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.

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.