Category Archives: choreography

Halfway Decent

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[1]).

  1. 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 royaleit 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!!![2])
fourth arabesque à terre
sus-sous pivot
plié
[something else might have been here?]
coupé-chassé-rond de jambe (en relevé)
chassé (backwards)
tombé-“pas de bouchassé”-brush-grand assemblé
pique third arabesque
chassé
tour jeté
chassé
tour jeté
some other kind of chassé-developpé sequence
repeat on other side

  1. 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[3].

  1. …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?[4]”

  1. 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[5] of Beethoven’s “Waldstein,” which I suspect might be as fun to choreograph as it is to listen to and to play[6, 7].

  1. Which is in fact probably shorthand for having, at some point, decided that it would be fun to choreograph the whole thing.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Why I Love JB Right Now

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
  • bath
  • 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.”

 

Settling the Score, Redux

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.

Well.

Ah.

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.

Read the rest of this entry

Bad Days, Good Days

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.

A Relative Dose Of Success Followed By, You Know, Life

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[1].

  1. 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.”

  1. Corollary[3]: if your name is printed on the official marketing materials, you’re part of the show.
  2. 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[3].

  1. 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[4]).

  1. 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.

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[5].

  1. 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.

Settling the Score

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[1]. 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.

  1. 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.

A Few More Thoughts On Choreography; More Good(ish) Classes

D and I are now rehearsing our #Playthink piece.

It’s actually going much better than I expected it to.

As one does, I’ve re-written essentially the entire piece now that I’m setting it on actual people and not just on myself prancing about in the studio and waving my arms to vaguely represent the acro moves.

Initially, I had one vision in mind. Because I was futzing around with it by myself, it involved a lot of ballet.

Now, of course, that has changed. I mean, there’s still ballet: there’s always going to be ballet because, hello, it’s me. That’s kind of what I do, apparently.

But choreography has a way of getting away from you. You begin with one vision, and as you actually create a dance and actually set it on actual people, it transforms.

I suppose that this is because, in a way, a dance is sort of a living thing. It’s a little like having a child (though, of course, on a very different scale) or maybe an elaborate pet. You might think, of a horse, “I’m going to train this horse to be the best cow pony ever,” but the horse might actually not be any good at being a cow pony. It might turn out to be a dressage beastie or something else[1].

  1. My philosophy on training horses was very much shaped both by my childhood trainer and also by the trainer of my friend’s lovely Arabian gelding, which began life as what the Arabian show world in the US calls a “park horse,” morphed into what the Arabian show word in the US calls an “English pleasure” horse, did a brief stint in Arabian-show-world western pleasure, and then eventually found his calling as an endurance racer. Basically, the lady who was responsible for training the horse felt that you needed to figure out which discipline suited the horse, and then train it to be as good as it could possibly be at that discipline. I think that’s a good way to do it.

Anyway. I digress.

So this dance is now almost a steady stream of rather-balletic acro and physical theater, and I’m okay with that. One of my goals was to build a dance that tells a story, and in this case, the story is kind of funny and implausible, and acro and physical theater are good ways to tell it.

I’m not going to try to force this dance to be something it isn’t. I have an entire lifetime in which to craft ballet pieces on ballet dancers (I keep joking that I have this entire three-act ballet in my head, now I just need about fifty dancers and a million dollars or so to get it off the ground … but, really, I do have an entire three-act ballet in my head, and it’s taking up a lot of space!). Right now, I’m working with one ballet dancer (me!) and one Denis, and that presents its own set of challenges and limitations.

Honestly, in creative work, it’s so often the limitations that free us to innovate (just as necessity—or, just as often, laziness—gives birth to invention).

The neat part is that this has led us to inadvertently create a new acro move. I mean, probably someone, somewhere has done it before, but I’ve never seen it. It happens to be one that requires that the flyer have a legit center oversplit (among other things), so probably there are a lot of people who can’t do it. Bony impingement is real, it’s just not something that I experience.

Anyway, the sequence involves moving from this:

stag

Kind of, erm, scorpion? thing…

…to this:

stag-x2

Double stag…

…to this:

superman

Superman? Deep sea dive? Front balance? Limbs bird?

…via returning to a standard vertical candlestick, then opening to a straddle and rolling down onto the base’s feet, and then rotating your legs back and around into the position above (the arms also have to do a thing, obviously).

The same basic end could be approached by moving from the vertical candlestick into a pike candlestick and lowering both legs down that way, but I don’t think it would look anywhere near as cool.

Annoyingly, when I snagged these screenshots, I completely failed to get one of the straddle transition. At the time, I think I was like, “A still photo of this isn’t going to impart any useful information.”

Anyway, you really have to have a perfectly flat straddle for this particular sequence so you don’t just rip your legs off, because your hips take a lot of your weight in the middle of the transition. Basically, if lying face down in a center split feels stretchy, this isn’t the sequence for you.

You also kind of need really good turnout in order to do the rotation bit.

The fact that D literally cannot straighten his legs in an L-base also means that I kind of drop myself onto his feet. Eventually, I’ll reach a point at which I can do a complete smooth rolldown whilst upside-down in a full center split, which will make things a little easier, but right now there’s a gap between the end of my smooth rolldown and the end of Denis’ range of motion (because my core strength is still only pretty good, and not completely awesome).

I wanted to use a sort of grand rond de jambe as an exit, but that also takes more adductor power than D has right now. If I bring my downstage leg to second, then rond it over, the force makes his right leg (which supports my left hip) shift, and I fall off 😀

We’ll get it eventually, but not in the next two weeks.

So there’s that.

Anyway, classes were good-ish yesterday and today.

Yesterday’s, in fact, was fairly lovely. Today’s was our first Advanced Class with JAB (OMG, his initials are seriously JAB!!! XD), who really does actually give an advanced Advanced Class.

On the upside, I’m finally (FINALLLLLYYYYYY) jumping again for real: grand allegro and everything. Cabrioles with turny bits, even (though I think I kept turning them into some kind of cabriole-scissor hybrid and landing on the wrong leg).

On the other hand, possibly because I went to a party last night and didn’t get to sleep ’til almost 4 AM (and then had to wake up and eat a sandwich, which was surreal because I was still pretty tipsy and more than half asleep), my brain was for the birds today.

I struggled because there were gaps in my recall of Every. Single. Combination. once we left the barre. The bits that came off, though, mostly went pretty well (except for a weird disaster in adagio during which I basically fell off my leg and then couldn’t get back on because gravity is the worst thing sometimes).

I also hit up a new class at Suspend, which is basically floorwork for acro.

You already know how much I love floorwork, soooooo…

Anyway, we got to break out our improv for the last 10 minutes of class, which resulting in some video that’s party really cool and partly like WHY DO YOU KEEP NOT COMPLETING THE MOVEMENTS WITH YOUR ARMS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.

But, anyway, here are a few nice shots from this morning’s video, just because I like them:

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Also, I feel like in the arch picture, my butt looks like a couple of angry badgers having a fight. Muscular angry badgers, though.

The tape, by the way, is just there because a tree stabbed me in the foot yesterday :/

Anyway, I was being annoyed with myself for not making the effort to do quadruple turns today, and then realized that I’ve somehow, like, sideswiped my ballet goals without realizing it. Like, basically, I’ve made a significant dent in them and didn’t even notice.

Basically, one of my major goals for this year was to nail down reliable triples and unreliable quadruples, basically. And, bizarrely, I have achieved that goal. I had this weird epiphany on the way home from class yesterday: I realized that, like, a year ago or so, even doing one little triple turn more or less by accident was the most amazing thing ever.

And now I’m like, “Meh, triples, yawn,” when I don’t try for quads.

So, basically, I need to pause and appreciate how much progress I have made.

For what it’s worth, I’ve also got turns in second sorted. They’re not always beautiful (or, let’s be honest, even pretty), but I can always do them. Just not always sixteen of them.

So, yeah. There you go. I feel like I’m “back,” more or less, right now.

Of course, Choose Your Own Intensive begins Monday, soooo… . .  .

The Fundamental Weirdness of Performing Your Own Work

In my head, I don’t necessarily choreograph for myself, but in reality, I often choreograph on myself.

As an artist, you kind of tend to work with the materials at hand—and as a dancer, the materials at hand are, more often than not, you.

Even if you have access to an entire dance company, they eventually get hungry and tired and cranky and want to go home: so, at the end of the day, at least 33% of the time (assuming the normal “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what you will,” which is admittedly a really bold assumption, given that apparently even semi-professional dancers have completely insane schedules) it’s just you(1,2).

  1. And your kitchen, or possibly your living room, or maybe (if you’re lucky) the spare bedroom in which you’ve opted for an inflatable bed over a regular guest bed so you’ll have room to dance. As LF said once, “I suspect that my dances are basically always shaped more or less like my living room.”
  2. Possibly also your cat. Cats love to help with things like yoga and modern dance, especially if there’s floorwork. They’re generally more ambivalent about ballet. Thus, if you’re a Crazy Cat Person, I highly recommend choosing ballet as your choreographic discipline. Extra points if you actually succeed in training your cats to dance the corps parts. Mine only does floorwork. His primary and secondary curves, though? Legit.

Likewise, when you put your work out there as someone who’s just starting out in choreography, chances are good that you’re also going to find yourself performing it.

As it turns out, that’s surprisingly weird.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my greatest asset as a performer: that wild (if momentary) overconfidence that makes me unafraid to get up in front of an audience and make a complete ass out of myself dance like nobody’s watching. To be honest, that same wild overconfidence is one of my greatest assets, period: I have no fear of public speaking, for example, and I come off pretty well in job interviews as long as I’m prepared(2).

  1. The same can’t be said for ordinary conversations: they always veer off into unexpected territory, which makes it bleeding hard to study for them. If everyone would just stop going off script all the time, I’d be fine.

This weekend I discovered that my Magical Wild Overconfidence does not extend to performing my own choreography.

The nice part about being the choreographer is that when performance time rolls around, you can always just shut your eyes or spend the whole performance locked in a stall in the restroom, then slap yourself across the face a couple of times and come out looking fresh and rosy if and when you’re called upon to take a bow.

If you’re both the choreographer and one of the dancers, however, you lose that luxury. You have to go out there and do the thing, even if at the last minute you realize that the thing in question is terrible and that you’ve done something completely stupid with that entire passage from 01:34 – 2:39 (MORE THAN A MINUTE OF ABJECT STUPIDITY!!! OH G-D)(4).

  1. Don’t worry. This is not, in fact, an actual example from my own life. There are a couple of moments in which I wish I’d made different decisions because our rehearsal floor and our performance space were shaped just differently enough to turn circles into narrow lozenges, which sometimes made things weird momentarily, but nothing was that bad for that long.

Anyway, it seems that, when I’m performing my own choreography, I worry no more than usual about how well I’ll dance. The trajectory of my ability as a dancer seems to be pretty steadily upward, and I know what kind of mistakes I tend to make and how to counteract them (and that I do so with increasing success every time I learn a new piece).

Instead, impostor syndrome rears its ugly head and reminds me that, as a choreographer, I have no idea what I’m doing. And no qualifications. Like, none whatsoever(5).

  1. Except, you know, a lifetime of watching dance, something like ten years of actually dancing, and the fact that someone who has seen my choreographic ideas invited me to choreograph this piece. But, honestly, that doesn’t feel like much.

So, basically, part of me is like, “Here’s this idea, I hope you guys like it, please don’t throw rotten tomatoes if it’s terrible because I really can’t afford the cleaning bill.”

None of this was, in any way, ameliorated by the fact that I invited BW and his boyfriend to come and see my choreographic debut, heh. I also conveniently managed to acquire a nasty cold of some sort that cropped up around Thursday and was at its worst on Sunday morning, which didn’t help me feel any more secure.

As such, I was in fact hella nervous on Saturday evening: but we got through it and nobody died, and in truth I think it went pretty well.

Anyway, the “official” video’s up, and I got to see it today. It’s not public yet, as not everyone has chimed in with permission to make it so, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

It looks better than it felt, which is comforting. I felt like I was way ahead and screwing everything up the whole time. In fact, in the video, I’m mostly on point timing-wise (including the little bits that fall into a brief canon), not as awkward as I felt by half, and only the off-kilter extension a la seconde early on looks particularly meh. That was the cold’s doing, as it affected my balance.

There are a couple of moments in which I clearly didn’t think about what to do with my arms during a transition. If I get a chance to stage this dance again, I’ll program something in to fix that.

This is one of the challenges in working in a stream of dance other than ballet: you have to think about all that stuff. In ballet—particularly classical ballet—what you do with your arms is largely a foregone conclusion. The technique offers only so many options, and “forget to use your arms entirely” is essentially never one of them.

There are also some spaces that feel kind of blank: like, the action in this dance happens in flurries, and I don’t know that I’ve joined those flurries together terribly well. Those are things I’ll revisit somewhere down the line.

In the end, nobody died, and my piece was rather delightfully well-received. As a first effort, I’m pretty happy with it. The human origami bits (which, sadly, didn’t work as smoothly on the mats as they did on the dance floor) are my favorite parts, and I suspect that sort of thing will appear in my future efforts.

I don’t know if performing my own choreography will get any less weird as time goes by. I guess I’ll find out!

I feel like it might be less weird if the piece in question was strictly a ballet piece, because I feel more at home in the medium of ballet.

Obviously, all my thoughts on this aren’t terribly well organized.

I am, at least, getting over the cold now, which is good (although at yesterday’s rehearsal, our script-writer described my voice as “Totally Metal!” which was kind of awesome in its own way :D).

…And, of course, I’m already thinking about the Next Big Thing—which, in this case, Orpheus (not my choreography, but I’m dancing all the things), followed by PlayThink, where I’m performing a ballet-and-acro piece with Denis. Can’t wait!

~

Tiny update: just looked at a video of the second dance we’ve learned for Orpheus, and holy cow, it looks really amazing already! Can’t share that one because Orpheus is still in rehearsals, but I’m stoked.

Too Tired to Write an Entire Post

… So please enjoy this screenshot of a screenshot of “Fade to White.” 😉

More soon! 

Today I Learned… 

…The Apollo jump (which I had seen, but as far as know had never done) and the last remaining piece of our dance, which is mine alone and involves a turn in second and said Apollo jump.

That’s about all of it: we finish the Noodle Experiment, I back away from the girls and throw in a turn in second, then I pause for a second and when everyone else is essentially running upstage, I do the Apollo jump downstage, land it, collect myself, and run a few more steps to my place for the end of the dance. 

We might change up the first partnering bit, though we might not. We’ll see. I like the change that T and BG worked out, but it’ll be a question of whether the remaining two girls from that group are okay with it.

I’m fine either way. They’re worried about kicking me. 

I mentioned that if they kick me, it’s probably my fault. That’s kind of how partnering works for boys:

  • If the girl kicks you, it’s your fault. 
  • If you kick the girl, it’s your fault. 
  • If the girl smacks you in the face, it’s your fault. 
  • If you smack yourself in the face with the girl, it’s still your fault. 
  • If you drop the girl, it is Definitely Your Fault (and you will never live it down). 

FWIW, yes, this is intended to be funny but it’s also largely true. If you’re dancing the (traditionally) male role, part of your job is being in the right place at the right time and accounting for glitches, because the person dancing the other part has enough to worry about already. You adjust. 

And if she stops dancing, turns around, and punches you squarely in the nose? 

That is also Definitely Your Fault, unless it’s Because Ancient Aliens. 

~

PS: I was wrestling with keeping my waterfowls in a linear array in the turn from second because ATTAAAAAAAACK!, and BG was like, “Keep your chest up and think of it like … a hammer throw, only your foot is the hammer.”

Bizarrely, this worked really hecking well. 

Important note is that you still have to keep the working leg hella engaged, especially if you have sick mobility in your hips. If you think of a track & field person winding up for a hammer throw, though, they stay really tight basically the whole time. 

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