I’m really not big into New Year’s Resolutions, because quite frankly, any day is an opportunity to start or do whatever it is you keep telling yourself you’re going to change so you may as well cut the crap and get right to it (“my New Year’s Resolution is to stretch every day”—said every dancer ever). However, this year I’d like to start 2013 with a major announcement, concerning my future as a writer. I’ve had this idea in various stages of planning for months now so some readers may already know about it, but I waited to make clear my intentions because I wanted to rid myself of all doubts to ensure that I knew I was ready to make things happen.
Believe me when I say I love to dance and when I’m not dancing, I’m thinking about it or waiting anxiously to get back to class. It’s priority number one, but I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have writing as another creative form of self-expression that allows me to describe how I experience dance as both a participant in the art form and as an audience member. Over the past few years, I’ve refined this craft and had the freedom to strengthen my voice as I’ve wanted to, something that continues to evolve as we speak. Although I’m horrified by the writer I was when I began this process four years ago, I had to explore and stumble—and sometimes fall flat on my face—in order to figure it all out. It’s like straightening crooked teeth with braces or finally going from humongous glasses to getting contacts, and my old writing is an ever-present series of awkward grade school photos. I’ve realized it’s now a matter of looking into the mirror today and knowing you’ve changed and doing your best to get a laugh out of those photos before anyone else does (and really, pictures of kids with goofy glasses and braces are always pretty damn cute anyway).
The point is, I feel ready to take things a step further—or rather, a grand jeté into the unknown. I’m ready to leave Seattle and hit the road for a time, and nothing would excite me more than to visit ballet companies all across the United States, see performances, take classes, and maybe talk to people. It occurred to me that this journey could be turned into a book—or rather, needed to be—because there’s so much I want to say about ballet. There’s so much I have to tell people about how I got started, what motivates me, the synergetic relationship between dance and writing about it, and why transformative experiences in the arts matter. I don’t necessarily withhold anything when I write, but there have been things that have been left unsaid because I couldn’t find the time or the right moment and I hate this feeling of being full to the brim with ideas and never being able to find the time to organize them. Juggling work, dancing, writing, and pretending to have a social life is becoming more and more difficult to do and I’m constantly making sacrifices or settling for mediocrity—which is not something I like.
So this is how it’s going to go down—the writing has been sparse the past few months but it’s because I’ve been working hard and saving money to give myself this opportunity to take time off. I’ll be packing up my car and driving from Seattle to New York during the spring months, visiting friends and former teachers, watching performances, and telling my story (also, not gonna lie—there will be some visiting of National Parks along the way so I can reconnect with nature, get away from my thoughts, because parks are awesome, and because I haven’t taken a proper vacation in like five years. Every time I’ve travelled in the recent past has been to see ballet and write about it, so there was always work to do). I’ll be using this blog perhaps a bit differently, in that I may not be as detailed in performance reviews as I normally would be, but I will post some brief reviews as well as significant chapter excerpts in order to illustrate what happens on this journey. To be honest, I’m not sure this whole project is even a smart idea, but smart and good aren’t synonymous; I’ve often seen stupid ideas turn out to be incredibly good ones. In this case I have to know if I can do it and there’s really only one way to find out.
So! I’ve devised a rough itinerary, though it’s far from exhaustive (I’m also hoping to visit some universities with ballet programs, as they are quite necessary in order to paint a more complete portrait of ballet in America). So far, here’s what the current plan looks like:
- 3/15 Seattle, WA (Pacific Northwest Ballet – Modern Masterpieces)
- 3/21 San Francisco, CA (San Francisco Ballet – Onegin)
- 3/22 San Jose, CA (San Jose Ballet – Program 2)
- 3/23 Los Angeles, CA (Los Angeles Ballet – Balanchine Festival)
- 3/28 Phoenix, AZ (Ballet Arizona – Director’s Choice)
- 4/5 Salt Lake City, UT (Ballet West – Jewels)
- Albuquerque, NM & Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX (Texas Christian University)
- 4/19 Oklahoma City, OK (Oklahoma City Ballet – Swan Lake)
- St. Louis, MO
- 4/24 Chicago, IL (Joffrey Ballet – Othello)
- Indianpolis, IN
- 4/27 Columbus, OH (BalletMet – The Little Mermaid)
- Richmond, VA (Virginia Commonwealth University)
- 5/8 Washington D.C. (Washington Ballet – Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises)
- 5/9 Philadelphia, PA (Pennsylvania Ballet – Carnival of the Animals)
- 5/11 Boston, MA (Boston Ballet – Chroma)
- May/June New York, New York (ABT, NYCB, ???…lots)
I don’t know exactly what I’ll be seeing in New York, but I will most definitely see every performance of ‘A Month in the Country’ and at least one of NYCB in ‘Theme and Variations’—why you ask? Well, that’s a part of the story that is yet untold…actually, I may have mentioned their significance in my life at some point in this blog, though not in detail. So even if you’ve followed this blog from the very beginning, for me, putting it into book form is a way to recapitulate the story into something concise and cohesive. I’m excited to be embarking on this quest to see more ballet and define for myself the life of a modern balletomane. Inevitably, my only regret is that there will be a wealth of things I can’t see and places I can’t go, so I hope people will forgive me, and not feel ignored (Sarasota Ballet’s ‘La fille mal gardée’ and Miami City Ballet’s ‘Dances at a Gathering’ were particularly excruciating omissions).
There is however, a great deal of fear too. For all I know, I could be making the biggest mistake of my life! Here in Seattle I have a job—which pays peanuts, but it’s a job that provides me with a roof over my head, food to eat, and just enough left over to take my weekly dosage of ballet class. To top it off, I live within walking distance of Pacific Northwest Ballet—I can get there on foot in ten minutes and open class at PNB boasts beautiful studios with marley floors, live accompaniment, and teachers I like very much. I have cherished friends both dancers and not, and on paper I have everything I need to be happy—and I am! Work is the bane of my existence, but when my class days roll around I bubble with excitement. Plenty of people have to live their lives this way—what makes me think I deserve to be different? If I can be happy like this, shouldn’t I take satisfaction in that?
Coincidentally, a non-dancer friend of mine happened to share a video a few days ago that clarified the murkiness. It’s a lecture by philosopher Alan Watts, on the topic of what we desire to do with our lives:
After listening to that, I understood that I was so busy asking myself “is this all there is to life?” that I completely overlooked the fact that the simple answer was “no.” The very idea that I even posed the question to myself meant that I have so much to experience and learn because a person who has seen enough never thinks to ask such questions. If money were no object I would dance all day, write about it, and engage a community of people who share the same interests. Hell, I’d even dabble in choreography, something that’s been in the back of my mind for a long time. I’ve already started even—for almost a year now I’ve been slowly choreographing a ballet in my head, to the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No.3, a piece that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember and regard as my musical soul mate. It’s blisteringly fast, intense, romantic, classical—I never tire of it, and studying ballet has been an especially fascinating process for me because now I’m learning a language that allows me to visualize it. So far it’s a scrapbook of mostly Ashton and Balanchine, as I borrowed many, MANY steps from my favorite ballets of theirs. However, in order to complete the work, I just need to see more and I realized that’s another important reason why I have to do this tour. Don’t get me wrong—I’m an amateur and I could easily be terrible, but imagining the music blossoming in my mind’s eye is important to me, regardless of what anybody else thinks because I get immense joy from daydreaming about its phrases and pictures, and that alone makes it worthwhile. There are amateur painters, photographers, songwriters, and artists of all kinds who do what they do for the love of it—why not amateur ballet choreographers? Sure, I could be finger-painting compared to a Mona Lisa like an Ashton/Balanchine ballet, but if society wouldn’t scold a five-year-old’s art, then I’m thinking I don’t have to judge myself so harshly either.
Anyway, I digress. I’ve gone back and forth, weighed pros and cons, awoken gung-ho one day and completely defeated the next. The following couple of months will probably be just as antsy, but I’m going to say it now, that I’m committed to this project. Now that I’ve put it out there, in this powerful medium we call writing, there’s no turning back. I’ve told my roommate that I’m terminating my lease, and a couple of days ago a fortune cookie even presented me with this: