Monday, December 22, 2008

Well, we're still here! Amazingly, we've been able to put together a full cast every day, for every show, since this unbelievable winter weather started. Here are some "highlights" of the past few days:

We're having contests before every show to guess how many people are in the audience. The winner gets their pick of OBT logo-gear. (sorry, the contest is limited to OBT dancers, staff, and crew!)

We've organized ride shares and group pickup-dropoffs to get stranded dancers and crew to the theater and home again.

The company had 30 pizzas delivered to the stage door on Sunday in between shows so no one would have to go out in the blowing snow to find sustenance.

Several dancers spent the night at the Marriott hotel down the street to avoid the stress of figuring out transportation, and a number of intrepid types have been walking in from various parts of the city.

The space heater in my dressing room has been really handy for thawing out my frozen toes.

Linda Besant, our "Dance Talks" presenter, historian, and on-stage Grandma, has been cross-country skiing her way from the SE to the theater.

We're thrilled and gratified by how appreciative the audiences who have been able to make it are. It's an immense help. I won't lie--- spirits around here are flagging a bit. This has been a hard run, and being this close to the end is no comfort because there are still performances to do. It's not over 'til it's over! If you're out there in the audience, thank you for coming, and if you can't make it, we'll see you in the new year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Fallen Snow Flake

'Tis the season for injuries...

The cold weather, the long rehearsals, being on stage, and many other factors come into play during Nutcracker season... And it always seems that someone goes down and is injured for the Nut run...

Luckily grace's injury is healing very well and she's dancing strong and looking beautiful as usual...

I wish I could say the same for myself... :(

In Alaska I strained my calf pretty badly and though it's not debilitating it's REALLY uncomfortable and extremely frustrating...Christopher and Lisa have been really great about making sure I'm ok and I'm not hurting myself any worse than I already have...

This means I'm not dancing as much as I would like to be... Granted I'm still in every show, but only dancing a third of the roles I've been rehearsing... Ansa has been a great sport and has stepped into my spot for snow scene for half of the performances... And apprentice Ashley Smith has taken over my Waltz of the Flowers spot... So I'll be doing Marzipan in every show, snow in half and no more doll :(

Enough of my whining!! Other than my mini soap opera Nutcracker is running smoothly and the audiences have been responding very well!! All of our reviews have been a little ruff on our costumes and sets, but they have said great things about the dancing... And in reality that's all that matters :)

Hope everyone has a happy holiday :)


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fun With Mice

I used to joke that my favorite part of the Nutcracker was when the curtain falls.  Not very original or inspiring, I know.  But this year, without a doubt, my favorite part of our Nutcracker performances are the mice and the boys who climb into those "overstuffed sofa cushions" (to quote the Oregonian) and scamper around show after show.  Christopher Stowell has decided this year to give the mice a theme every night, and, within the confines of Balanchine's choreography, the boys are free to relish and perform said theme as best they can.  The results have been fantastic so far.  Let's see...

Opening night: Neurotic mice.  Matthew Pippin, after fielding a warning shot from a toy soldier, exited with some very vertiginous spins while Javier Ubell manically sniffed everyone's feet.  Other mice grabbed at invisible butterflies or twitched nervously.

Today's matinee: Body-building mice.  Lots of posing, kissing of mouse biceps, boxing, and I think I even saw some deep mouse lunges.  Javier did some pushups before hauling a little soldier offstage.

Today's evening show: Robot mice.  My favorite so far.  Adrian Fry as the Mouse King took the cake on this one, entering with a wicked robot gait and, upon his death, shutting down his system in true robot fashion.  Christian Squires moonwalked with robot mouse hands before administering CPR to Adrian's fallen form.  I'm surprised the audience couldn't hear the snowflakes shrieking with delight in the wings.

I can't divulge what themes are to follow in coming shows.  I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.  That, and I don't know what they are--the company submitted possible themes to Christopher and before every show he announces what the chosen theme is for that performance.  I must say that the new mice themes have added a good amount of fun and excitement to the show.  As a snowflake warming up in the wings it gives me a good laugh and lifts my spirits.  The boys have really embraced it and seem to enjoy acting out the theme almost as much as the rest of us enjoy watching it.  It's a great way to entertain both ourselves and the audience for the next thirteen shows.

So now, gentle reader, you are in the know about my new favorite part of each Nutcracker show.  Keep your eye on the mice and see if you can guess what each night's theme is.  For while they might run around as fluffy rodents, diligently jumping and turning on their given counts and cues, they will do so this year as different characters every night.  Personally, I'm looking forward to Ninja mice.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Opening Night, Part 2

We had one last Act 2 runthrough this afternoon on stage, and are now fully ready for the kick-off performance of our Portland Nutcracker run. Many dancers are going into new roles over the next week and a half, so the past few days have been a jigsaw puzzle of scheduling rehearsal time so everyone gets a crack at it on stage before their first show. (Once the run begins, although we can still request rehearsals onstage in a small window of time after class, there are no more opportunities to rehearse in the set, with lights). But now I think everyone is prepared and ready to go!

The sense at the theater is that we're ready to get this show opened, especially since we've already got six performances under our collective belt from our stint in Anchorage a couple of weeks ago. It's wonderful and warm to be back in our home theater, with the home crowd and our own orchestra out there supporting us. Enjoy the shows, everyone!

Monday, December 8, 2008

It Snows Every Night

Did everyone see today's Oregonian? There's a marvelous piece on the first page of the "How We Live" section about us! Grant Butler interviewed Olga, Danie, and Mia about the ins and outs of being a snowflake. They give a good insider's viewpoint of what it takes to make the snow scene work well, including the scoop about what the snow is really made of, the hazards of getting it dumped on you while you're trying to dance, and how a good corps de ballet functions like a well-practiced team.

I have to add that the music of the Waltz of the Snowflakes is one of my favorite parts of the whole ballet. The "bed ballet", which is when the Nutcracker Prince's life-sized bed magically glides all over the stage by itself while Marie sleeps on it, recovering from her terrifying fight with the Mouse King, is some of the most transcendent and inspiring music you'll ever hear. It always gets me revved up for Act 2 and excited to get out there and dance. And of course, watching those girls transform themselves from individual flurries of snow, gently falling from the sky, into a wild, powerful blizzard is an amazing sight whether you're watching from the wings or from out front!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Making Memories

Home sweet home...

As Steven wrote below, our annual treks to Alaska have become fodder for a lot of good-natured moaning and groaning mixed with the satisfaction and fulfillment of performing for a wonderfully appreciative community. We don't tour much at OBT, so being away from home to dance, especially over a holiday, is difficult. The truth, however, is that touring is just about the most bonding experience a company can have. For a week we live, eat, work, and fill every spare minute in each other's company. The result of going through a shared journey like this is that we are not only closer to each other as people and friends, but as a team. Sitting at the airport last night (I mean this morning...) waiting for our flight home to board, I realized yet again what a remarkable thing it is to have co-workers who are so much more that. We see each other at our best, our worst, and everywhere in between (most especially when taking red-eye flights-- not pretty). We watch each other struggle, try, succeed, fail, and try again. We depend upon each other to make the end goal reachable (a perfect example is Mia's rhyming description of what happened in Friday's matinee). And the most beautiful part about it is that we support each other no matter what, because we know we will need that support back.

On another note, Kevin Poe, the children's ballet master for OBT's Nutcracker production, passed along to me a wonderful letter he got from the parent of one of the children in the Anchorage production. (All the kids in the Anchorage production are from area schools. Kevin goes up in September to hold auditions and teach the choreography, and then returns just before the company arrives to do some last-minute touch ups. He oversees the children throughout the run in addition to playing the role of Drosselmeier). The letter of appreciation he got from this little girl's mother reminded me of just how formative and influential the experience of performing can be for a young child:

"Thank you for giving hundreds of children the opportunity to be cast in such an extraordinarily beautiful and well run production. For many children, thier experience as performers in the Nutcracker will long remain a cherished memory. Emma was thrilled to perform as an angel last year, and as a party boy this year. I'm grateful you saw something special in Emma."

That pretty much sums up the effect it can have on a child. Being recognized as having the ability and potential to do something special, chosen to take on the responsibility to perform, and then given the task of living up to a standard through hard work, concentration, and commitment fires up something in a child's brain and psyche that no other childhood experience can. It's very similar to what bonds the adult dancers as a company-- a common goal that we must all work independently, yet in community, to achieve.

I'm so glad that we can bring that kind of experience and exposure to those kids, because I know first-hand how major it can be. The first time I stepped on stage in a professional ballet production was as a boy polichinelle with the New York City Ballet when I was eleven years old. I am positive that it was that and subsequent experiences in children's roles with a professional company that set my mind on the path to this career.

Day 7: Going Home.

The whole group posing for a shot on our last day in Anchorage.

Yesterday was our final day in Anchorage, Alaska. It was especially bizarre for me because I've been coming to Alaska with the company every year since I was an apprentice. Realizing that this was the last time was a little bitter-sweet. The tour has become a large part of my Nutcracker experience, and while I don't know that I'll really miss it next year, I think I'll notice it's absence.

We had two performances yesterday. In the matinee I did my first performance as Herr Drosselmeier in the party scene (photo below). I was pretty nervous before hand. I'm very used to relying on my dancing to make a performance good, but there is literally no dancing in this part. It's all acting, remembering all your props, and trying to figure out what comes next in the party scene. All in all, I had a blast, and I can't wait to do it again!

Me as Herr Drosselmeier.

After our final show we all did last minute packing and got some food. Our bus call was at 10 pm for our 1 am flight, which was on time for the first time since we've been coming to Alaska. We all arrived in Portland around 5:30 and after getting luggage and taking a bus back to OBT I promptly went home and went to bed.

It's always a little weird coming back to your normal life after being away, even if just for a week. Alaska can feel very confined compared to Portland. Everywhere you go is within a 6 block, so coming back to a full city where you have a car, a bike, or the bus... you can feel a little overwhelmed by all the freedom. :-).

Anyway, for those of you who followed us on our trip via this blog, thanks for reading!!