Tag Archives: spring chicken

So long, summer session

14 Aug

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s summer session of classes has drawn to a close and I am beat.  It was immense amounts of fun and I really look forward to taking classes there on a regular basis, but not as much as I have been for you see, I made the mistake of purchasing a twenty-class card without fully recognizing that it would expire in a mere five weeks, thus I had to go to class four times a week to ensure that I got my money’s worth.  Going from not having danced in a year to four (and even five classes a week because I dropped in for a couple of classes at Cornish College of the Arts) was really stupid and I suffered appropriately.

I joke when I say I’m old, but the truth is I’m no spring chicken…those were swarming the sacrosanct chambers of the PNB school, participating in the academy’s prestigious summer intensive program.  Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and full of hope, I couldn’t help but admire their enthusiasm…the kind where you still think you’re invincible and actually need people to tell you how important it is to warm up.  Fact: When you realize you NEED to warm up and when you no longer crave fruit-flavored candy (i.e. Nerds, Airheads, Laffy Taffy, SweetTarts, Skittles, Jolly Ranchers and the like)…YOU ARE OLD.  This is not to say we olden folk don’t enjoy candy…in fact, when you become old, chocolate officially becomes a food group.  However, you notice disturbing things like how when you buy saltwater taffy, none of the flavors are fruity (I went to a shop down by Seattle’s waterfront and the flavors I got were cinnamon roll, pumpkin pie, caramel corn and chocolate chip cookie.  The aversion is scary, isn’t it?).  At any rate, spring chickens…they’re adorable.  Although their enthusiasm was slightly less appreciated when the adult class was over and I was in the process of peeling myself off the floor and they were stampeding in ready to go.  Throw this mid-twenty-something, decrepit tree branch a bone, kitty cats!

I have enjoyed the process of learning School of American Ballet…technique (don’t argue with me, please…I’m not THAT knowledgeable so it’d be like shooting an ocean sunfish in a barrel).  I know I’ve discussed some new ideas that I encountered like the class I took with Peter Boal, but other faculty members are also of course heavy on the SAB training.  They certainly like their jetés at barre (even though they’ll always be degagés to me) and it was difficult getting used to new ways of doing petit allegro.  Oftentimes the teachers would include a stop, like a sous-sus to relevé or just a plain hold after a certain step and that drove me insane.  One of my early coping strategies for petit allegro was to just keep bouncing no matter what (ESPECIALLY Bournonville!) so every time there was a pause of some kind, I kept going even though I knew there was no step to be done.  Isn’t that the story of ballet class though?  How often does the mind know better and yet the body does not obey…

Meanwhile, there is one teacher in particular (who shall remain nameless for no reason) whose class I enjoyed immensely.  It seemed less SAB-y (whatever that means) than others and I really liked the structure of the class.  But have you ever had a teacher who sings while demonstrating every combination?  Oddly enough, it actually helped with remembering the sequence of steps and knowing where to place the accents but it was always the same song.  Slow rond de jambes at barre?  Same song.  Grand allegro?  A variation on the same song.  So now I’ll be walking down the street to the library and surprise, guess what little diddy is stuck in my head—or worse, it’s the kind of thing that like my flute teacher always said of the “augmented scale,” will keep you lying awake at night.  And that it does (this problem is exacerbated by the fact that my iPod is broken).  Who would have thought a ballet teacher could give you insomnia…it almost makes me wish there was a court of some kind just for funsies that would try farcical lawsuits to see what the outcome could have been in a real court.  I’d play.

PNB teachers really know how to dish it though…never have I had so many teachers inflict punishment by virtue of my mortal enemy, the temps de cuisse (which for non-dancer types, is basically a sideways jump from two feet with this little “hiccup” where one foot goes from back to front and then jump.  Sound easy?  SHUT IT.).  Sure, I had a teacher at OSU give it every now and then but at PNB it’s almost every other class and it’s brutal.  I don’t know what it is about this step, but I can never seem to take off of two feet equally so it looks and feels awkward, or during the “hiccup” I’m thinking so much about shaping the foot the jump is already over.  I got some good advice from a tweeter to really stay in plié before going after it and finally, today I actually managed a run through where I had it down…but that was eclipsed by two failures.  I shouldn’t complain though because progress is progress.

Oy, I have to tell you though the class this morning was rough.  Maybe it was because it was the last class of the summer but it was freakin’ hard.  A really intense barre, oodles of center work, multiple allegros (with the aforementioned step of Satan, the temps de cuisse) and guess what the teacher ended class with…(and say this in your most ominous, master-of-the-universe voice possible) the ENTRECHAT SIX (courtesy of ABT’s online dictionary).  Maybe this is pathetic, but I can actually remember exactly three instances of encountering this beastly little jump in class: One, the teacher said we could do it and nobody did because we thought she was joking; Two, the teacher asked for it and WAS joking; Three, the teacher had us try ONE at the end of a jump sequence.  Today, we were asked for eight in a row (fortunately, with a life saving sous-sus in between…though a trampoline would have been better) and I almost died.  Maybe I even died and came back to life, but I’m pretty sure I was not all that successful—there may have been some cheating with a royale or entrechat quatre thrown in.  As much as I suffered, in retrospect I’m glad the teacher had us do it.  I recognize the danger of complacency and I’m not always one to test my limits on my own.

One of my limits is the SAB way of pirouetting though.  When doing a pirouette en dehors, they like a straight back leg in fourth position and to pull the arms into a compact position.  I was always taught to plié on both legs and bring the arms to first.  Neither way is wrong, but what I like about the way I was taught is that when you spring up from two legs, you’re moving the whole torso in one piece, whereas I’ve found with the straight back leg, there’s a tiny little contraction that has to happen in order to bring the pelvis completely underneath you.  That little shift has a tendency to wreak havoc on me and there’s always the chance that I can adjust and eventually adapt but what I’ve also noticed in people who use that preparation is that they often have a harder time finishing a pirouette on relevé or finishing in a clean fifth position…I think it’s the snappiness of the preparation that makes it difficult.  For me, there have been days where I have had some really satisfying single pirouettes, leading to clean doubles and I don’t want to fix what isn’t broken.  I guess this is the big dirty secret as an adult student of ballet and probably the worst thing I could divulge but you don’t always have to do everything a teacher asks you to do.  Sometimes, you’re allowed to do what works for your body (and more importantly, your mind).

Looking back I think this post may come off as a roasting of PNB but that’s not my intention.  Even if it is I would do so with great love because I LOVE taking classes at PNB.  It’s kind of like getting to peek in on the company class every now and then…sure it’s a little creepy, but I watch in awe with complete admiration.