Tag Archives: pearly gates

Staging a comeback

7 Jul

It’s been a long time coming but I finally stepped back into a ballet class…and slithered out on jelly legs.  ‘Twas a unique opportunity because the quiet and understated Peter Boal, former NYCB principal dancer and current artistic director of the company taught the class and I figured what an honor!  Unfortunately, I hadn’t donned the ballet gear in almost a year so it really was a horrible idea since I would obviously be rusty and weak.  Although, truth be told, if you’ve ever spent a year away from the studio there is no good time to go back…only bad times and times that are worse.  I’m sure some dancers would be self conscious about making a fool out of themselves in front of such an accomplished dancer/director but I’m kind of a fan of a good horrible idea and it’s not like I have anything to hide.  Please.

It was an interesting experience for me for a number of reasons.  For starters, the majority of ballet classes I’ve taken have had female teachers.  I’m not complaining at all…women are awesome and in fact, the most demanding teacher I ever had (who slowed down the tempi for the men and made adjustments to combinations to accommodate men’s ballet vocabulary) is indeed a woman.  However, balance is always good and the number of times I’ve had a male ballet teacher is in the single digits.  Second, this would be my first encounter with Balanchine technique (or style…people out there like to argue about this but I don’t).  From what I’ve read online, Mr. Boal trained exclusively at School of American Ballet and taught there as a faculty member for many years and while I don’t know exactly what my former teachers’ backgrounds were, most were all-encompassing and not too heavily grounded in one technique (except for one who was heavy on the Cechetti).

Obviously, I wasn’t the only one cashing in on the opportunity because the class was packed.  Later on, during the petite allegro, Mr. Boal even commented that it looked like a scene from Braveheart, with these hordes of people clashing in the center.  At any rate, things started out familiar enough, warming up with pliés, tendus and your basic barre exercises.  One thing I did notice though was that he incorporated a lot of exercises with just the toes, like mini tendus and mini rond de jambes.  Teachers I’ve had in the past have of course included some of that, going from a fully pointed foot to demi-pointe but these exercises that isolated that part of the foot felt a lot more like work.  My current hypothesis is that this is what allows NYCB dancers to achieve the fleet-footed speed they’re known for.  I don’t think it contributes necessarily to say, the height of a jump but I think that last push off the floor with the toes is what allows the dancers to get into the air or into a particular position sooner and stay on the beat.  To give an idea, if I recall correctly, Karen Eliot would give some toe work at barre in long, lingering rond de jambes to really find the whole range of the foot, while Mr. Boal asked for four in half the time.  So if y = 2 and X is 5, how many rond de jambes does Karen ask for at barre?

In many ways I underestimated myself because I survived barre okay (some ace music selections from the pianist too, like O mio babbino caro).  Of course I made a few mistakes and was slightly perturbed at some omitted steps (e.g., no pas de chevals, grand rond de jambes or petite battement).  There were some other slight differences as well, like a developpé a la seconde, Mr. Boal said to take the leg as far to the side as possible because keeping it slightly forward, while allowing for more rotation throws the torso off and generally causes one to lean backwards.  I had always been taught (or forcefully encouraged rather because I didn’t always manage to do it) to lift my torso up and forward, bringing my arms forward as well to center the weight over the standing leg.  Neither technique is right or wrong although I prefer keeping the leg forward not just because it’s what I’m used to but also because I don’t have that much turnout so trying to take my leg that far to the side really pulls me off balance.  At any rate, many of the barre sequences seemed abbreviated and I do prefer a few more balances before heading to center, but I survived. 

Then came the beginning of the end.  Center work didn’t go so well.  My body was holding up and it was my brain that seemed to get fatigued first.  It wasn’t used to sequencing things and quick memorization anymore so even though I was alert on such a fine, sunny Seattle morning, I couldn’t piece things together in the center.  My arms were doing whatever the hell they wanted and there’s a chance I was really clenching with my jaw or something because after class even my face seemed a little sore.  Most of the combinations weren’t that taxing but for whatever reason I was fading (although, trying to do a double pirouette from fifth is pretty damn hard and kind of unfair.  Mr. Boal’s advice was to avoid sitting in the plié and sinking into it at the last possible second and spring up as if taking off for a double tour…but double tours are pretty damn hard too).  Adagio was thankfully short; a true sign that a man is teaching but at the same time I almost felt like I needed more since there wasn’t much adagio work at barre either.

I found Mr. Boal to be wonderful with addressing the entire class with corrections as well as dishing out individual ones (all my issues were with the shoulders—folding inward on pirouettes and also having them up by my ears in fifth).  At some point during petite allegro I’m pretty sure I saw the pearly gates ahead of me because I was near finished, even though the class wasn’t over.  So grande allegro was a blur and then class was over.  Half human, half jello, I somehow managed the uphill walk home with plenty of food for thought.  I still like an arabesque with a square pelvis a la Karen (mostly because I’m convinced it’s how you don’t fall over or wobble in a promenade) and I’m still a fan of lingering a bit in certain movements, but I’m intrigued by the timing of a more Balanchine style and I suppose if I want to develop Suzanne Farrelian foot speed, I’m going to have to work on it.

But for now, what I really need is to lie down and wake up fully restored in two days.  I have a feeling it’s going to hurt to laugh tomorrow.