Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Live Performance Excitement!

Since age three ballet has been a central part of my life. From age 16 to 19 it was on a bit of a hiatus, but previous to that my world nearly revolved around it. Not only did I dance, but I owned ballerina statues, Christmas ornaments, dolls, necklaces, pillows, pins--my walls were adorned with a border that showed a dancing ballet bear in pointe, I had books, movies, literally everything imaginable, but surprisingly enough, my experience with professional ballet was virtually non-existent.
The only professional ballet performance I have ever seen was The Nutcracker, twice, before the age of 8. I suppose there are a few reasons why I didn't frequent the ballet often as a child, the most obvious being money.
Now that I'm in Chicago, I see that there are many places I can see shows that are cheap, even free, but back in Detroit, though these opportunities exists, they are fewer in numbers. My parents never had a ton of money, but having their children experience things in life was always very important to them.
My freshman year of high school I spent the summer in Europe, and my brother and I have both seen most of the U.S., but when it came to things like going to professional shows, it always had to be something we could all agree upon. This meant ballet was usually not an option. I've seen many musicals (luckily my little brother has always enjoyed those) but I also have had to sit through countless professional sporting events (I literally do not even know what sport most Detroit teams play.)
Anyway, I have never seen a professional ballet that I can remember. I really haven't seen much ballet outside of my own studio. I went to my friend Gina's dance competitions once or twice in middle school, but those really freaked me out (something a bit too...pageanty in their dress and plastered on smiles).
I think in any art form, watching the professionals do their thing really helps one to build their own abilities and style.
When I learned I had to see a performance for this class, I decided I wanted to go big, and purchased some pretty expensive tickets for The Joffrey Ballet Spring Program on May 1rst.
Description of what I'm seeing:
The Joffrey Ballet closes its 2008-2009 season with an eclectic romantic Spring Program featuring the Joffrey Premieres of Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance) and Helgi Tomasson's Valses Poeticos; the revival of Bronislava Nijinska's Les Noces (The Wedding), in commemoration of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes Centennial; and Round of Angels by the late Joffrey Co-Founder Gerald Arpino.
Let's be honest, I'm not sure what any of that means, but I'm sure it will be spectacular! :)
I'm absolutely pumped, and I'm sure I will have much to write about in my reflection piece!

Yay boys!

Well, as class enters it's final weeks I am, as I have already stated, very sad to see it go. Today's class was a good one. I wasn't too sad about not doing our opening exercises (I feel like mush after the break) and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the bar music today, is that something new? I believe I heard the I dream of Jeanie theme song as well as a Beatles song (or some sort of familiar tunes)? I think the dance went quite well today as well. I can't believe we're actually finished with the choreography! I have to say I was ecstatic when you chose me to do partnering. At my old studio, we literally had one guy (my teacher's son who was forced to dance) and the only person who ever got to partner with him was his own sister (not only because she was my teacher's daughter, but because she must have weighed 70 pounds.) At any rate, partnering is one of those things I never got to experience at my studio and really never expected to experience anywhere else. It's a dream come true to get to do it for even a second!
Partnering is where I find the real drama of ballet lives. It's romantic and emotionally driven, and honestly very difficult!
(look at that photo above, that's hot!)
Having to coordinate so closely and trust the that the guy you're working with isn't going to drop you is not an easy thing to do. It forces you to be aware not only of what your own body is feeling and doing, but also where your partner's body is and what they need from you.
I also think it's great to see the contrast between female and male dancers. It's fascinating to watching how they work differently, technique and moves are cohesive yet opposite, and the difference in their bodies is striking as well, but they move so cohesively and show each other off.
I have been quite impressed with the number and ability of the guys in the class. It's nice to be dancing with more than just girls!
I also look forward to watching the other classes at the performance. I'm not sure if I will have room again to take another ballet class, but it'll be interesting to see how the levels progress and what other forms of dance are available.
I'd really like to do tap again, but I heard there isn't actually a tap class offered?
(Though I did hear recently that there is now a tap group.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In this entry, I'd like to stray a little bit from class reflection and take a look at ballet as it is portrayed in other art forms.
Ballet, for many, and certainly for myself, is extremely aesthetically pleasing. And it also has an aesthetic that is very familiar in both classic and popular culture.
Every little girl is a ballerina at some point. I don't know how many girls I know that at least took a ballet class or two at the age of 3 or 4. There is just something that attracts many from a very young age to this art.
The long lines, the pale pink satin shoes, the ruffles of a tutu, the romance in the dance, the grace, the strength, etc.
Anyway, when I think about ballet as it is represented in other art, I think the first man my mind jumps to, and I'm sure yours does as well, is Degas.

A french artist in 19th century, Edgar Degas is famous for his portrayals of dancers in drawings, paintings, and sculpture.
Let me just say I was OBSESSED with Degas as a kid. My grandmother took me to see an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art and I was hooked. He was not only capturing intimate scenes that were not normally open to the public, but he truly captured the emotion of his subjects.

Here is a link to my favorite 3 Dimensional Piece:

This statue has been both revered and criticized for it's life-like nature.
In February, the statue was sold in London for 23.6 Million dollars.
Here is the article:

Here is my favorite painting:

He had many paintings similar this one, but I've always liked the violinist in the corner.

Somewhat serendipitously, my final performance with my dance studio was called "Portraits of Degas." We emulated both the classic classrooms that he painted (wearing attire like that shown in the painting and dancing with bars on the stage) and some wore very classic performance tutus. It was beautiful.
There are many photographers who have used ballet as their main focus as well, often capturing the sweat and blood of the art in photos like this:

I think the photography really portrays an interesting juxtaposition that exists in ballet. Beautiful but painful, flowing and effortless in appearance, but requiring so much strength and work.
I shudder when I remember how many blisters I used to have on my feet.

In the end, I think ballet really has a lasting affect as an art form in itself, and as an influence on artists in other medias.
I know I myself have and will continue to look to ballet for inspiration!

I Need a Vacation from my Life

Well, unfortunately, today was one of those days where I had to finally admit to overworking myself and take a day to rest and recoop. This, much to my dismay, meant I had to miss ballet this morning. (And I'm not being sarcastic when I say I was sad to miss it, it's honestly one of my favorite parts of the week!)
Anyway, I've definitely come down with something, and I have become both mentally frail and physically exhausted due to my ridiculous schedule as of late.
I am currently taking 6 classes and spending 4 to 7 hours, 6 days a week, rehearsing for The Pirates of Penzance.
I am just stretched (tendu?!) far to thin right now. But as I said, ballet is a quality part of my week. It is a combination of the music, the movement, and I guess just the feeling I get that I am actually using the muscles in my body and becoming stronger that gives me an ounce of pleasure after every class. I feel a both a sense of release and a feeling of relief from my everyday life.
Since my last entry, we have added a lot of moves and new exercises. I have been trying to do the stomach/crunch series at home everyday, and I'm finding it has started to become easier. I think my favorite new move would have to be the chenne turn. As I said before, they are one of my favorite things to do, though I was sort of put off by the addition of the chase. I've grown accustom to just turning, turning, turning, and it made me have to slow down and sort of dissect the movement having the added step. I also have been trying to drama it up a bit. Sometimes in dance I think it is easy to become focused on the technical aspects, and caught up in that running inner dialog of "am I pulled up, is my butt tucked in, is my leg turned out?" and forget that what you're doing is an art, that it should be beautiful, graceful and visually appealing. I've been trying to add in a head now and then, and I hope that it has been affective.
I am also extremely excited to have started working on the dance. I was pleasantly surprised by the choice of music. I was expecting the usual slow, classical bar work type thing for a beginning class, but I think the fast pace music will be very effective. It makes it exciting and gives us the ability to use both simple and intermediate steps while keeping the audience engaged.
Good job!
I have to say though, I think about 45% of my brain is being used to store choreography right now. Pirates of Penzance is an operetta, which of course means that 80% of the show is sung. And as we know, singing comes with choreography. I have become such a machine over the past few months, that I can pick up choreography like (insert finger snap) that! Our choreography, as part of the process, changes almost daily, and we have to be able to remember these changes and perform them correctly. We also most of our songs in corsettes, on rocks, in tight dresses and heals. Yikes!
Anyway, my crazy choreography state of mind is making our class choreography easy, but also somewhat painful because not everyone is quite up to my speed. (That sounded arrogant, but I didn't mean it that way.) It's also hard because unlike a show where you will be kicked out if you choose not to show, there are times where class has to be missed and we are allowed a few sick days. Because of this, we must move slower in order to fill in holes and move things around.
But at any rate, I am enjoying it.
As we near the end of class, I'm really sad to see it go. I guess my fear is that after it's over I won't have the time to fit in another dance class or money to pay for an outside dance class. I'd really like to continue using ballet as a means to get back into dance/exercise.
I've tried other kinds of dance and many different activities, but there is nothing that appeals to my aesthetic quite like ballet.
We'll see what happens I suppose!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reflections on my first Month of Class,0.jpg
(A photo from Swan Lake, just because I love it.)
I auditioned for a part in this little foursome once. I didn't get it and it was the hardest thing EVER.

This first month of class has been really interesting.
There are things that have happened that I never expected, and some that I definitely expected.
The first thing I knew was that it would be physically tough. I haven't actually done a real, intentional physical activity since right after I quit Ballet and I took a session of kick boxing (it didn't go too well). I was very sore after my first class, but as we have gone on I'm feeling myself getting a bit stronger and I'm gaining back a LOT of my flexibility (I'm currently pretty sore from our stretching class).
I also was surprised to see when I attempted Pique turns that I seem to have completely lost my ability to turn. I was already a HORRIBLE turner, I always have been. My teacher used to work with me on pirouettes for hours and could not figure out what my issue was. However, you pointed out to me last week that I'm crunching my shoulders in a bit when I have my arms in first. I think I probably started doing this a while ago and never realized it, and I'm guessing stopping it will probably help my balance a lot! It's strange that I never had it pointed out to me before that my arms might be my issue, I feel like my teacher was usually worrying about the momentum from my plie and the placement of my hips.
Anyway, it's just a weird experience struggling to pique turn in soft shoes when I was doing it on pointe 5 years ago.
On the plus side, there are some things I have definitely retained since my ballet days that I was surprised about.
I still remember all of the vocabulary. Those terms were drilled into my head like crazy when I was going through Cecchitti testing, and I have a feeling that they will never leave.
I was also surprised at how well my feet are cooperating, it's like they know where to go without me having to think about it. They've definitely been conditioned.
In general, I think what I've enjoyed most is just being in the ballet class environment again. Ballet is extremely therapeutic for me, I like it for it's structure and grace, and the music really takes me back to my childhood. I think growing up in ballet gave me a lot of poise and really saved me from being clumsy like my mother. Haha. It's nice to be in that nice environment with out the pressure, I believe you said this somewhere (maybe in the syllabus) but I think ballet would be a great physical activity for many people, but the aura that surrounds competitive ballet is very intimidating.
I'd have to say my favorite combinations thus far are (and always have been, really) port de bras and rond de jambes (I especially like taking them en l'air). I also have always liked doing chaine turnes, frappe, balance, and....well a lot of other things I can't remember the name of.
I'm excited to keep relearning more and more!

Getting Back on The Horse

To begin, I think it is important to give you my history in dance in order to help you understand why taking this class was probably one of the biggest and scariest decisions I have ever made.

I spent the better part of my life in ballet class.
I started taking ballet when I was three years old, and somehow ended up dedicating the next 12 years of my life to it. I initially started taking classes at our local YMCA. I took round after round of classes there through ages three and four, becoming more and more obsessed (like most little girls) with the idea of being a ballerina. Ballet became my world, and my mother decided to enroll me at age 5 at a classical ballet school located in the basement of a ritzy community house in a rich suburb north of me.
In the beginning, I loved it.
From ages 5 to probably 11 or 12 I lived and breathed ballet. My teacher was like every ballet teacher in every movie, eerily beautiful, strict, terrifying, ruthless, but I loved going to class. I excelled and was put in pointe early (around age 10) along with a few others girls in my class, and I was taking 4 classes a week. I lived for being on stage, and though I don't think I ever truly thought I would be a professional dancer (I was of course told at a young age that I didn't have the body for that), I still wanted to commit myself to improving and learning.
I started doing Cecchitti testing somewhere in there, maybe around age 8 or 9, and though it was difficult, I really enjoyed it through grade I and II.
Around middle school, my relationship with dance started to change. I went through puberty, which made it even more apparent that I would never become a professional dancer, but I was still dancing with girls who were possibly on that path. I became extremely insecure about my body while simultaneously becoming interested in other activities, and by the time I reached my grade IV exam, I was absolutely disinterested, and absolutely loathed the woman who had virtually been a second mother to me for the last 10 years.
All of the other girls were spending their summer at dance camps, and going to seminars on the weekends, and I could feel that I wasn't improving anymore.
My mother didn't want to let me quit at first. She felt that ballet was good for me, and my freshman year of high school, she actually talked me into taking both tap and jazz (some sort of discount on classes) even though I'd said no to taking both for years.
Anyway, by freshman year my fellow dancers were preparing for their grade V and my teacher actually asked me not to continue taking the grade V technique class because it would be a waste of time.
I danced my last recital that year knowing that I wouldn't be starting up again in the fall, but I didn't tell the teacher that had been training me for the last 11 years nor did I tell any of the girls I'd been dancing with throughout my childhood.
I left and didn't look back.
Anyway, I still believe it was the best decision I ever made.
I became involved in theatre and choir, and had time to explore many other areas of art, but throughout the last 5 years, I get a twinge of pain every time I see a dance recital or a watch a movie like Center Stage.
So, my venture back into the world of ballet really began over Christmas break.
I wasn't originally planning on enrolling in ballet this semester.
My friend Siga took it last semester, and I felt a twinge of jealousy watching her informance, but I still wasn't planning signing up.
Then, I watched Billy Elliot over break and ended up bringing out all of my old pointe shoes.
11 pairs, I think.

(A photo I took of all my shoes, I couldn't do anything but stand in the pair I put on.)

I realized that I did still have room in my schedule for one more class...
I came back after break and looked for a ballet class, all were full.
Then, magically, the Tuesday of the first week a ballet I magically opened up, and I nabbed it.
And so my endeavor back into ballet ensues.