Tag Archives: Performing Arts

DANCING TO THE RIGHT

13 Nov

Sometimes I feel like I’m crumbling… one day my knees are the problem, another day my back, some days my hips or feet.  Sometimes I feel like I can conquer the world, so bendy and free, and other days just taking the barre feels like a challenge.  As an adult dancer who takes two to three ballet classes a week, I get sick and tired of my never-ending aches and pains, but unfortunately, that’s  the reality when you’re still taking class over the age of 50(!).

Sadly, as a person ages, their body just doesn’t perform the way it used to. In the old days, I would take class and focus on technique; now, my focus often turns to a stiff back, knees that don’t bend deeply enough or shoulders that ache when I move this way or that.

In the “old” days, all “bendy and free…”

Of course, injuries to dancers are common – ligament tears, overuse injuries, ankle sprains and knee pains… it goes with the territory.  (And dancers should always see a doctor if they’re dancing through pain and no one should ever come back to class without clearance. Waiting without treating an injury surely does more harm than good)!

But this musing is not about handling serious dance injuries – it’s about facing the inevitable stiffness and loss of flexibility that comes with age. When a dancer matures, so does the technical difficulty of the dance class.

So, why do we continue to go? Because we take pleasure in ballet’s discipline and enjoy interpreting the beautiful music. We like to work hard and bend our bodies in ways that are unlike any other type of exercise. We feel joy in artistic movement and find satisfaction in that, despite the physical obstacles.

We manage by substituting less flexibility for increased artistry; we use the music differently and phrase our dancing, perhaps, more eloquently; we re-focus on grace and posture. We “mark” when we need to and sometimes alter the combinations to suit.  Regardless of our age, we receive gratification from striving to be our personal best.

If a bad left knee means a grand jeté only to the right, that’s OK. If, because of that knee, you relevé only on the right foot, that’s OK too. So what if your petit allegro isn’t what it used to be?

The important thing is that we’re there, in ballet class, doing what we love and striving to be our best. That’s what I do, and I feel like I still belong.

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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!

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’.”

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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