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.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Near Miss

(In reference to Sunday January 21, 2007)

I am alone onstage, behind the curtain. The call is seven minutes before the top of the show. “Chair Bones” is first, and I am dancing it today. I am costumed, shod, feeling thin (enough) and on my leg. Today I can almost feel my center.

I stand en pointe behind the chair, holding it for support, testing my balance in soussus. S wanders onstage asking if I need anything. Just to drill a few steps, the ones I’m still uncertain about or that require a practice run. Already this morning I have marked through the dance in my apartment so as to gain total comfort with the music. The music, above all, is how I’ve hooked in to this piece. I want to know exactly where I am in it so that I can be free to make intelligent, informed phrasing choices.

The company gathers for circle onstage, our pre-show ritual. S reads a poem, leaving me blessed and with permission to be ugly. Holding hands, we encircle the chair, close our eyes, and hook into the collective that is JSB. The last show of our run, we are tired and warm.

I think about how I felt just over a week ago as I set out to perform this piece for the first time in California. Then I was slightly underwater, wading. Today I am walking on water; I am ready.

The dance begins and I am in control. I am at once engaged and detached. I am grounded and I am above, looking down on myself, my choices, and on what happens as a result of momentum and gravity.

The company watches from the wings. They surround and buoyantly support. I have strength and stamina. My shoes are hanging in there, softly supportive too. I remember all the steps. I successfully negotiate and manipulate the chair.

Today’s small audience is somewhat disappointing, but I remember that it is ultimately not for them. This whole shebang that is dance in my life is for me, my gift to myself. I love sharing it with others, but really it is mine. And that’s what makes it so hard. Because on days when I can’t or don’t “get it up” no one really cares. Sometimes no one even knows, but I do, and at the end of the day, I remember.

I leave “Chair Bones” now. The final two performances of it on tour will be danced by B and E, respectively magnificent, coming into their own and in their own ways. I’m sure the music will continue to play in my head.

I miss. I have relief. I hum. I do and I don’t want to see the DVD of my performance. Until I do I replay the film in my head: reliving, reviving, retreiving, recovering. It is still near enough to touch.

Friday, January 19, 2007

It Makes Me Happy

It makes me happy to take River Road to the theater these days. I resolve to take it more often…in keeping with my general resolve to slow down.

It makes me happy that I sat with myself today. (Again with that slowing down thing.) I and my internal meltdown did battle, and the good guy won. It was about, as usual, my dancing and my confidence in it.

It makes me happy that I performed well tonight, despite and amid my mistakes.

And it makes me happy that my friend B kicked ass in “Chair Bones” tonight. Watching from the wings, all of us were out there with her. She had some devastating balances and turns. She smiled with real achievement. My heart swelled, and it makes me happy that my pride in her, my total joy at her performance, surpasses my desire to do as well. This is her moment. This sharing makes me happy, fills me up to do it all twice more tomorrow plus a photo shoot.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Red Envelope

Last night I saw a film that inspired me.

(First off, let me reveal, confess, proclaim, that I love my Netflix membership. For $9.99 a month, I get one film at a time with no limit per month. I’d been avoiding falling into this craze, sure in the knowledge that I would become addicted. Indeed, I have. I love the emails announcing that another DVD is on the way. I love receiving what feels like a present in the mail at the end of a long and hard day. I love the ingenious red envelopes marked with No Postage Necessary. But mostly I love adding to my queue. Finally, after years of not quite “getting it” regarding the internet and it’s appeal, I’m hooked. I type in “Cary Grant”, and up pop all his films. I click to read the synopsis of one and deeper I go, onto another page and a Netflix-best-guess of films I’d like because I inquired about X. Deeper and deeper I navigate, hitting the ADD button discriminately and with relish. I review my queue, my last move before clicking out for the night. I go to bed with a rush like I’ve been shopping.)

Last night’s film was “I’ll Be Seeing You” with Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotton. There was also a star turn by a teenage Shirley Temple, and here’s why I’m inspired: before me were two incredible dancers, Ginger and Shirley, performing at top form in a straight drama, not dancing. I love the idea that they did not need to use every ounce of what they were capable of as performers. They ably and convincingly played their respective parts with fullness. Nothing was missing or lacking. They were complete, even though not dancing, and maybe even because of it.

This is a tough concept for those of us who know little else. When a person falls into their life’s work at about the age of seven, it’s pretty unavoidable not to tie up a part of one’s identity in that thing. It’s a challenge to untangle the person from the talent, and yet it’s important. Inasmuch as I strive to integrate all the ways that I am with the things that I love and am good at, into one, sinuous thing, it is also vital that I understand my inherent worth without an ounce of ability in anything. I think the important thing, the Prime Directive, is that I am compelled.

And so I was impressed by Ginger and Shirly; I am pleasantly inspired. It’s important, especially at a moment like this when I’m on a plane to California to perform a solo I’m not quite ready for. Nevertheless, it’s happening, and tomorrow night. Seeing last night’s film aided my process of exiting my funk of yesterday, the height of my dancing insecurity re: this solo. Witnessing their superb acting jogged my memory about my own worth and capabilities independent of my almost-daily practice of dance.

No Dancing Necessary, it’s simply inherent, printed on my front, marking me deliverable for tomorrow night. I click ADD on this dance in an already long queue of ones performed a tad prematurely. These dances inevitably and always come together, teaching me something while tapping into a superhero part of myself.

Dance is what I do. It is largely responsible for who I’ve become. But I can and do exist without it; I am just compelled not to.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Function of the Devil

This last week found JSB back to work after a two-week break for the holidays. We returned with a vengeance, reassembling two major ballets and finishing another one, also major.

We were visited for three days by Arturo Fernandez, the choreographer of the virtuosic female solo “Chair Bones”. All of us ladies are working on it; I even get to perform it as soon as next week, on tour in California.

Wow, what a solo. During my run-through in front of Arturo and the company yesterday, I’ve never felt more exhausted during a piece. And yet I got through it. I learned a little about where I can allow breath in, where I can afford to push more, and where I had the absolute time of my life.

This solo is a big deal for me. Mostly because of the limits I put on myself as a ballet dancer specifically. I always make it known that I consider myself to be just outside the line of fire re: classical dance. Yes, I do ballet. Yes, I dance en pointe. But these don’t mean that I am classical. I am neo-classical maybe, contemporary definitely. And so a solo like this is rare for me. It’s not what I usually expect from myself. But I’m so glad it’s here. I switched pointe shoe brands last year, and a whole new psycological world of possibility has opened up for me. I therefore get to do this dance: me and a chair and my own bones.

Unfortunately this week brought on an Achilles aggravation. I knew this to a “devilish function”, a fly in the ointment of my new-found, still fragile belief in my ability to execute a task this monumental. I was forced to tell Arturo that I could not rehearse on one of his few precious days with us. My pride and work ethic were shaken. James treated me to the depth of his wisdom, and I quickly found the strength to sit down and watch. Ouch. But that allowed me to absorb in another way, through my eyes and my faith.

And so I was back at it yesterday, pushing through the pain with the help of anti-inflammatories, tape and adrenaline. I attempt to exorcise the demon in the devilish function and absorb the lessons: that I am capable, that I am deserving, and that, no matter what, my inherent value is not dependent on any of these.