Sunday, October 5, 2008

"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.

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