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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.

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.


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