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.

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.