Thursday, November 09, 2006


Another day another rehearsal.

On Friday, we will be appearing as guests to open the San Diego Symphony's Winter Pops. Since Marvin Hamlish is conducting, they wanted a dance group to perform One from A Chorus Line. So 12 of the SDB dancers have been rehearsing some new choreography that I made for the number.

Remember I mentioned that choreography is hard to copyright? Well, we won't be using Michael Bennet's original choreography for two reasons. First, is that I never did the show. So while I could probably "lift" it off of a video, I don't have a personal history with it. So I really wouldn't be clear about why something needed to be done in a certain way. The second reason is because the original choreography is based on a series of repeated steps done in amazing paterns on a full stage. We will be dancing on a thin strip in front of an orchestra. Basically in two dimensions. So patterns ae impossible.

So instead, to keep the energy building, I have chosen to start the number as a solo that then becomes a duet that then becomes a quartet etc until all 12 dancers are onstage in their gold (rhinestone encrusted) tuxedos. not until the last chorus do we get all the dancers moving in unison and not until the last bars do they kick in unison. Keep the audience wanting more.

The ballet dancers are having a blast with the gold top hats.

As promised, today we discuss the Cavalier



1. A gallant or chivalrous man. especially one serving as escort to a woman of high social position; a gentleman.
2. A mounted solider; a knight.

So it seems fairly obvious that the Sugar Plum Fairy's partner is not meant to be an underling. He isn't a servant or an attendant or Kevin Federline. We are in Lancelot and Guinevere territory or Elizabeth and Essex. The difference being that this is a happy pairing.

This ballet couple is interesting in that there is no hint of dramatic tension in their relationship. They are a young girl's idealized version of mature love. Each moment of their pas de deux builds on the moment before, until we are overcome at the end with the power of two people secure in each other. An interesting concept given that the two characters are unmarried and have no intention of being married.

San Diego Ballet's Cavalier, Askar Alimbetov, is a perfect foil for the ultra feminine Sugar Plum Fairy. Male dancers can come in many shapes and sizes. Some play on androgenous qualities (like three of the most famous male dancers in ballet: Nijinsky, Nureyev and Baryshnikov) and others can be hyper masculinized (like Vladimier Vasiliev.) Askar is a bit more in the Vasiliev mode. Big powerful jumps and strong fast turns. He really launches himself into his variation and his turns a la second build in velocity.

So the juxtaposition between Chelsy and Askar works well for this piece. It also helps that they are both very detail oriented, so that they spend time on even the smallest taking of the hand or placing of the head.

So that should be enough about those two.

Tomorrow is another day and another topic.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sick Day

Yes, today, I am officially sick.

So I will stay at home while my trusty co-director, Robin, and my stalwart ballet mistress, Ahita, run rehearsals. At this time of year, weekend rehearsals are mainly dedicated to getting the children who will be involved in the Nutcracker up to speed. There are a few of the more advanced girls from the school who will be given the opportunity to dance in some of the corps roles with the professional dancers. So we need to make sure that they are also rehearsed.

Since corrections and decisions on elements of style are made with the company during the week, often the students have to play catch-up.

Anyhow, things should run smoothly without me. The only possible glitch would be in the final hour, when the complicated Act 1 fight scene is rehearsed. But everyone has already been rehearsed in their parts, with the exception of our scene stealing baby mice. So best of luck to them!

So as I sit here downing cough drops like candy, let me begin to discuss the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier.

In any classical ballet, one of the highlights is the pas de deux. Pas de deux means dance for two and generally refers to a man and woman dancing with each other.

Although there are no hard and fast rules to this, the classical pas de deux is usually made up of 4 sections...

The adagio. A slow romantic piece featuring supported poses, balances and turns.
The male variation. A solo dance which shows of the male dancer's virtuosity.
The female variation. A solo dance which shows of the female dancer's virtuosity.
The coda. An uptempo dance in which the two dancers alternate showing feats of skill.

The 5th section is usually thunderous applause from the audience.

In order for the Sugar Plum Fairy to execute a pas de deux, she needs a strong, able partner. Enter the Cavalier.

SDB's Cavalier is Askar Alimbetov from Kazakstan. Not the fake Borat Kazakstan where people sound as if they are from some fake Eastern European country. But the real Kazakstan, which is not an Eastern European country at all, but rather a Central Asian country, where people are directly descended from Ghengis Khan. If you want more info on the real vs the fake Kazakstan, I suggest visiting...

Tomorrow, I will discuss Askar and what goes into making a Cavalier.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Life as a Sugar Plum Fairy Part 2

Well, today I am fighting off my annual winter cough. It always sneaks up on me around this time of the year and it takes forever to go away. So I guess its up to Nyquil to knock me out for the night.

On Fridays, I am scheduled to teach company class. Rather than just have one teacher give all of the company classes, at SDB we have a wide range of instructors. We feel that it gives the professional dancers a nice variety of experiences. Some dancers also gravitate towards particular types of clases. So mixing it up seems to be beneficial to their bodies.

While I may have a reputation for choreographing rather eclectic ballets, my classes are probably the most rigid of the SDB instructors. Long barres and fairly straight forward academic steps. Since I am going to rehearse the dancers afterwards, I don't see the need to explore choreography in class. Rather, class to me is a place for dancers to hone their skills, build their strength and learn more about their own body mechanics.

After class, came rehearsal of Nutcracker. The company is looking pretty good at the moment. Everything has been taught except for the first act party scene, which will be done this weekend with children from our school. As our first Nutcracker is the day after Thanksgiving, we are in good shape.

So onto the continuation of the Sugarplum Fairy.

Our Sugar Plum is Chelsy Meiss. This is her second year with the company and she originally hails from Melbourne, Austrailia. Physically, she is well suited to the part. She has a porcelin complexion and flame red hair that look as if they came out of a painting by Titian. She also has a perfectly proportioned body and long, slim, delicate limbs. But she also has a strong, steely technique and can be a bit of a soubrette. Since her mother is a jazz dance teacher, she can bring some of that dynamism into roles which she performs.

As we rehearsed the role, we discussed various technical, dramatic and presentational aspects of the character.

Let's start with the basics. She is a fairy. What does that mean? Well, strictly speaking, fairies have no souls, They are spirits. They are ageless. So she is neither young nor old. Although fairies can be beautiful and charismatic, that doesn't necessarily make them lovable. They are not flesh and blood creatures.

In addition, while she is the ruler of Konfetenburg (the yummy candy kingdom), that still doesn't make her a major player in the greater fairyworld. But it makes her a huge player in the world of a child's dreams, since kids are so transfixed by sweets. It is very telling that her partner is not created to be her equal. He usually listed as her "Cavalier." The actual musical score actually lists him as... drumroll... a kind of cough drop.

So that is enough dramatic backstory, presentationaly the Sugar Plum Fairy is the personification of lots of little girl's dreams of a ballerina. In her pink tutu with her diamond (rhinestone) tiara, our youngest patrons come to see her smile and dance beautifully across the stage. She has to be Tinkerbell and Ballerina Barbie and more. On a few occasions, we have had children from the Make-A-Wish foundation at our shows, whose wish was precisely to see the Nutcracker and meet the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Finally, technically, she must keep all of her steps light and easy looking. This can be a difficult balancing act, as the more difficult a step is, the more effort it takes. The Sugar Plum is the almost surreally elegant, much more so than her classical "sisters." Even the Swan Queen is half-woman/half-bird. The Sugar Plum fairy is all ether. So even in today's rehearsal, Chelsy was having problems with a series of steps that she could normally do in her sleep. But she was having problems because she was SO into the music that rather than make it APPEAR as if she wasn't using too much energy, she was actually not using enough energy.

She was so worried about "floating", that she wasn't honest with herself about how much energy she REALLY needed to turn. But that is the beauty of rehearsal. You get to figure these things out. And since Chelsy is the type of dancer who always gives 100 percent, she is always making new discoveries.

Tomorrow, I'll go on to her partner... the cough drop. Which I am off to get a real one now. Cough. Cough.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Life as a Sugar Plum Fairy

Today started with a meeting with some of the other dance mucky mucks of San Diego. In just under two months, SDB will be moving into its new headquarters at Dance Place San Diego. We will be in residence at a building at the NTC Promenade in Point Loma, along with Malashock Dance and Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theater. Today, we all met to discuss a collaborative flyer that will be sent out to announce our endeavor. To that end I have been putting my lesser known talent as a graphic designer to use. Luckily, no one hated what I had come up with and we can move forward.

If you are on our mailing list, look for it to come in the mail soon.

If you aren't... why aren't you?

Okay back to yesterday's post...

Let's start with the Sugar Plum Fairy, shall we?

With this part, as with most classical parts, there is a traditional series of steps that are associated with the charcter. Her variation was choreographed over one hundred years ago in St. Petersburg by Lev Ivanov. When presenting The Nutcracker, you have a choice...

"Do I go with the "traditional" version or do I create something new?"

Classical traditional choreography was not copyrighted. It is still difficult to copyright choreography. So pretty much anyone who wishes to do so, can perform Ivanov's version of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. While it is not as well known in ballet circles as say the Swan Queen's solo from Swan Lake or the Black Swan's famous series of 32 fouettes (turns) from that same ballet, it is still a rather lovely dance nonetheless.

Unlike some other dances which feature rising up and down on pointe, the traditional Sugar Plum variation stays up on point. Keeping things light. It also features a brilliant diagonal of a rarely seen step in ballet... the gargouillade. This flashy aerial step features the dancer jumping into the air and circling one leg in one direction while the other circles in the opposite direction. If it sounds is. It is also hard to make look good. But some dancer can look glorious when they do it.

So if the choreography is available. And it brings a piece of choreographic history to life. And it looks good on a particular dancer... why not just do the traditional version?

Well, while one choreographer may have the same response to the music as another, they may differ slightly in small area. Or differ vastly in large areas. They may wish to stress different aspects of the music or character than have been traditionally stressed. Likewise, in exploring the music, choreography and character with the dancer in rehearsal, they may discover something wonderful that is unique to this dancer. Dance is an art that is of the moment. Although you can video it, that video is then film, not dance. While it is important to learn traditional variations in a class situation, in a performance situation one cannot hold art to simply replicate what was done 100 years ago.

In the case of the Sugar Plum Fairy, at SDB, her variation features the choreography of my co-director Robin Sherertz-Morgan.

Tomorrow, I will talk about our current Sugar Plum Fairy, Chelsy Meiss, what she brings to the role and what we have discussed in the rehearsal of the role.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Blog Day 2

Okay... second day of the blog.

Had my semi regular walk with Angie (Culture Shock Director) Bunch this morning. We make an odd pair as we walk the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego. Neither of us lives there, but we love the area. There is also a KILLER hill that goes down into Old Town that serves well to remind us of our mortality.

Zipped off to rehearsal at SDB. Being Nutcracker season, we of course rehearsed Nutcracker.

A few Nutcracker insights.

At SDB, we have been doing it for 17 years. There are dancers who have been with us for quite a few of those years. Nutcracker is an interesting time as, we need to juggle who would best fit a part, who has been doing a part for years and who would grow by understudying or alternating in a part. Of course, the main concern is putting on the best show possible.

I will try to hit a point or two daily.

Let's start from the top...

The Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Unlike most well known ballets, the two "leads" in the Nutcracker (the above young lady and her man), don't really have alot of onstage time. What they do have, however, are two amazing pieces of music.

The first is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Tchaikovsky specifically wrote this for a novelty instument that he had recently heard... the Celeste. A sort of mini piano with a tinkling, frothy, lighter than air sound.

And the second is the Adagio to the Grand Pas De Deux, which is the dramatic highlight of Act Two. One of the most romantic repetitions of a repeating theme ever concieved.

So what does that leave us with. Two evocative pieces of music and two non-existent characters.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how we bring these characters to life.

Labels: ,