November 25, 2012

Ballet, Unplugged

The Big Ballet Studio of the Finnish National Ballet.
Photo credit: mine.

A few weeks back, I had another opportunity to watch company class at the Finnish National Ballet, always a fascinating experience. This time there was a huge bonus treat: after class we got to observe the principals' rehearsal for Kenneth Greve's new ballet Snow Queen, with choreography still in the making! It's one of those fly-on-the-wall moments you dream of.. Seriously, I would be more than happy to hang around the Opera building for the entire day. I could do laundry, fill water bottles, collect stray hairpins, write more blogs, whatever.

We were met at the personnel's entrance half past ten by one of FNB's coordinators, and duly escorted to the big ballet studio. I would have known my way around already, but you gotta follow protocol and stick with your group. We got to class just as the dancers were moving to the center. There was a guest teacher; the charming, energetic and suitably strict Mr. Sandor Nemethy. There were, however, fewer dancers, as Saturday is a voluntary training day (unless there's rehearsal afterwards). Those dancers who are performing later in the day have of course their own warm-up class in addition. But, I was happy to sight familiar (and favorite) principals and soloists and up-and-coming corps dancers, all amazing artists with distinctive qualities of their own. I don't know how happy they were to have an improptu audience, but at least I couldn't sense any discord. On the contrary, some seemed to enjoy the extra attention, giving us a full-out performance! To anyone of you dancers (Mira, Tiina, Salla, Wilfried..) reading this: thanks for making my day!

You know what I like so much about watching company class, aside from the mad skills and gorgeous ballet-bodies? You get to see the dancers work on their craft, in plain view, without all the glamorous accroutements of a staged performance. It's ballet's equivalent of MTV Unplugged. The other reason I like to observe pros in class is kinda obvious: I try to watch every move they make, and soak it all up. The refined épaulement, the port de bras, the linking steps and all that happens in between. Seriously, you learn a lot from watching other (professional) dancers. You also learn that they are not perfect either, make mistakes, take risks, fail at pirouettes - and they get corrections just like us. Another thing I observed is that when the pianist is playing, the dancers are dancing! If the exercise ends mid-diagonale, you either run out of the way or stand still and trust your fellow dancers not to knock you over! The energy is just awesome, and every time I get to observe I want to join in so badly.. Not that I could ever keep up. It took me about four diagonals to pick up the brisé-exercise which they all got after verbal instructions alone.

After class, six dancers remained and it was time for rehearsal. When the choreographer (and Artistic Director) Kenneth Greve explained that there were still minutes of choreography missing, I was way more pleased than if it had been a rehearsal of ready-made steps! How cool to see the creative process in progress..

November 18, 2012

My Barre-Spot

Note to self: working leg needs to be slightly more to the front.
That will drop the hip down and improve turn-out.

There it is, my spot at the barre. I take it without even thinking about it, and so far I've never had to chase anyone away. Not that I would.. Okay, not entirely true. When we still had class in our bigger studio, my spot was at the short end - and because the piano was against the same wall, there was only room enough for one. At least when class was not over-crowded. I was very attached to that barre-spot, and everyone else had their places marked too. But occasionally there was a drop-in student who went straight for my spot (even though I already had my water bottle in place), and I just had to let her know. "I'm sorry but this is my place." I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, even though lots of dancers are known to be quite territorial about their barre spots!

Earlier on, I used to change places fairly often to get different views in the mirror (or no views). But, when you have the same crowd coming to class it all kind of settles into a routine. And it's nice and it feels a bit like coming home. I like my spot at the barre because there's no one in front to distract me. Which also means there's no one to copy from, so I really have to pay attention! I gotta tell you, there have been a few times when I've regretted being first in line. Ever had total black-outs right after you said "no" to the "any questions?"

I like having a bit of a familiar routine in class, but there are drawbacks to being stuck on the same spot.  Like in my Tuesday class. Our teacher does her demonstrations in front of me (I make room), and then begins her barre-round with me. Which means I frequently get corrected during my first plié, but almost never mid- or end-exercise. I don't think my teacher has ever seen me doing cambrés in seconde, up in relevé. I have pretty good balance, and it's something she might note. Or correct, if needed. Although, sometimes when an exercise ends in a difficult balance, and she hasn't seen everyone do it, she will have you do it again. And check the entire barre.

Still, I think I might benefit from an occasional change of barre-spots. Question is, who will trade theirs with mine? And can I have mine back afterwards?

Midway through fondues.. Hang on, it was fondue devant, close to fifth,
then degagé with the back leg into low arabesque, close again and
continue with fondues a la seconde. Possibly.

November 5, 2012

Home is Where the Barre is

At times it feels like I'm adrift in a sea of uncertainties, without any clear outlook on my future. Who am I going to be when I (finally and supposedly) grow up? What's my next job like? Where will I live? What the heck am I doing with my life? Is this really it, and should I have already counted my blessings many times over? But when I dance, there are no such conundrums.

I go to class and my anchor is thrown. For one hour, 90 minutes or three classes, I know I'm in the exactly right place. No place I'd rather be. Dancing makes me happy; before, during and after class. There are days when it's all the joie de vivre there is, but how many do experience such enjoyment on a daily basis? Granted, not every class is or has been wonderful. Sometimes I just don't feel it. I might be tired and sore, and lacking confidence and spirit. But even those bad days have been worth it. If nothing else, they at least have paved the way for better times!

As I type this during the last hour of Sunday, I can't help but have a smile on my face. There is no Sunday night blues, no worries. I know there are many who dread Mondays, but for me it marks the beginning of another week of dance. And I look forward to coming home, once again.

My ballet buddy and I having a great time.

November 1, 2012

Human Pretzel in Training

Did my best impression of a human pretzel in ballet class. Another set of those insane stretches our über-flexible primaballerina teacher likes to give us. She calls them "possible", since you can always lower your leg and hold the stretch at your own height. Sure you can, if your arms are long enough to reach.. The exercise goes like this: stand facing the barre, lift right leg into passé retiré, then into a small attitude devant, enough that you take hold of your right heel with your left hand. Now straighten leg to the front and pull as close to your body as possible. It's really nothing more than a standing split. Which is not nothing, as I can barely stretch into a split on the floor. But I did manage it with my more flexible left leg in front. Right leg - not a chance in hell. I was pleased I could get the limb over the higher barre and then rest it there. Er, I meant strech. Not rest. By the way, this was still the easy part.

We then repeated the first part, passé and attitude, grab right heel with left hand and extend - but to a la seconde! Again, with my right leg up not even remotely possible. I switched hands (right hand for right heel) and did my stretch the regular way. You could of course have lifted the leg onto the barre, or held the leg lower. Our teacher never asks anyone to push beyond their own maximum stretching ability, and she makes sure we are being careful. It's no shame to have lower extension or less in the way of rubber ligaments. Still, it would be so nice.. No wonder then I keep having these dreams where I can lift my back leg in an attitude high enough to touch my bun. Or where I suddenly have six o' clock extensions, totally effortless. It's like my inner ballerina is having a stretch-fest in my dreams. Shame she has to wake up each time to a considerably tighter reality.

But this time I almost had my bendy Barbie moment. I took hold of my left heel with my right hand and maneuvered the extended leg to the side, not unlike operating heavy machinery. Found the angle very akward with my right shoulder coming so much forward. Then had the brilliant idea to move my right arm behind my head, all the while holding the left leg in the air. And it was so close to a full side-split, my eyes almost popped out along with my right shoulder. I could have made it, if I just had a little bit more length in my arms. That or looser hip joints.

Seriously, I need to keep perspective. Not so long ago I was happy to stretch my leg to shoulder height (talon a la main), and getting this far is a huge improvement for me. I also need to be careful. I'm really not sure it's the best idea to push too much against body type. I happen to have tight ligaments and muscles, but on the up side, I have a strong jump. Wouldn't want to loose my bounce to over-stretching. Can that even happen? Does anybody know?

Anyway, don't you get any crazy ideas from my barre maneuver. Always practice safe stretching!

I dunno why she doesn't look any happier. I would grin big time in this position!
The photo is from Wear Moi's gallery, click here for more.

To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...