First full draft of choreography is written down with timings (but not counts yet; going to have to work that out tomorrow).

It feels good to be unstuck!

Danseur Ignoble: Choreography Again, Again

It’s weird how you can be in the middle of something else entirely and find that your brain has been patiently working on an unrelated problem.

In the middle of reading a book (An actual, physical book, you guys! Can you believe it?!!!11!1one), I suddenly figured out how to resolve the most enormous problem with the choreography for “Shadowlands.”

Initially, I envisioned it with a chair at one end of the stage; a mirror at the other. Both play critical roles in the dance itself; in the story, as it were, that the dance is telling.

Unfortunately, that creates a situation in which the dancer basically wanders back and forth along one straight line between them, which looks boring (which I realized while watching Denis’ video). Instead of being a dance about anguish, grief, internal conflict, or what have you, it appears to be an addle-pated person in tights staggering back and forth incomprehensibly between a chair and a mirror and occasionally jumping for no apparent reason.

Oh, and alternately wrestling with and folding a bathrobe. Seriously, I need to learn how to work the straightening-out of that particular prop into the dance, because there’s this horrible moment in Denis’ video in which I stand on a chair, stare into space, and fold a freaking bathrobe for like 20 seconds, which feels like an hour.  Booooooooooring.

I suppose that could work if I were trying to make a dance about the way I felt the last time I had a concussion, or about trying to get ready for bed after the last time I went to a bar with Denis and Kelly … but I’m not.

There are two easy ways to solve this problem:
1. Simply add a mark at the back of the stage; the dance can then begin halfway between mirror and chair and use diagonal lines between the two. The advantage, here, is that no further set pieces are needed (and, thus, no schlepping or setup of additional set-pieces).

2. Add a third set-piece. The piece as I choreographed it assumed a proscenium with wings into which the dancer walks at the end; the performance space in question doesn’t have wings, so it doesn’t quite work as it should. I could add a third set-piece — specifically a door — and neatly kill two birds with one stone.  One, the triangular structure of the stage would then be formally defined; two, the lack of wings would no longer be an issue.

For what it’s worth, I envisioned this dance, originally, with a door (or, well, I came up with that idea after I gave up on leaping offstage from the top of the chair; that seems a little melodramatic and like a good way to really break a leg). I didn’t have time to work out the logistics before the audition of building or borrowing such a set-piece, though, and I forgot all about it.

Personally, I’m leaning towards the door, simply because of the lack of wings.

Of course, all this assumes that my piece is selected for this performance.   If it isn’t, though, it still makes sense to hone it with the assumption that there might not be any wings wherever it someday sees the light of day.

Danseur Ignoble: En Dehors A Gauche…

… And I mean “gauche” in more than one sense.

Okay, class was actually mostly good today.  There were only four of us, so we all got a lot of close-up correction.

For whatever reason, my turns to the left were crazy.  We did the little balancé-pique-etc combo again, and for whatever reason, every time I would get to the pirouette en dehors on the left side, I would do something else entirely.

Edit: For some reason, I didn’t think to mention this, and I feel it’s useful intel.

Promenades are often done en dehors — that is, we pick up the heel just a tad and pivot just a scooch towards our insteps.

For whatever reason (read: because he is getting us really nailed to our legs), Brian likes to make us promenade en dedans — picking up the heel just a tad and pivoting just a scooch away from our insteps.

This requires a bit more finesse (particularly, I find, in retiré — I suspect my tendency to over-sproing is the culprit, there) — one must lift and scooch consistently, lest one roll one’s ankle to the outside, for example. It’s harder to roll one’s ankle the inside for the same reason that there are more sicklers than wingers in any given ballet class.

I have never yet seen these dudes in ballet class (photo of Winger, the band, via Exxolon at Wikimedia commons).

Seriously, I have never yet seen these dudes in ballet class (photo of Winger, the band, via Exxolon at Wikimedia commons).

For what it’s worth, I still think promenade is probably the second-most bizarre movement in the entirety of classical ballet, second only to that truly bizarre thing where you get into the ballet equivalent of a tabletop (working leg at 90 degrees, supporting leg in plie, back flat, arms in arabesque) and sort of scoot backwards across the floor (preferably without falling on your face).

Seriously, it’s not easy to do in the first place, but doing it without looking silly is nearly impossible (it works better in the midst of a choreographed piece, of course, but there’s still a part of me that’s all, “Grrrl, I respect your promenade, because I know those are so much harder than they look … but seriously, all you swans look crazy right now.”)

Brian noticed this and then made me do the promenade-and-turn sequence by myself until I got it right (fortunately, I am not afraid to look the fool in front of my classmates :D )

First, I picked up the wrong leg and turned en dehors a droit.   Next, I picked up the wrong leg and turned en dedans a droit.  Then I picked up the correct leg (the left one), but turned en dedans, because apparently I like making things harder than they need to be.

Finally, after doing every conceivable incorrect iteration, I did it right.

Oddly enough, it was much freaking easier to do it the right way than to do it any of the wrong ways.  That’s ballet for you, though.

This (and subsequent events; we all got our share today) made me really appreciate Brian’s gift for knowing his students; it also made me appreciate how important that is.

I, for example, am game but sometimes sloppy: I’m willing to attempt anything, but often enough I get major elements wrong at first.   I work from the big picture down (which is funny, because in the visual arts, I work the opposite way, and have really had to school myself in working out a larger composition first).

As a dancer, I’m really not at all cerebral — I have movies in my head (though not just movies; I also imagine force and movement and three-dimensional space, etc) and I try to make my body do what the “movies” depict.

Once I have the “sketch” of a movement down, I begin working on the finer details, until at last I have a polished movement.

This means that my style, as a dancer, is free and elastic and sometimes spastic, wild, woolly, and weird.  Sometimes it looks like I’m having some kind of seizure mid-jump.

There’s another dancer in class whose approach is the polar opposite — she builds movements piece by piece, trying to perfect each element into a unified whole. 

Once she has her elements in place, she begins to expand her movements so they become more fluid; more balletic.

Her style, as a result, is much more precise and controlled than mine, but tends to the opposite set of challenges — she can be very tight and sometimes overthinks things.

As students, she and I need different inputs in order to progress.  I need to be made to think sometimes; the thinkers in class need to be forced out of their heads.

Brian seems to understand inherently that I’m going to flail around trying to do new things; once my failings begin to approximate the goal state, he starts giving me corrections to dial them in.

Meanwhile, he makes the more-cerebral students stop thinking: he gets them to just do sometimes, when thinking is the problem.  Then, when they’re ready for details again, he brings back the fine-tuning corrections.

I feel like I’m learning by leaps and bounds.   I’ve learned to trust my body again; as it did before my long break from dancing, it reliably does what I ask it to (even if it sometimes does so in a messy, chaotic way).

The long and short of it is that I feel like I’m learning to fly.

I’m going to have to meditate upon these different ways of learning movements.   They’ll come in handy in the future, I’m sure.

Danseur Ignoble: Back on the Bus

There’s something deeply satisfying about the long, golden light of an October morning at this latitude.

I live in Kentucky now, but I’m a Yankee by birth and long heritage (one of my maternal great aunts has been known to make noises about “those Mayflower upstarts;” her side of the family — Québécois, Métis, and Iroquois with deep pre-Mayflower roots in this continent — still only half-jokingly regards the English as a bunch of arrivistes). New England suffuses my blood; informs my bones — and here, now, briefly, this glorious light reminds me of home.

The memory of bones runs long and deep.

It’s good, also, to be back in the rhythm of my normal routine, heading to Monday class.  It’s good to be wearing one of those ridiculous outfits in which we arrive at class on cool mornings; good to be stuffing apples in my face as quickly as possible between busses.

Curiously, even though part of me has been bathing itself in chagrin, selectively recalling all the worst parts of my audition (seriously, sometimes my brain is like an obnoxious roommate who won’t turn off the TV), another part of me feels significantly more confident as a dancer simply because I got up there yesterday and tried (okay, the one really precise and gorgeous turn that Denis caught on video doesn’t hurt, either).

I suppose in part it’s a function of suddenly having this very concrete goal — I am making a dance, and I know it will be a good one once I nail down the choreography.  It will force me to home my technique to a degree that probably should seem daunting, but doesn’t.

And even if it isn’t selected for this performance, I will keep working on it, finish it, and bring it somewhere; do something with it.

Anyway, I’m almost to class, so that’s it for now.

More later.

Danseur Ignoble: The Audition

So my audition is done. Denis recorded most of it for me, which is pretty cool (if mildly horrifying at times).

I sort of screwed myself by setting the corners of my “stage” too close to one another, thus screwing up some of the lines of my choreography (such as it was) — there’s a bit that should go:

pas de bourré
arabesque turn

… And when I realized (halfway across the floor) that I couldn’t do it in the space I had provided myself, it turned into:
pas de bourrée
oh crap
now what

But such is life.

I also spent a great deal of time basically wrestling with the robe that plays a role in the piece, which looks really dumb on camera.

There are a few beautiful moments in the video separated by long stretches of WTF. I’m debating whether to post a copy; frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing.

The judges asked to see the opening again, which Denis takes as a good sign.

I’ll hear back next week. Til then I’ll be sitting at the edge of my seat with my fingers crossed, I guess. Also biting my nails, which might be hard to do without uncrossing my fingers.

If my piece is selected, it will be a miracle I’ll have a lot of work to do, but plenty of time in which to do it.

This is the first dance audition I’ve done since, like, middle school, so it was sort of terrifying in its own way.

Future auditions shouldn’t be as bad, especially since I’m likely to be better prepared.

I just realized I never posted my class notes from yesterday, so those will be along eventually. Edit: I’ve posted them now, back-dated appropriately.

Danseur Ignoble: Saturday Class At Last

You guys, Brian is amazing.

Today, we spent most of barre working slowly without accents. Very different feeling, but exactly what I’ve been needing.

Working workout accents forces you to focus on doing the entire movement correctly — so if you’re working a tendu from fifth, you make all the stuff in between the two pictures (“fifth” and “out”) really, really count.

I realized, for example, that when I tendu a la seconde from arrière, I don’t always bring my heel through, and thus I wind up losing some of my turnout.

We also tuned up balancés. M., who has only recently joined Brian’s Saturday class, wasn’t super clear on them, and Brian said, “Don’t worry — I’m 33 and I’ve been dancing since I was 14, and I’m still working on balances.”

He also gave the single most concise balancé exercise ever. I’ll have to create a little video of it — it’s amazingly easy and makes balancés crystal clear.

That makes me feel much better about my slowly-improving balancé — which, coincidentally, was 100% better when I walked out of class than when I walked in.

Little jumps were beautiful this time (Light! Buoyant! Quick!), and going across the floor I tossed in some cabrioles, a few of which were good (and at least one of which was horrible).

I think I liked our adagio and pirouette combos best, though — they were as follows:

Adagio (ish, anyway):
Balancé – quarter pique turn (x4)
Repeat on opposite side

Pas de bourré
Arabesque turn
(repeat the above twice; on the third repeat, add a double pirouette)

So there you have it. Not bad at all for my first class in a month, I think, though my port de bras was a bit chaotic.

It’s good to be back.

Danseur Ignoble: Shadowlands Begins

I’m in your* fellowship hall, choreographin’ your** danz.

1 minute down, 6 minutes to go.

I should prolly video this so I don’t forget any details?

*Okay, the fellowship hall of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal in the Highlands.
**Okay, okay, my danz.

Pas de Don’t

Please forgive the Giant Stupid Whiny Rant to follow.

Yesterday, I had an absolutely lovely conversation with my therapist about trying to learn to sort of honor what I am, including the delicate-respiratory-system part.

Today, I’m just frustrated.

I feel like I make so much progress, then get sick and lose so much ground, and like this is an ongoing thing for me, and like the smart thing, the good-zen thing, the Good Mental Health thing to do would be to learn to accept and embrace that.

And then another part of me is all, “Ain’t got time for all that, I’m a dancer.  Dancers gotta dance.”

(The painful corollary: if I’m not dancing right now, do I cease to exist as a dancer?  What a freaking terrifying question.)

I have written, occasionally, about Making Dance Accessible.

I am forced, now, to admit that my own internal prejudices, or whatever, have left a potentially huge group of people out of that thought process — that is, people like me, who are talented and have been given bodies that look and in most ways act like classical dancers’ bodies but who are afflicted with chronic illnesses that make sustained training problematic.

Truth is, I don’t see a workaround for someone like me. Or, well, yes — here’s something. Short-term projects; an approach to training that recognizes that even the longest spell of good health will eventually be interrupted by illness. A willingness to be flexible about classes; to step it down a level when the body demands it.

I admit it: I don’t feel ready for the physical demands of Brienne’s class yet — and a part of me is angry about that; just furious that my body has failed me.

Another part understands that it doesn’t help to think of it that way; that this is just another wave in the ever-changing ocean. After the ecstacy, as it were, the laundry: after a stunningly-long period of quite good health, the pneumonia, the period of recovery.

And still it is painful, yet again, to run up against the limits of my being; to be reminded that I am working with mortal clay and all its host of flaws (though, on the flip-side, I remain grateful for the great gifts I have been given, and I recognize that if this is the price, or only part of the price, I have so been given an amazing bargain, here).

I also recognize that the day I accept these limitations will be the day they stop hurting me so often: I’m like a stubborn horse that doesn’t want to stay in its field, startled every time I run headlong into my fence*. The fence is always there; if I just accept that, I won’t crack my legs against it anymore.

For what it’s worth, I was thinking about backing out of the audition (haven’t felt up to extended rehearsals with Denis), but instead I think I’m just going to change horses midstream, maybe: channel all this into a dance, albeit indirectly.

It may not be a dance about all this; I have something else in mind, though something equally topical in its own way — it relates to my other ongoing struggle: how do I learn to live as the androgynous person that I am when, in a very real sense, I’m afraid to do that for reasons even I don’t understand? 

That, or else something about living with bipolar (perhaps unsurprisingly, that was my first idea anyway).

Either way? Cue Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.“

*This is actually a terrible analogy. With few exceptions, horses don’t do this kind of crap unless there’s a good reason to get out of the field in question. Will they bolt through an open gate just for a lark? Sure. When they bash themselves repeatedly against a fence for absolutely no reason, though?  Better check your pasture for locoweed (or scary plastic shopping bags — horses be cray).

Danseur Ignoble: I’m Feeling Much Better, Really?

Okay, so as always, this recovery process has been slower and more annoying, with more minor setbacks, than anticipated.

Someday, I’ll learn to take the Hoped-For Duration of Recovery and simply multiply it by three or four.

“I’ll be over this in a week or so” will then mean “I’ll be over this in, I dunno, three weeks or a month, give or take,” and I’ll be much less frustrated when, after a week, I’m not Good As New.

Anyway, I am feeling much better, but still not perfectly well. Still also tenaciously clinging to the hope of having something worth auditioning on the 4th. If we bust our buts (yes, pun intended: You know, “When the deadline’s neeeeeear, and it don’t look good — Who you gonna call? BUT BUSTERS!”), we might … maybe? … SHOULD! be able to at least put together a respectable audition, if not one that will make everybody say OMG WE MUST HAVE THESE GUYS!


In other news, we saw The Scorch Trials today and spent the whole movie making Burning-Man related jokes.

It actually wasn’t too bad: its storyline was fairly predictable “twinks versus the old ppl conspiracy versus alien zombie plague” fare, but both installments in the Maze Runner film adaptation series have done a good job mostly avoiding cringe-inducing romantic subplots whilst providing enjoyable visuals and action scenes, even if elements of those action scenes do frequently make one ask, “Haven’t you guys ever seen a movie? Hey, maybe standing around and waiting for all of the alien plant zombies to awaken within two meters of your tasty still-fully-human faces is a bad idea. Wait, what the … WHY ARE YOU CLIMBING THE STAIRS?!”

Oops, potential spoilers below for ppl who care about that kind of thing, so here comes a More Tag:

Read the rest of this entry

Much-Belated Self Portrait for BlahPolar

I have been meaning to get this out here for a while.   Here ’tis!

This one is Prismacolor pencil and cheap ballpoint pen on paper.


My scanner isn’t playing well with Windows 10 yet, so I just snapped a photo with my phone.


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