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!!!
One of the things that I really, really appreciate about my amazing array of ballet teachers is that all of them have, in one way or another, taken it upon themselves to mentor the living daylights out of me.
At my birthday party, whilst being predictably extra for the camera (because I am the world’s biggest ham), I did one of those dive-to-the-knee moves that dudes do all the time in ballet, like this thing:
…only more dynamic, of course.
There are several of these in the choreography for this year’s Showcase piece (though I’m actually on the opposite line, open to the audience instead of closed).
BG said something like, ‘That reminds me! Be bolder about going to the knee.” And then we had a chat about that, and about why.
At one point, he said to me:
“No matter who you are in your daily life, on stage and in the studio, you should be the man every woman wants and every man wants to be.”
We went on to talk about what that means: about the genteel, elegant, graceful masculinity that remains a staple of the art of classical ballet, and how to embody it.
This was not, by the way, in any way intended to disparage my own particular way of being an androgynous kind of boy the rest of the time, or even the role of that kind of ambiguity in other sectors of dance. It was, rather, a question of the ideals of the classical form.
The example we talked about was actually L’Ancien, who is a lovely, very slender man, deeply genteel—but classical ballet is packed with examples. David Hallberg, who manages for all his lithesome beauty to perfectly embody every fairytale prince in the history of fairytales; Mikhail Baryshnikov, who is tiny and not, at first glance, what one typically imagines when one imagines Prince Charming, but who does the same; Rudolf Nureyev, a prince among princes for the whole of his career regardless of his late start, his fiery temperament, and reputation for obstreperousness…
- Like, he’s 5’6″. He’s smaller than I am, and I’m not tall. I kinda vaguely want a t-shirt that says, “Taller Than Baryshnikov” ;D … in case you’re wondering, it’s a quote from a conversation I had with one of my ballet girls ages back. I almost made it the tagline for this blog, but figured it was a bit too obtuse for that.
Anyway, the classical ideal of the danseur entails strength collected under the hand of gentility, fire cooled by courtesy, and boldness tempered by grace. It acknowledges raw, animal power—that’s what gets your grand allegro off the ground—but yokes it with beauty. It couples force with tenderness.
Regardless of one’s gender identity, that seems like a pretty good ideal.
At the end of the day, while you show off your strength in moments of bravura, you must also know how to use it in the service of your partner. Without the latter, the former won’t get you very far. And if you’re a dick, nobody wants to partner you, no matter how good you are.
- This directly informs my answer to the question, “Should boys be exempted from dress code requirements in ballet schools?” My answer is an unambiguous NO. If the girls are required to adhere to a dresscode, the boys should do them the courtesy of doing so as well (if nobody has a dresscode, then this is entirely irrelevant). This may be the very first lesson any danseur learns in the art of courtesy: yeah, you’re special because you’re a boy in ballet, but part of what you should do as a boy in ballet—an essential part of the job—is to treat every girl in ballet like she’s the specialest girl on earth. Besides: without every girl who loves the ballet, whether from the stage or from the audience, ballet would die a pretty swift death. The first lesson every danseur should learn is respect.
In an article that I wrote for an academic anthology, I observed that ballet has shown me the kind of man I want to be and is teaching me how to be that man. I said the same to BG the other night. He smiled: that smile that says, Cool, you get it.
One of the things I like immensely about BG, by the way, is that he lives that ideal. He may be his own kind of Extra; he may be a little crazy—but he approaches the world with strength, magnanimity, and grace. He believes in justice and stands up for it without resorting to coarseness or mudslinging. He’s the kind of person who takes the time to ask how you’re doing when you look a little off. Also, he stands up straight (that’s him in the green shirt in the photo above, by the way: you can pick him out pretty easily, since he’s the only other guy :D). He’s definitely on the list of people I’m glad to have in my corner.
All of this reminds me of an exchange I had with K while working on a partnering bit: after we ran it once, she said, “Give me more strength.”
I realized I’d been too soft—a little timid, actually. Not that I was afraid of her: rather, I was afraid of shoving her over or something. The next time I engaged a little more, and the whole thing went better on each subsequent run (except for the time that I came in at a weird angle and offered her the wrong hand: she managed anyway, incompetent partner or no).
On one hand (HA!) I love partnering; on the other hand (HA SQUARED!) it scares the hell out of me a little, because RESPONSIBILITY OMG. But, like, that’s part of The Thing.
In other words, part of being a danseur is understanding that you both literally and metaphorically hold others up.
There’s also knowing when to hold yourself together and when to let go. In that vein, I’m taking a rest day today. The next day off in my calendar is a week from Friday, and while I love Monday night class, I have a long show and two auditions this coming weekend in addition to the usual array of classes, so a day off seemed like a good idea. I’ll probably take class Friday morning to make up the gap.
Which reminds me of the other bit of mentoring BG did the other night. On our second drink, he explained an important rite of passage for professional dancers: taking class with a hangover. Also the universally-understood hand gesture that says, “I’m gonna keep it at a simmer to save the marley.”
Fortunately, I really don’t get hangovers, so while I wasn’t at my very best in class on Sunday morning since I was running on 5 hours of sleep, I at least didn’t find myself praying to Bilious all through class.
Just a couple of wee thoughts. We’re working so much and dancing so much and talking so much and just living together so much that I’ve been spending my alone time just reading and breathing.
Anyway, this intensive has been amazing for so many reasons, not least because it has put me in touch with feelings I haven’t really addressed in a long time.
First, it has forced me to very directly face my difficulty approaching people. Every day this week, we’ve spent the morning doing exercises with one partner or set of partners, then repeating or iterating them with another, then another.
I hadn’t realized how much it still freaks me out to choose partners. Yesterday I got seriously rattled by it—but I actually mentioned it to the person who chose me, and they helped me through that moment. It was amazing.
I realize I’ve been feeling like, “This person or that person probably doesn’t want to work with me,” which isn’t fair either to them or to myself. That’s their call. I shouldn’t try to make it for them.
Second, I’ve realized that one of the things I love so much in dance, and especially in this kind of dance, is the giving and receiving of touch in an atmosphere of deep trust.
To do the work we’re doing here, you need to touch your partners and you need to trust them. Somehow, the process we’re working with creates an atmosphere of immense trust. We are all safe here in each-other’s arms (or feet, or whatever).
I came to this understanding by a circuitous back route. There’s one guy here who I kept desperately wanting to work with—to dance with. I wanted to feel his arms around me and his body against mine, but in a way that wasn’t about sex .
- Or, well, mostly wasn’t.
I kept trying to figure out why (leaving out the fact that he’s beautiful in a very unique way) and finally I realized that it’s the way he partners: he’s solid and steady, and when he holds anyone—anyone—in his arms, you can feel the power and the tenderness of that connection from across the room.
I’ve worked with him a couple of times now. In one piece, I caught him and sank to the ground holding him in my arms (in that particular dance, he had just died).
It was an incredibly powerful moment. I’m not sure how to explain it, except to say that in that moment he trusted me with his body, and that trust felt like a sacred thing.
But also it just felt so damned good: just a human body touching my human body, which is so strangely important, without any need to be afraid or guarded or aggressive.
Rather the opposite: the dance involved me catching his wrist as he took a slow backwards fall, pulling him into my arms and collapsing to the ground with him. I couldn’t be afraid or guarded or aggressive; I had to be fast and strong, but soft. I had to get both of us to the floor without anybody getting hurt.
I don’t know how to explain how that feels, but it’s pretty incomparable.
Today there was a dance in which a girl trusted me to catch her mid-flight, redirect her momentum, and throw her halfway across the room; in which I trusted her to pull me straight to the ground out of an arabesque as I pulled her to her feet. That felt incredible. There aren’t many places where you get to feel that kind of thing.
Anyway, that’s it for now. The creative process here never ceases to amaze me. Groups of dancers who had, for the most part, never met a few days back are, each afternoon, creating dances I’d happily pay to see, working in groups as small as two and as large as six, with only minimum input from our teachers.
That, too, is an amazing thing.
…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.
…That a straight hour of partnering work can be pretty heavy on the arms even if there isn’t a single lift.
Especially 4-on-1 partnering, when you’re the 1.
Update: TI Also Learned that when I post at midnight, I don’t proof-read very well!
First, I didn’t make it to Killer Class this morning.
I’ve been wrestling a nastier-than-usual episode of insomnia, but I’ve been trying not to take sleeping pills because they can screw with my mood. Last night, I was exhausted but just plain couldn’t get to sleep, so I finally took a sleeping pill at 3 AM.
When I woke up at 9, I knew within seconds that neither driving nor riding a bike was a good idea. The sleeping pill I took hadn’t worn off enough. So I went back to sleep and did evening class instead, which was actually pretty nice. I made myself do everything on relevé that could be done on relevé, of course, as penance (and also because that’s what I would have done anyway).
I also applied the note that JMG gave me about balancé back on Sunday. For some reason, I’d fallen into the habit of doing this weird up, down, up movement instead of the canonical down, up, up. JMG pointed out that it’s not necessarily wrong (sometimes choreographers want stuff like that), but it’s an alternative approach. I also think it isn’t really as pretty (and it looks weird when everyone’s doing down, up, up and you’re the only one going up, down, up.
Anyway, my balancés looked nicer tonight than they have in a while.
On to rep. We got into the meat of my part tonight. The girls are divided into three groups by height. BG has nicknamed them “Fun Size,” “Sirens,” and “Amazons,” and in this section I’m partnering the Sirens, and they kind of turn into my posse.
I mean, like, a beautiful, balletic posse, of course. Not the kind with pitchforks and torches.
The choreography isn’t hard, but it’s lovely. I’m happy with that: we don’t have a whole lot of rehearsal time before we show this piece to the universe, so I’m glad that BG has put together a dance that we can do well in the time available, but which still looks like legit ballet.
After rehearsal, I told one of the Sirens that they were really looking good, and she said, “I’m glad we’re dancing with you!”
Apparently, she likes the way I dance. w00t! (It so happens that I like the way she dances, too. We make a good team, which is good, because we’re also both sweaty disaster areas and have totally bonded about that.)
I do feel like I’m getting it back for real. I keep laughing at myself, because I say this Every. Single. Class.
I mean, seriously. Class ends, and I’m like:”It’s not 100% yet, but I feel like it’s coming back!”
Anyway, today the turnouts were doing their job, the arms had their waterfowls in a linear array, and I didn’t fall out of my turns (though I did keep proactively spotting, AGAIN).
Likewise, my jumps are regaining their ballon. Especially the sautés Arabesque in the rep piece—they were light and high, and not as “Heil Hitler-y” as they’ve occasionally been in the past.
Which is good, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression, here 😐
I do have to better work out this one part where I dodge between the Sirens. The spacing can make it challenging—they’re all standing in 4th arabesque à terre as I sort of lightly and gracefully run through the line of them in such a way that I wind up at the head of the line facing them in 2nd arabesque à terre. Or, at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. We need to work on the blocking so there’s a little more room.
At this point, I’m really looking forward to learning the rest of the dance. I’m having no trouble at all remembering my part, which is good, because I can’t exactly follow anyone.
Anyway, I’m pretty tired, so I’m going to call it a night.
Our friendly neighborhood photog, Kevin, has created a 2017 calendar of images from performances and workshops at Suspend and, by happy coincidence, Denis and I are collectively Mr. February (I’m a February baby).
The image he used is one of my all-time favorites, captured during our dress rehearsal/tech run of “Duelo Trapecio.”
In a lot of ways, this image speaks to the best gift that Denis has given me: specifically, a stable foundation from which to fly.
Literally, in this picture, I’ve just mounted the trapeze from a candlestick:
…and I’m lifting my body out of Denis’ hands so he can roll to the side and I can beat up to a pike balance. (Technically, in this choreography, that’s all one move for me: I use the muscles of my back to pull up into an arc, release my back à la Martha Graham at the top, then allow momentum to carry me around the bar and the act of straightening my legs to pull me into the pike balance.)
As these things go, it’s a fairly basic acro-to-trapeze transition, but it’s not without risk.
In this sequence, timing is crucial — if he releases before my knees catch the bar, I have a split-second to react so I don’t pile-drive into his face and potentially break my own neck. If I enter the swinging phase of my beat too soon, I’ll whack him in the head with my hands or head at high velocity.
Likewise, if (as happened in the night of our first performance!) something goes wrong(1) and the trapeze isn’t where it should be, it’s up to me to gracefully exit the candlestick without making both of us look like idiots (hello, walk-over), and up to him to proceed smoothly with his portion of the choreography.
- What happened, in practice, was that D somehow got blinded by the stage lights during his transition from the previous sequence (in which I cartwheel and he catches my legs) and whacked his head on the trapeze! It’s on a rotating point, so it turned 90 degrees and wasn’t there when I reached the apex of the candlestick. Thank G-d for the billion years of training and preparation that made me steam right on through with a walk-over followed by a straddle mount.
Metaphorically, he has grounded himself so I can reach my goal (the trapeze) and soar. He has lifted me up without hanging on. I have trusted him to support me, and he has trusted me to take care of myself and of him.
As a model for relationships, there’s much to be said in favor of partnering. Each party must do his or her share of the work, each party is accountable to the other, and when both parties do what they need to do, the result is a beautiful harmony of movement; poetry in motion indeed.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, the dancers or aerialists in a good partnering relationship are able to respond accordingly — and while nothing can prevent all harmful outcomes, the care and attention that go into this kind of work allow for damage control through rapid-fire adjustments (and the kind of trust that can think, “I get that you’re presently holding me up by my unmentionables so I won’t fall and break my neck so later we can laugh at this trainwreck instead of crying about it…”).
Perhaps most importantly, though, a good partnering relationship allows us to accomplish things we cannot do alone — like a pas-de-chat that floats two meters above the ground, or (as in our example above) mounting a dance trapeze from a handstand(2).
- In an unassisted handstand, this trap hits too high for that. I could manage an ankle hang, or I could maybe mount from a front handspring, but a regular handstand won’t get me to the position depicted.
A good relationship of any kind, really, allows us to accomplish things we couldn’t on our own.
I am able to pursue my dreams because I have a strong and stable partner helping to lift me up towards them. I hope that I am, at least to some degree, doing the same for D. But it’s not only romantic partners and spouses who can do those things — good friends, loving parents and siblings, and even our peers in the dance studio lift us towards our dreams.
Just as ballet partnering depends not on romantic attachment(3), but on consistency and trust, so with the relationships in our lives that allow us to fly.
- Not that I would deny a certain kind of romantic sensibility that can evolve even in the most most platonic of these relationships — but that’s a topic for another time.
I am, of course, planning on buying a copy of Kevin’s calendar for our house (and for my Mom and Mother-in-Law, as Christmas presents). It will help keep him in photographic equipment so he can continue to grow as an artist and to take amazing pictures of all of us that sometimes manage to say a great deal about important things.
So DanceTeam is going well (though I am still convinced that at any moment our dancers are going to realize that I have no idea what I’m doing and revolt/go rogue/possibly eat me).
Ballet and modern were less than awesome last week, but the Pilobolus workshop made up for a lot of that, especially the part when one of the instructors tracked me down afterwards and told me I was a beautiful mover with a lot of presence. Definitely one of those “I can die happy now” moments.
Likewise, today’s Open Fly, during which I started formally building a dance to Hozier’s “Work Song” that’s actually going to happen (Finally!), felt like a leap forward.
Including myself, I have four dancers lined up. Aerial A, who went to the Pilobolus workshop with me, is also in, as are my DanceTeam partner-in-crime and a fellow I know from acro (upon whose very high shoulders I have literally stood). We’ve got a tentative performance date early next year (the performance is a definite; it’s just the date that’s undecided). Aerial A happened along while I was working on choreography this afternoon and we stepped through the first 41 seconds of the dance — at least, as much as we could, since there’s some partnering stuff that requires our compatriots.
Aerial A likes what I’ve got, and I think it’s going to really work.
Needless to say, the explosion of dance stuff in my life is both exciting and a bit overwhelming. I’m still in that phase during which you just kind of white-knuckle it whilst you adjust to your new schedule. Hence less posting. I’m somehow managing to scrape paint off the trim in the midst of all this, also, because miracles evidently do occur.
This week, we’ve got a dance event on Monday evening (a sort of “live interview” with Wendy Whelan), then I think a “normal” schedule again — wait, no, DanceTeam performs on Friday!
Anyway, here’s hoping that in class this week I won’t do dumb things like choosing too shallow a line in a bidirectional combination and almost colliding with someone in the next group.
Intensive plans for next summer are also in the works. Aerial A and I are hoping to hit at least one of Pilobolus’ week-long workshops. In addition, I’ll probably go to Cinci and Lexington again. There’s a remote chance of doing Sun King if our finances are okay, but in the current economic climate it’s really hard to predict.
No worries there, though. If I don’t get to go til 2018, I’ll be even better prepared than I will next year.
There are also a few audition-y things on the radar, but let’s file those under, “To Know, To Will, To Dare, To Keep Silent.” At least for now.
So that’s where I am at the moment. Still percolating other choreo projects, especially Simon Crane — but one of them is finally taking off.