Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Watching How Ballet Sausage is Made

I can't remember if I mentioned this, but I'm in rehearsal for an Other Movement show at the moment.  It's the biggest show I've ever done in terms of venue and promotion....We were really productive last week, but now we've lost two days due to scheduling, and we're definitely behind.  I've been trying to soothe my anxiety by re-watching series / films focusing on how ballet productions are made!  Here is a list of some of the things I am watching as I try not to FREAK OUT.

1)  Agony and Ecstasy: A Year With English National Ballet (available on Youtube).  This is one of my favorite ballet documentary series ever.  It has three parts, each following a different production.  The first, and my favorite, follows Swan Lake.  It highlights the beginning of the partnership between Daria Klimentova, the oldest principal dancer in the company at that time, and Vadim Muntagirov, a new dancer with the company.  Daria is only supposed to be his practice partner until Polina Semionova arrives for opening night, but because of visa issues, she has to dance instead!  Derek Deane, the choreographer / stager, completely rakes her over the coals...and you will just have to watch to see how it turns out.  The second part shows Romeo and Juliet and various tensions between the dancers and management while budget issues loom.  The third part is about the Nutcracker staged by Wayne Eagling, who is the spacey artistic sort who loves to rework things really late (oh that poor shoe master who painted all of those boots only to find out they were switching to ballet slippers instead).  Seeing their production problems is actually making me feel better about ours!

2)  Ballet 422.  This recently went up on Netflix and I've watched it like four times already.  This documents Justin Peck's creation of a new ballet for NYCB.  It's very cinema vérité, without talking head interviews, and shows the sort of banal minutia that has to go on for a production to happen.  I especially love seeing how the dancers collaborate to make the choreography work for them.  This film is a very intimate and subtle portrait of Peck and his process, and its calming to see people do their work diligently, efficiently and without much drama.

3) Strictly Bolshoi (YouTube).  A record of Christopher Wheeldon making a new ballet for the Bolshoi.  One of the more interesting features of this film is that it shows the culture clashes that can occur in new collaborations.  It too reveals how many last minute changes there can be in making a show; Wheeldon changes his entire concept several weeks into rehearsal (poor prop department that made all those thrones that weren't used)!  There is also a very amusing principal dancer who is a total male diva.  And it's nice that they show the complete ballet at the end (I think it's all of it, or a very lengthy excerpt).

Have you seen these?  Do you have any more for me?

The creation process of our show is actually being documented by a filmmaker, so it'll be interesting (or horrible?) to see how we come across!

Earlier: Ballet Movies: Ranked & Reviewed

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quotable II

I complain to my ballet friend about how I can't do petit allegro.

He says, "Whatever.  I just think of ballet as an adult beginner as lessons in humility."


Monday, August 17, 2015


Why does class have to end with stuff I'm bad at?   Class one level up was great on Saturday until the end, when we did petit allegro and grand allegro jumps.  The teacher was like, we've been doing this for a few weeks so let's go faster and add more!  So it went even more dismally than usual.  Honestly, it was pretty discouraging to end on that note.

I'm off this week, so I decided to jump back on the horse and take class one level up this morning with my same teacher (I would have taken my regular level but there's no daytime class during the summer.)  I was nervous from the moment I looked around the room.  It seems the daytime ballet crowd is different from the after work and weekend crowd.  There was all this warmup rompers-sweater tights over leotards-leggy ballet perfection!

And appearances were not deceiving.  Teacher taught to the level of the students there, and I felt in over my head.   I couldn't focus, and my technique felt sloppy.  Although some things went better for me, I just kept seeing all the things I was doing wrong and how much better everyone else was.

So I did a cowardly thing and did not stay for center.

I've only done this once, when I was injured.  To be fair I do have 6 hours of Other Movement rehearsal coming up, and lots of other reasonable reasons...but the truth is, I couldn't stand the thought of doing things in groups while being watched.  And it wasn't even that I didn't want them to see me being bad.  I didn't want them to think that I thought I belonged there, that I was delusional....

I'm going to cry a little and console myself with pie now.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Turn Out Tune Up

FBT unfortunately has left New York, so now I am without a supplementary private ballet teacher.  I did fit in one last session with her on Wednesday before she left.  For this one, I asked to focus on turnout.  This private really made it clear that turn out is something you actively do, not something you just have.

We started out on the floor to really get my turnout muscles activated.  I've done floor barre before, and the big thing about it is that you can't cheat.  You can't use your feet against the floor or gravity to help you.  You can only use your muscles.  The killer exercise was legs extended towards the ceiling, turned out feet flexed, push to point, bringing both legs to a diamond, extending to straddle, flex, bend knees (like a second position plié but on your back), extending to straddle again, legs coming together.  We also did passé to retiré with legs in the air, and it was so difficult to maintain turnout on my "standing" leg without the ground!  I sickled slightly in my left foot which was weird...but I am having slight Achilles problems on that side.

Then we worked at the barre with resistance.  In first position with her holding a Theraband, FBT just had me go out to the side with the foot flexed and bring it back it.  I had to do like 15 on each side!  Then we did this from fifth, 8 closing front, 8 closing back on each side.  She emphasized that because I'm hyperextended, I have to pull up a lot every time I close to make space for my knees to fit.

The actual ballet barre felt "easy" compared to this, because I didn't have to work against a Theraband!  Pliés in every position with a balance.  In sous-sus, she said that I again was sinking too much into my hyperextension, which is why I couldn't fit my feet together.  Tendus with temps lie.  Tendus switching accent in and out.  There was some exercise with fondu and an arabesque balance on relevé, and I did well on the balances!  There was a combination that I think went: tendu front, plié lift the leg, straighten carry the leg side, 2 ronde de j'ambe en l'aire, one double ronde de jambe en l'aire, when extending the leg this last time come up onto relevé, close back and reverse.  We ending with grand battement and cloche en attitude to release the hips.

FBT, like my regular teacher, also wants me to push my extensions.  She took my leg so that my foot was next to my head in second and was like, you can be here.  It's so funny that they always phrase it like that, because obviously I'm not strong enough yet to be there.  I know I can pull my leg up there with my hand to stretch, but getting up there with muscles is a whole different story.  I was able to hold the position for a bit with no support, so we'll see!  I guess it's more that they want me to reach for it ...right now I just go for shoulder height, and I guess it won't go farther if I don't aim higher. But I don't want to have height without correct alignment, so I am always cautious.

We had a bit of an emotional goodbye chat afterwards.  She said that I've come so far from when she first started teaching me (a bit over a year ago).  She again brought up the picture from early days, when I couldn't do anything.  She also said that she thinks I should be taking higher level classes more often.  And, most touchingly, she said that I can call myself a dancer now.  A beginner dancer, but a dancer!

I will miss her lots.  She will be back briefly in October and I will try to get a private with her then, but I don't know when I will see her after that.

Also, I am still really sore!  It didn't help that I had a flexibility split private that morning!  Excited to take what I've learned to class today.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Social Anxiety (Just Kill Me Now)

I was pretty flustered during petite allegro in the class one level up this past weekend, and I accidentally didn't clear properly after my group went, just running off to the side instead of moving forward.  OOPS.  I still feel so anxious about it even though it was days ago now.  I know better than to clear that way, and I HATE violating social norms / etiquette.  Now I'm convinced everyone hates me and thinks I'm rude and terrible.  I even feel like anyone reading this probably hates me now because I suck at life so much.

Aside from wanting to crawl in a hole to die of embarrassment, ballet class has been pretty good since my last update.  Three classes have passed, so I have a lot of notes to set down here.  As always, this is probably a bit tedious, but it helps me a lot to look back on them later.

Friday class was great, in that this teacher always focuses a lot on technique and alignment.  I felt like it was exactly what I needed to get back into the swing of things.  I got some really good corrections.  As always, he was pretty much poking me in the butt the whole time to get me to pull up more.  Ugh, my abs are strong but my butt is weak, so it creates a disconnect.  Also apparently when I rise, he said I was rising without pulling up and then correcting this once I got to the top to balance, rather than using the lift to rise.  I've since been applying that correction and it really helps with balances.

Saturday was the day of my awful social disgrace, but at least other things didn't go so terribly.  The barre went rather well.  Even though it is faster and more complex, I feel like I know this teacher (my most regular) well enough that I understand her patterns and tendencies.  I was able to note down the barre exercises that felt more unfamiliar, so here it goes.

One was: plié tendu front, straighten and carry the leg to the side, plié tendu to the back, four ronde de jambes, passé, plié extend front, passé, plié arabesque back (I think?).  I don't remember this combination that well, because she came over to me to lift my working leg higher in the plié front extension so I missed half of it with the group.  She said, "At least that height.  You're young so we can push this."  (I don't think she knows how old I actually am, but people always love Gumby-ing my body around because I'm flexible.)

I had some problems with the frappé sequence for some reason.  Even though it wasn't anything weird or hard, I kept stumbling?  It was: frappé en croix, double frappé en croix, grand battement en croix, repeat on relevé (or flat).  I actually didn't do the second time on relevé because I wanted to get this cleaner.  I feel like I also sometimes get thrown with ronde de jambe en l'aire in a combination (in lower level we just do them alone).  In upper level, the teacher likes to do two pas de cheval front side and back, and then two ronde de jambe en l'aire, and then reversing it.  Oh also, does anybody else get kind of lost when doing cloche?  I feel like I always forget if I'm closing front or back after doing a bunch of them.  Just need to focus more I guess.

Here are the center combinations that I remember.  Two pliés in croisé with arms, developpé croisé, bring the working leg down and transfer weight straight to arabesque, one developpé side en face with each leg, piqué arabesque, promenade, pas de bourrée to other side.  We also did: two balancés, tombé pas de bourrée, chassé, pirouette from fourth en dehor, rise to arabesque en relevé, close, repeat the first part, pirouette en dedans from fourth with arms in fifth instead of en dehors, rise to relevé sous-sus.  Turns are getting better.  I think when they are from fourth and part of the combinations, I just go for it more and it sometimes works.  

My teacher is being so supportive about my moving up a level.  I think she saw how discouraged I was by the petite allegro part, and she was telling me I'm doing great and improving so much.  I took class again with her on Monday but at the lower level.  I got the correction to lengthen my tailbone a bit more and to find more space in my hip flexors.  In center we broke down glissade and also worked on pirouettes from fifth (quarter, half and whole).  Pirouettes are so much harder from fifth.  Mine still look terrible with the whole turns, but the quarter and halves have improved a lot.