Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Hi everyone! It's been so long since I've written one of these I hope I remember how!

Since I've last written quite a bit has happened, so I'll try to update you on the main points.

Swan Lake! What a blast! It was so much fun returning to the ballet for a second time (and Act III for a third time). I got quite nostalgic during Act III, especially because it's the first ballet I danced with the company my apprentice year. I even wore the same red boots for Czardas Lead that I wore for Czardas Corps back when I was 18.

As always, Neapolitan was the highlight for me. I've danced it all 3 times we've done Act III and it's always so much fun! What makes it even better is that I got to dance it with the fantastic Anne Mueller. Anne is who I learned, and performed it with, my apprentice year. I remember being so nervous for that show. Here I was, an apprentice, dancing with Anne Mueller (having grown up here I had been watching her dance since she came here), but it was a great deal of fun in the end. Here's a shot from Neapolitan my apprentice year (Photo Cred: Christian Johnson):

After Swan ended I spent a week in Portland, Maine with my father visiting family. We're currently on a 3 week layoff, and so it was a perfect opportunity for me to go see Grandma, etc. I had never been to New England in the fall, and the leaves were amazing. Staying at a house on the beach wasn't too bad either. :-).

The last bit of news is that I'm going to be an ambassador for Lululemon Athletica this year. As some of you may know, Alison Roper was one last year, and now the proverbial torch has been passed to me! I'm extremely excited to represent 2 great companies, and help bring ballet and top of the line athletic clothing to the community.

Yesterday was my photo shoot for my Lululemon Ambassador poster. It took place on the St. Johns bridge and we couldn't have asked for better weather. Adrian came to help me with poses and to help make sure the pictures were looking accurate from a balletic standpoint. I don't think it would have gone nearly as well without him. Here's a shot that he got:

Here's a shot of Fry and I afterward:

Well, I think that's it for now. Hope you have all been able to enjoy the amazing weather we've been having!


Monday, October 13, 2008

Heading for the Hills

Steven just about killed me in his czardas outfit. With his Sigg water bottle, puffy nylon booties, and backpack added to the fur hat, collar and overcoat of the costume, he looked like he was heading out for a hike in the Swiss Alps. Or maybe like a Sherpa leading a trek up into the Himalayas.

Of course, he shed the accessories before we did the czardas dance yesterday. We had a great time stomping around and being Hungarian aristocracy together!

And so the first two of five performances wraps up. Everyone is taking a day off today after an intense week. I think I can make a safe generalization in saying that for most of us, today involved laundry, grocery shopping, sleep, and maybe a massage. (Mine also included a trip to the podiatrist for some toe repairs). Tomorrow we head back to the studio for class and rehearsals for some new casts that haven't performed yet. Wednesday we'll rehearse the student performance we'll do on Thursday, and then three more regular performances on Friday and Saturday.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Getting REALLY Close

Tonight is dress rehearsal, the final runthrough before we open. Last night we did a dress as well, with orchestra (a rare luxury is having more than one rehearsal with the orchestra), which went quite well, considering all the potential pitfalls. Tonight there will be a small audience, which adds a feeling of "showtime". We generally treat the final dress pretty much like a show-- no stops unless there's a major problem, full makeup, hair, costumes, and of course, feeling.

My personal story here is coming to a full circle of completion with opening night tomorrow, since this blog began as I was beginning my journey back from ankle surgery last March. It's amazing to me that I'm at this place now, all of a sudden, and it's incredibly wonderful to be back on stage. Fortunately, any nerves or worries I might have are being overshadowed by a nasty bruised and ingrown toenail that is preoccupying my brain!

Three Shades of Adrian

Adrian Fry portrays several different characters in Swan Lake, each quite unique in their costuming requirements. Here he graces us with some views of each that the general public will not be seeing.

Believe it or not, he's about to do Czardas. Underneath that huge overcoat and fur collar is a superhero outfit-- blue unitard and those infamous red boots:

For the next rehearsal, Adrian was portraying the evil Von Rothbart. Don't mess with THIS guy:

And yet, he's still got the Act 1 pas de trois coming up as well. In class today he worked on breaking his boot coverings that the men wear for that part. They're a little hard to get used to so a few of the guys have been wearing them in class.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Good Morning...

Our little team of bloggers got together the other day to discuss possible topics of interest for our blog-reading public. One that came up was the varied routines each of us has that gets us from bed in the morning to the barre to start class at 10 a.m. This is actually pretty interesting even for ME, since I've been noticing lately how individual each dancer's pre-class habits are and have been curious about what other people need to do for their bodies to arrive at what's ostensibly "square one"--- plies at the barre. We decided to compare ourselves in this space to give you all some ideas of what a dancer's body and mind need in the morning. Here's Steven Houser's a.m. schedule:

7 am - Hit the snooze button a couple of times. Fend off the cat trying to wake me up to feed her. I used to get up later than this, but I find that the longer I'm actually awake and moving around before class starts, the more awake and attentive I feel in class.

7:30 am - Roll out of bed and onto the foam roller. I always crack my back and then roll out my hips and legs first thing in the morning. I feel like it helps get the blood flowing and relaxes my muscles.

7:40 am - Shower, shave, etc.

8 am - Make coffee, eat breakfast. Listen to the radio. Check e-mail, the weather, news, etc.

8:30 am - Make lunch, pick out what I'm going to wear for class and rehearsal. I usually go through about 3 separate outfits a day since I sweat so much, which makes for an unbelievable amount of laundry at the end of the week.

9 am - Head to OBT. I live fairly close, so I'm able to walk to work, which I love.

9:10 am - Change into clothes for class, fill my water bottle, chat with people in the costume shop, administration, and production. I always like to know what's going on in the building, there is so much that goes into making this organization run and I think sometimes knowing what other people are working on can help me know how to be a more effective member of the company.

9:25 am - Start warming up. I've got a pretty set routine of stretches that I do before class every day. If I really need to focus and be methodical about my warm-up I'll listen to my iPod, otherwise I'll just chat with whoever is around (usually Kathi since she and I stand at barre together). I remember when I was an apprentice I could just show up, do very little warming up, and just be ready to go. But I find after every year my body needs a bit more easing into work. Also, once you discover how great it feels to be really warm before class, it's hard to settle for anything less, even if it takes a lot of work to get to that place.

10 am - Start class.

The aforementioned foam roller, an indispensible part of all our lives:

And the also indispensible coffee maker:
Thanks, Steven, for sharing your morning with us! I'll echo what he said about needing to be pretty well oiled up and loosened out before even starting to do barre, and the increase in that need as the years roll by.... oy...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Walgreens Run

It's a well-accepted fact that at some point in the week before opening night, every dancer must make the Walgreens Run.  It can be the weekend before, or perhaps a quick jaunt to a drugstore downtown during rehearsal breaks at the Keller/Newmark, but it will inevitably happen.  Before a rep opens various sundries need to be puchased, basic health and beauty supplies need to be replenished in theater cases, and for that there is the Walgreens Run.

(Author's note: this errand does not necessarily have to involve Walgreens; indeed, Rite Aid, Fred Meyer, and even Whole Foods can stand in.  But hey, if any Walgreens people are reading this, I do enjoy your stores and product selection and would not turn down any complimentary merchandise.)

So I made my Walgreens Run today, and I thought for general amusement I'd itemize my receipt to portray the essence of the Run.  Most of what I bought is standard dancer fare, but some items are Swan Lake-specific.

Hairpins, a small brush and plastic comb: Pretty self-explanatory.  Every so often I replace the hairbrushes and combs I use at the theater since hairspray buildup leaves them a little gunky after awhile.

Hair nets: I stock up on these whenever I can find them.  There isn't much of a demand for thin, almost invisible hair nets, so not many drugstores carry them.  But thankfully the fantastic Walgreens up the street from me does! (See author's note, last sentence.)

False eyelashes and eyelash glue: I buy a new set of lashes for each rep, and I replace my eyelash glue pretty frequently.  I don't know why, but for some reason when eyelash glue starts to get old it smells positively foul.  Truly rank.  Anyway, once Halloween is over I'm sure to clean out the stores' discounted false lashes, especially the long wispy ones that prove equally useful for both the holiday and the large Keller stage.

Clip with long piece of false hair attached: At the end of last season I had my hair cut very short.  And I do mean short; I hacked off a good ten inches or so.  So for Swan Lake I'll be sporting a fake bun that I fashioned out of some hair attached to a fashion clip.  It was actually quite a nifty arts and crafts project; once home I pried the hairpiece from the clip, twisted it, braided it, looped it and pinned it into what is now a small guinea pig-sized bun.  Fake hairpieces, or hair supplementation, is pretty common in dancers.  It's safe to say that a good handful of swans will be pinning little hair hamsters to the back of their heads.

Baby wipes: The swans in Acts II and IV wear translucent white powder on their collarbones, shoulders and arms in order to project an ethereal and swanlike sheen.  Under the lights the effect is quite beautiful and enhances our uniformity as a swan corp.  The powder, however, must be removed for Act III and, naturally, at the end of the ballet.  That's where the baby wipes come in.  When OBT performed Swan Lake in June 2006 a few of us were instructed to wear a little more white powder than others, so given my (fading) summer tan I anticipate wearing quite a bit of it again.  But I'll be leaving the theater powder-free and baby-fresh.

Epsom salt: After a show, nothing beats a good dinner and a long soak in a bath of epsom salt.  The salt (magnesium sulfate) relieves muscle tension and does a pretty good job of easing aches and pains.  I do find it a touch ironic, however, that after portraying a swan maiden I'll return home to my apartment and poach myself like poultry.  Oh well.  Call me a method actor.

That's about it.  Later in the week I'll probably make a supplemental Walgreens Run for little good luck trinkets (merdes) or anything else I forgot.  I'm impressed with myself that I was organized enough to make my Walgreens Run this early; usually it's a late night errand after a theater rehearsal lets out.  Then again, it is a matter of tradition and preparation, and it puts me in the mood for the theater weeks to come.  Throw some false lashes and hairpins in my basket and I know that it's a Walgreens Run and it's time to perform.  

One Week to Go

We've reached the home stretch. Swan Lake opens in less than a week now, and rehearsals have come to the point of running each act in its entirety. I think we're in good shape-- things are going smoothly and the mood is a balance of excitement and confidence.

We will spend Monday and Tuesday rehearsing at the studios before moving to tech and dress rehearsals at the theater on Wednesday. I dragged out my theater case from the closet and opened it up for the first time since last March. Found a couple of leotards I'd been missing... and was confronted with the memories of that last day I spent at the theater when I packed it up. That was not a happy day for me, and the thought of zipping up that case and heading back to my dressing room is almost unbelievable. The passage of time, and the changes and events that transpire, are hard for me to grasp now that I'm sitting on the far side of it looking back.

There were plenty of times over the past six months when I could not imagine ever packing up that suitcase and needing my stage makeup again, but here it is. I'm chomping at the bit to get back on stage and do my thing. That'll be a wonderful way to erase the gloom of that day last March.

"Trans-Tutu" View

I wish everyone could have the chance to watch rehearsals or our daily class in the studio. Every time I talk to someone outside our little world who's been able to see and feel the ballet experience so extraordinarily up close, I'm reminded of how remarkable and compelling it can be. John Thoren is another of our adult class regulars who has been building up his resume with more and more appearances with OBT as a super. He's appearing with us in Swan Lake for the third time now. Here he is in rehearsal for Act 1, practicing the art of holding a tray of fruit.

Here's what John had to say about his experiences both appearing on stage with us and being a part of the rehearsal process. His comments really illustrate what it's like inside the studio.

"While I certainly enjoy being on stage in real performances, I would say that the pleasure of being allowed to participate in rehearsals is more satisfying and interesting for me. On stage, I think we experience similar enthusiasm and thrill to that of the dancers, although with far less performance anxiety. There are many "pinch me - this can't be real" moments on stage for me -interacting with dancers in the actual performance, as I do in the father role of Nutcracker, being a servant serving drinks, or picking up the Queen's dog in Swan Lake is undeniable fun. The pink tights in the costumes, that's another story...
In rehearsals, I suspect our experience is quite different. While dancers expect to be in "their" world, we supers are being allowed into one vastly different from our normal existence. As adult ballet students, we have a fascination with the mechanics of dancing, so being able to see professionals work out how to accomplish their spectacular moves gives us both an appreciation and insight intohow to make it work. I particularly love seeing dancers perform full-out without all their makeup and costumes; we get to see thedancers as "real" people, learning, trying, and succeeding brilliantly, all from up-close. Standing at the back of the room, it is fascinating to watch members from one cast mark a role immediately in front of me as another dances it for real a bit further away. I can see differences in how dancers change the way they work within musical phrases, and can occasionally ask a dancer questions on the spot about why they might prefer a particular interpretation. The close proximity we have to the dancers in the studio rehearsals also make me feel the dance much more strongly that I would at a performance, even as compared to viewing a performance from the wings of the Keller. The other day I saw acts 2 and 4, the "swan"scenes, for the first time in the studio, and was stunned at the intensity, excitement and power generated by the unified dance ofthe 20 swans. As the flock of swans swooped around to encircle and protect the swan queen, I really felt their power - that they really meant business - as they generated a small hurricane of wind with their bodies and tutus rushing by within inches of me. It made my spine tingle; made the obvious fiction of the story disappear completely. Sometimes, the flock of swans would fly around the stage, their pointe shoes making a disconcertingly bird-like sound, then they'd suddenly stop within inches of my position as I sat on the floor at the edge of the studio, and arrange themselves in lines. To see the soloists at stage center, I had to peer through their legs and tutus as they stood, lungs heaving, bodies sweating, but perfectly poised and calm. I knew I was no longer in Kansas. A fellow super, Jane Weissman, called that the trans-tutu view. Not that Swan Lake isn't lovely to watch from the audience... it's just better from inside the studio.
During rehearsals, the atmosphere has been very friendly and welcoming. The dancers show strong camaraderie, something unusual in the "normal" business world. Christopher and Lisa seem always polite and encouraging to the dancers (and the supers), and the dancers respond enthusiastically to the demands placed up on them to excel. It's remarkable to see dancers applaud the performances of their peers during rehearsals - I have to wonder if that applause isn't more valuable to them even than that of an audience at a performance. In addition to the general friendliness the dancers share amongst themselves, many go out of their way to be friendly to the supers and I really enjoy the occasions to chat with them about the rehearsals, dance in general, and challenges they mightbe having. As have gradually gotten to know the dancers and staff at OBT, watched dancers grow from the time they were students, then apprentices, then company members, I have come to see OBT as the "home team". The chance to participate in their performances hasbeen an experience I find priceless."

John brings up several points that I find fascinating, even though I've lived my life inside the ballet studio. His mention of the comraderie amongst us, the applause during studio rehearsals, and the support we give each other is very true. There's the stereotype of the ballet world as ultra-competitive, and in a way it is, but absolutely not how most people would think. No one's ever put glass in my pointe shoes! The truth is that to survive in this profession and art form, you need more than just your own personal drive, discipline, and determination. You need your friends-- especially the friends who understand what you're going through every moment of every day, and the only people who get that are the ones who are there beside you at the barre and next to you on stage. We support and cheer for each other not only because we need their support back, but also because we are truly in awe of each other. We know how hard it is not only to execute the technique and artistry, but to push yourself to be ABLE to do it every day, and therefore to watch our comrades is exciting, inspiring, and quite moving.

Here's John getting fitted in wardrobe for his Swan Lake costume. Belinda Talbot, one of our wardrobe mistresses, is hooking up his tunic.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Best Seat in the House?

Depending upon your point of view (no pun intended), it could be argued that the best seats in the house aren't actually seats. The supernumeraries, or "supers", are an important part of many classic ballets are on stage with the dancers during some of the most exciting, interesting, beautiful and famous moments of dance history. They stand (or sometimes they do get to sit) just a few feet away from the dancers and act as courtiers, pages, ladies-in-waiting, servants, party guests, etc. Occasionally, an adult super is needed to play an even more important role, such as the case is with David Brown, one of OBT's most regular open class students, who I interviewed a few months ago on this blog about his experiences as an adult student. In Swan Lake, David acts as the major domo in Act 3. He's sort of like the orchestrator of the party in the court, welcoming the guests, introducing the entertainment, and attempting to console the queen when her son makes a distressing choice. He is onstage for most of the act and therefore has an extremely up-close and personal view of the dancing. And of everthing else that goes on onstage, for that matter.

David's also been a regular cast member with us in the Nutcracker, acting as a party guest in Act 1, and has also appeared in Sleeping Beauty, Act 3. I asked him to tell us a bit about how he came to be a part of the productions with us, and what the whole experience is like.

"I started as one of the party scene fathers in Act I of The Nutcracker; that was in 2003, the year OBT started doing the Balanchine version. I'd been taking lots of classes through the adult program at the School of OBT, and that's how I heard about the audition. I've been able to add a few other small roles over the years, but Nutcracker is still the most fun. There's a lot of opportunity to interact with the others on stage, the young students are adorable and so excited to be performing, and the live music from OBT's orchestra is wonderful, of course... Well, Nutcracker just gets me in the holiday spirit, every year, so I'm really grateful to have been involved. I also enjoy the behind-the-scenes view. When you see the dancers, sets, scenery, wardrobe crew, and stagehands flying around backstage, everyone and everything in its place at just the right moment, all coordinated by the Production Director--something of a conductor, director, and choreographer in her own right!--it's amazing how smooth and effortless it all looks from the house. For example, when you see the exhilarating blizzard of snow at the end of Act I and appreciate how it enhances the excitement of the choreography and music, you don't realize how often the dancers inhale the little plastic flakes, how hard they work not to slip in the piles that accumulate on stage, or how meticulously the stagehands have to sweep the stage to make it safe for Act II. In my own experience as a super for OBT, I guess the most nerve-wracking thing that's happened was realizing, just as the curtain went up, that my taped-on mustache was completely unattached on one side. It was only a few minutes before I had a chance to face upstage and stick it back down, but I spent those minutes expecting the tape on the other side to give out, too. Good times...

Here's David during one of our recent Act 3 rehearsals. He gets to stride around with a big stick that makes him look quite authoritative.