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If you’ve always wanted to try a dance performance, but not sure what to see and on a budget, your time has come with VelocityDC.

On Friday and Saturday, October 2 and 3, for only $15, come sample six of the best dance companies from DC (and beyond) at the beautiful Sidney Harman Hall at 610 F Street NW, beginning at 7:30pm.

Ron K. Brown and Evidence

Ron K. Brown and Evidence

Featured are short pieces from Ron K. Brown and Evidence, The Washington Ballet, CityDance Ensemble, EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, Gesel Mason, Nejla Yatkin, Edwin Aparicio, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Austrian choreographer Willi Dorner presenting the outdoor piece “Bodies in Urban Spaces”. You’ll see modern, African, ballet, hip hop and many forms in between.

VelocityDC is designed for folks who may be new to dance, beginning with Gesel Mason’s performance of “How to Watch a Modern Dance”. Stay afterward at the bar to swap impressions, meet some dancers, and finally be able to ask them, up close and in person, how they do it all!

VelocityDC Late Night!

Night owls, stick around for VelocityDCLate Night! At 10pm on Saturday, October 3, a cabaret-style showcase of movement, music and mayhem featuring dancers, poets and musicians.

This late-night, 18+ cabaret promises an evening of music, movement and mayhem including appearances by Andile Ndlovu, Capital Movement Project, Contradiction Dance, Furia Flamenca, Gesel Mason, Gilded Lily Burlesque, Kentavius Jones, Komplex, Lucy Bowen McCauley Dance, Regie Cabico/Sol y Soul, and Urban Artistry.

In addition, relax and enjoy the Harman Center bars and lounges with DJ Ian Knight (Philadelphia) into the early morning hours.

The Washington Ballet performs Wunderland

The Washington Ballet performs Wunderland

Bodies in Urban Spaces

Street performances of Willi Dorner’s “Bodies in Urban Spaces” will take place both evenings free to the public. “Bodies” begins at5:30pm each night, beginning at the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro and winding its way throughout the Penn Quarter neighborhood.

Presented in partnership by Washington Performing Arts Society, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Dance/MetroDC with major artistic partners The Washington Ballet and CityDance Ensemble.

Visit www.velocityDC.org for more information.

Tickets are on sale now for $15 at the website or the Sidney Harman Hall box office, (202) 547- 1122 or toll-free (877) 487-8849.

CityDance Ensemble

CityDance Ensemble

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Although the Wolf Trap is only a few miles from my home, save chaperoning a bunch of screaming kids at the International Children’s Festival, I am ashamed to say that I have never attended an even there. After spotting their summer ’09 calendar and the fabulous goodies on it (not limited to dance), that will hopefully all change. This summer’s dance lineup at Wolf Trap includes the following highlights:

  • Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance on June 16
  • Aspen Santa Fe Ballet on July 7
  • Merce Cunningham on July 14
  • 42nd Street runs July 17-19
  • Trey McIntire Project’s Face of America: Glacier National Park on August 19

This and much much more can be found on the Wolf Trap Site. The recession is not excuse– the lawn seats are the cheaper– and more relaxing– way to go. So grap a picnic basket, a blanket, and enjoy some arts under the stars this summer!

In honor of the lovely spring day we are getting, here is some lovely ballet to brighten you ballet– an appearance by Suzanne Farrell on Sesame Street.

In which Miss Farrell takes little steps and big steps:

In which the Count counts Miss Farrell’s turns:

Everyone’s doing it. So I present to you 25 things– not about me– but about Alvin Ailey’s 50th Anniversary performance at the Kennedy Center on February 4. It took me a while to get it up, but I promised I would!

  1. I prefer Ailey as a repertory company. It was educational to see an all-Ailey choreographed program, but there are only so many torso contractions and grande plies in second one can watch in an evening.
  2. It is incredible how Revelations stays fresh after so many performances. Among many highlights, it was the highlight of the evening.
  3. I think one of their secrets is mixing up the dancers’ roles in Revelations each season.
  4. Torso contractions and grande plies in second never feel tired in Revelations.
  5. Revelations’ Wade in the Water is like a hot summer evening and deliciously refreshing on a cold winter night.
  6. If I’m only allowed to see one more thing before I die, it will be Revelations’ Sinner Man. What an amazing explosion of movement. I don’t know of anything that explores the range and ability of the human body while combining musicality and passion that just explode on stage so much as this.
  7. I could have done without the lady on my left’s strong perfume and the sounds and smells of the lady to my right’s munching on peanuts throughout the show.
  8. They packed in a lot of different excerpts of pieces into this program– lots of short excerpts, and the transitions were way too fast. Often, one dancer would be starting in on the next piece while the other was finishing up the previous one. It was too jarring and left no time to absorb what I just saw. If time was the issue, I would have preferred fewer, longer excerpts, with longer pauses in between to allow the audience to catch its breath.
  9. Linda Celeste Sims in The Lark Ascending was some of the most pure, delicious dancing I’ve ever seen. At the end, I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time.
  10. I have said delicious twice in this list.
  11. I’ll tell you what else is delicious– the entire Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre company. Such beautiful bodies; such beautiful dancers.
  12. I’m glad I went to the gym right before the show. It made me feel just a little bit better about my, er, succulent body.
  13. I’ll tell you wo else was eye candy: Kirven Boyd and Matthew Rushing in Streams.
  14. One of the longer excerpts of the evening was Movement II from Night Creature. It was absolutely delightful.
  15. Night Creature  is all about the party (literally, the piece depicts a nighttime bash) as a whole, each member as part of the party, and how they become one and separate. It ius a corps de ballet piece where each member’s personality and style shine through rather than the cookie cutter corps we typically think of. I don’t think Ailey could do it any other way.
  16. I’m not a fan of pretending to play a musical instrument, particularly when you don’t know how to play the instrument. This, unfortunately, is the premise of A Night in Tunisia from For “Bird” With Love, in which male dancers pretend to be members of a jazz combo in a nightclub.
  17. Fortunately, the “musicians” break free of their miming in short order and dance to the sound the instrument makes in the music.
  18. No dancer better embodied his instrument that Guillermo Asca as the bass player. He danced just the way a bass sounds with a sublime quality of movement. I didn’t even know a bass sound danced that way, but I know now.
  19. Opus McShann— the excerpt was Jumpin’ the Blues— was a straight up swing dance set with lots of shines. It was what numbers at a salsa (or swing) congress could be if they were really good. Not saying that there aren’t really good numbers at a salsa congress, but they are few and far between.
  20. There was some sort of motorcade outside and I got excited hoping it would be a senator or cabinet member (the President was ruled out as the motorcade did not contain an ambulance). Disappointingly, it was no one I recognized. Probably a diplomat with an importance complex.
  21. The audience gave a standing ovation for probably at least ten minutes. They knew if they kept at it long enough they would get an encore, and we did.
  22. After an evening of many many pieces performed to recorded music, I appreciate live music even more. Amazing as the dancing was, something was taken away by the all-recorded soundtrack.
  23. Big thank you to my parents without whose give of a Kennedy Center gift certificate last year would not have gotten me such an amazing close-up seat.
  24. Readers, what do you think of dance review in 25-things format? Or is this just bad?
  25. The end.

…this evening at the Kennedy Center. It was fantastic. Tonight was all excerps from many different Ailey-choreographed workds and all of Revelations. I don’t know how they manage to keep Revelations to fresh after so many performances (I think they perform it at every single show), but it is always amazing.

It is always a pleasure to watch the Ailey dancers, and not only for the quality of their movement!

More thoughts to come (I promise– it’s written out on paper, I just have to type it up!).

ABT dancer Nicola Curry’s new studio was featured in The New York Times Real Estate section (via Apartment Therapy).

One feature that I think is universally appealing to dancers is hardwood floors. Even though the studio is small, Curry seems to have left some empty floor space, just enough to do some stretching or practice in place.

One thing that’s frustrated me about being a renter in Northern Virginia is the severe shortage of housing with wood floors. If I have to live in another apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting I’ll go crazy.

Thanks to Clinton Yates over at the DC Express Blog Log for featuring my post on Superstars of Dance in both the online and print version. It was so cool to open up my free daily paper on my morning commute and see my words in print. If you’ve come over from Express, welcome!

This is actually the second time Express has linked to me, the first time was on November 20, for my post on Rahm Emanuel’s ballet background. This is the kind of stuff that makes this unpaid writing pasttime so rewarding.

While we’re on the subject of Superstars of Dance, did anyone watch the second installment last night? Did it get any better? Any particular dances we should check out on YouTube?

What is a dance rockra, you ask? It is one part dance, one part opera, and all parts are totally rocked out. Here I am, in the swamps of Northern Virginia, wishing once again that I lived in Manhattan, our nation’s cultural capital. Luckily I have a consolation prize this year: I will be attending the inauguration without having to sublet out someone’s crappy studio apartment for two grand a night and could even bike down to the national mall if I wanted. Haha.

But I digress…

Later this week, Parsons Dance Company and the East Village Opera Company will debut their untitled collaboration, an evening-length work that strings together several of the EVOC’s re-imagined operatic works into a story line that will be danced out by the Parsons dancers. According to the press release, “untitled is a thoroughly modern re-telling of a classic story of a tragic love triangle. With contemporary dance, aerial dance, live and recorded music, video projections, complex digital lighting and visual effects, untitled is the most ambitious production created by Parsons Dance in its 22 year history.”

I discovered the East Village Opera Company about two years ago courtesy of Pandora. Their winning combination of opera greatest hits and Queen-esque power rock ballads (rockra, if you will) had me at hello. Be sure to check out the song that first captivated me, Au fond du temple saint, the well-loved Pearl Fishers duet, re-arranged into a power rock duet between a man and a woman. Here they are with their version of the Queen King of the Night aria from The Magic Flute.

And here is Parsons Dance, performing Nascimento Novo:


PARSONS DANCE
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue (at 19th Street), NYC
January 6-18, 2009
Tue, Wed and Sun at 7:30pm; Thu, Fri and Sat at 8pm; and Sat and Sun at 2pm. Family matinee performance on Saturday, January 10 at 2pm. Tickets: $59, $35, $19 (Joyce Members $44, $26). JoyceCharge: 212-242-0800

Program A: Thu 1/8, Fri 1/9 and Sat 1/10 at 8pm; Sun 1/11 at 2pm and 7:30pm; Wed 1/14 at 7:30pm; Thu 1/15, Fri 1/16 and Sat 1/17 at 8pm; Sun 1/18 at 7:30pm. World Premiere of untitled featuring the music of EVOC: Overture, La Danza, Maria, Mari!, Habanera, Che Gelida Manina, Flower Duet, La Donna E Mobile, Ave Maria, O Mio Babbino Caro, Una Furtiva Lagrima, Un Del Di, Ebben? Ne Andro Lontana, When I Am Laid in Earth, Butterfly Duet

Program B: Tue 1/6 and Wed 1/7 at 7:30pm; Tue 1/13 at 7:30pm; Sat 1/17 and Sun 1/18 at 2pm. Family Matinee: Sat 1/10 at 2pm. Swing Shift, Ebben (an excerpt from Program A), My Sweet Lord, Fill the Woods with Light, Caught, and Shining Star

west_side_story_logo

When Joshua Buscher speaks of Arthur Laurents, which he does frequently during our brief interview, it is with the reverent tone of a student quoting the teachers of a master. Which is exactly what Laurents is. At 90, he is very much the hands-on director of the legendary icon of American theater– West Side Story— the show he wrote over 50 years ago.

Since July, I have been trying to line up an interview with someone from the production of West Side Story’s revival. By now the play’s publicist and I have become virtual pen pals. After reading that the play would open for its pre-Broadway run right here in Washington D.C. (in the National Theater, the same venue it first opened at in 1957), I was determined to get the inside scoop on it. Through auditions, the New York rehearsals, and finally DC rehearsals, we continued our correspondence. Finally, just days before the opening of the first preview performance in mid-December, I am on the phone with cast member Buscher, who is enthusiastically describing his experience preparing for this historic revival.

Joshua Buscher

Joshua Buscher

What makes this revival of West Side Story so unique is language. Laurents’ late partner, Tom Hatcher, had seen the play staged entirely in Spanish in Colombia and found that it totally changed the dynamics– the Sharks became the heroes and the Jets the villains. “I thought it would be terrific if we could equalize the two gangs somehow,” Laurents told the New York Times earlier this year, by having characters speaking amongst themselves in their native language.

Adding the Spanish into the show 100 percent makes it work,” says Buscher, “It helps so much with the energy of the show– what it does is makes that barrier of the Americans versus the Puerto Ricans even wider. Some of our audience can’t speak Spanish, so they get frustrated,” adding to the tension the audience will feel between the Sharks and the Jets. In case you’re one of those non-Spanish-speaking audience memeers, don’t worry– there will be supertitles. Although some scenes, such as the one preceding America, are mostly in Spanish, he is confident that the acting and dancing will transcend language.

Josefina Scaglione and Matt CavenaughOne thing I was dying to know was if Robbins’ choreography would be altered at all for greater cultural authenticity. Would the Puerto Ricans be adding some bomba or plena sabor to the dance numbers? Then again, no reason mess with a good thing (no, make that an amazing thing — West Side Story is in my book, hands down, the best dance musical ever, and the best music musical, for that matter). So what if the choreography of America is more flamenco than salsa? Joey McKneely, the reproduction choreographer did change some of the blocking and spacing in the piece to underscore the culturally adversarial give and take between the homesick girls and the girls that are trying to become Americanized (which explains why Anita will at times break into English even with her compatriots). It will be more about that interaction than an “and now folks, here’s the big dance number” performance to the audience; but Robbins’ choreography will remain intact.

This will be Buscher’s Broadway debut. He is Diesel, the “meathead” of the Jets– a surprise not only to me– going by his angelic headshot and cheery voice– but also to his family and friends. “It was kind of a process for me to get into that because I’m not really a meathead,” says Buscher. “But he’s come to life and it’s great. When we do the rumble scene it’s awesome. It’s very empowering for me to jump on stage and be able to protect the guys that are behind me.” Late bloomers, take heart. Although Buscher was a gymnast in his youth, he didn’t start dancing until he got to college, realizing it was important to his development as an actor. The audition process for West Side Story, which was six months long, really improved his technique. That plus an hour-long barre class before each day’s practice and the encouragement of McKneely and his assistant. “It helps that [Diesel] is a fighter because he’s not the most balletic boy; they did a nice job of casting if I do say so myself,” he says with a laugh.

West Side Story Rehearsal (with Cody Green)It is a young company, with many making their Broadway debut– with so much of the cast being made up of teenage gang members, that is a necessity. There are some seasoned veterans, of course, including Karen Olivo (Anita) who was most recently seen in In the Heights. Here’s another familiar face: Step It Up and Dance fans will recognize Cody Green in the role of Riff.

Six-month audition process aside, I want to know the nuts and bolts of getting a Broadway dance musical from studio to stage. “The first week of rehearsals was just dance, that’s all we did,” says Buscher. After a brief meeting with Laurents and the creative team, “literally an hour later we were on the floor learning Dance at the Gym.” Nary a libretto was cracked open for the first full week of practice as the dancers learned all the dance numbers. This allowed the choreography to become second nature so the dancers could focus on acting. Additionally, as lines, songs, acting and blocking were layered on, the choreography gained depth along with the process of character development.

Rehearsals started in New York City, going about six hours a day, six days a week for five weeks. The whole cast moved to DC for the final two weeks of rehearsal. After the dances were learned, important acting moments were added in, and vocal rehearsals. “The way Arthur and Joey McKneely work is they fill it up right in the beginning so you have time to grow,” says Buscher. Additional character development occurred after hours, as The Jets hung out together socially to get to know each other and figure out their relationships in the gang. Quoting Laurents again, he says, “He wants this to be an acting show. He says the dance number’s kind of nowhere if you’re not acting from somewhere.”

Arthur Laurents addresses the cast of West Side Story

By the time the cast got to Washington they felt comfortable enough with what they had to do to start taking more artistic risks. The hard work “pays off when you get the show at a place where you’re allowed to try new things on stage because you’re so comfortable with what you’re doing. That is where a show should be.”

With just hours remaining before his big Broadway show debut, I ask Buscher what we can expect. I’ve been able to tell from the tone of his voice during our conversation that there is a great deal of excitement and satisfaction with the process and anticipation for what is to come.” There’s a very high bar for this show and all of this are taking it on with full force. We are young we are energized and we’re dancing the crap out of this show.”


West Side Story runs through January 17, 2009 at the National Theatre in Washington, DC. Tickets are on sale through Telecharge (800) 447-7400, www.telecharge.com) or at the National Theatre Box Office (202-628-6161 www.nationaltheatre.org. It will open on Broadway on February 23.

Apparently great minds dance bloggers think alike.

I just came across this post by Claudia La Rocco on the Culturist blog. It is eerily similar to my own post on the same subjectTo the letter, we both quoted the exact same quote from a Rolling Stone article and selected the same exact photo to illustrate our posts.

Here’s the problem: La Rocco wrote her post on November 6, while I posted mine on November 18. To anyone else, it might appear to be a case of plagiarism (mine). In reality, I had not happened upon her piece until today.

Sometimes I’ll be surfing the dance blogs and happen upon something that is virtually identical to something I wrote, and posted after I did so. I usually feel annoyed, thinking it copycat behavior, but this incident challenges that assumption. There are only so many original thoughts and things to write in the world, and even fewer when we bloggers, who have a tendency to rehash the trends of the moment and reference things others have already done, have interests that lie in the same area.

Today’s photo (credit: M.V. Jantzen) shows the US Capitol with the Christmas tree lit up and the stands for the inauguration being set up in the background. WordPress has turned on the snow, which adds a festive feel to the photo, don’t you think?

  • Deborah Friedes went to her first contact improvisation (CI) jam. In her post, she provides some history and context for the medium, and describes her experience. As someone who has never tried CI I found the post to be very informative.
  • Selly reflects on different iterations of the Nutcracker and on its status as the one ballet most Americans know: “it’s almost sad the the only impression most of the American public has of ballet is such a trippy ballet that’s based on a quite creepy story and that every dancer hates. You perform the same roles to the same music year. After year. After year. Not that we don’t have fun along the way.” (Dance Outlook)
  • Teresa Wiltz, former Ailey student, reflects on 50 years of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (The Root).
  • As Danciti reports, Move the Frame has left Great Dance, and can now be found here. Danciti limits its commentary to a snarky comment about the layout (how is that relevant to the content? particularly as most of us read blogs through a feed reader, anyway), but I just want to comment that this is the end of an era. Doug Fox was the original dance blogger. He encouraged many people, myself included, to get into blogging and helped make us known by linking to our posts. Relatively recently, he expanded Great Dance into a multi-blog platform. Move the Frame’s Anna Brady Nuse was one of the most interesting and prolific of the Great Dance bloggers. It is understandable that she has moved to her own site, as she was the only one still blogging on Great Dance.

the first White House Chief of Staff with a ballet background?While it has been noted with some scornful glee (from the macho opposition), or bemusement (from the betcha didn’t know department) by newscasters and columnists, I met the news that President-elect Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once trained as a ballet dancer with much delight and interest. Could this be the highest ranking White House official with a serious dance background?

Interestingly enough, Emanuel’s wikipedia entry does not currently mention this fact, and most other internet sources mention it in passing, without any context. Like this article, that thought it important enough to put in the headline but gives no further information. Others make an attempt at deep analysis. A 2005 Rolling Stone article addressed the issue thusly:

When Rahm was a boy, his mother forced him to take ballet lessons, and he threw himself into it with the same intensity he would later bring to politics, winning a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet. Friends jokingly theorize that his toughness is actually an outgrowth of being a ballet dancer: With that sort of thing on your resume, you had better be ready to fight if you hope to survive in Chicago politics. “The guy had been a ballet dancer in college,” says Bruce Reed, “yet grown men lived in mortal fear of what he might do to them if they couldn’t get the answer he wanted.”

Can fear of being made fun of for being a male ballet dancer explain Emanuel’s mythically-proportioned temper? The nickname “Rahmbo”? I haven’t seen any widespread reports of former male ballet dancers with ego and anger control issues. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, or maybe there just haven’t been that many in Chicago politics.

Here’s another theory– that the study of ballet actually made him into an angry person (hmmm…). According to a blog posting dedicated to the subject:

“I’ve known Rahm for twenty years, he’s a friend, and I’ll be the first to admit that he’s an insufferable jerk, a Grade A a-hole, a complete prick,” said a former Clinton staffer. “But when you realize the years of endless repetition in some of Chicago’s toughest dance studios and the superhuman precision required to execute a series of moves en pointe you start to see where it comes from. There’s a lot of pent up rage that ballet gives no outlet for. You can’t even hit on the girls in the troupe as no one believes you’re not gay, no matter how many adjustments you need to make to your tights.”

Wow… pent up rage and fear of being thought you’re gay. Let’s not make this too complicated. I always thought dance was a good outlet for strong emotion, not something that causes you to bottle them up.

I’m going to go with another theory– that there’s room for all sorts of men in dance– girly men, manly men, white men, black men, purple men, and little green men. Even men with political aspirations, for crying out loud! That Emanuel’s ballet background is an issue for many– as evidenced in the number of amused-in-tone mentions by reporters and pundits– just goes to show how entrenched attitudes are about what a “normal” pasttime for a young male is. You don’t see headlines about “fishing enthusiast George W. Bush,” for example.

Those of us who dance know how much discipline and hard is required to be successful. It also helps to have a thick skin. All these character traits go a long way in politics. Judging from some of the stories, a love of drama and performance also seem to be inherent in Emanuel’s personality. The same things that probably helped him succeed in dance– even being offered a scholarship to the Joffrey– are the same sort of character traits that have carried him far in public service. It’s not a matter of cause and effect, as so many people seem to want it to be; it’s merely a matter of a core work ethic and perseverence being an asset in some of the more difficult and high-profile professions such as dance and politics.

I’m less interested in analyzing his character based on this detail from his past, and more interested in whether he still has a love for dance. Does he ever go to class? Is he a patron of the arts? Should I be keeping an eye out for him when I go see the ballet at the Kennedy Center? Either way, the dancer in me is tickled that we do have a high ranking [former] ballet dancer in the White House. While that part of Rahm Emanuel’s personal history will have no bearing on the implementation of the Obama policy agenda, we dancers know that we have one of our own in there.

Bodies of water—pools, lakes, the sea—aren’t just for swimming and splashing around. They are also great places to dance and improve your ability to move in different ways. The resistance provided by the water, the buoyancy of your body in the water, and the additional lift provided by the waves of the sea can all be used to your advantage.

I’ve been doing my barre exercises in the pool this summer. Not only is it relaxing and enjoyable, it’s helped me improve muscular strength and extension. In the water, you have to move more slowly, and therefore articulate each movement more carefully. The resistance provided by the water, when done on a regular basis, helps to strengthen and tone your muscles in a different way than when on dry land. Your center is more important than even, because you must keep it even tighter to stay upright in the water. To do your barre sequence in the pool, stand in the shallow end with the edge at barre height, to rest your hand and proceed with your same sequence as usual.

I’ve been told that extension is less a matter of flexibility than of strength and center. Being in the water really drove this point home for me. I am able to extend my leg a good foot higher in the water simply because the buoyancy of it did all the work for me, floating my leg up much higher than I am normally able to keep it on my own strength.

Another area I’ve been able to work on is jumps and leaps, a big area of weakness for me. The gravity-defying properties of water are a big assist and have helped me to improve my technique and build confidence. With gravity, it’s basically impossible to “articulate” a leap, so if this is an area of weakness for you, the slowness and lift of water can help you get down to the mechanics of getting off the ground. Even more fun than a swimming pool is at the beach. Timing your jumps or leaps with the waves will carry you higher and farther.

Sometimes when you’re on vacation, you don’t have the chance to go to class, but with a little resourcefulness (and water), you can keep on dancing. As the summer comes to a close, here’s one more reason (as if you needed one) to head to the pool or the beach while you still can.

Read the first two installments in this series:

~~

We finally started learning the choreography after a few weeks of vocal rehearsal. It was a very exciting day for me; after all, it was the whole reason I had embarked on this project. Of a cast of 36, five women and two men had been cast as dancers. All but one of the women were significantly younger than me (teens/early 20s), and I was the oldest, and also the only one who did not have years of ballet training under her belt. This became a source of apprehension when the choreography turned out to be largely ballet-based, rather than in a more familiar idiom to me such as jazz or salsa.

In the projects I’ve been involved in, I now realize I was spoon-fed the choreography. The sequences would be taught in small sections over the course of a month or more, going back over each section to make sure it was solid before embarking on the next. On the other hand, our big dance number for the show was taught to us in its entirety in the space of two hours. No doubt this is how the pros do it, but I’m most definitely an amateur and I quickly realized I was going to have to up my game.

We were basically expected to have learned the choreography in that one session. In the next practice, the singing and non-dancing parts were added in. We would come back to a few rough patches just a couple times more, but we never went through the piece more than twice in any subsequent rehearsal. Add to this my own personal paranoias about being too old, too inflexible, too slow to pick up choreography, and too weak ballet technique, I entered a several-week crisis of self esteem. At each practice I thought to myself that there must have been some mistake and they were probably regretting casting me as a dancer. One day, I misread a new version of the casting sheet that was handed out and thought they had replaced me on another dance number due to my poor progress on the first one. As it turns out, I had looked at the wrong line and I was still in there, but my deflated brain was playing tricks on me.

What did I do to address these insecurities and limitations I was mired in? In addition to practicing in any spare moment (at least the parts I could remember without help), I changed my dance class schedule. Rehearsal was four days a week, and on the other days I had the energy I attended basic ballet classes in an attempt to focus my technique and apply any new insights or knowledge to the choreography. I also took every opportunity to ask my fellow dancers questions about the choreography and technique in general. Finally, the assistant choreographer offered me the opportunity for a one-on-one hour in which to polish the combination, which made a huge difference. With just about two weeks to go to opening night, I finally felt comfortable with the choreography, and with just a few days to spare, was able to relax into it enough add my own personal style and be more aware of all that was going on around me.

Why was this such an emotionally trying process for me? Well, there was a lot of truth in my insecurities– it was harder for me than the younger, more experienced dancers. Also, I am a perfectionist by nature and I hold myself to a high standard. Even if my pay or job are not on the line (keeping in mind this is a volunteer, community production and I have no real career aspirations in this area), I always want to do the best possible job I can. I don’t want to let anyone down– not my fellow cast members, not the production staff, and not the people who come to see the show. I don’t want to let myself down either, thinking I could have practiced more or tried harder. That said, seeing myself rise above those barriers in the end made the whole undertaking extremely gratifying. While I’m not the best, I’m my best, and in the end I’m dancing for me, because I love doing it, period.

Stay tuned for more installments on putting all the elements of the show together and the performances.

She may not have as well known as some of her counterparts such as Ginger Rogers, but for those who knew and appreciated her work, Cyd Charisse clearly left a mark. Here are a few touching tributes I’ve read.

She Put the Move in Movies (WP)

[I]t was what Charisse could do with her legs that set her apart from other musical stars of her era, the mid-1940s through the ’50s, and what distinguished her from those who came before or after. She was a dancing goddess on a very lonely pedestal. Charisse, who died Tuesday at 86, had no peers and few imitators.

 Sylph or Siren, The Legs Have It (NYT):

Some stars shine, others flicker, lingering in your consciousness and dreams in flashes, favorite scenes and frozen moments. Cyd Charisse, the long-legged beauty who in the 1950s gave Fred Astaire some midcareer oomph and Gene Kelly his match in pure animal vitality, wasn’t a Hollywood immortal. She never transcended the movies in which she appeared — her breakout musical, “Singin’ in the Rain,” could certainly have been produced without her. But it surely would not have been as magnificent without the erotic jolt she gives Kelly.

From Ballet to Movies, Cyd Charisse Was a Cool Classic (Boston Globe):

[She] expressed persona through movement rather than dialogue, and in her case that persona was smoky, sinuous, and cool: a quintessential ’50s mix of sex and poise. She was the choreographic equivalent of a classic Sinatra LP.

Beautiful Dynamite (The Guardian)

For me, there is a crucial test of the Charisse obituaries: it is whether or not they mention a film called Party Girl. The New York Times names it and refers to it as “a drama”. The Los Angeles Times does not seem to know about it. But it is the best work Charisse ever did.

Cyd Charisse: Some of her greatest numbers (The Guardian): Video highlights from the legendary actor and dancer from Hollywood’s golden era.

Finally, Turner Classic Movies has changed its programming schedule to show three of her best movies on Friday, June 27. Schedule is here.

 

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