Tag Archives: new york

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!

Corella Ballet in Seattle: Sunshine on a Rainy Day

23 May

I need to move to New York.  Watching Corella Ballet made me come to a sad realization that I may never know the extent of what I can accomplish as a dance writer living in a city that is not New York (or London…but expatriation is a headache for another day, even if I’ve convinced myself that I have a European sense of humor…whatever that means).  If I aspire to be a classicist than I need a more continual source from which to spark discussion, and while I adore Pacific Northwest Ballet, the truth is there isn’t enough ballet in Seattle for me and six repertory programs a year has me emotionally starved.  For example, consider the fact that the number of full length, story ballets I’ve seen is still in the single digits…that means there are far too many I haven’t seen and it’s rather embarrassing that I have to remind myself (and you) that I’ve never seen the likes of Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, and yes, even Swan Lake live.  DVDs are great tools and I’ve certainly watched my fair share but they’re never a replacement for live performance, and I find a live performance easier to sell to other people.  On the occasions that I’ve had a plus one complementary press ticket, my friends have found the live performance very enriching, and these are people who have not once been interested in borrowing from my…er, less than extensive library of DVDs.

I’m quite fond of Seattle and I have a far from romantic idea of New York because an astronomical cost of living in a concrete jungle doesn’t exactly sound like paradise to me, but it’s where the opportunities are…even if those opportunities are incredibly rare and fiercely competitive for sure.  Quite frankly, I am tired of sitting on the sidelines while incredible performances that are also chances for me to learn and find an even greater purpose for my writing, simply go on without me.  I’m no Alastair Macaulay, but maybe what I do is something great and worthwhile too, and the fact that I don’t stand a chance anywhere else is starting to drive me crazy.  I am one of the worst long-term planners in the world (hello, impulsive Aries) and thus have no idea how I’m going to get to New York, what I would do once I got there, or how I can make this work but I just know it’s the right decision, and that’s all I have to work with for the time being.  To be honest it’s frightening to think about as well because we want to believe that determination and desire is a recipe for success, when of all people, those who know a thing or two about ballet know that reality is more challenging than that.

At any rate, back to Corella Ballet…I had a fantastic time!  Unfortunately there wasn’t a live orchestra (though I don’t think the venue was able to house one), but it’s also nice for an audience to be able to sit closer to the stage and maybe have a more profound connection with the ballets that way—a lot changes when you see pointe work up close!  I attended the pre-performance lecture with Matthew Bledsoe, general manager of Corella Ballet (who oddly enough pronounced ‘Corella’ with an ‘l’ sound but later pronounced Victor ‘Ullate’ with a ‘y’) and he gave some delightful anecdotes about Ángel and the company’s history.  For instance, when he went to his first (and I think only) competition in Paris, they actually had a costume made by the same people who made costumes for bullfighters, and they use gold thread and other embellishments which are quite heavy (not that it seemed to hinder his jumping at all). Natalia Makarova was the president of the jury at the competition, and in addition to awarding him the grand prize, she also arranged for him to audition for Kevin McKenzie.  McKenzie gave him a first soloist contract, and Ángel was made principal at just nineteen, the youngest ever in addition to Paloma Herrera.

Fast forward through many dazzling performances in New York and guest appearances worldwide, and Ángel set up a foundation to create a classical company for Spain and establish a school with residence for students.  When it came time to audition dancers for the company, dancers were not asked for names or nationalities because Ángel was looking for ability, but in the end sixty percent were Spaniards.  Spanish pride is a big deal (and Bledsoe made a joke because he’s married to a Spaniard and I know it was funny but I can’t remember it), and the story goes that Spaniards don’t leave Spain to dance for other companies, they leave because they have no opportunities to do the classical repertory in their own country.  So it was a pretty big deal when Corella Ballet did La Bayadère, calling upon Natalia Makarova who was initially reluctant to let them stage her version because they had a time frame of about, oh three months, but she knew if anyone was capable of pulling it together it was Ángel.  I mentioned in my SeatteDances review the talent of the company (read here) and I really can’t express enough how impressed I was by each dancer.  Thirty-five doesn’t make for a particularly big company and puts some limitations on the repertory they can do, and normally a company of thirty-five is going to have clear disparity in ability, but there was very little (if any) of that apparent with Corella Ballet.

The ballets selected for their quadruple bill were very good, having two “big” ballets sandwiching two small-scale ones, well paced with two intermissions and building chronologically from the most classical to the most modern.  I loved Bruch Violin Concerto, which truly is like a bouquet of mountain wildflowers…simple, colorful, lush, and easily appreciated by all—even the clueless people who are the worst romantics ever know that pretty flowers are pleasing to the eye.  I must admit, however that I made an egregious error in my review (which I will only reveal here) in that I said there were “subtle neoclassical influences” and I don’t know what I was thinking because the neoclassical elements are not subtle at all.  Oops.  Anyway, my first experience with this ballet was watching it on tape (I believe from one of my first ballet class a few years ago), as a part of ABT’s Variety and Virtuosity.  I remember it being musical and beautiful, though part of me thinks it might not be the most powerful work, and because I am so starved for classical ballet, I was just voraciously soaking it in.  However, Variety and Virtuosity features only the third movement, so it was gratifying to finally see the work in its entirety.  Corella Ballet has posted a video with lot of nice excerpts, though I noticed the ballerina in pink did slightly different choreography, because the manége starting at 6:22 is missing the Italian pas de chat (or depending on where you are in the world, saut de chat, grand pas de chat russe, or Violette jump) that Momoko Hirata did so well, with razor precision and great amplitude.

Compare to the filmed performance by ABT, where you can see Ashley Tuttle include the Italian pas de chat at 2:30.  Understandably, they are a fiendish nightmare to do at that speed!

As for the two middle pieces, Christopher Wheeldon’s For 4 was pleasant, virtuosic, but not necessarily sensational. I relished the opportunity to see a ballet to music by Schubert, and Wheeldon has some nice choreography in it, shading each of the four dancers with emphasis on a different style of movement, but there were also many, many, turns a la seconde (seriously, a lot).  Anybody who has seen it with either Corella Ballet or Kings of the Dance know that this is no exaggeration!  The ballet is all about a clean, academic approach, and with the muted colors it kind of reminded me of hieroglyphics—very upright posture (for the most part) and a lot of squareness, which I guess you could say is something of a masculine aesthetic.  It’s important to note that not all art is going to reduce us to tears or induce some kind of an emotional episode, so having a merely amiable reaction isn’t a bad thing.  Of course, then you have Soleá, which I won’t rehash the finer details of, and will only say that Ángel has to be the fastest dancer alive, and just fearless.  Which is of course, why I think he excels at the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and it hurt my feelings that they didn’t do it but Soleá had some similar bravura steps.  It was fun to see Ángel dance with his sister Carmen as well, who is taller than him (apparently he says she got the beauty genes) and despite being such seasoned performers, during curtain call they were just brother and sister, as Carmen messed up his hair in a way only a big sister can get away with.

Then there was Wheeldon’s DGV…oh, DGV.  I’m just going to say it—the music drove me nuts.  I understood its purpose, sounding mechanical like a train, but the reviewer Gram Milano, who in reviewing the Royal Ballet (who happened to be performing it at around the same time!) called the score “brain-deadening” and he was right. However, it is in line with the intent of the piece and despite liking For 4 better, I thought DGV was the stronger of the two Wheeldon ballets on the program.  Yes friends, it is possible to hold something in higher esteem than something else that you actually enjoy more.  It’s murky territory but when it comes to DGV, I understand its popularity even if I’m not dying to see it again (but you know I would).  What was kind of interesting about that night though was that every time I think I have the Seattle audience pegged, they surprise me. Based on the health of the modern dance community and audience reaction that I’ve seen with mixed bills at PNB, I would have bet money that DGV would be the most popular, but it was in fact Soleá that got the most applause and the standing ovation for DGV was a little forced, perhaps a gesture of appreciation for the evening as a whole rather than DGV.

And this is why I should never gamble (said the man who wants to move to New York…).

“Dance your cares away…worries for another day”

12 Aug

Last night I tried to stay up so I could watch the Perseid meteor shower, and was watching reruns of The Nanny to help me stay awake, but I’m feeble and old so of course I fell asleep anyway to Fran Drescher’s soothing caramel voice.  Unfortunately, I fell asleep sitting on the couch so this morning in ballet my hip flexors were tighter than a Sansha devil shoe.  So not only did I not get to see the meteors, I also struggled through ballet because I felt like I couldn’t even stand up on my legs.  Massive lose-lose for the home team.

About class, sometimes Karen will repeat a petite allegro from the previous class, since it’s good to have time to let things gel in your head even if you don’t actually do it in between classes.  However, Magelas only shows up sporadically for class and somehow manages to always comes in on the second day of the allegro, and gets a thrown into a “ballotté-ballotté-coupé-ballonné-glissade-brisé-glissade-jeté battu-pas de bourée-changement-glissade-jeté battu-coupé-assemblé-assemblé” with only a quick mark and a prayer.  I kind of imagine classes in New York to be something like that, except approximately three thousand times scarier, wall to wall with highly skilled people who know what they’re doing and have freakishly good short term memories.  It’s actually one of my long term goals to go to New York and drop in for a class, which should probably start with actually going to New York someday.  I was even born in Kingston and when I tell people I was born in New York they assume city instead of the state which inflates my ego a little and makes me feel closer to the American epicenter of dance, but the truth is I haven’t been since I was an infant and I’d probably have a hard time getting through a class without wanting to scamper into a corner and hide.  Meanwhile, I was silently laughing at Magelas in her befuddled state (we’re friends, it’s ok!), which meant that I promptly screwed up when it was my turn to go.  Karma always bites back and I never learn…

She divided the class for petite allegro into a faster tempo and a slower tempo, just based on whoever wanted to do what, and I picked faster but messed up so I did the slower tempo too.  We repeated the petite allegro, so I figured it would be good cardio too to just keep going.  This is quite the shock considering I never do any form of cardio (running hurts my hips and I’m like a cat and despise being submerged, thanks to years of misery as a competitive swimmer.  After twelve years you’d think I’d let it go, but I was also the kind of child that was TRAUMATIZED by The Goonies and an episode of Fraggle Rock where there were these cocoon thingies that hatched and made me cry hysterically).  I was a wee bit winded, but felt good about it.  It ended up being a huge mistake though, because for whatever reason, she had us do the grande allegro three times.  So I ended up doing petite x 4 and grande x 3, and my legs liquefied and are currently in some kind of gelatinous state.  At one point during the grande I just forgot what was happening and didn’t even do the assemblé and did a pas de chat (which was earlier in the combination), when midair I remembered what it was supposed to be, and so I improvised and tacked on an assemblé-ish creature, which didn’t come to fruition because I almost ran into the wall.  I turned around and made eye contact with Karen, who kind of made a face and pointed to her brain.

But I was a helpful little imp today when she was demonstrating a pique into attitude, moving the leg through passé and doing a tombé onto it, while staying on relevé.  She asked if she could borrow my shoulder and I was happy to oblige.  I’m sure the class would have erupted into chaos had I not been there to save the day.  That was during a waltzy combo that included an arabesque turn, which normally I have some issues with but I almost survived today.  It was one of those things where we did it across the floor and the first time they went really well (much to my surprise), were ok the second time and by the third time they completely deteriorated (and yes, we did that combination three times too…rough seas).  People often say you should stop while you’re ahead, but we don’t seem to get that option in dance.  I really psych myself out way too much.

Lately I’ve been really concentrating on trying to get my shoulders to stay relaxed but it’s really affecting my port de bras.  It’s almost as if I have to relearn them again, so I can figure out how to initiate movement from my back instead of just from the extremities, and I have good days.  However, it is making my fingers do funky things and my hands are weird enough as it is.  You see, besides my lower back, the only other part of my body that’s pretty flexible are my middle and ring fingers.  They’re actually hyper extended which allows me to bend just the top joint.  But isn’t that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?  Of all the joints to have natural flexibility, all I get are two fingers.  Like I couldn’t have prettier ankles or a nicer line through the knees, I had to get fingers.  And just the two, because my other fingers and wrists aren’t flexible at all (like those crazy people who can bend their thumbs backwards and touch their wrists…creepy)

The point is, my legs are so sore right now it’s actually borderline not funny.  At all.  Or is it?