Tag Archives: dance critics association

Prologue

21 Jun

Well folks, you know what this post means—I’ve safely arrived in New York City! Little known fact, but I was actually born in Kingston, a small town about two hours north of Manhattan, and this is the first time I’ve set foot in New York since my parents moved us when I was a baby. It’s strange because I really have no connection to the city and yet it doesn’t feel off to me—I’d go as far to say that there’s something that feels so wonderfully right about being back in the Eastern Standard Time zone. Maybe it’s the humidity or the positioning of the blazing sun (producing an appropriately muggy, scorching summer day as I knew in Ohio. My lizard body is feeling right at home.), but when my plane touched down at JFK, it’s as if a piece of my heart fell out of my chest and buried itself into the ground. Whether it remains there forever or is nurtured into something far more majestic remains to be seen!

Though I didn’t see any dance shows today, I had a more than eventful enough first experience in traversing this most magnificent city. It’s a rite of passage every dancer or balletomane must go through to have a first day in New York, and mine was filled with some less than glamorous moments. To begin with, dragging luggage around the city wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had (especially in the ninety-something degree weather and in the jeans I wore on the plane from Seattle), and I quickly learned that not every station has escalators or elevators—that is, after I even figured out how to navigate the subway system in the first place! My friendhost Catherine got me into the city no problem with incredibly detailed directions, but I was on my own for a little while until she could escape from work. Enter friend Jennifer who showed me around, helped me find a luggage storage service via this wondrous device called an Eye-Phone (which I assume is called as such because you look into it instead of talk into it?), and we did a little shopping, a little eating, and a little Broadway lottery ticket collecting…attempting (we didn’t do so great here). I really am so lucky and so grateful to have friends/readers like Cat and Jen to help me out because without them I would’ve been eaten alive and never seen again. Even little things like crowds and people in proximity took me some time to get used to—at Starbucks I turned my head away from my computer to sneeze into my arm and ended up sneezing right onto a guy who was standing there. Not classy, not cute.

Still, I’m just loving it. I’m loving the challenge of being overwhelmed, of having so many options that it raises philosophical questions about how if New York truly has everything (and it does) than what do its residents actually need? But I digress. What my arrival to New York has taught me—or rather forced upon me—is a giant slice of humble pie. I’m not going to lie; seeing such incredible diversity and knowing what talent already exists here, I found myself having some doubts as to whether anything I do could ever stand out or contribute anything meaningful in the grand scheme of things. However, the vibrancy of New York has also filled me with hope and a belief that if one has the skill, the talent, and the luck to make great success happen, why not in New York? I’m only marginally closer to understanding what significance my obsession with ballet holds, but more and more I’m beginning to understand why New York has to be a part of developing that knowledge. Especially, the chance to connect with readers here—I’ve had some encounters in Seattle but it’s a community that largely enjoys contemporary dance, and there simply isn’t a strong (or at least strong enough for me) culture of ballet to immerse myself into. It’s interesting because while the Dance Critics Association conference also takes place in New York this weekend, I find myself relieved that I didn’t want to participate. Maybe I’m not professional enough to ever be a “legitimate” critic in the way a publication would want, but I enjoy taking pride in the decisions I make and one of them was to connect with my audience. While the DCA tackles larger issues in dance in panels with experts and serious discussions, I really would rather hang out with you…or you…or you. Even if it ends up being a handful of readers that I meet over the course of this trip, engaging my audience makes me feel like a better writer because of it. Having met a couple already, I already feel the rewards of knowing some of my readers as people.

Though my schedule will be chaotic in the upcoming days, I do plan on taking a class at Steps on Broadway tomorrow morning, meeting yet another reader for an afternoon hangout, and then finally seeing The Dream and Firebird in the evening. It may seem odd that I’d choose to take class and even blog over my vacation (both things that look a lot like work), but in addition to simply sharing a hopefully interesting set of stories, it was important for me to remind myself that humans have to live for art. It doesn’t matter if I sling pizzas for minimum wage (which I do, if you didn’t know)—I don’t feel alive without ballet in my life. This is why I dedicated some of my meager life’s savings to this trip because nothing is more human than to be moved by a work of art, and once a person finds the art that does, whether it be one genre or a myriad, it isn’t just worth pursuing, it’s necessary to. If we don’t live for the things we’re passionate about, than what are we living for? I said this on Twitter but think it pertinent to change the pronoun because I think it should be a shared mantra amongst dancers, and especially those that have to struggle in New York with inconsistent work, second (or third!) jobs, and worse: “We work to survive but we dance to live.” In a city where it seems like it’s already all been said and done, I offer that quote as a little gift to spark something positive in the world. It’s not something I expect people who don’t take the idea of being an artist as a career seriously to understand. Hell, it even took me what, twenty-eight years to really come to terms? I can only hope that it inspires any change in thinking, even if only a smidgen.

Meanwhile, Jennifer is trying to convince me to go to the stage door tomorrow to see Marcelo(!) and Julie…but the mere thought is already giving me ulcers and anxiety. If I weren’t so exhausted from a red-eye flight and getting lost in New York, I’d probably have insomnia too. But I don’t, and am ready to say “good night,” for the real adventures begin tomorrow. Thank you again, for reading as always—I know I haven’t been writing frequently but New York is already providing a lot of fuel for thought.

Here goes nothing! Or as those of us born under the sign of Aries like to say, “here goes everything!” (that and “ready, fire, aim!”)

P.S. I still can’t believe this is all happening!

Dance Critics Association Conference: A crash course in reconstruction

17 Jun

Wow—a busy week! Ever since the Dance Critics Association conference, it feels like it’s been full steam ahead. Prior to last weekend, I was going to blog something about Deborah Jowitt leaving the Village Voice, but seeing as how she was at the conference, I’m just going to tie in a few thoughts I had into one big entry, rather than bore you with a thousand words of inane rambling on the subject (and believe me, I could go on and on!). I have also been working quite a bit at my new job at a bagel deli, where I sell carbs and people eat them, and though it’s not mentally exhausting it is somewhat physically so, and you know you’ve had a long day on your feet when standing on relevé feels good because it relieves pressure on your heels! I’ve been rummaging through a few backburner topics in my head, but every time I sat down to write, I would end up asleep at the computer. So I’m still getting used to the new schedule (which sometimes includes the horror of getting up early) but today my friends, is a day off!

The topic of this year’s DCA conference was reconstruction, in conjunction with Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Giselle (but more on that later). I didn’t get to attend the whole conference, and was just a last minute volunteer but I was present on Saturday, for much of the discussion on reconstruction itself. The keynote speaker was Dr. Ann Hutchinson Guest, notation guru who knows more about the subject of reconstructing dances than the average mind can handle. It’s funny how a lot of what she talked about seemed relevant to things I learned at Ohio State (coincidentally, one of the examples she used to discuss differences in steps according to notation was indeed La Cachucha, a piece I saw at an MFA concert) and I chuckled to myself when she discussed how ballet training today is about superficial pictures, but the motivation for a movement is never a problem for a modern dancer. I actually had the opportunity to learn a ballet from notation at OSU (which was actually for six female dancers on pointe, but that’s a long story), and the thing she said that struck me the most was how reconstruction from notation is more important than video because the latter makes it so that you have to understand the movement. I always knew the importance of notation but couldn’t express why until she so artfully put it into words—the process of learning notation is an investigation of movement, and my own interpretation is that dancing from notation requires that creative process we like to call “imagination.”

The first panel discussion of the day was with Peter Boal, Doug Fullington, and Marian Smith, the trio behind PNB’s staging of Giselle. Peter opened with a general spiel, about how he wanted a unique production for the company, how Doug told him of Marian’s proximity, that it was something of a last minute decision (I seem to recall a mixed bill that it replaced), and that people are calling it the “new/old Giselle.” Now that sounds familiar…oh wait, I was one of those people! Hey…look at that legitimate writer…that’s me too! Gloating aside, there was a lot of interesting discussion on not only negotiating three minds at work, but also three documents to work with, and what the ideal creation would be. Most of the choreography came from the Stepanov, and the French scores provided the pantomime, with the usual interpolations of “artistic liberties” (at times, none of the scores provided anything of use). Much of the more difficult choreography was tested on Carrie Imler, allegro extraordinaire, who could basically do all of it though the rest of the company had some trouble, hence the adjustments. Though many fascinating questions were asked, I’m glad someone mentioned the use of humor, in the lost scenes and Smith said that the originator of the role of the old man was a world-renowned comic mime, so it is fully intended to be a moment of comic relief. She feels lightening of the mood gives the story gravity, though I still disagree here—people were surprised by humor in Giselle, though I think Act I has always had traces of it, and it’s the contrast between the two acts that gives it gravity, not an unnecessary augmentation of the storyline…but, this is strictly a matter of opinion.

There was a writing workshop during lunch that I only observed because I hadn’t been a part of the conference the previous day, and that was followed by another panel on reconstruction means, which unfortunately, by that time I was mentally checking out. Sitting through panels is a lot like lecture-based learning, and the whole experience reminded me of being in school again, something I’m not really looking to return to. Plus, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve slept, or what I’ve done for the day, I am always sleepy around two o’clock, so my notes for this panel are woefully barren. Just remember…preservation makes us human and every dancer inherits an embodied legacy.

Finding my second wind for the last panel of the day, several ballet repetiteurs shared their thoughts on reconstruction for living or deceased choreographers. Though several ballet choreographers—from lesser known to titans like Tudor and Balanchine—were discussed, I’m just going to summarize some of the Balanchine tidbits, mostly coming from Francia Russell (one of the founding co-directors of PNB). Russell indeed danced for NYCB years ago, and I suppose a lot like Carrie Imler, Balanchine tested a lot of movement on Russell, even if the performances themselves went to other dancers. Russell actually retired pretty early, but stayed with NYCB as ballet mistress, and in fact only stages ballets that she watched Balanchine produce during her tenure, as well as ballets she herself has danced. Though she doesn’t claim to have the definitive version of anything, she does say she stages things very closely to the way he wanted them (in that sense, her work is kind of like the Australia of ballet—broke away from the mother continent and remained unchanged while Balanchine’s choreography in New York evolved under different circumstances). Though she tries not to impose her personal tastes, there have been occasions where she’ll make executive decisions like when she stages Ballet Imperial, it’s mostly NYCB material but there is also choreography that is seen with the Royal Ballet (Balanchine went overseas to stage it, working closely with Moira Shearer). Also, I believe it was in regards to the finale of Divertimento No.15, she said Balanchine changed the ending for PBS’s Dance in America to accommodate the set, but she loves the original finale. Apparently, NYCB’s Divertimento is starting to look a lot like Who Cares?, and never having seen the former I don’t know what that means but it was fun to hear her opinions on several matters, like which companies were great to work with and which weren’t *coughLa Scalacough*.

The second topic of this panel posed the question of how critics should approach reconstructive work, and while this wasn’t really discussed in detail, Russell voiced some frustrations in wondering why critics feel the need to personally attack dancers, when they are so willingly giving their all. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Deborah Jowitt nodded her head in agreement, as her refusal to write negative reviews led to her leaving the Village Voice. I found it funny that in a room full of critics, who so willingly put forth their ideas during other panels to the point where questions weren’t really asked during the Q&A sessions and it was more like a debate with statements of opinion, nobody really had much to say on the matter. Well, I am of the mind of Jowitt, who I saw speak and perform a sort of dance-theatre solo at OSU, and I believe that dance truly fascinates her, which is why she is able to write about it in the way she does. She genuinely finds the art of movement captivating at all levels, which is why she doesn’t have anything negative to say about the effort put forth by performers. I admire her so much for it, and aspire to be like her, though for me it requires some effort. We all know I can go on and on about Ashton (and in an upcoming entry, I will), but when ballet moves away from the styles I favor the most, I have a harder time discussing it. However, I think when a passion is authentic, you find a way, which leads me to believe that some critics may be more in love with the search for perfection than they are ballet itself…and for some reason society seems to think if you can nitpick flaws in a performance, you must know what you’re talking about. Rest assured, I don’t think that way.

On that note, I encourage you to read my latest and first post-DCA review on SeattleDances, in which I reviewed PNB’s Season Encore performance. I am interested to hear if you think my voice has changed, or is still the same old me, and ideally, WILDLY and authentically in love with ballet!

A Heart to Heart

13 May

I’m ashamed to admit it’s been quite a while since my last entry, and that for the past couple of months the writing has been sparse.  I don’t like sob stories—but even I have to admit defeat and say that I had my reasons.  I do like to put my personality into my writing, but not my drama (unless it’s funny) and to say that things have been an emotional roller coaster is merely scratching the surface (unless that roller coaster went to the moon) because I constantly found myself scrambling to accomplish something, and yet I could never discern what the goals were, or worse, what the purpose was.  There were times when I succumbed to what I believe would be deemed depression, which I thought that at this point in my life I was mostly invulnerable to.  Every day I still found things to smile about, but covering up isn’t coping and I had become very good at fooling myself.  Though I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a comedian, I think I understand that stereotype of comedians being the saddest people.  Of course, a stereotype is just that, a blanket generalization that never describes everyone who identifies with a particular label, but for a time, I was having a sad phase and gained some perspective.

What happened?  Well, months ago I was unemployed and had been for a while, and the floodgates opened at some point in my mind, because I became increasingly stressed with concerns about my future.  Then all of a sudden I was offered a job working at a grocery store, starting as a “service clerk” at the bottom of the food chain (which by the way, bagging groceries is beneath no one) and receiving minimum wage.  It wasn’t long after that I was offered a second job at a quick service restaurant, with promises of better pay and number of hours.  I was incredibly relieved, not to mention amazed that for once, I had options!  I decided to go with the latter and began planning my life around that choice, but things got off to a rocky start, because the number of hours was not what I was initially told, and after a month I was laid off.  Well, technically I’m still “employed,” just “on call” now…unfortunately, rent and bills are not “on call” and I was thrown into the pit of despair again.  Let me tell you, it is hard to have a sense of security dangled in front of you, to have a taste, and then have it snatched away in such a short period of time.  It is also hard to return to the idea of sending out resumes and filling out job applications, because rejection by the majority of them can make one feel rather inadequate and worse, incapable.

On top of that, I didn’t get the Dance Critics Association scholarship I applied for, to attend this year’s conference (which is coincidentally being held in Seattle), discussing ballet reconstruction in tandem with PNB’s new production of Giselle.  More recently, I also came down with a really nasty sinus infection and was rendered incapable of doing just about anything (though like a zombie, I dragged myself to an open job interview at Chipotle…I felt really pretty).  I’ve also been dealing with dyshidrotic eczema on my right hand, which is often stress induced for me.  It’s been a vicious cycle with no end in sight, with people sending me their best wishes and encouragement, which I am so grateful for.  However, it was virtually impossible to find any inspiration to write because I had so many things weighing heavily on my heart (and my sinuses…good grief, it felt like a watermelon was growing in my forehead. Thankfully, I’m much less congested now!).

Despite utter misery, today I think I’ve found clarity, and feel a familiar glimmer inside, a little beacon of hope that’s telling me I’m coming home to myself.  A month ago I applied for a job at ABT, a complete long shot to be a Press Associate and while I’m consumed with oscillating between optimism and pessimism, I am getting something out of the process.  Reading the criteria, I realized that it is my dream job…something I haven’t said or felt since elementary school when I wanted to be a baker/marine biologist (yes, both at the same time—I have yet to achieve such ambitiousness since).  The skills and duties of the position were just one after another striking a chord with me and even my mother, who is probably the biggest skeptic I know (given, she also knows how many times I changed majors in college) said “this sounds perfect for you.”  She’s right—ballet is all I think about and it doesn’t matter that I discovered it at twenty-four instead of four…it’s where my soul belongs and I need to be a professional in the field.  Karena even mentioned to her husband that I’m a bigger classical ballet nerd than she is, and this is coming from a former professional ballet dancer, who has done everything from dancing Serenade, performed Dark Elegies as a part of receiving her Masters degree, and was so distraught by Lacotte’s La Sylphide she simply turned it off.  To me, it is a complement of the highest praise.

Writing about dance, selling it to new audiences, connecting with people via social media…it’s exactly what I need to be doing and finding out that it’s possible to have a career doing this is exactly what I needed to know.  I’m convinced there is no greater gift than to know that there is something in the world for you to do, something that you can be passionate about and say those rare but beautiful words: “I love my job.”  I don’t know how I’m going to get there just yet, but I’m sinking my pit-bull teeth into this dream of mine.  For the time being, I am simply going to do what I do best, which is continue to write about dance, discuss it with all of you, and keep it relevant to the world because even in my not so spectacular hour, the arts uplift my spirits.  I always say that I hate moping, and I’m done with it myself…sure, my finances are a catastrophe but I also have things to look forward to, like writing a SeattleDances review of Corella Ballet next week.  I’ve been so dreadfully gloomy for so long I almost forgot that was coming up and it’s almost here!  I’ve also got some DVD reviews in queue and who knows what else…I go where the wind takes me, and I’m just glad to feel creativity in my veins again.

I’m getting there…I’ve missed you, readers!