stiff.
Not, like, inflexible physically, though. Rather, I felt like I kept tensing up. Thinking too much. Obsessing a bit.
In reality, I was having the good kind of bad ballet day: once again, interpolating and consolidating all the reams of new stuff I was learning.
Saturday class was a little better; today, after a groggy start, was all aces. Even my petit allegro looked (dare I say it) good.
The exception was turns: I tossed off a lovely triple in a mark, then got excited and threw myself off my leg (with the attendant hoppity-hop of shame) on the actual run. I made myself rein it back in and go for clean singles and doubles on the second side, then got a decent triple back on the repeat.
There was a lot of new intel this week, but the outcome has been a better, freer way of moving.
I’ve also found, once again, the lightness in my petit allegro. Who ever should predict that the quest for lightness could make for such heavy going!
In other news, after a listen-through revealed that the first act score for Simon Crane was, in fact, hella boring as a ballet score, I revamped it by replacing some of the Satie with Dvorak. Now it’s no longer 30 straight minutes of tinkly adagio.
Don’t get me wrong—Satie is one of my favorite composers—but it just wasn’t doing the job in this context.
So at present the score goes Satie-Dvorak-Ravel-Saint Saëns-Rachmaninoff-Satie. Technically, Debussy is also in the mix: I’m using his orchestral transcriptions of the first and third gymnopédies.
Thanks to the power of technology, I can listen through the whole thing, which I’ll be doing later today (attempts this far have been interrupted). If I find acceptable recordings of all the pieces on YouTube, I’ll make a playlist. I’d love to hear your thoughts, as assembling a score for a three-act story ballet from fine different dead guy’s catalogs has been a challenge!
Speaking of which: I discovered that the Saint-Saëns ‘cello concerto is, in fact, choreographable. You just have to think of reach movement as more than one scene. And the transition from Ravel’s “Bolero” into the Saint-Saëns is brill.
I’m debating an extra class tomorrow. I won’t be doing this week’s masterclass because omg car repairs are expensive, but I definitely need to stay tuned up for the upcoming ballet intensive.
On the other hand, I’m almost certainly taking an extra class on Friday, since JB is teaching and that will give me two classes in a row with him, so we’ll see.
Leading up to PlayThink this year, I was bulldozed by a swift and nasty bout of your bog-standard “depressolepsy”—that fierce, crushing, exhausting depression that rocks up out of nowhere and smashes everything in its path. Thanks, Rapid Cycling Type I Bipolar, or whatever the hell is going on with my brain.
That’s been the case the past three years running, so I think it has to do with timing: the time of year; the timing of the onset of Summer Intensives and my inability to figure out how much GoGoGo I can take before I need to take my brain out and put it on ice for a couple of days; the timing of the stressful bit of my non-dance job; the timing of always effectively losing my husband to The Great Wave of Planning that precedes his standing summer plans (PlayThink and the Big Burn) just when I most need someone to help me stay afloat.
- This bit isn’t really his fault, btw. It’s more that I have a hard time broaching the divide between myself and other people, including D, when I’m struggling, and it gets even harder when he seems preoccupied. It’s something we both need to work on, together, and we’re doing it, but it takes time.
None of this was improved by my lack of security about our performance piece for the Friday-night “FlowCase,” which we hadn’t rehearsed anywhere near enough.
D offered time and again to cancel, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be better to get out there and do the show than to back out. This is, for all its friendly down-home atmosphere, a professional gig—and the first rule in the performing arts is and always will be: “The Show Must Go On.”
- Corollary: if your name is printed on the official marketing materials, you’re part of the show.
- I consistently misspell this word, even though if I stop and think about it for a sec I actually do know how to spell it. Seriously, self: “Corolarry?” Really? Is that, like the cousin of Corojessica, or…? SMH.
Basically, getting out there and screwing up sometimes is part of the business—even Nureyev fell flat on his arse from time to time—but you don’t want to get a reputation for backing out of your commitments.
So I gritted my teeth and accepted that we might totally bomb; that the whole thing might go right off the rails. That life is, after all, pretty much an exercise in walking a tightrope in a maelstrom, for all our delusions of control. That the even inclusion of a twirling beach umbrella and faux 20s-era men’s swimwear might not pull my carefully-crafted little acro-clowning-ballet back from the edge of disaster.
- I had thought of also including fake moustaches, but forgot about them, so even they could not have saved us if things went south.
So we wrestled our way through a couple more hours of rehearsal rendered incredibly awkward by the lack of so much as a single properly-flat spot in which to rehearse, which in turn made the apex of the whole number—the candlestick-to-diver transition that we basically invented for this show—literally impossible.
And then we went on.
And you know that thing that happens when you get on stage and the whole world falls away and suddenly you’re ON and even if you literally put a foot wrong, you can’t put a foot wrong?
So, that happened.
Our performance wasn’t perfect in the literal sense. Because we hadn’t been able to nail the diver transition, we left it out (though we didn’t actually program in something else, just in case it magically came off: I simply sort of rolled out to the side, pulling D up with me).
We had already scuttled the bluebird lift at the end because we need more practice with it before we put it in a show. Right now, its hit rate at home is only about 25%; the rest of the time, I wind up hitting it for about .5 seconds while D struggles to figure out the balance point, then we fall out of it and I yell at him and then apologize for yelling at him.
And, yet, in another way, our performance was a million times better than I could have imagined.
D lit up in a way I’ve never seen him light up on stage (evidently, all you have to do is give him a beach umbrella and let him twirl it).
- I actually rather suspected this would be the case, which is why he got to twirl the beach umbrella (okay, so also it fit his character better than it fit mine). D has a lot of natural clown in him. I formulated this thing to play to that strength, and I think it paid off. Choregraphy Rule Number One: when you’re creating a piece on a group of dancers, create it on the dancers you have.
The piece filled up the music exactly (I was incredibly worried that we’d get ahead, finish early, and have to stand there grinning like eejits for 30 seconds or what have you).
Perhaps most importantly, the audience rippled with genuine laughter at all the right moments. It wasn’t that weird, “Uh … is this supposed to be funny?” laughter that we all secretly dread. All the jokes (physical jokes, not verbal ones) hit the mark.
When it was over, they cheered. Lustily. Thrillingly. Authentically. It was awesome.
Here’s a shot by the talented Jesse Miller, who photographed a lot of the festival.
So, score one for team Dawson/Taylor-Dawson. Not bad at all for a pretty complex bit of physical theater that had a sum total of maybe four or five hours of real rehearsal time and literally no full run-through with music.
Throughout the rest of the festival, we constantly heard how much people had loved the piece.
A few even commented on exactly the thing I’d hoped to bring to the table: the fact that the piece had characters and a storyline, which isn’t something I’ve seen in FlowCase in previous years. Our good friend reported that she was so proud she found herself tearing up. Someone even commented that my ballet (all three-ish steps that actually made it into the final piece!) was beautiful.
Needless to say, the success of the piece and the instantaneous lifting of the pressure of it off of our collective shoulders helped immensely. So did being done, and thus able to go retire to the camper and just read (I did stay for most of the rest of the show, though, until the mosquitoes emerged and began eating me alive).
I also discovered a technique that really helps D and me: right before we went on, we simply talked our way through the piece, back and forth, each of us simply stating the short-hand name for our moves.
- Except for the ballet part: since I do that by myself, and I sometimes find it quicker not to actually attempt to get the language bit of my brain firing, I just visualized and went, “Balletballetballet, maybe some other ballet” there.
We each went on feeling like the other knew not just the skills required, but the sequence in which they needed to be called up, and it let us both relax. Handy!
Anyway, there’s video of the whole FlowCase, but it won’t be ready for a couple of weeks. I’ll watch it, even though I’m not sure I want to (the performance felt really good, but when I watch video, I tend to get hung up in my flaws).
This week, I’m taking two days off to get things back to normal as much as I can before diving back into class and so forth. I am vaguely regretting not signing up for our AD’s master class, because I know a couple of people who are taking it and it sounds cool, but I also recognize that I need a breather.
I need a couple of days to just do day-to-day life stuff. Mentally speaking, I already feel like the summer is more or less over: I’m away for two weeks of July on dance intensives (LexBallet and Pilobolus), then possibly again for much of August and the first week of September (depending on a handful of circumstances) for Burning Man. Because I struggle with time, the idea of those giant pre-planned blocks makes it hard to understand that the rest of the summer, the windows between those bricks, exists.
Inevitably, when I take a couple of days off, there’s a part of my brain that remembers how nice it is to have the whole day to do the things that need doing (or, if possible, to do nothing, or do only things that don’t need doing). Occasionally, a very quiet voice in the back of my head whispers, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do this than to pursue your insane visions?”
I remind it, of course, that “it makes more sense” hasn’t really worked out for us in the past—that I’m not actually great at predicting what makes sense; that (perhaps more importantly) the pursuit of impractical dreams, Quixotic though it may appear, keeps the wind in my sails.
Someday, I’m sure, it probably will make sense to ease off the accelerator a bit; to drop out of the big ring. Right now, though, I’m riding to ride the hills; I’m dancing to feel the sensation of soaring at the top of the grand assemblé porté.
And, yet, I think it’s good for me, having a life in which something as powerfully thrilling as Friday night’s performance is followed by something as entirely mundane as getting out in the backyard to chop up the branches that are still waiting there for me.
To misapply Jack Kornfield’s magnificent summary of Zen practice: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”
So there we are. Back to class tomorrow, though I am sure I’ll sorely (ha!) regret jumping back in with Killer Class instead of something gentler.