Archive | Dance RSS feed for this section

LOVING “BAC” – THE BARYSHNIKOV ARTS CENTER

31 Jan

I always love going to the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Located in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen” on West 37thStreet, BAC is an unassuming place. In what appears to be a renovated warehouse, the Center houses studio spaces, offices, and the intimate 238-seat Jerome Robbins Theater which opened just two years ago.

Jerome Robbins Theater at BAC

Presentations at BAC are not big tourist attractions, mass market or often even mainstream. The cost to attend is minimal – typically $25-30 a ticket (depending on the production), and sometimes even less, with many offerings completely free of charge.

The programming line-up varies from dance and performance art to film and experimental theater. The Center opened in 2005, “to house the core activities of the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation,” according to the Center’s website. The New York Times summed it up best by calling BAC, “a laboratory and performance space for multidisciplinary artists.” Perfect.

The first time I attended a performance at BAC, almost two years ago, I picked up the evening’s tickets at the “will call desk” – a teenager sitting at a folding table with pink slips of paper (“tickets”) in a shoebox. After pick up, I was directed to a freight elevator which took me up to The Jerome Robbins Theater – the Met it was not.

Since then things have changed – the elevator is no longer freight, the tickets are “real” tickets, and the “will call desk” is sturdier, now a real desk, with tickets held in an upgraded tin box!

Back in May, 2010 I was lucky enough to attend a BAC production of “Unrelated Solos,” a mixed bill featuring three male dancers, five choreographers and six solos. Mr. Baryshnikov was in three of the solos – a piece by Benjamin Millepied, another by Alexei Ratmansky, and finally a “work in progress” by Susan Marshall. The last time I had seen Baryshnikov dance was at the The Metropolitan Opera House, so long ago, when he was a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. (The Opera House has 3,800 seats, so seeing him in the tiny Jerome Robbins Theater that night was exciting).

The up close and personal performance took my breath away. Baryshnikov, now older and less agile, nonetheless moved with expressiveness, elegance and grace. One of the highlights for me was the Marshall piece, “For You,” which included Baryshnikov selecting audience members to come onto the stage where he sat them in folding chairs and danced independently for each of them. Why, oh why was I in the second row?? If I were only in the first row, maybe he would have selected me!

UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW AT BAC

Last Wednesday night I was back to see Young Jean Lee’s “UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW,” presented by Baryshnikov Arts Center and Performance Space 122 as part of the 2012 COIL Festival. The performance featured six female dancers who with choreography and music, mime and sound, addressed the female experience. The stage was bare white, projections were beamed overhead, and the cast was completely, totally, NAKED! Not only were they naked, but they were of every size and body shape.

The premise, according to Lee, was to create “a fluid sense of gender… a world in which people could identify and be however they wanted regardless of their sex.” She said her concept of uninterrupted nudity was “far from being shocking or titillating… it prevented the audience from imposing identities on the cast and allowed them to experience all the possibilities the performers could embody.”

In his review of UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW, Charles Isherwood of the New York Times addressed the show’s nudity by saying there was “certainly something celebratory about the performers’ carefree attitude toward their bodies and the joyful abandon of their movement… but nudity is hardly extraordinary in modern dance, or theater for that matter…”.

Young Jean Lee explains her craft - YouTube

That’s true, but somehow, this show did seem extraordinary. Was it the intimacy of the theater? The shapes and sizes of the performers? The message they tried to convey? I really can’t be sure. But including this show in the BAC lineup is what makes the Center fun and different – their mission to present emerging talent is what makes things special.

Mr. Baryshnikov recently donated his personal artwork to the Center, which in turn auctioned it to raise funds to benefit new programs. I can’t think of a better reason for the auction than Mr. Baryshnikov gave himself – he was “using old art to generate new art.”

BAC helps to produce new art indeed! I believe their mission is heartfelt and a stellar showcase for what’s new and thought provoking – it’s a great venue. Get there!

Baryshnikov Arts Center – 450 west 37th st bt. 9th and 10th Avenues; http://www.bacnyc.org

Untitled Feminist Show has been extended until Feb. 4

The Jerome Robbins Theater is home to The Wooster Group, the Center’s resident theater company.

Related articles

Advertisements

A POINTED TOAST FOR THE NEW YEAR

3 Jan

It felt good to plié today.  After all the travel and mayhem of the busy holiday season it  felt good to finally adjust my posture, pull up, move my shoulders back and down, turn out and enjoy that first plié in my first ballet class of 2012. (Sure, you can stretch and plié and tendu without class, but it’s just not the same, you know that)!

As I went through my first  barre of the New Year,  I started thinking how grateful I am to New Jersey Ballet where I take class, for being there with a professional class and pianist so close to home. In fact, I am grateful to all of the local schools and institutions who offer quality dance training – those regional ballet companies, university dance programs and dancing schools who nurture and  inspire so many, all over this country.

New Jersey Ballet

Hey – we all start local – even the luminaries. Wendy Whelan, NYC Ballet principal, began taking dance class with a local teacher in Louisville, KY and as a child performed as a mouse with the Louisville Ballet in its annual production of The Nutcracker.

Charles Askegard,  recently retired principal dancer with NYC Ballet, began his dance training with  Minnesota Dance Theatre. David Hallberg, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Ballet, began his formal ballet training at the Arizona Ballet School in Phoenix. And Amanda McKerrow, Répétiteur for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust and former ABT principal dancer, began her training at the Twinbrook School of Ballet in Rockville, Maryland and later studied at the Washington School of Ballet. And those are just a few.

I love American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, San Francisco and Miami City Ballet. But let’s not forget all of the smaller  companies in the smaller towns; the universities and even the small ballet schools who train and develop our young people, provide quality performance, and of course, offer class to all those who wish to continue dancing throughout their lives.

Please support your local ballet company in 2012 – their role is ever more important. As they say at NJ Ballet, “dance training develops discipline, concentration, alertness and body control, which aids in scholastic endeavors and personal growth. Carriage, body lines, coordination, grace, style, technique, artistry – the benefits that a dance education can bring are unlimited.”

Well said! We would be way less fortunate without our local schools and companies – here’s to them!

90 MINUTES TO NUTCRACKER

6 Dec

Twitter can be an amazing thing.

Ashley Bouder, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, tweeted on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, “I’ve got 2 tix to the 2pm matinee of Nutcracker today. DM me if you want them:)” It was 12:30pm and I live in New Jersey.

I was barely fixed up and my kids, visiting for the holiday weekend, were at the gym, but what the heck? George Balanchine’s version of Nutcracker opened at New York City Ballet the day before and I knew the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center would be a sold-out house. Plus, I hadn’t seen the NYCB version of Nut in maybe 15 years? Cool opp. I’d love to take a run in, on a whim. After a little Twitter back and forth with Ashley, I learned the tickets were complimentary and would be left at the box office under her name. The race was on. Depending on traffic, the ride could take an hour and a half or more. (Of course, Lincoln Center is only 30 minutes from my house if you leave at, say, 4am).

David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center

I called my kids – stop running, stop biking, stop lifting – one of you get in the car NOW – we’re going to Nutcracker. Both thought I was crazy, but one did run for it, and we were on our way. We made every wrong turn, hit every traffic light, crept though every midtown Manhattan jam up, but we made it to the box office with three minutes to spare and rushed to our seats. And were we glad we made it!

That heartwarming Tchaikovsky score! The party scene! The growing Christmas tree! Those fabulous children from the School of American Ballet! And then the wonderful Act II variations in the Land of Sweets, with the beautiful Sugarplum Fairy and all of its inhabitants…. I was excited and I was loving it. I was so excited that after the first act I stumbled upon Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins in the rear orchestra and went up to him to say the company was excellent, Nutcracker was better than I ever expected, hadn’t seen the show in many years, better than ever… what was I doing?? Shut up!

There was excitement in the house. In the “viewing room,” where we were seated, bitter words were spoken to parents about rustling children and their whispers during the overture; people were fussing, moving around and not sitting still. Someone was making noise with candy wrappers… not the usual crowd at the Koch Theater. But Nutcracker is never the usual crowd – not only is the audience filled with children (us older folk should give them some wiggle room re decorum), but those very children were dressed to the hilt – most all little girls were in party dresses,  many with large petticoats, some even wearing “Santa” dresses, in red velvet with white fur trim. One little girl had a silver crown on her head! The ballet was a show, and the audience was a show. Even during intermission a dancer was posing for fundraising photographs with children. That is Nutcracker.

For me, there is nothing like Balanchine’s version, and I think NYCB does a stellar job. The reviews were good – even the normally persnickety New York Times was pleased. (Be sure to read Tobi Tobias’ Arts Journal blog on this season’s NYCB’s Nutcracker– she summed it up well)!

By the way, Ashley was a fine Dew Drop. The phrasing, execution and musicality of her dancing is a delight.  Thank you, Dew Drop, for a great afternoon. What could be a more wonderful and spontaneous way to kick off the holiday season then a “Twitter” Nutcracker?

NYCB will have a live telecast of Nutcracker on December 13, which will be on view in more than 500 movie theaters cross-country. On December 14, PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center will present the ballet. The NYCB season runs through December 31, 2011.

BALLET NORMAL

15 Nov

Today is one month since I moved, after being in the same home for 22 years. Although not a far move by any means, it was nevertheless a major upheaval – packing up your belongings after 22 years in the same place! What to take, what to throw, how much memorabilia do you really need to save? What is worth bringing, what you will use, how it will fit, where will you put it, should it be tossed? And then, arrival in the new digs – where do you place things, how can you get organized, what to do with this, that and the other? (Forget Internet, phones, TV, computers….).

Maybe you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Moving is HARD.  Now I know why some people never move – it’s just too difficult, too must work, expensive and filled with anxiety –  for many it’s easier to just stay put!

With this in mind – when nothing is normal and you can’t find your proverbial ass from your elbow – there is one thing that stays incredibly normal and blessedly diverting.  Yes, you guessed it – it’s ballet class!

So there you go – no matter what life brings – where you live, what your relationships, life’s difficulties, distractions, ups and downs – the ballet barre, at least, remains happily reliable – plié, tendu, dégagé, rond de jambe, developpé, frappé, grand battement.. class has order. When life is out-of-order, taking ballet class makes things feel incredibly normal.

Normal is good.

FINDING NATALIE PORTMAN

11 Oct

I know the ballet world wasn’t particularly fond of the movie Black Swan. From American Ballet Theatre’s Sarah Lane not being credited as Natalie Portman’s body double, to the implication ballet dancers are self possessed, anorexic freaks, the complaints were loud and clear. Top that off with the fact that it takes a lifetime to train to be a professional ballerina (not the one year producer’s implied it took Portman) and dancers were, for the most part, upset. And that’s understandable.

Nevertheless, I liked the movie!! I was entertained. And I tend to agree with New York Times film critic A.O. Scott who said, “Black Swan is no more about the behavior of ballerinas than its central pretext, ‘Swan Lake,’ is about the habits of birds.”

Natalie Portman as "The Black Swan." Movie Poster: Wikipedia

Besides, I LIKE Natalie Portman. I’ve always enjoyed her films (from Garden State to Cold Mountain) and was delighted when she won the Oscar for Best Actress in Black Swan last February. I thought she did a great job portraying a ballerina similar in personality to Odette, the White Swan, who slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.

That being said, let me zoom back to a great night at The Metropolitan Opera House last May, when I attended opening night of ABT’s mixed repertory program with members of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. The evening included two premieres – Alexei Ratmansky’s Dumbarton and Christopher Weeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, plus a performance of Benjamin Millepied‘s Troika and a revival of Antony Tudor’s Shadowplay.

The audience was filled with ballet luminaries such as Peter Martins, Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet his wife, prima ballerina Darcy Kistler; Anna Kisselgoff, former chief dance critic of The New York Times; philanthropist and former dancer Nancy Zeckendorf; Amanda McKerrow and her husband John Gardner, both former ABT principal dancers and now Tudor Trust répétiteurs; and, of course, Benjamin Millepied and his very pregnant significant other, Natalie Portman!

Tudor's "Shadowplay" on YouTube - Anthony Dowell, 1967

Ok, I’m star stuck! I’m a fan. Natalie’s big time – an Oscar winner and girlfriend of one really cool choreographer… how could I not be excited when I went to the rest room at intermission and came face to face with the Black Swan herself! Very pregnant and very gorgeous, there she was, waiting in line next to me, and then the two of us were there, alone together, at the sink!

Staff of The Tudor Trust at the Met for ABT's "Shadowplay" Premiere

My mind was racing. Should I say something? A hello? Make a comment? Introduce myself as a member of the Trust? Say something pedestrian like, “I love your work,” or, “Congratulations on your Oscar?” Or how about, “Good luck with the baby?” Instead I just stood there and looked at her. Then she looked at me, and I looked at her again. She glanced at me once more, because I looked twice. And I didn’t say anything. Not a word.

I eventually returned to my seat, after a chat with some friends in the lobby. I plopped down next to Amanda McKerrow and said excitedly, “Guess who I just ran into in the ladies room? Natalie Portman!” And what do you think Amanda said? “Gee, Adria, I would have introduced you to her – I was just hanging with her and Benjamin by the bar. I would have introduced you, but I didn’t see you……..”

Oh. My. God.

TENDU LATTE

27 Sep

I always walk into my morning ballet class holding coffee in a take away cup.  I know it’s wrong, but I do it all the time. I presume it’s annoying – even one of my teachers once made fun of me, saying out loud to the class, “Look at her, just like Makarova – she’d come to class wearing her bandana, with her cigarette and coffee cup, smoking and drinking coffee while doing her tendu!” I imagine my teacher, formerly with the Kirov (now the Mariinsky Ballet) would know if that’s true, but I can’t confirm it and I’m definitely no Makarova! Nevertheless, I know I do bend the rules when it comes to class etiquette – sipping coffee between combinations is definitely a no-no.

Natalia Makarova - Photo: Derek Bailey (website). Did Makarova bring her coffee cup into company class?

As a kid at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School the rules were strict – no water (not that there was bottled water to purchase back then), nothing to drink at all. Not even a sip until after class, and that was in the hallway at the water fountain. I remember standing en pointe, trying to reach the spout.

Today, theories on staying hydrated during exercise have changed. The American Council on Exercise® (ACE®) recommends exercisers maintain a constant supply of water in the body, essential to performance. They say dehydration leads to muscle fatigue and loss of coordination, and that even small amounts of water loss may hinder athletic performance.

“In a dehydrated state the body is unable to cool itself efficiently, leading to heat exhaustion and possibly heat stroke. Without an adequate supply of water the body will lack energy and muscles may develop cramps. To prevent dehydration, exercisers must drink before, during and after the workout,” says ACE®.

According to a New York Times story by Blair Tindall, Dancers Learn to Get By on Aspirin, Coffee and Grit, “caffeine may hold some benefits; research shows that low doses significantly increase an athlete’s stamina.” The story includes a quote from Linnette Roe, who danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet from 1987 to 1999. “I wish I had racier stories for you… but the No. 1 performance-enhancing drug today is coffee,” she said.

Water? Coffee? Neither is really within the traditional parameters of ballet class decorum. Typical rules on drinking water during class, for example, are outlined on the Virginia Ballet Company website: “It is good to drink water before and after class ends. Drinking water between barre exercises or center exercises is generally not allowed. It is inappropriate to drink water while a teacher is giving a combination. If the teacher allows, students may drink water from a water bottle between barre and moving to the center.”

There was a recent post on the blog Ballet for Me and You called “When to Drink Water During Ballet Class.” The story explained, “Yes, it’s true. There is etiquette when it comes to drinking water! Some schools are strict about their water policies, while others are not. Even if a school is not specific, there are those unspoken rules that exist… some teachers are okay with students taking a quick swig of water between combinations, while others prefer for student to wait until barre is complete. If you’re unsure what’s acceptable, my best suggestion is ask the teacher prior to class if there is a preference or a rule. Otherwise you can take a quick drink, but know the combination, and be ready to start before the music begins.”

And now for the truth – I not only bring my coffee cup into class, but I bring a water bottle too! When I finish off my coffee, I continue on with Poland Spring, stashed in my bag. (Indulge me, please… after 45 years of taking class, hydration is by far the least of my issues)!

WHOSE SPOT IS IT ANYWAY?

13 Sep

I often wonder, why do people always stand at the same place at the ballet barre? No matter what the class, or whom the teacher, no matter what the day or what the level, it seems dancers always stand at the barre in the exact same spot! (In my class, I can almost tell you where people are standing with my eyes closed).

I remember when Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Tudor Trust, told me she always stood at the piano when she took barre in Mr. Tudor’s class at the Metropolitan Opera House and that’s how she became close with Elizabeth Sawyer, Antony Tudor’s accompanist for 17 years.

Dancers at the Barre - Tudor Centennial at Juilliard; Photo: Cliff Jernigan

I’m not talking about “the middle,” where the more advanced or higher level dancers tend to be first. I’m talking about the barre and why people always seem to stand in the exact same place. In my class, dancers are often so committed to their spot that people are literally afraid to “steal” a regular spot from another class member. (I recall one day a dancer holding a tiny section of the barre at the piano relocated like a bullet when the person who normally stands in that spot arrived late – yikes)!

Actually, there seems to be a bit of protocol regarding where you stand at the barre. In a 2009 article in Pointe Magazine, author Temple Kemezis said, “At the beginning of every day, class sets the tone for how you will work. Make note of where people like to stand to avoid standing in someone’s favorite barre spot….”  The article, which discussed proper etiquette for a first-year company member, went on to say, “Communication is your best friend. Checking ahead of time is far better than being kicked off the barre mid-plié by a principal who is late for class.”

Edgar Degas - 1888. "Tänzerinnen an der Stange" Source: Wikipedia

Ashley Bouder,  Principal Dancer for New York City Ballet, told me she always stands in the same spot in company class. “I have stood in the same spot in company class for eight years. I always stand directly behind the piano, no matter which studio the company is taking class in. It makes me feel comfortable. It’s like waking up in your own bed. A hotel bed may feel great, but nothing beats home. That’s how I feel about my barre spot. It’s my home base; a place to start my day,” she said.

In a story called, “A smile on my face… as long as you stay clear of my space” columnist Heidi Rice said it doesn’t matter if  it’s where you sit in college, yoga class or church – “People stake out their territory.” The article, recently published in The Post Independent of Glenwood Springs, CO, went on to say, “When I looked up this whole phenomenon on the Internet, I found something that said, ‘Humans are homeostatic by nature.’ In other words, our bodies like things to pretty much stay the same.”

Yes, we are creatures of habit.

Recently my daughter told me a lawsuit was filed at her NYC gym after one man pushed another off his “favorite” bike in spin class and wound up breaking the trespasser’s arm! She hears the “pusher” is now banned from the Equinox gym for life and “is probably in anger management.” Well, ballet people don’t go that far, but yes, we do like our spots!

Do you always stay at the same place at the barre? (I try not to. But then again, I do like a clear view of the mirror and hate being squished in the corner. The back of the room gets too warm for me and I don’t like being too close to the door…).

Well, I guess I do always stay at the same place at the barre! Or try to!

APPLAUSE FOR ME?

29 Aug

Back in 2008 students of the Juilliard Dance Division participated in the Antony Tudor Centennial Celebration, the 100th birthday commemoration of the late choreographer.

The purpose of the weekend celebration was to bring together generations of dancers, writers and musicians who were touched by Mr. Tudor and his work. In addition to class workshops and a performance of Dark Elegies at the Juilliard Spring Concert, the weekend included informal studio performances of Tudor’s Little Improvisations, Continuo, Undertow and Judgment of Paris, performed by Juilliard students as well as dancers from the JKO School at American Ballet Theatre, ABT II and New York Theatre Ballet.  And that’s where the applause comes in.

As event coordinator of the Tudor Centennial weekend I was invited to observe a rehearsal, along with Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Tudor Trust, of Tudor’s Undertow by Juilliard dancers under the direction of Trust Répétiteur, Kirk Peterson.

That day, just prior to the Centennial, students were rehearsing in a 3rd floor studio at The Juilliard School at Lincoln Center.  Sally and I were ushered in and seated – Sally in front of the mirror on a folding chair next to Larry Rhodes, Director of the Dance Division, and I, refusing a chair, just plopped down cross legged on the floor next to them. The dancers worked with the taped music of William Schuman’s commissioned score, stopping occasionally to grasp one of Kirk’s pointed corrections, and I was excited to observe.

During a short break, Kirk introduced Sally as Trustee and the person responsible for these wonderful Tudor ballets. The students were thrilled and began bowing and applauding her, as proprietor of these important works. Then, to my surprise, I was also introduced – as Event Coordinator of The Tudor Centennial. And again, all of the dancers began bowing and applauding, but this time, to me!

Me? They bowed and applauded me??  What a reversal of fortune – dancers applauding me, instead of the other way around. Will wonders never cease?

UNDER THE ORCHESTRA PIT

13 Aug

There is a wonderful man who lives under the orchestra pit in New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. Well, he doesn’t actually live there, but it’s where he spends his days.

I’ve spent a lot of time at Lincoln Center in recent years (as Event Coordinator for the ABT Dancer Reunion and the Antony Tudor Centennial at Julliard), but it wasn’t until years later, as Archivist for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, that I had the opportunity to unearth Met Archivist John Pennino’s underground lair, home of the Metropolitan Opera Archives.

The trip to the Archives, led by Mr. Pennino himself, began by walking through the pass door to backstage, continuing on through narrow pipe-ceilinged hallways and down remote staircases to the building’s depths. As dramatic and elegant as the Met is upstairs, the opposite is true of the space underground. Cinder block gray walls and harsh fluorescent lights are de rigueur. It was a long walk to the archives, buried as they are, under the orchestra pit and stage.

 

I was asked to stop before entering the Archives, which are contained in a dark basement room piled high with file cabinets, stacks of boxes and old tin desks.  I had to leave my handbag, my tote, my jacket… I wasn’t allowed to hold or bring in anything. I had to tuck all of my belongings in a corner before even being allowed in the room! (No one is allowed into the archive with coats or bags because of theft.  But I wasn’t offended… I was excited)!

I was there on a mission to discover photos and memorabilia of the great choreographer Antony Tudor, who began staging his ballets for American Ballet Theatre (then “Ballet Theatre”) in 1939, and who in 1951 became Director of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and School. It was at the Met where Mr. Tudor recreated his ballets Jardin aux Lilas, Dark Elegies and Judgment of Paris, as well as created his first American masterpiece, Pillar of Fire, in 1942. And it was in 1974, as Associate Director of American Ballet Theatre, he created his final masterpiece, The Leaves are Fading. The Met Archives were a treasure trove, and I had access!

So there I sat, kindly tended to by Mr. Pennino, quietly going through files of photos and memorabilia that he had stacked up for me, anticipating my visit. He sat behind me, at his own desk, hearing me occasionally gasp, mutter “wows” and voice disbelief. I found telegrams to Mr. Tudor, letters, old programs, rehearsal photos, performance photos… the collection was priceless.

Tudor’s “Echoing of Trumpets” – Photo: Louis Melancon

The Trust wasn’t given permission to use all of the materials – copyrights and all –  but Mr. Pennino did give permission when he could. It was through his kindness that The Trust could gather materials not only to publish in their fund-raising book but to also digitize and store, in the hopes of further preserving Antony Tudor’s legacy to the dance community.

Before Mr. Pennino brought me to the Met Archives I was given a tour of the lobby, with its huge archival displays of photos, beautiful paintings and glass-lit cabinets filled with costumes, accessories and memorabilia. But nothing on display in that dazzling lobby compared with being able to go through the archival materials in that dusty room under the orchestra pit. That, indeed, was a rare treat!

YES, WE BOW AND CURTSEY!

1 Aug

A few Saturday’s ago I took a great class at New Jersey Ballet taught by prima ballerina and former ABT principal Eleanor D’Antuono. She had such a lovely teaching style, artistic, with great pacing, good corrections, difficult but still manageable.

On my way out of the building I saw Eleanor coming down the hallway – from a distance I blew her a kiss, bowed and curtseyed. When I got home I ran into my husband who asked if I had a good class. “Yes,” I said, “it was great! I saw my teacher on the way out and curtseyed to her for a second time and even blew her a kiss, the class was so good!

“Curtseyed?” my husband answered in amusement. “Are you serious?”

“Of course I curtseyed,” I said, explaining at the end of class we do a “révérence” where we give the teacher a round of applause and then bow and curtsey to the teacher and pianist.  His response was to laugh out loud and say, “Gee, I ought to applaud and curtsey after my spin class!”

Lance Westergard leads "révérence" at Tudor Centennial Workshop at Juilliard. Photo: Cliff Jernigan

It was at that moment I realized to a ballet outsider this behavior might seem odd.  I’d never really thought about it – is a curtsey, bow and round of applause at the end of ballet class (something I’ve done my whole life) really all that strange? And how did the tradition of “révérence” begin?

My online research yielded many explanations of the ballet term “révérence” but very little information on its origin. A blog called balletdancing4u said, “your ballet dancing class isn’t over until you do your révérence. A révérence is always done at the conclusion of your class and is an old ballet tradition that acknowledges your teacher and pianist, as well as showing courtesy, elegance and respect.” It went on to say, “today you thank your teacher for helping you and the pianist for the beautiful music, but one day you may thank your partner for dancing with you, or the conductor for the beautiful music and your audience for their applause.” I kind of liked that.

I also liked the simple, straightforward explanation of révérence on About.com, which defined révérence as simply, “a bow or curtsey – the last exercises of a ballet class in which the ballet dancers pay respect to and acknowledge the teacher and pianist. Révérence usually includes bows, curtsies, and ports de bras, and is a way of celebrating ballet’s traditions of elegance and respect.”

"How to do Révérence " - eHow.com

But what where did it all begin?

In her new book Apollo’s Angels, historian Jennifer Homans traces ballet’s evolution over the past 400 years and how the art of ballet evolved from its start in the Renaissance court cultures of Italy and France. In a recent interview with National Public Radio Homans said, “It was a dance (ballet) that was done by courtiers and kings and princes at court in social situations. It was not a theatrical art set off from social life…. the ways that people moved had to do with the ways that they moved in their lives. Like for example, if you have a révérence, a bow, which is still performed today in classical ballet, both in dances but also at the end of most dance classes, that’s the same bow that you would see in a painting of courtiers leaving their king.  And how far they bow, how deep they go was a sign of respect for the monarch or for the person they were addressing.”

But I thought the best explanation of  révérence was in a Dance Magazine article back in December, 2009. The article, by Kristin Lewis, said, “The origin of révérence dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when bows and curtseys were choreographed into social dances. ‘Couples turned toward each other and bowed as a gesture of respect,’ says Elizabeth Aldrich, curator of dance at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. If one couple performed a dance for someone of rank or nobility, their bows and curtseys were given as gestures of respect to this higher authority. Today, the higher authority is the teacher.’”

After class that Saturday I did wish to honor and respect my teacher – to say thank you for a class filled with artful challenges and gentle corrections. I also wanted to thank our wonderful pianist, Marie Raffa, whose daughter is a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre. Marie has a way of enriching the music so that it “tells me what to do” – the music she chooses helps me find the steps, figure out the choreography – her music choice is always a perfect fit to the combination.

Marie, who has trouble walking, once told me she takes great joy in watching us dance and move for her. Here’s an extra bow and curtsey for you, Marie, with utmost reverence and applause!

View stunning photographs of bows and curtsies at photographer Gene Schiavone’s website page: “ABT ‘Bows and Curtain Calls’.”

%d bloggers like this: