Barefootblogger: thoughts on dance

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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Minnesota State Arts Board Acknowledgement

The creation and performance of Slippery Fish and other offerings of New Music and Dance, September 28-30, 2012, was supported in part by the following:
Penelope Freeh is a fiscal year 2012 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is funded, in part, by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State’s arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

Friday, January 23, 2009


So often as a performer I am a cog in the wheel of a picture or image much bigger than myself, and it is a thrill.

This is the case in MN Orchestra’s staging of Bernstein’s Mass. Six of us from JSB, as well as four extra dancers from around town, flit in an out throughout the almost two-hour piece. We represent the divine and troubled thoughts in the head of the Celebrant, the lead character, our hero.

At the end of the piece that takes us from the sublime to the ridiculous and back, we enter at the climax of the Celebrant’s meltdown, and just like at the end of London Bridge is Falling Down, we all fall down! And stay, and stay, and stay. We are there, utterly still, for like, 15 minutes. Limbs fall asleep, and I swear a chorister nodded off last night, he was so late in getting back up.

There we are, talented, muscled dancers, just lying there, and it is just the thing. We are participating in and contributing to an image. The brilliant thing about it is that when we finally get to our feet, we feel as though we’ve really been asleep. We are groggy, we look it, and that gets the point across like nobody’s business: the Celebrant has been doing battle with his Faith.

Then we stand and stand and stand. The folks around us sing and sing, and the orchestra plays and plays behind us. Stillness is a foreign thing to a dancer, and it’s fun to be charged with it. We stand amid the voices and the music; we get to simultaneously witness and participate.

The best though was the audible sniffling coming from the audience just as the lights went out and a moment before all hell broke loose applause-wise. This piece is historic (written for the opening of the Kennedy Center in 1964) and has not been performed on this scale since then. The applause went on and on, and when Raymond the Celebrant came out, he was proud and humbled and just stood there taking it all in.

It’s so nice to be a cog sometimes, to simply get to be there. It’s nice to be reminded that what we do is bigger than ourselves and that faltering faith can be a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Weird Food

As the year winds down I sit sleepy on my bed, just home from visiting family.

The end of my year, December in general, was busy and yet filled with lots of joyful moments: spent Thanksgiving cooking for three close girlfriends, toured four states in 2 weeks with JSB, and did a Nutcracker gig w/ Nic that couldn’t have been more fun. (It was SO fun, and I’m so happy to be able to say that! I’m so proud of us. I let the fullness of that experience penetrate my soul, and for that I am thankful.)

I visited my mom and other family for a week in Charleston, SC, a great place to visit in late December when one lives in Minneapolis. My mom takes care of my Grandpa Bill, in his nineties and my dad’s step-dad. G. Bill is therefore my mom’s former father-in-law. How cool that she takes care of him! I think he sort of forgets who she is technically speaking; he just seems to understand that she’s “family” and that that’s enough. It’s nice to have this reminder that family can be chosen, like all my adopted family here who cared and cared for me pre and post divorce.

A sweet theme that keeps emerging from this past month and a half or so is food, like in cooking it, sharing it, prepping to take a dish somewhere or sharing recipes through email. Lots of roasted vegetables: my improvised roasted Brussels sprouts w/ fresh cranberries and also Sally’s roasted gold beets served steaming w/ goat cheese. Then there’s my usual tuna (broiled w/ special lavender infused salt from Saltzberg!) and even last night’s Cincinnati chili recipe served over spaghetti w/ grated cheddar and, of all things, oyster crackers to soak up the juice. (Any Ohioans recognize a “Skyline” 3-way?)

It’s basically archetypal to bond over food, from spontaneous bites to long-planned coursed meals. So this attention to food detail should come as no surprise to me. It’s just fun to note that I get a sweet thrill from exchanging recipes w/ colleagues and then with family. It’s fun to feel fairly competent and yet a total novice all at once in a kitchen. (And I love that I can have a guilty-pleasure trip to Taco Bell with my mom then turn all esoteric a few hours later in G. Bill’s kitchen.)

Tonight Jack and I will wind up the year at the home of some of his best friends. I think we’re having pasta, and I’m so up for that. I’m still working on coffee however and thinking about all the “I shoulds”: I should be cleaning for my party on Friday. I should be catching up on email and other computery things that need to get done. I should be doing something toward the wedding other than reading fiction that takes place where we are honeymooning (Florence)…

Instead I contemplate a fresh cup and nibble on Jack’s mom’s peanut clusters. It’s the dark chocolate that gets me. I must get that recipe.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Losing (Almost) Everything and Other Gifts that Keep on Giving

On tour in Kearney, Nebraska last week my hard-drive crashed. I lost everything: photos, essays, an old email folder from when I had a visi account with, like, a phonebook long collection. I could go on and on, and my brain does. I was up for two hours in the wee hours the other morning remembering more lost things: Rebecca's poem about the pain of loneliness after her divorce, my writings about Nic's visual art, Jack's and my Europe doings including the details of when he first proposed.

As a Buddhist I've been hip to the notion of non-attachment and other such lofty concepts. And you know what I've discovered? I still am!

In early 1999 while on a trip to NYC my back-pack got stolen. It had a ton of stuff in it and so I cancelled all the usual things. Jim was staying at my place in Minneapolis at the time and was able to send my passport so I could at least fly home. Along with my passport came a lovely note explaining this non-attachment thing (Jim introduced me to Buddhism), and all of a sudden his sort of glamorous/popular spiritual practice became practical and utterly sincere to me. And so I let it all go. Goodbye great book that I was in the middle of. So long favorite sporty sweat pants. Farewell perfect red back-pack given to me by my dear friends at Gaynor Minden. I think there was also a fair amount of cash and an uber personal journal. Anyway, adios!

The good folks at the computer store in Kearney (pronounced "carney") hustled me a new hard-drive and dryly explained that they weren't able to retrieve a thing from my old one. Ouch. A pin prick of pain followed by a growing pool of blood like the last scene in Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge". (As recently seen at the Guthrie. Magnificent!) It hurt like hell, was dramatic as all get-out, but somehow, like all good theater, there was a gift in there...

Of course I didn't lose any pertinent emails. I was just stalled for a few days. My METRO editor re-sent my latest piece so I could edit it. And during that wee-hour mini meltdown I remembered that about two months ago I actually put the latest version of my resume onto my zip-drive.

As I sit in my soon-to-be home (Jack's house) I am so grateful. It's three in the afternoon, and after my all-nighter driving home with Em and Steph I am on my second cup of coffee. I sprawl on the perfect little red velvet couch that Jack surprised me with in the fall. Geko curls up at my legs. Scented candles burn, and a live tree stands at the ready to be decorated tonight, it's imperfection suiting our needs perfectly as it nestles into the threshold between living and dining rooms. And check this out: it's snowing! I am carless, housebound, still unshowered and I count my blessings on every finger and toe.

I send up joy and prayers to Ellen Marie and her beautiful mama who just passed away from this life. May they both have a smooth transition.

Life is beautiful, hard, bitter and so sweet it hurts. That sweet hurt opens the heart, like a break. Break open

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I just voted. In and out in 25 minutes. Enough time for me to go home again before work. I sit chanting and restless. After my big day of JSB rehearsal and tech @ Carleton, I’ll head to Jack’s to watch the returns and crack open that chilling bottle of Chardonnay we’ve been saving for a special occasion.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Reflecting: Floes, Floss and Fullness

It’s been so long (again) since I’ve written. For this blog, that is. I’ve been doing plenty for METRO and for assorted proposals and grants. Satisfying, but in a different way.

This writing needs to happen because it offers reflection, something I don’t do enough of or make enough time for, thus these gaps. It’s painful because so much rich living is going on, and I don’t want it all to pass by unacknowledged.

One of the richest happenings of my choreographic career took place just a few weeks ago. But let me back up…

In August (after my Fringe show and Alaska), I had the honor of making a new ballet on Minnesota Ballet in Duluth. The commission came through this spring, and when the time came to pin down an idea, one flowed to me through the grace of my remembering.

Two springs ago James Sewell Ballet went to Iceland. We stayed a few extra days after our performances and toured around a little. Our host took us on the “golden circle”, a route just outside Reykjavik that includes geysers, mom-and-pop spas and a magnificent waterfall (where I saw a rainbow).

It was one of those great days when you’re with some of your favorite people, you’ve done all your work (and well), and you spend a whole day outside changing from sweatshirt to bathing suit and back. Returning to our hotel some eight hours later we sat salty and sandy in the van, drunk with exhaustion, yet with eyes and spirits opened wide to the stunning scenery of that part of the world. It was like excavating Mars.

When we flew home I had a window seat. And then there it was: Greenland.

Now, anyone who knows me even a little knows that I’m a city girl. My heart leapt out of my chest when I first went to NYC at the age of nine, and to this day, when I first set eyes on that city after an absence my stomach does a flip-flop like for a first love.

When Jack and I started dating we went hiking outside of Duluth. I had to buy special shoes for the novel occasion, and when we arrived at the top of our climb I asked where the Starbucks was.

That’s how much of a city-dweller I am. But then there’s Greenland.

I sat in that window seat with my heart in my throat for the couple of hours it took to fly over it. My senses had been opened to this type of spare and lonely beauty in Iceland, and now I soaked it in like a sponge does water, completely and heavily.

I thought about a new dance. I even came home and put that notion into a blog about the trip. And weirdly, I thought specifically about a new dance on the MN Ballet of Duluth. Their remoteness has always fascinated me. They put up with that weather, the Superior lake effect, the hilly topography. I thought that they, of all people, would understand a dance inspired by extreme natural (yet brutal) beauty.

Two years later this commission came through. Back flew my memory and out popped a title, “Flying Over Greenland”. We call it FOG for short, and I just love that.

Two weekends ago the piece premiered in Duluth. It was on a great mixed bill that included Tudor (“Little Improvisations”) and Balanchine (“Who Cares?”). I drove up and back three days in a row to tech and see the dress and finally, the show.

During intermission, right before my piece, Robert, the Artistic Director, asked me to bow with the cast. That meant I couldn’t sit with Jack in our middle-of-the-house, middle-of-the-row seats. I left him there to experience the piece for himself (without me sweating on him or twitching around). Robert took me to the back of the house from where, right after the piece, we could run backstage via a concrete hallway that parallels the audience but is behind closed doors.

I’ll never forget that run. Holding hands, Robert and I tore down the hallway through strains of applause. We arrived backstage in time to see the last couple bow before one of the dancers gestured to the wing for me to come out. My strapless dress managed to stay put. My green boots did B-plus of their own accord. My smile did not extinguish for the rest of the night.

There was a review the next morning which was very good… “Freeh’s choreography…eschews the traditional lines and movements of ballet. Her preference is for limbs to be askew and to find interesting angles. Often movements were not coordinate but more of a discordant chain reaction. The result is quite enthralling.” Not that that matters…much. I now have a new 23-minute ballet on my hands and in my rep, and I am so proud.

And those dancers! Each one rose (or rather, dropped) to the occasion of performing the piece, and I am indebted to them. They trusted my aesthetic and allowed their plies to deepen and their pelvises to drop. They became the ice floes, the mountains, the fissures, and they melted, those lovers at the end.

The next weekend JSB had our fall performances. It was a great show. The six new solos, the portraits, went so well, and were nicely dispersed throughout the evening. Each one was compelling and showed something vulnerable about the person dancing.

In Em’s, her out-of-breath “Emily” spoken into the mic at the end did me in every time, it was such a true moment.

In mine it was after I throw a rose to someone in the audience. The houselights are up and after the moment of throwing I have nothing more to do. During the Sunday matinee I burst into a smile right then ‘cause the lady who caught the rose blew me a kiss. So sweet.

In Chris’ it’s the stuff in the middle, the beautiful Bach-inspired plopping of body parts onto the floor.

In Nic’s it may be the eating of his heart off his sleeve (roasted turkey sewn on w/ dental floss), but perhaps more it’s his face at the end, after the ingestion, after the jumping, after.

And in Sal’s, well, many moments, funny and poignant. The stopped moment when James enters upstage like a memory. The simple bouncing to the Cranberries while holding body parts. And those kids at the end and a mother’s love that gets to fully express at the end of a long day dancing.

Our new members, Steph and Cory, fit in so well. They are a pleasure to work with and be with onstage. (Steph, really, can I borrow your freckles for just a little while?) The sense of company is good, it’s team, it’s on-the-same-page, and I feel the importance of reflecting.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Yes Again

Every year I love getting my September Vogue in the mail. I’ve been a subscriber for at least 10 years and a reader, yes folks, since I was 13, maybe 12.

I love the advertisements. I love the letters from readers. I love the editor’s letter, the last page, the cover. But most of all I love the crazy thing they call haute couture and the fantastical way that it’s photographed.

Any tour mate of mine can tell you that on long plane or van rides they will eventually hear my careful ripping of page after page. I collect book reviews, recipes, essays. But mostly I rip out portions of pages just to capture a zany hat or shoe or skirt length. These things eventually go into a folder where I sift through them when questing for costume ideas.

The September Vogue particularly thrills me because of its time peg to all things autumn, my favorite season. The enormity inspires me; this year boasts 798 pages. It’s like a phone book or a bible or those old Spiegel catalogs. It makes me want to buy school shoes. (And so I did. Found great deep purple wedges at Target. $17.99 and not even on sale: slightly unsensible but way cute. Then bought a pair of Dansko Mary Jane clogs: way sensible yet still cute, the ultimate back-to-JSB-shoe, in brown of course.)

Returning to James Sewell Ballet at the end of every summer feels exactly like going back to school, butterflies and all. You’d think after all these years (this is my 15th season with the company!) that I’d be over this particular butterfly effect. Alas, no. I even plan what I’m wearing and my lunch.

At three weeks in, I’ve settled in to a rhythm. I’m back in shape (even wearing pointe shoes all day), complete with requisite about-to-fall-off left big toenail and another one ingrown with a podiatrist appointment lined up for next week.

It feels good, being part of the team again after my indie summer that I think I’m finally ready to let go of, it was so amazing. Some of it I recorded here and some of it has not yet made it in due to lack of time, inability to articulate, or both. Like my ripping out of portions of pages, I will attempt to capture the highlights here…

After five weeks in Portland Jack and I went to Europe. I actually committed to going, to dedicating 12 whole days to a relationship and not to work. We had a blast, a ball. We missed trains and didn’t sweat it. We begged for tickets in front of a theater in Paris and actually got in to the astounding show: Wim Vandekeybus’ dance company. I could go on and on about our doings, but here’s the biggie: Jack proposed. In Saltzburg. On top of a fortress. There were tears. We took pictures. And I wasn’t ready.

But the proposal put the marriage conversation on the table. It took me awhile to get to the point where I didn’t squint at the notion of (again!) discussing invitations and food and dresses and flowers…all the crap that gets in the way of the actual union, the big, brave decision to wed and do life together as legal and spiritual partners.

So we kept it to ourselves. I started seeing my therapist again upon returning home. I needed to process, but I wanted no commentary, just a reflection back. And so in late July, on a Sunday when we had just returned from a night on a sailboat in Duluth, when I had a Scrabble date with a friend and also a METRO piece due the next day, I said Yes. In the midst of my busy life, I said Yes.

I needed those 2 months of thinking time. Time to continue mourning Jim and that whole scenario of what I thought my life with him would be. A surprise was also needing to mourn the loss of my newfound independence. Smack! I bumped up squarely (again!) into my old and tired (oh, I’m so tired of this one) belief, something about not being able to have a successful career and a successful relationship at the same time. Well, there it is. And here’s a brand new pointe shoe. Let’s just shatter that one, shall we?

And so, Yes!

Jack and I sat on the news another 2 weeks. My mom was coming to town soon to see my newest piece, “small aida”, in the MN Fringe Festival. We wanted to tell our mothers first and in an intimate setting. (We stood in a circle in Jack’s mother’s kitchen, crying and drinking gin and tonics. Sweet!)

Creating “small aida” with Stephanie was pure joy. Our friendship of 19 years solidified into a thing I can climb up, wrap my arms around, stand upon. She is a sister in art and Scorpioness. Our piece surpassed my expectations and grew richer with each performance. So satisfying, gratifying. And to perform in Theatre de la Jeune Lune, as possibly one of the last shows in that special space, was a poignant honor.

Then I went to Alaska for a week to set a ballet of James’ and excerpts of another. JSB will tour there next April to perform with the fine dancers of Alaska Dance Theater.

The following week had me in Duluth choreographing a new commissioned work for Minnesota Ballet, a gem of a company. I created “Flying Over Greenland” and I’m so happy with it. It’s en pointe yet does not compromise upper body movement or movement into and out of the floor. Here are the section names: Floe, Flora, Melt, Fauna, Fissure, Fly. (Can’t wait to see the premiere next weekend in Ladysmith, WI.)

Then a blessed week fully off before returning to JSB.

Last week I had a residency at Carleton College. I re-staged the first movement of my Fringe piece from last summer, “We’ll Survive If We Don’t Protect Ourselves”. Originally a quartet for 2 women and 2 men, it lives on at Carleton as a female septet. I couldn’t be happier with the results. Those dancers are intelligent and hard-working.

And I’m tired, but good and happy too on this last day of summer. Now, on to Vogue…

Friday, August 08, 2008


Steph and I have 2 shows left of “small aida”, my piece in this year’s Fringe Festival. It’s been (yet again) the time of my life.

I am compelled, however, after having just read a few new audience reviews about the piece, to respond here. (Audience reviews can be found @ First, let me include the reviews I am referring to:

"Not entertained
" by chas jensen
I rate all performances I attend by a "was I entertained" criteria and this one failed to do that.
I approached this show with high hopes because of the pre-show hype, the venue and the dancers.
As I sat there trying to figure out what was going on while watching standard dance moves, I remembered I don't like to sit there trying to figure out what is going on.
During the performance, I was reminiscing about the fringe show, "Buckets and Tap Shoes", at the same location and wanted that experience. That was entertainment.
All I can say is, if the performance doesn't speak to me, and I have to strain to interpret the message, I'm working too hard. And that is what I try to get away from.

by Richard Heise
Did not live up to her 2007 Fringe performance. No matter how symbolic I don't find walking across a stage, to music, and placing a small figurine on the floor dance. The performance was flat and almost boring. I have loved Penelopes works in the past but was not impressed with this one.

Ok, it’s me again. First off, let me start by saying that of course folks are entitled to their opinion, and I’m happy that there is a forum where that can be given. That being said, I also get to respond…

To Chas,

I appreciate your being upfront about your criteria in judging whether or not a show is good. Clearly, you were not entertained.

I do not dance to entertain. I dance and make work because it is how I engage with the world. I share this with audiences and hope to engage their attention. If an audience is entertained, that is icing on the cake, it is not my motivation or my objective.

It is grossy unfair to compare my work to that of (the indeed magnificent) “Buckets and Taps”. All I can say to that is: apples and oranges. One work of art should never be compared to another.

Which brings me to…

To Richard,

Please don’t compare my work against itself. Again I say…apples and oranges. If artists lived with the expectation (from themselves or others) that their newest creation had to live up to some invisible (and subjective!) pre-established code of merit, excellence, whatever one wants to say, we would all be stymied, ALL of us, artists and audiences alike.

And no, it is not dance to walk across the stage to music and place a figurine on the floor. It is, however, dance/theater, and it propells our story forward. Dance can be many, many things. That moment is justified given that we are “dancing” 95% of the show, just the two of us, for 45 minutes.

Fortunately, I believe in this piece. I am thrilled that we have 2 shows left. I wish I had one tonight. Instead I will see six other shows and not compare them.

Thanks Chas and Richard, for reinforcing my belief in “small aida”, for seeing it, and for giving a shit enough to write about it. Seems like engagement to me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two Days Out

The Fringe opens in two days and though I have a seemingly endless list of yet-to-do’s, I want to record this moment of the process.

My two-person version of “Aida”, (called “small aida”), is tickling me. First I need to say that as ever, Stephanie Fellner is a gem: to me, to the work and to this community of dance artists in general.

Today I had the great pleasure of finishing my solo. No kidding. It was, for maybe the first time ever, a ball to be in the studio by myself, crafting a solo that comes near the end of the piece. I put off doing it till now of course. The usual story about needing to get everything together first. I can always rehearse myself at midnight if I absolutely need to, right? Thankfully not necessary, but just about. (Though I will be up till past then for sure tonight editing music (!!), sewing my costume, etc.

Our show is crazily full of props. Not sure how it grew so much in that department (maybe to make up for lack of bodies), but there they are. And their presence is justified; we do indeed need them all.

Tomorrow Steph and I meet @ 8:30 AM to begin our load-in to the magnificent Theatre de la Jeune Lune. (Though the theater company closed the space remains, at least for now, and we are blessed to be in there.) Our load-in entails wheeling 2 huge screen thingys down the street, from the JSB studio to Jeune Lune. Must every self-produced show I do involve rolling things down the street?! Last summer had Melisse and I, then Chrissy and Nic, then finally Jack and I, rolling my donated chairs down the 5 or so blocks from rental space to venue and back. Jack took pics (at 10 PM no less) and my heart did a flip-flop over the fact that he could be so good-spirited at that hour on a Sunday while helping me.

So here we go. I can safely say I’m in love with this show. Come see it:

Thursday, July 31 @ 8:30 PM
Monday, August 4 @ 10 PM
Thursday, August 7 @ 5:30 PM
Saturday, August 9 @ 8:30 PM
Sunday, August 10 @ 2:30 PM

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Verdi's "Aida", Small and with a Drummer

The dance community here in the twin cities has suffered a blow. Our beloved local theater, the Southern, lost its Artistic Director of 33 years. Two weeks ago the board put Jeff on “indefinite leave”, and mid-last week the news broke publicly. There was an emergency dance community “town hall” meeting that very night. I, along with about 50 others, attended.

Last night was another such meeting but on a bigger scale and with the board of the Southern in attendance. I was not able to go due to a long-standing rehearsal with eight other dancers for my gig with the MN Orch next weekend.

The upshot of all of this, amongst the many unknowns, is that I feel more than ever the great importance to keep on making art. In this economic (and corporate) climate, when choices are being made that are often money-based, those of us who don’t operate by those standards must keep on keeping on.

I am in the midst of two enormous projects. The MN Orch one is a down-and-dirty gig, quickly choreographed, quickly executed and a great joy. The other deeper, bigger project is “small aida”, my second piece in a two years for the MN Fringe. This year my venue is Theatre de la Jeune Lune (another painful story about an arts organization heading south). It is poignant to be in that space, to execute a new piece there, untried but oh-so-true.

“small aida” is comprised of myself and Steph Fellner, my friend and colleague of 19 years. (Yep, count ‘em.) We met at the Ailey School in 1989, and when our paths crossed here in 1994 I just about keeled over when I saw her pregnant and gorgeous in a Starbucks. She’s a rockstar, a muse, and the best damn Aida ever.

The piece will be finished soon. It’s about our relationship and also we tell the story (few are familiar w/ it so that’s….hard). My hope is that it’ll be clear even w/out folks needing to read the program notes. Anyway, it’s a gift every day to work with such a generous human and artist.

And so onward. I seek to make connections with my summer doings. I began with teaching James’ “Aida” choreography in Portland. I now craft my own story, and do the MN Orch gig, all to Verdi, and all to my own drummer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


“Hi! How are you?”

“I’m fine. How are you?”

At first glance this bit of dialogue seems to be straight out of a language primer, like the first things you’d learn in French or German.

These are in fact the first sentences I shared with Merce Cunningham whom I just spoke with on the phone. He honored me with an interview for my September METRO piece as the Walker’s bringing him here for a the-world-will-be-watching series of performances in the Rainbow Quarry in St. Cloud. Down in the quarry. Merce on the rocks.

He was unutterably polite, and lucid. When I referred to Cage he said, “John” this and “John” that. Sweet.

He was speaking from his studio, a place where I’ve performed and where I danced something else for filming during my years in NY. Its famous location way west and on the water is always a bear to find the first time. Bethune Street I think.

Can you imagine? Almost 90, wheelchair-bound, and yet STILL in the studio everyday (with the fans audibly whirring even through my cell phone connection).

My sense of appreciation is deep and wide like the quarry. Part organic and part “man-made”, dug out, formed for use.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Weather Report

I just opened my balcony door again. Today has been fickle: alternately sunny, rainy then windy such that it scares my cat.

Today, four days into my jet lag after returning from an art-filled and magical trip to Europe, I wrestle with getting my life, my routine (such as it is in the summer), back on track.

Lass than an hour ago I received my feedback from the McKnight panel who selected this year’s three choreographic Fellowship recipients. (Not me.) I gained such insight into the process after having just served on the panel that selected this year’s dancer winners, that not much came as a surprise. The sad truth is that a heck of a lot of weight is put onto the work samples, and mine, in retrospect, was subpar. Ironic given that I actually paid for it to get done right. I just made bad choices. The feedback, as always, was enlightening. Though down, I know I’ll muster soon.

(Rainy. Windy.)

(A few words about sitting on the panel…

The five of us panelists bonded. We respectfully argued and metaphorically rolled our sleeves up, got our hands dirty, pulled our hair out. At the end of the second day it came down to a collective decision. I don’t know if any one of us would have settled on the exact three ultimately chosen, so completely were they determined by the sum of our decisive parts. I can honestly say that the process was truly democratic, and for that I am proud.

It was insightful, participating in a process that is so subject to human… well, humanness. With the sincerest intentions we passed judgement. We have subsequently left ourselves open to scrutiny, to questions regarding our choices. We are not allowed to discuss these and must pass along any inquiries to the program administrator, thereby protecting our process and that of future panelists.)

(Windy. Windy.)

Now, just a moment ago, I got a call from my performing arts contact at the Walker Art Center who has, hang on to your hats folks, arranged for me to interview Merce Cunningham next week for my September METRO Magazine column!

(Sunny. Windy. Windy.)

It’s almost too much to contain: all this art, all these things and people I care about. I sat at my mother’s antique desk and just sat there, then put my face in my hands, the better to swallow it all.

I feel home now. I deem jet lag over and resolve to plant my feet back into the Minneapolis (and St. Paul) soil. Monday I will start my new piece for the Fringe, “Small Aida”. (Yes, inspired by opera.)

(Let’s hope for lightning.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Touching Paul

As I sit amongst the rubble of the half-unpacked suitcases that litter my apartment floor since my return from Portland last night, I find that I am caught in a time-warp, or perhaps, a wrinkle.

It’s always a little disorienting, returning from a big trip (I was gone 5 weeks) and feeling the need to reintegrate yet still savor what’s been left behind. It’s probably no coincidence that yesterday (I just realized) also marks exactly two years since J and I split. Sad. Still.

And then today, as I was routinely checking email, I found out that Taylor is having another audition. I can’t be there. Sad. Still. But good. Right. Crazy.

Three days after J and I split I flew to NYC to audition for Paul Taylor. Out of 450 women, I made it down to the final 4. I didn’t get the gig. That two-day period changed the course of my life.

After that, I spent the next nine months (an interestingly apt period of time) thinking that I was going to move back to NY after my season w/ JSB ended. So that next February I spent a week at Taylor during a JSB layoff. I took class then watched the company rehearse for Paul. I took copious notes (that someday will take a shape slightly more public than my shelf). Suffice it to say that that company, those specific dancers, as of Feb. 2007, are some of the finest dancers (and I mean that word in the broadest, biggest most generous way possible) in the world.

At the end of the week I talked to Paul. He told me no one was leaving and that he did not have a spot for me. He did not tell me to hang around. He told me to not put all my eggs in one basket, and after telling him I was contemplating moving back to NY, he sent me home with the words, “Oh no, you MUST be performing!”

As I sat there, touching knees with Paul Taylor, telling him about my life here in Minneapolis, about my situation with JSB, how great it is and how blessed I’ve been by the company’s generous resources, I talked myself back into my life here.

Since then the rewards, the proof of my good decision, have been so blatantly obvious that even a child could see it. I recovered my, for lack of a better word, womanhood, for one; and the professional, for lack of a better word, opportunities, for many, many others.

Yep, it was all of two years ago when, at the end of the first day of that 2-day audition for Paul he called me over to him. He held my hand and said, “I just want to tell you, no matter what happens tomorrow, I think you’re a very special dancer, and I’d love to work with you someday.”

THAT was my reward, the justification for my half-crazed trip to NY three days after J and I split. Somehow it took events that dramatic to set into motion all my actions since then relative to love, my career; relative to life.

So today as I responded to my good friend Steve’s email about next week’s Taylor audition, I hit “reply” and said that I’m not going. For one thing, Jack and I will be in Europe. For another, well, Jack and I will be in Europe.

Yes, I feel ten thousand pangs right now and probably will forever though possibly less acute. I rifle through memories of life since then and am so proud and happy and SURE that I made the right choice and am on the right path.

Instead of dancing for Paul, how about if I resolve to become Paul? Yes, let me channel my dancing and choreography right into his cosmic path and become him instead.

I touched hands and then knees with Paul Taylor, and now I’m going to Europe and best, I get to spend hours on a plane with Jack.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I saw Scapino Ballet Rotterdam tonight and I find that I am restless, frustrated, and generally not at my ease. (Funny how neurotic I can be. Old patterns are hard to break, and a general sense of restlessness has a history of following me around, ready to strike, when I am vulnerable.)

Why am I vulnerable? Perhaps because this “Aida” project is winding down. Perhaps that, coupled with the fact that despite Monday’s rockin Limon class I feel profoundly out of shape. Ok, so I’ll get myself to class tomorrow. (There’s a reasonably timed one at 12:30 that I’ll check out.)

Why do I still battle that one, getting to class? I love class. It makes me so happy. And yet there’s this perverse part of me that resents having to go when I’m “off”. Ah, there’s the rub: a dancer is never “off”. Nope, no dice. (Though I did manage to steal many weeks last summer when working on other projects.) But here’s the thing: I do not feel good, or “myself” if I don’t take class. There’s something in me that just can’t forgive myself the luxury of time off. And yet I’ll grab at it anyway, like a kid stubbornly refusing to do something (or not) just because.

So I know all this about myself. That’s progress. I’ve been here and back a time or ten, and I will see this through. Anyway, what does this have to do with the ballet tonight?

Because I am not quite “myself”, because I feel mostly out of shape, I cannot freely watch, absorb, honestly take in. Nevertheless, here’s what I can honestly say about tonight: I am frustrated because the fabulous, gorgeous dancers made the choreography look better than it was. The audience ate it up, and that just slays me. Yes, it was virtuosic. Yes, there were some amazing images. But! the choreography repeated itself such that by the last piece it was rendered ineffective. All four pieces on the program (by 2 different choreograpgers) featured the gesture of a spastic, flapping hand motion. Potentially brilliant if used sparingly, but in all four pieces!? Nope, I just can’t buy it. And truly, the movement vocabulary in general simply wasn’t “all that”. Again, it was virtuosic, with masterful falling and recovering into and out of the floor, but the intersection of ballet and modern (for lack of something more poetic), was not as thrilling as it could have been. And I guess I mean to say, as it should have been, given this company’s reception and reputation.

And so I write. I wring out my frustrations on my keypad. I look forward to class tomorrow and to discussing the show with folks who’ll get me. I ramp up to brave class at Oregon Ballet Theatre with my friend Christopher who has kindly welcomed me. I wrestle my demons even as my sweet piece in Dance Magazine hits the newsstand. (More on that later; a mighty thrill it is…)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


There’s nothing like taking class in a new city that makes me feel more welcomed and part of the soil. When I took Josie Moseley’s Limon class last Monday I was more here. (Portland) I appreciated her giving me corrections right off the bat. I especially appreciated being in a low stress setting filled with humor yet utter seriousness at what we were learning. (Plus there’s a terrific pianist.) The blend of play with information delivered makes me want to work, to investigate. I find there is room for me and the stuff I bring that is all mine.

Yesterday I took her class again; I loved it even more. Everything Josie says is informed by her physically (and spiritually) experiencing her craft. And she’s generous with the information. It is not held back; she willingly gives us the tools we need, and she rewards us for it. Hers is a serious class for folks who want a modern technique/style steeped in a rich history. I’ve always been a sucker for classical modern, in fact it’s often more “where I live” than the ballet world, and I must find a consistent way to scratch this itch in Minneapolis.

Taking class was a gift. I did not want to get up in the morning, and yet I know myself well enough to know that I’d feel so good if I trekked the ½ hour to the studio. I already knew where it was and the general drill, and as my opera call wasn’t until 7 PM, I coerced my exhaustion with the notion that I’d take a nap in the afternoon. (Indeed I did, lazy me.)

I am reminded that I love being a student. Perhaps more so after these two weeks of teaching and generally being in charge. It is so nice to be on the receiving end. (I do receive when I teach, it’s just different, and the energy output is intense.) I remembered today how much I simply love to move, to dance. There’s a rightness to it, a peace that it sometimes brings, and when I’m in that zone, the whole rest of my life falls simply into place like a skeleton’s hanging bones.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No Elephant

As reflected in my passion for old movie musicals, I love the behind the scenes goings-on of putting on a show. Excepting Broadway or Cirque du Soleil, I’d be hard pressed to find another setting where there’s more backstage business and interest than opera.

It’s quite something to be a part of a production as enormous as this staging of “Aida”. True, there is no elephant, but there is a massive twelve-step rotating staircase with a giant golden falcon up which several dancers and singers walk. (Yes, as it rotates.) Super cool, magnificent even. Nothing is more sublime than the closing of Act 1: Scene 2 when the deck rotates as the music swells, the chorus gathers round, arms outstretched, their faces skyward. The principal singers counter the music, entering into and out of it seemingly at will, as perfectly as Verdi deemed.

The dancers and I, at work next door on a flat studio floor, are getting called into the staging studio with increasing frequency to work a scene with the singers. My heart thrills for them as I watch them rotate. The music, (still just a piano), those voices and the subtle movement of the set combine to strike the perfect visual note. The first time we put all the elements together every single dancer’s face was shining.

When it was done we went back into our room for notes. I prefaced by asking, “Wasn’t that exciting?” Beth, one of the two fierce women playing a man, exclaimed, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” I still get teary as I relay the story. Folks like her, with attitudes like that, keep the rest of us from slipping into jadedness. (Beth in particular, who almost left the audition when I started giving a ballet barre. I persuaded her to stay, to audition for a male part, and here she is, having rocked that audition with everything she had.) (Me, auditioning dancers! Talk about an about-face. Well, that’s another blog.)

In the front right of the staging studio sits, of course, a grand piano. The Maestro’s podium is next to it, centered with and facing the set. The Director’s stool is in front of the podium and slightly left. Then come two long tables with, in order, the Assistant Director, the Production Stage Manager, the two Assistant Stage Managers (stage right and stage left), and the Production Assistant. The Assistant Conductor/Chorus Master sort of nestles behind the long tables as space allows. I too kind of crouch on a back bench, dangerously close to Maestro’s baton. The Assistant Stage Managers run up and down the steps, near the edges where the wings will be, giving cues to the singers. (To the dancers too, but usually dancers are on top of when to enter.) It really is fascinating to watch. Opera at this level runs like a well-oiled machine. Folks are here to make the artists’ jobs easier.

Though foremost a performer, I love being on this side of the fourth wall. It is so satisfying for me to help the dancers integrate into the whole, to see them click into a moment and safely negotiate a stair or a spear or their spacing. I love taking notes and giving them later, working out and fine-tuning the rough spots, creating our own well-oiled machine.

Tomorrow is a blessed day off, though I will miss the dancers (and the production in general). Jack and I will venture out: to the coast, a vineyard, a small town…In the evening we’ll see Oregon Ballet Theatre perform. I bartered opera tickets for ballet tickets. I love this business.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What Counts

I am in Portland, OR setting James’ choreography on the Portland Opera. They’re remounting the “Aida” production that JSB did with the MN Opera in 1998. I danced in that original cast. The production has been subsequently done numerous times, by other opera companies and with other dancers, here in the states and in Canada. This will be its last run, and I am thrilled and honored that the timing worked out so that I could be here. I am having the time of my life.

(I’m so lucky that I’ve been able to say that on so many occassions. It’s the healthy combination of work and fun that does it for me, the feeling that I’m contributing something valuable while living up to my potential and yet learning. Yep, that’s it.)

The JSB season ended with tears last Sunday (only a week ago!). They started to roll right after class onstage when James played Tori Amos during our five. But it was good, necessary to face the hard facts of a few more of us moving on. (Not me) I find that I am at a loss for sufficient words to talk about all the change. JSB is such a part of my DNA that ably articulating its dynamics and nuances is like trying to peel off my own skin: “ouch” and “impossible”. And so I’ll put that aside for now as I dive into this new project.

Every day I walk 25 minutes each way to and from the opera center. It’s right across the Willamette River from my hotel. If I had a rowboat I could get there in five minutes, but as it is I walk up 10 minutes to get to the nearest bridge then walk back down the other side. But it’s great, walking briskly in the perverse Portland weather that’s sunny one minute and hailing the next. It’s colder here now than in Minneapolis. Ironic, but who’s counting degrees?

I brought Geko (my cat) with me and so feel at my ease. She’s so happy here, despite the rather harrowing airport security check and the plane ride “under in the seat in front of me”. She wants to be with me more than anything and so settled right into our suite, checking out all the vantage points best suited to keeping tabs on me. Her green eyes look up at me with such love and trust (when she’s not sleeping).

Another pair of loving green eyes comes soon for a long weekend. Jack arrives Wednesday night, just in time to help me spend my first real day off in seventeen days! It doesn’t matter a bit what we do, though I would like to finally venture out and see this gorgeous part of the country.

When not at the opera center I’ve been “doing homework”. Alternating four DVD’s, I study the three scenes I’m responsible for, notating each dancer’s movements. This has taken hours and is really the only way to do it. Labanotation, the written recording method of dance, is absolutely impractical here (and I’d hazzard to say in general). It’s great for reviving something that’s been recorded thusly, but to recored a dance that way now ain’t gonna happen. And so I thank the universe for my laptop and my DVD’s. I study my 10-year-ago self and record my own counts. I study the 10 men (with spears!) and rewind until I can decipher what they’re doing: what’s in unison? what’s in cannon? what’s individual? (Men! Sloppy beasts!)

The wonen’s trio was a breeze. The music is countable in 8’s for one thing, so it was much more straightforward than the men’s priest scene with its 8, 12, 12, 6 and 10 that retards. That’s just their entrance.

Aside from pulling my hair out over this, I’ve gotten a perverse thrill from it all. This task has reminded me that I am capable and an able translator. The dancers and I have bonded over the counts, the juicy movement, our mutual desire for precision. When I came in February to audition these folks, I came away knowing that they would be good and able. They have exceded my hopes. They are tremendous dancers, and it’s because they’re such great people. Each one is a gem, an individual, a character, yet team players all. I couldn’t be happier with them. We are having so much fun! My heart swells.

Friday, March 14, 2008


It is the end of a long, hard week, and I am pleasantly exhausted. I could sleep for another week. However there are a lot things for which I must muster, not the least of which is JSB’s project with Uri Sands.

Uri’s choreography is beautiful. The steps are sliding, fluid, graceful even when reversing direction on a dime. The use of plie is so important. His work goes beyond groundedness; it turns over the rich soil.

I first worked with Uri in 2000 when he danced with JSB for a fall season. He started a project group a few years later, and when he launched his company, TU Dance, in 2005, I was in the inaugural concert.

Funny, that. It was such an honor to be there, but I was surprised to discover that I really struggled with the work. Granted, I missed some key rehearsals where some basic movement phrases were taught. And though I was taught the material by the other dancers, I didn’t learn it from the horse’s mouth, thus losing a generation in the translation. So when variations were created upon those main themes, I felt doubly underwater.

I remember also struggling with claiming space in the room. For pieces for which I was double cast, going over material on the side was barely an option in the oddly shaped U of M studio we were using. (A rehearsal space should be rectangular, like a stage!)

Then there were all my questions. I had a million of them, so many I didn’t know where to begin. “What angle, specifically, is that leg supposed to be on?” “What’s the motivating body part for that turn?” “What are the counts here?”…I was feeling in such a deficit learning-wise that all I could access were the tiny things, things I guess I felt I could hold on to. In retrospect, what I actually needed, what I eventually came around to grasping, was the gestalt. I lacked a big-picture understanding of what I was doing.

I ended up having a fine time performing. There were two weekends with chances at multiple pieces. It was an invaluable experience, and I think my dancing went to a deeper place. I was eventually able to find my voice within the work. It just took awhile, and for that I was disappointed.

I am happy to report that this time around, almost three years later, I am capturing the gestalt. I am discovering that my dancing has changed again. I am freer. I don’t hold on to and bare down on so many invisible safety nets. My plie is deeper. New chanels are open, and that includes in my brain and the way I am learning material. It is pouring into the top of my head out flowing out of my body. My skills certainly aren’t perfect, but they are closer to my potential than they were before, and for that I am so thankful.

Each day existing as a dancer is a real gift. Ours is such an ephemeral form that one must grasp periods of growth and success and utter thanks. (Like I thank my 37-year old body, and marvel that I am still learning and in many ways getting better!)

Next week with Uri will be hard and great I have no doubt. At the end of the process we’ll have two studio showings, but in a way they don’t matter. The gifts are already opening.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


JSB performed in Fergus Falls this Friday night, and I am reminded that it is a wonderful thing to connect with a community that’s different from one’s own.

We’ve been to Fergus many times over the years now. The downtown strip exudes small-town charm. The theater is on one side of the street and the dance school is on the other, ½ a block away and across the intersection.

The stage is a sort of subtle trapezoid shape, a former movie house I think, that still fulfills that use occasionally. We enter and exit through doorways instead of wings; upstage doorways also have stairs, a challenge in the dark.

But it is a pleasure to perform there, to engage with a community by doing what we do best. We also teach master classes (ballet, pointe, modern and jazz). James and I even made it to a party, a monthly potluck gathering of artists. In the warm and sturdy 1913 bungalow of metal sculptor Jeff, I felt as though I was in the right place at the right time. Warmed by wine and chili, I sat by the fire and communed.

My experience in Fergus goes deper still, as it was where I spent the last 2 weeks of August working on the magnificent original musical “Songs from the Tall Grass”. Because of my past connection to the place, I was hired to choreograph this newest installment of the show. I bonded so thoroughly with director/songwriter/co-author Randy that I became co-director. That buffalo of a man still resides in my heart, part of the permanent collection.

So Fergus goes deep. After the show there was a party across the street at a former hotel turned artist live/work residence. Such a valuable reuse of precious architecture. There I communed again as I caught up with “Songs” colleagues as well as Rebecca, Ramona and Mary, the folks who make it possible for us to be there.

We premiered a ballet, engaging with the community on yet another level as we required eight extras to fill out our cast. They did a superb job, especially after only three hours of rehearsal. I love seeing folks step up to the plate.

The next day I taught the last master class and headed home with Jack, his new painting freshly wet in the back. I love how we can simultaneously do our art then come together at the end of the day, (you guessed it) commune, then go for Dairy Queen. (MN must be the only state where at 35 degrees it feels like spring enough to want ice cream!)

Despite my ankle stress that occurred at some point on Friday night, I am thankful for all of it. The new scrape on my knee keeps me childlike. Hopefully it’ll heal in time for Rochester in two weeks. No matter, the battle wounds mean that I am doing battle.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


It’s almost a guarantee that in any given dance studio one can find a stray bobby pin. I love that this is the case. One never knows when one may need an extra, especially when one is growing one’s hair out like I am. (At least partially. It is a weird in-between length now, which is where my whole self has been since my last blog entry. I’ve been in a weird, in-between place.) But now I’m back.

I’ve missed this blog like a person. Indeed, the person I’ve missed is myself, my writing self, this self that got me through my divorce and then some. I’ve been so crazy busy there hasn’t been time to process, much less reflect upon it all. I can’t begin to catch up, so I will settle with starting from now, catching my own hand mid-air and guiding it gently down to earth where it belongs.

I’m reflecting these days on the concept of “career”, how I’ve managed to build one out of a ton of tiny parts, like a collage or a mural, tiny parts that add up to a big, beautiful thing. So many transitions are happening that it’s hard to keep track. Like how I am now Artistic Associate of JSB and am in a constant state of attempting to capture what that means exactly and how best to apply my energies. Like how I am now a published writer, writing the dance column for METRO Magazine, a newish Twin Cities publication that’s glossy and urban and where I have to assume my readership doesn’t know squat about dance so I have to be very clear and not very poetic. (Oh I know there’s a way to be both; it’s just not always apparent to me, and certainly not on a deadline.) Like how Justin is leaving the company after this season. Justin, who has been the subject of my fall, my partner in crime as we tumbled our way through Firebird with MN Orchestra and The Nutcracker in his Maryland hometown. I am not ready to face all the missing that’s going to happen there. And then there’s the departure of Gary Peterson, our Executive Director of almost 13 years, my lucky number. Again, a departure I am not ready to face, though it occurs next week.

That’s the thing about the collage-style career, it contains so many parts it’s hard to keep track. So many people and places and ballets coming and going that one wonders where the gib is, the steadfast force that keeps it all glued down.

It’s important, therefore, for me to blog, to string words together by way of record keeping if nothing else. These words tie me back to myself so that I can lean into the wind.

I determine to write more and to be less precious and precise. I will run-on a lot and I will forgive myself that. The point now is to just do it so that I can move on and not be stuck in this weird, in-between place. (Who know what I’ll end up doing with my hair? It really doesn’t matter… much.) It’s more like, what are all the strays doing at this moment? I don’t really want to pin them all down

Monday, October 22, 2007

Notes from the Joyce

First off, it appears that it is confusing when sometimes I use names when referring to folks while at other times I use initials. From now on, in reference to James Sewell Ballet, I will name names. I get confused too. Hopefully this will help.

The Weekend

With five shows in three days and a mother in town, there’s little time left for recording thoughts. Instead of a blow by blow, here’s the gestault…

The weekend was great. There’s something superhero-like about dancing when you’re tired yet profoundly in shape. The body learns to count on its capacity to conserve and then serve-up when necessary. How smart.

I had friends in the audience for nearly every show. Michael came on Friday, then went out with all of us. An ex-boyfriend turned old friend, our first date was supposed to have been seeing Feld at the Joyce. Their curtain got damaged in a flood and operations closed down, at least for that show. James had left the company by then anyway, (about 1991) but I like the near-connection nevertheless.

Saturday night brought Anna and Griff. Anna danced with us for three or four years. She remains a gem in my heart, allowing me to crash their wedding last May, and taking me in for a week last summer (as newlyweds!) while I went to another wedding and attended a Robert Battle workshop. So good to catch up with Anna, to laugh like we used to, especially on tour.

After the matinee on Sunday I was surprised by Jacques, a new friend, met at a Dance Critics Association conference held over a weekend in June in NYC. We had a quick lunch and coffee then went our separate ways with the promise of staying in touch. A former Erick Hawkins dancer and dance historian, he was able to give honest, lucid and imaginative feedback on the show. What a gift; I’m looking forward to sharing that with James. The best piece was when he said it was clear that James has been careful about what he’s built. He is not a flash-in-the-pan choreographer breezing into NY. He’s instead bringing what he’s steadily built: a company of dancers increasingly adept at his “style” and who are able to portray their respective humanities onstage.

Sunday night was probably our fullest house of the run. For the Joyce’s 25th anniversary, they are selling all Sunday PM shows for $25. We needed that extra audience energy. Out with a bang.

Gorged at Italian place in celebration. Moved on to another diner/bar in the meat packing district with friends John and Denis in tow. Again, so gratifying for me to merge worlds. Integration: body, soul and friends.

Throughout I talked to boyfriend. (New cell phone good.) From afar I felt healing comfort without weirdness or weird relying.

We returned today pleasantly exhausted and looking forward to resting. We open this coming weekend for our season here. We’ll be ready.

So the upshot is: this is a great group. Each dancer is magnificent and singular. We are all indeed human. We can act out, but we also come together and do great things, like cause Denis to “walk on air” for the whole next day after seeing us.

We can contain it all, all the quirks and setbacks and then inevitable successes and wins. That’s what it’s all about: performance as process, company as process. It’s all there, here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Notes from the Joyce


I just had the best shower since I’ve been here: consistently warm, full, heavy stream, long. But I get ahead of myself. It is actually Friday, and I’m having breakfast. Here’s what happened yesterday…

I opted to not take class with Gelsey in the AM. My calf greeted me with the promise of trouble ahead if I overdid things. I didn’t want to sit out of more jumps, or make the concrete trek uptown and back for that matter. So I went to the theater early to warm myself up. J and C were there too. A good, bonding time in the little studio below the stage.

Our review came out in the NY Times. It started off well (and with a beautiful picture), but then took a turn for the not-so-hot. And then the kicker: wrong information. E was said to have lip-synched her song Lonely House in Opera Moves. Oh, she absolutely does sing this one. Boy, that’s a piece of factual info that is so easy to access (by actually reading the program) that my burgeoning critical heart hurts. How easy it is to get a thing wrong, and cause frustrating upset if not outright damage. The upshot is that our press agent was contacted and she secured a retraction, to be published Saturday. That’s great, but to me the main point is bigger and even harder to bear: the fact that the critic did not seem to care enough to fact check properly. Which means that he didn’t really care about the show. Which means that his heart did not open. He did not allow the singularity of the company to seep into his bones. He did not absorb the fact that, yes indeed, we have a magnificent dancer in our midst who does indeed sing as well as dance, and that James created a special solo to accommodate that. The critic did not serve as our advocate, or an advocate for dance in general, and it hurts my heart.

Well, E blew the folks out of the theater last night. Her song was deep and warm and indeed lonely. She played with the timing, made different and stunning choices with her phrasing, and I was rivited in the wings. Turning poison into medicine, that girl (woman) is wise.

It was like the audience in general rallied toward us in the dark. They were so present for every section of Opera Moves. They seemed to dare the critic to stand behind his shallow words. He’s swallowing (at least some of) them now.

Again, I get ahead of myself. In the afternoon, after our rehearsal for a ballet in next week’s Saint Paul show, I had a late lunch with my old friend/boss/mentor Eliza. The inventor of the Gaynor Minden Pointe Shoe, she is a gem of a human. We had such a good talk, about things personal and dance-related, that I was again struck at how rich it all is, my life and the folks in it. Her anecdote on the privledge of directing Melissa Hayden in a photo shoot to promote the shoe was hilarious, as well as a testament to that amazing creature, the ballerina. I feel as though I’m not made of the same materials as the Melissa Haydens of this world. Well, whatever I’m made of, I’m well-worn with gratitude for the privilege of inhabiting a small corner of this crazy niche market.

Another cat nap. N and I wound our way to the theater. My mother appeared, just in from Charleston, and delivered merde gifts for the company: awesome slippers from some remote neighborhood of Queens. I love my burgundy chinoiserie ones. J hilariously pranced around in his baby blue fuzzy ones, his heels hanging 2” off the back. E and N did a lip-synching duet. I love these folks.

So then the show ( I fell in Schoenberg Serenade! I fell at the Joyce!) S did a little touch-down too, in sympathy and solidarity. Ah, friend.

Afterward there was a party in a restaurant uptown. Fantastic food, friends. A former dancer with the company, J, was there. I knocked on the window in greeting. He beckoned me inside; my heart swelled to overflowing to see him. He radiates happiness and himness. From him I learn the lesson of being utterly myself, no matter what. (I send a mental thanks to new boyfriend, with whom I can be, and am, myself.)

Heading in to the weekend. Five shows in three days. Onward.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Notes from the Joyce


Began the day taking class from Gelsey again. My body felt the need to get physical early, to warm and rev, before company class at 5:00.

She is an excellent teacher. It doesn’t always translate, a great dancer becoming a great teacher. But in this case, and to my surprise, it has.

My calf strain is still with me. I’m not worried per se, but it’s a new negotiation. I didn’t do the super quick small jumps. I hate not doing everything in a class, especially this very special one, but the priority must be the show and how to responsibly prepare for it.

I spent the rest of the day with the show ahead a constant in my mind. I bumped into K and had lunch; nice to catch up with my old friend. Found great bargans at the nearby Salvation Army thrift store. Phone calls, another cat nap, another coffee, headed to the theater.

Class on stage. Oh those slippery spots. Well, I know where they are. K worked on my calf. Made-up, costumed, I decided I’d be fine. Indeed I was. The show was good. C’s solo in Opera Moves was the best ever. Proud of him. Again, felt the audience respond after each section as the lights faded. We threaded the needle again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notes from the Joyce


I am in the middle of our day. So far we have had: class, dress rehearsal, a photo shoot, and notes. Now we are breaking, for about an hour and a half, before we have class again and open this week of shows. I’m getting excited. Today’s dress went well enough for me to feel better about the show than I’ve been feeling, but not so well that I’m suspicious. (Never good to have too good of a dress.) I am at peace with my costumes, my body, my new calf strain. Already today I’ve received a gift backstage and flowers, plus several well-wishing emails. My community surrounds me, near and far.

So now a cat nap, a change of wardrobe, a pre-show coffee. (I’ll save merde cards for another night.) Looking forward to the champagne reception after the show. Looking forward to the show. Looking forward…


The magic of this company never ceases to surprise me. The show was beautiful.

James’ solo was exciting in all its raw newness. He looked deep in his legs, solid on the ground.

The second piece, Schoenberg Serenade, had gotten most of the kinks out in the afternoon. For the most part, we were able to bravely tackle our highly technical requirements with artistry and animation. My solo went pretty well. I was happy with it, though it wasn’t perfect. It rarely is, with its extremely technical quirkiness en pointe. I use the shoes in all possible ways, from cocking my feet and turning with bent knees, to balancing doubled-over in a parallel sous-sous and rising to upright, hands flexed above my head.

After intermission came Opera Moves, our final offering. Many sections long, we each get a chance to shine. The opening section, an new, inherited part for me, went the best it’s ever gone. J and I finally figured out how to negotiate our arms prior to a tricky turn. We nailed it. I also promenaded in arabesque steadily; this is generally hit-or-miss. I heard the audience breathe a collective sigh as the lights lowered after that section. Satisfying.

My duet with S also went well. Some tricky partnering here too, this time en pointe. I screwed up some steps by myself, but at least not at her expense. I’ll figure that out before the next show. But the gestault of the thing was there, in full force. We were giddy with pleasure in dancing with one another; she’s intoxicating.

The final section has us all re-emerging, morphing characters we’ve just portrayed. We also borrow from one another, both in movement and in costumes. I get to wear one of the romantic tutus, still with the wreath in my hair from my dance with S. I look like a girlish Puck. My final moments, back with J, are indeed fairy-like and drowsy.

Old friends in the lobby. Champagne. Dinner in groups. Combining new and old. Life is full and rich and good. Solid again now that I know what this particular show’s about. Until tomorrow…

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Notes from the Joyce

James Sewell Ballet is performing at the Joyce this week in NYC. After a minor flight set-back last night, we arrived safe and sound in our new digs: the dorms of the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. My room is about 9’x9’, shared with N. We have a sink. Clean showers and toilets are down the hall. I’m actually used to it already. Hey, it’s three blocks away from the theater, and we’re never there anyway. Twin beds make for cozy comfort.


Took morning class w/ Gelsey Kirkland, one of the most famous ballerinas of all time. She’s subbing for David Howard at Steps this week.

Going to Steps for class is always a production: getting uptown, waiting for the puny elevator, lining up to pay for class ($15 pro-rate!), negotiating cramped dressing-room quarters and bathroom stalls. This is just the preliminary. Once in the studio the space negotiation continues. Barres usually have a couple people too many. Hands vie for just the right spot. Angles are compromised. A view in the mirror is fleeting.

Today, however, the class was blessedly not over-crowded; it even dwindled as dancers had to leave early for respective rehearsals. I felt “in-body”, comfortable, relatively myself. I decided in advance not to take center en pointe. Good to remove a level of stress, especially since I had company class again later anyway.

The theater greets me like an old friend. This time, however, I find that I am on slightly different terms with it. I have a different spot in the dressing room, and I’m finding the floor to be slippery. Good to know. Tomorrow I will know what to anticipate, what to “get over” fear-wise.

All my dancing for this show feels delicate, as in threading a needle just so. I feel as though I have less room for error than usual. And yet at the end of the day, if I’ve done well, I am so self-satisfied. And so I buckle down my mind to do my utmost-best. (But there’s the catch, I don’t want to buckle down my mind at all. I want to free it, along with my heart, to pierce the core of the moment. To thread the needle of the moment, not just of the dance.)

The last rehearsal of the day had me watching James’new solo. It’s been fun and an honor, to weigh-in on my director’s latest effort for himself. I feel as though I’ve been helpful, if only in a moral support kind of way. But no, I’ve helped physically too, with a deepening of a plie here and an inserted jump there.

I wind down with dinner with an old friend, then calls to my mom and boyfriend. Shower, chat with N, book, bed. Tomorrow, we open.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Opening Night

My new piece for the Fringe opens tonight. It’s called “We’ll Survive if We Don’t Protect Ourselves”, and it’s taken on a new and more immediate meaning in light of yesterday’s tragedy here in Minneapolis.

Driving to rehearsal @ 6:34, I saw an ambulance crossing the river, speeding down Broadway. I turned before we crossed paths.

When I arrived at my venue, a public building, folks were outside, talking on their cells and smoking, not a particularly unusual sight. But then I heard the news. We plugged in a radio and got on our phones.

I’ve worked/rehearsed during tragedy before. It’s true what they say, “The show must go on.” (Though on 9/11 you can better believe I holed up at home, my mom having been at the Towers. (She’s fine.)) We had to get to work; I had to finish the piece, for one thing. The costumes needed a final nod, and a photographer was coming. And so we proceeded, and stuff was different. The irony and bitter truth of my pithy title hit me hard. What began as a an abstract and even lofty notion quickly turned concrete, tons and tons of it.

And yet the work I do is the best thing I can do to deal with something indigestable and impossible to articulate. To me, it is the highest honor I can pay. And perhaps by witnessing it, folks can have some sort of catharsis. We certainly do, dancing it.

As I undergo my final preparations for tonight (costume laundering, ironing and repair, picking up programs, loading in chairs, picking up folks from the airport, rehearsing), I think about grace. I think about my immensely fortunate life. I am reminded to not take it for granted. My show will indeed go on. This magnificent festival will go on, more needed than ever, more capable than ever of creating community.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

O'er the Ramparts

Yesterday was July 4th. I had a late-night gathering at my place to watch the fireworks. My balcony hosts the most perfect view. Like a television screen, the sky/skyline layed itself out before our group. We counted the seconds between seeing a blast and hearing it. I counted myself lucky.

One year ago I moved into my apartment. On the 4th I had rehearsal, then went to the beach. In the evening, however, I had no plans, and so surrounded by boxes, I proceeded to unpack.

In the midst of setting up my new life, the fireworks began. I went out onto my balcony and discovered this most perfect view. I watched in awe, a tiny lump in my throat. Here was a city-wide Declaration of my Independence. My night was meant to be spent alone, to settle a contract with myself, setting myself free.

Last night I marveled at all the change. Watching from the exact same spot as last year, this time I shared it with friends, old and new. It was a grounded gathering, despite the 3rd floor location and the rush to get home to welcome folks.

The lump in my throat returned. Fireworks do that to me anyway, but this time it was for all kinds of reasons. My mind scanned past July 4th celebrations. Mostly I conjured ones from when I was in high school; lots of memories from being away at dance camps. (Maybe because I just re-watched “Dirty Dancing”.)

During my summers in NYC there was always an adventure. We always got the day off from dancing. The first year my mom and I hooked up with other misplaced Ohioans in the big city. (One girlfriend went to SAB while I went to Joffrey.) I think we watched fireworks from the roof of our ladies residence.

My second NY summer I spent the 4th with my boyfriend from home (again, he was at SAB while I returned to Joffrey) and another dancing friend who came to visit for the occasion. We sprawled out in Central Park before I knew the lay of that land. I think we caught some fireworks. I mostly remember being sort of sad. I had fallen in love with my partner at Joffrey and didn’t know how to negotiate that at 16. Dance and love became a jumbled, incompatible mix.

The next year I’m pretty sure I spent the 4th on Long Island with the aforementioned Joffrey partner. That summer I questioned everything dance related. It was the beginning of a year-long seeking, certainly the darkest period of my life up to then. I became an other-self. I stopped taking class. My body drastically changed. It was like I forgot how to dance. I lost sight of my worth in relation to dance and probably in general. But I’m convinced that my relationship to my form would not be as solid as it is today if I had not undergone the trials of that year. I still may skip class or rant against pointe shoes, but I can do these things because my commitment to dance is solid. Dance and I are mates for life.

Funny to recall that dark year. Reminds me of the one I just had: divorcing, moving, contemplating relocating, and falling in love. And like that other one, this past year has solidified my commitment to myself and my happiness. I am truly strong, bending with the winds of change, but never breaking. My new relationship is healthy as can be. I used this year of trauma and change to put these things into effect, to lower the ramparts that I built between dance and love.

I am seeing now instead of constantly searching, an acute distinction. I feel no qualms about loving and dancing. I can contain all the disparate parts and output things worthy, artful and valuable.

Watching the fireworks last night, memories flooded. A strong and gentle hand caressed my back, and I felt peace in my newly-coupled independence.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Elephant in the Room

Haven’t written in eons. Summer slipped into me like a foot into a comfortable shoe, and I’ve been down with that since our dancing season ended. Yet to justify my existence, here’s what I’ve been up to:

-Performed for Deborah Jinza Thayer’s Movement Architecture at Gallery 13 in NE Minneapolis
-Completed and shepherded to the stage my portion of “Strange Attractor” (a combined effort with Wynn Fricke) for Springboard, the performing group of the Dance Institute of MN Dance Theatre
-Went to Duluth to create a new dance on the advanced students of MN Ballet
- Helped rehearse and tech “Brahms Duet”, Sally’s affecting dance with Mariusz for Strictly Ballroom’s fundraiser at the Southern
-Took a Master Class with Italian choreographer Emio Greco at The Walker. Came away with the title for my Fringe show
-Picked up fellow JSB dancer from double knee surgery. It was an honor to be privy to post-surgery stupor, gradual lucidity, extreme pain, and funny stoicism
-Had in-grown toenail “minor surgery”
-Went to Duluth to see my new piece performed. So amazing to leave it as a rough sketch and return to watch it sparkling onstage. Hiked 5.2 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail (in my new trail running shoes!)
-Accepted job offer to choreograph and assistant direct an original musical, “Songs From The Tall Grass”, to open in Fergus Falls and modestly tour
-Met new nephew. He gazed at me with clear eyes at only 30 hours old
-Traveled to Charleston, SC to visit my mom and other family. Attended three Spoleto performances, including Batsheva Dance Company
-Substitute taught a number of classes at a wonderful dance school “in the burbs”

And all the while:

-Took Pilates, yoga, the occassional ballet class
-Finished up my weekly Tuesday evening teaching gig (Pillar, Linda and Monica are high school, rockstar, actual people, not just bunheads)
-Contemplated, conceived and began Fringe piece, “We’ll Survive If We Don’t Protect Ourselves” (secured venue and dates, hired dancers, researched music, made flier…)
-Saw 15 performances of dance and theater, one movie on the big screen, and numerous rented, libraried, and netflixed films (moslty old)

The elephant in the room:

-There’s a new significant other in my life

So all this stuff has been shared, supported. At the end of most days, either in person or on the phone, I’ve intermingled the adventures of my life with that of another. Mutual support through sustained, ongoing, never-ending conversations. As I’ve continued to healthily let go of J, to hang on to the good stuff and shed the unnecessary, not helpful stuff, I continue to uncover my pagoda.

(One of the national leaders of the lay organization affiliated with my Buddhist practice talks about the initial necessity of a scaffolding surrounding her pagoda: her best self. The scaffolding represents her responses to fears, “negative” tendencies, things she actually has needed to get through the burden of life. A scaffolding allows us to make a thing better, stronger, more lasting. But there comes a time when the scaffolding, in place for so long, starts to get in the way. It shrouds our true selves, our pagodas, and hinders our progress as humans. And so a shedding must occur. In my case, it’s a gradual process. One aspect that feels important is that I’ve allowed others to help me. And instead of feeling weakened by this, I feel fortified, strengthened. Not to say that my pagoda is perfect or finished. It’s simply out in the open now, enjoying the sun.)

Through this process of re-entering significant-otherness, I put into practice all that I’ve learned. All my painful experiences (and wonderful ones) add up to me being able to approach another person better.

I slide my newly exposed pagoda-self into this new relationship like summer slipped into me. I contemplate this new significant other in my life and wonder at all the possibility. Sweet drips down my chin like from a fresh strawberry, yet I risk getting seeds in my teeth and juice on my white shirt. But the important thing is that I risk. Again. My risking is hard-earned. There’s a new openheartedness, and life’s ripe with the possibility of it making a difference.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


We of James Sewell Ballet are in the midst of our spring season, our last series of performances this contract period. We are dancing again at the beautiful new Guthrie McGuire Theater, the red walls of which evoke drama on an operatic scale, perfect for this particular program.

Balanchine’s “Tarantella” opens. A duet from the ‘60’s, it is danced here by Brittany and Nic. They are charming in this warhorse. They have risen to the occasion, certainly earning tamborine rights. How silly, how sweet, and sometimes even sexy. I watch as I warm up, sure to catch my favorite moments, reveling on their behalf in the applause that follows each section. They’re on my team, and we’re winning.

They pass the baton to James and Sally who perform next in “Late”. This duet is charm of another sort. It is a fashionable, quirky cartoon, beginning and ending with a bang.

Then on to Jennifer Hart’s magnificent “LightSpace”. We are pleased that this is part of our program. Utterly challenging technically, it’s also a spatial puzzle, requiring a threading-of-the-needle accuracy that thrills in its split-secondness.

The second half of the show is James’ extended version of “Opera Moves”. This piece is largely sectional, mostly solos and duets, so we get to watch one another when we’re not busy changing costumes. This watching, this supporting from the wings, is the closest thing to unconditional love I can think of. And it is during this watching that my heart swells, recognizing the admiration and support we all feel for and from one another. We go from wing to wing, keeping up with the action, waiting for that great joke or promise of an astounding turn. Onstage to off, it is mutual, shared, sacred.

We are losing one of our ranks after this weekend. Brittany has taken a job with American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey. Her going is a multi-loss to me; she is colleague, friend, mentor, sister.

I’ve danced in this company long enough to have experienced many such losses. Each is singular in the specificity of feeling, and yet there’s a sameness about the ritual: people move on. I’ve moved on too, just with and alongside the company. Each of us requires something different. Some of us stay longer than others. Yet whatever our personal equation, for the time we are together, for the duration, we are solidly one. We are many and we are one, fulfilling our respective missions as we attempt to propel James’ forward.

We are team JSB, clad in mostly unitards with an occasional tutu or hat. We are company, collection, menagerie, an island of misfits. We come together to practice our unique dance. We laugh endlessly and cry occasionally. There’s sweat, blood, frustration in the extreme. But at the end of a long night of performing we stand in a single line and bow to people clapping. I can tell you there’s nothing better, and it’s not only because of the claps. It’s also the certainty of pride that I feel when I look on either side of me and see these friends, these artists, and that I can lay claim to being in their good company.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fly Spring

Want to set a few thoughts down…

As I near the end of my thirteenth season with James Sewell Ballet, I am taking stock, and I find that I am happy. Recently, amid massive internal inquiry and indecisiveness about my dancing future, not to mention all the shit re: my divorce, I’ve remained grounded; I’ve been joyful even. I’ve decided to stay.

(Re: the “shit of my divorce”, I mean it like fertilizer. I’ve mined the process for all it was worth to emerge the person I always knew I could be. My heart thanks J, for having the forethought to make a brave choice for both of us. As horribly unilateral as it was, I know it to be the right thing. All my solidity proves that. I’m solid in a fluid sense, like how bamboo can bend with the wind but not break. I now know how to be vulnerable, what a gift.)

On this first day of spring I am reminded that I’ve never felt quite settled about spring’s arrival. It always makes me a little sad, even though winter’s no picnic. (Love those blizzards though, and the ready excuse for a fire.) I don’t know, all this sudden openness is maybe too much too soon. Maybe I’m not quite ready to abandon the cocoon that I’ve surrounded myself with over these dark months. Maybe it’s that I feel too much pressure, to rejoin the human race and my community. Maybe it’s that all this lingering light hits my windows at odd hours, and I see how dirty they are. I hate to clean, and yet I know it feels so good once it’s done.

Soon my balcony will once again be like another room of my cozy apartment. I’ll be able to hear the church bells without straining my ears. My cat will meow to go out and I’ll let her, chaperoned of course.

And then there’s my dancing. Our season ends with a kick-ass piece by Jennifer Hart that’s challenging me both athletically and balletically. And then in James’ expanded “Opera Moves” I get to dance duets with Sally and Nic. Playing two different characters that morph into one at the end, the parallel to my own recent experience is not lost on me.

Today I conclude that life is good. I love it for what it is: hard, bewildering, fraught with alarming things. It also offers so many moments of grace I can’t begin to count them; I wouldn’t want to try.

Today I am at peace with this mystery that is life. Perhaps some things are not meant to be fully grasped. Holding a thing down may change its nature, its it-ness. I remember early on in our breakup being hit with the notion that I had to let J go in order for him to maintain his J-ness. And low and behold, in that letting go, I’ve allowed myself to fly. Not that occassionally I won’t need to return to my cocoon. I know I will, perhaps even later today. For the most part I am untethered; no strings attached.