Tag Archives: Classical dance

DOES BALLET CLASS HAVE AN AGE LIMIT?

24 Feb

I take ballet class with a woman who is turning 90-years-old at the end of April. (And she’s not the teacher — she’s a student, like me!)

Clearly, my Saturday morning adult ballet class is host to a diverse group. Some students are local dance teachers; some are yoga or Pilates instructors. Some are former company ballerinas and some are students in their teens. Then there is Nancy, an 89-year-old great-grandmother, in class to take the barre. I guess she’s there for the same reason I am — love for ballet’s discipline and musicality, and, of course, for the great way it helps you stay fit.

Wearing her leotard and nylon warm-up pants, leg warmers and ballet slippers, Nancy begins the barre by facing the mirror and holding on with both hands. Though she needs both hands for support, she is quite competent as she goes through the plié combinations, tendu, rond de jambe and battement.

Nancy’s leg may be low, and she might not bend all the way to the floor, but she works hard, is graceful and is really quite remarkable. (We all adjust our movements for age and capability.)

The master - Antony Tudor at 53 years old, teaching class at the Old Met, 1961

The master – Antony Tudor at 53 years old, teaching class at the Old Met, 1961

I was reminded of prima ballerina Natalia Makarova, who I watched teach class at American Ballet Theatre studios back when I was Event Coordinator for the 2007 ABT Dancer Reunion. (Read Jumping at the Chance on adriaballetbeat.com). I first noticed Makarova while walking past the studio hosting company class – who was that teacher with the gorgeous figure, demonstrating a magnificent grand battement with perfect extension? At first I wasn’t sure, so I asked. It was indeed Makarova, who was 67 at the time.

Well, Nancy is no Makarova, but she does make us realize that continuing to take ballet class, at any level or any age, can be wonderful both mentally and physically.

Nancy's 90th Birthday (Photo added April 22, 2014)

Nancy’s 90th Birthday (Photo: April 22, 2014)

Do we really have to stop dancing when we get older? Does a ballet class have an age limit? I hope not. Nancy makes us realize that at any age or any level, continuing to take class offers the benefit of maintaining flexibility, strength and endurance. Add in the ballet mind-game of combinations and patterns, and there you have it — the full mind/body workout.

Age is just a number, right? On Saturday mornings we take class, and are the better for it.

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.

JUMPING AT THE CHANCE – Working with ABT on The Dancer Reunion, May 2007

21 Jul

I often reflect fondly on my year at American Ballet Theatre, planning their 2007 dancer reunion. I jumped at the chance… after all, what ballet aficionado would pass up the opportunity to work at the ABT offices in NYC, not to mention connect with every dancer they’ve ever adored in their life? What an opportunity I was given!

The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend became the target date for a 650+ reunion of American Ballet Theatre dancers. What we wound up with was a daylong event hosted by Gage Englund and ballet luminaries Susan Jaffe and Cynthia Gregory which included a morning JKO School demonstration, an evening cocktail reception and an invitation to an ABT performance at the Metropolitan Opera House that night. All would be followed by an alumni curtain call bow and after-party on the Met’s Grand Tier. Wow.

The ABT Dancer Reunion took close to a year of prep from my tiny office at 890 Broadway, and that year was nothing short of amazing. Working with Artistic Administrator Tina Escoda made each day a delight. My thanks to her always. Here are some fond memories from that wonderful year:

ABT’s offices and studios are not glamorous in the least. When you enter 890 Broadway you are met by two pint size elevators in the small lobby, operated by elevator men using hand levers and pull grates. After being dropped on ABT’s 3rd and main floor, you find a gray reception area with exposed ceiling pipes, a no frills space indeed. The administrative and artistic offices are on this floor, along with one ballet studio. Two staircases lead from the third to the second floor, which contains additional studio space, as simple as the floor above. But oh, the beauty that comes from this unassuming space!

One morning I walked past the 3rd floor studio and couldn’t help but stop and watch some of company class from the door. The class, often taught by ballet veteran and company teacher Lupe Serrano, was a joy to watch. What could be better than standing steps away from someone like Paloma Herrera, with those incredible arched feet, always in the same place at the barre, quietly observing her tendu combinations? Another day walking past the same studio I noticed a different person teaching company class. She was striking and dramatic, with a body to die for. She looked so perfect in her leggings and leotard,  her head topped by a long scarf, tied bandana style with ends draping long down her strong back. I wasn’t sure who this woman was, demonstrating a magnificent grand battement with perfect extension. I asked. It was prima ballerina Natalia Makarova. She was 67 at the time.

Sometimes I would pass the studio at lunch time, and the Corps would be sprawled out, sitting on the floor chomping on sandwiches, these little girls no older than my own daughters who on stage look so ethereal, so mature, so adult. They seemed so young, and who said dancers don’t eat!

And what could be better than watching the rehearsal of La Bayadère from the studio door – principal conductor Charles Barker sitting on the piano bench next to the wonderful Gladys Celeste, ABT’s pianist who passed away little more than a year later. There he sat, conducting the music with pencil in hand, while Gladys played the famous score by Ludwig Minkus. I watched the ballerinas enter in crisscross, wearing leotards and warm ups, leggings and sweatshirts, stepping in to that beautiful music of the “Shades” scene. Despite the studio setting and bright lights and exercise clothes, it was so overwhelming and amazing to watch, I started to cry.

One day, looking for records in the supply room, I tried to bring down a box containing info on former dancers – we were trying to find and invite everyone to the reunion, research in every possible way. The box was big, unwieldy and heavy. A Russian company member was passing by the door and I asked if he could give me a hand. I said I hoped he didn’t mind helping me, and he said it was “no problem. Box doesn’t complain when I lift – only ballerina complain.”

And then there was this little boy, son of ABT Principal Dancer Julie Kent and her husband, ABT Associate Artistic Director Victor Barbee, bouncing on the knee of the company’s office manager and receptionist. He was adorable and I couldn’t help but ask him, “do you want to be a dancer like your parents?” He responded, “a dancer? I don’t want to be a dancer! I want to be a baseball player!”

There are so many wonderful memories, far too many to include. But I must mention one more – standing in the wings of the Metropolitan Opera House, watching an entire performance of  Swan Lake with principal dancer Angel Corella as Prince Siegfried and Julie Kent as Odette/Odile. The intimacy of watching that ballet from the wings, hearing that amazing Tchaikovsky score, watching the dancers who looked so effortless on stage exiting into the wings pounding their thighs to relieve the cramping, watching them heave, breathless, waiting to re-enter the stage where their dancing appeared so effortless, was an insider experience beyond compare. What a moment that was – so overpowering that I turned to Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and PR, and whispered, “now I can die.”

Read more: “Tableau of History: Generations Link Arms at Ballet Theater Reunion” – NY Times, May 28, 2007

COMING FULL CIRCLE

28 Jun
Lincoln Center, New York. June 7, 2007.

Lincoln Center - Image via Wikipedia

I was sitting at a long outdoor table at Café Fiorello at the end of a crisp October day in 2007, overlooking the spraying fountain on Lincoln Center’s plaza.  Among those at the table were Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, and Tudor Centennial committee members  Ernesta CorvinoLance Westergard  and Donald Mahler.

Tudor Centennial Planning Meeting

We had just left a long first meeting of the Antony Tudor Centennial Celebration, being planned for March, 2008. The meeting, which took place across the street in a Juilliard conference room, also included the wonderful Elizabeth Sawyer, Antony Tudor’s pianist for 17 years, Amanda McKerrow, the amazing prima ballerina and former star of American Ballet Theatre, Diana Byer, Artistic Director of New York Theatre Ballet and Yasuko Tokunaga, director of Dance at The Boston Conservatory. The committee included over 33 American Ballet Theatre alumni, Juilliard alums and assorted ballet luminaries.

The Centennial Celebration, for which I was hired as event coordinator, was to be held at The Juilliard School, March 29 & 30, 2008. The weekend was designed to bring together generations of dancers, writers and others who were touched by the life of Tudor, and would include teaching workshops reconstructing his class combinations and choreography. They were also going to feature panel discussions with dancers, writers and musicians. (Ultimately, the event was attended by over 250 guests and participants).

So what brought me to the Tudor Trust? A year or so before, with a bit of luck and some really great contacts, I had the opportunity to meet with Rachel Moore, Executive Director of American Ballet Theatre. I was soon given what for me was the ultimate gig – planning and executing the American Ballet Theatre Dancer Reunion which took place on Memorial Day, 2007.  Working in the Ballet Theatre offices for close to a year’s event planning is a story in itself (more later) but after that wonderful event for 600+ dancers (including a cocktail reception, “JKO” school demo, performance, on-stage post performance bow and party), my credentials were sealed. I was taken on by the Tudor Trust for the Centennial event at Juilliard.

Now here I was having my drink, watching the sun set over Lincoln Center plaza while listening to the laughter, lively conversation, and most importantly, the wonderful stories of the Met and Tudor. Past and present had combined in the most wonderful way. I felt I had returned to my childhood roots, working with people who loved the ballet, who understood the importance of the arts, who shared my passion. I had come full circle, sitting at that table with these incredible artists, staring at that magnificent fountain-sprayed facade so many years later.  I had come home.

THE “NEW” MET! WHAT A DIFFERENCE!

24 Jun

In September, 1966, the new Metropolitan Opera house opened its doors at Lincoln Center in New York City’s Upper West Side. The Center spanned 16 acres and eventually had 12 resident organizations, including The Met, New York City Ballet, The New York Philharmonic and The Juilliard School.

The Metropolitan Opera House was, and still is, located at the center of the Lincoln Center Plaza, on Columbus Avenue between 62nd and 65th Streets. The outside walls were made of travertine marble; a giant circular fountain stood in front of the building, and hung from the entrance foyer were the wonderful murals by Marc Chagall, specifically created for the space. And what about the beautiful red carpeted lobby, and those gorgeous starburst chandeliers that rose to the ceiling before a performance? A shocking change, this theater, from the old Met Opera House on 39th street.

Photograph of the facade of the Metropolitan O...

The Metropolitan Opera House; Image via Wikipedia

Clearly, we had to move – the old Met didn’t have adequate space, and the new one had all of the needed technical facilities, but the old Met, in my heart, was still a gem. I remember Jackie Kennedy tried to “save it” – make it a historical site, preserve it, but in the end she failed and it was raised to become nothing but a nondescript office building.

But here we were at the new Met, and like wow! REAL dressing rooms, with rows of mirrors and lights and lockers and showers! There was an intercom system where you could hear an announcement when you were supposed to come up to the stage. There were wardrobe rooms, and makeup rooms, and fitting rooms, and makeup ladies that came to your dressing room to apply their craft. We would rehearse on stage and there would be a group of gray uniformed ladies in the orchestra, wiping and polishing the chandeliers that were lowered to seat level for cleaning. How they made them shine! There was a revolving stage, with sets that could appear and disappear – no more dragging sets into the street in all kinds of weather. The curtain went up at the push of a button. No one had to pull the cord! The difference between the two theaters was staggering.

The Fountain at Lincoln Center

In the new Met, ballet classes and rehearsal halls were downstairs. In those days no one was allowed to bring water into the studio – and, of course, there was no such thing as “bottled water” – after class you could go to a water fountain to take a sip. There were “no-smoking” signs in all of the studios, but tons of cigarette butts were left on the floor beneath them. The floors in the studios were perfect, the walls gleaming. I had a locker. It was exciting.

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