Friday, March 30, 2007

Almost there

Just a quick blog today.

Tonight is our dress rehearsal in the theatre. So we had a class this morning and I had a brief rehearsal with some of the dancers who are doing new parts. Now, I am off to a lighting rehearsal. So it should be an eventful afternoon and evening. I have Cupid's wings in my car (literally) and I will see you all tomorrow.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Big Happy Dance and the Gypsy Camp!

The end is here.

After all of the turmoil and angst of the trio of unhappy lovers. We have the brief return of Cupid. As he and the narrators leave the stage, they are replaced by the dancers. The picture above shows Anna Counts performing the first movement that was ever choreographed for this ballet on the first person it was choreographed on. This finale (along with the Pleasant Peasant section) was worked out during our summer program. Although it was altered to suit the professional dancers of the company (and the inclusion of the male dancers), the structure was pretty much worked out on the summer students. Anna took part in that program.

This is a later section of the same dance, but back in the studio. There is no subtext here apart from everyone dancing joyously in the rapture of love.

Back to the stage version, the piece is pretty much made of different groupings of dancers who swoop onto stage in off balance extensions and turns. Much as love keeps us off balance.

As you can see sometimes the dancers are off balance on appendages other than their legs. This is an instance of the cardinal rule of working with me. Either in dance or theater.

"If you are messing around in the rehearsal space, don't ever do anything that you wouldn't want me to put in the show."

Because I WILL put it in the show, if it makes me laugh.

The finale is really made up of two sections. The first is this soaring, free flowing melange of bodies. We keep building towards a big finish, but instead go to a transitional moment of swirling leaps across the stage, which is broken through by...

Chelsy and the guys.

The music takes a very sudden shift and becomes slightly melodramatic. The voicings also change. So I had a choreographic quandry. Do I try to make sense of this musical change or go with the flow?

Chelsy was also part of that summer program. As she was working with us, it was apparant (to us, at least) that we were seriously think of her as becoming a company member. so I took the opportunity to see what she could do. So I made a virtuoso solo for her. As it was shaping up, I knew that I would add the guys once we took the piece into the company.

For some reason when this section begins, I always think of gypsies storming the stage and taking over. It is as if Chelsy is a gypsy campfire that is inciting the men into a more passionate side of love than we saw in the earlier section. The acceptance that as much as we talk about l-o-v-e, the underlying reason that we do th things we do (including write poetry) is because of l-u-s-t. And that there is nothing wrong with that. Its life. Its humanity. Its why we dance.

Soon everyone becomes involved in this more knowing (and triumphant) celebration. Dancing under the moon at the gypsy camp.

Final pose. The end.

Come see the show, this Saturday 2:30 and 8 at Mandeville Auditorium.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Two Loves I Have...

Okay. Here we have the eternal triangle... sort of. When chosing the sonnets for use, I have to look at them with the idea of "Are they dancable?" or "Does dance illuminate anything?" Quite often people will bring me pieces (music, poems, etc) which they believe would make good dance ideas. But many times they are too literal. For instance, if a poem is too much of a narrative, then you can get into the trap of simply "accompanying" the poem with movement. Likewise, some musical pieces. The dance isn't allowed room to breathe. Sometimes, it is the material that says the least which is the most appropriate for dance.

This poem is quite simple. Someone (probably a man) is in love with two people. A woman. And a young man. Often this is explained away as a platonic thing, but it's the 2001st century and let's just accept it for what it is. The thing is that in this case, the narrative voice sees the woman as being the negative influence and the young man as the positive.

Another spin is that some sort of relationship is also occurring between the two beloved figures, where the woman is seen as corrupting the youth.

This sonnet was chosen specifically because it offered choreographic variety. You can do things with three bodies in space that you cannot do with two. We have already seen one pas de trois in Act One, with Chelsy and two guys, but that piece is just a nice spring romp. Abby, the central female in this piece, is older than Chelsy. So her dancing has a bit more of a bite. She is a very intelligent dancer and she has a delicacy that is combined with a quiet strength and assurance.

Ari and Chris like to act. And this piece needs a bit of drama. These characters are slightly reminiscent of the rocker leads in the Todd Haynes film Velvet Goldmine. Are they more interested in each other or the seemingly self sufficient woman? Are they Truffaut's Jules and Jim? The male dancers were also chosen because of their dissimilar sizes.

I didn't want a girl and a set of twins (or brothers.) I wanted three distinct bodies.

Well, when I set this last year, it was the last piece to be completed and quite honestly I got to a certain point and ran out of ideas. All three dancers were new to me, so I didn't quite have a grip on what I wanted to see them do. So I got to the above point in the piece and then I went in a different direction...

As you can see I brought a group in. I kind of had this idea of a growing complexity. I brought 2 girls in. Then 2 guys then two more girls, etc. Always leaving the group with one extra person.

That way I could keep the energy building to the end of the number. But I was never really satisfied with it. I felt as if I had taken the easy way out. Okay, I'll admit it. It was my one bit of cheating in the whole ballet. I knew I had a big finale coming up. So injecting a group number in this place didn't really make sense. But I knew the audience would buy it because it was flashy.

I had also come to a dead end with the trio.

So this year, back in January, we had a show-and-tell type event in our new studios. I used the opportunity to re-address the second part of this piece. Now that I had a better knowledge of what Abby, Ari, and Chris could bring to the dance, I was able to look at it with that in mind.

We now stay with the three dancers only. Their dancing becomes more passionate and frenzied. A series of rather breathtaking tosses have been introduced along with some additional partnering between the two guys.

And it all climaxes in a rather unique finishing pose. Ta-da!

And just in case you felt that the restaging was a bunch of frivolity. I am including this unstaged picture.

Isn't it interesting how all the gentlemen have their hands on their hips?

When I restaged the last part of the piece, I started pretty well and then got to a midway point. The ideas weren't coming and we were working on a pretty troublesome lift (that was later cut). I didn't want to be in the same position I had been in the year before, so I sent the dancers home. The next day, same thing. Luckily the day after that inspiration struck. Sometimes you have to push it. But if you are in the position where you can take the time to step back and let inspiration strike. Just do it.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Written On The Wind

The homestretch begins. So today all of the dancers are gathered. Heather is in from Vegas. And Askar Kettebekov, our replacement guy is with us. We knew that we were going to have to replace Ryan, due to a planned foot surgery. So Askar K. (not to be confused with Askar A.) has been joining us on the weekends. But today, we are ALL HERE! Hooray!!!

Last night, I attended an event at Tiffany & Co. it was to announce the Gold Star Honoree for the San Diego Performing Arts League's Star Awards. The Gold Star is a member of the community whothrough philanthropy AND volunteerism has given above and beyond to the arts community. The actual awards are given in June. This was a kick off event. As I am the artistic director of the event I had to be there. Unfortunately, I had not taken a change of clothes and was in my regular fleecewear (sweats) inspired wardrobe (for which I am quite well known), but thanks to Macy's and a charge card, I was suitably attired in less than 20 minutes. Today, I will be off to a marketing meeting for SDPAL. Since we are doing strategic planning and I am the chair of Membership and it is a member organization, I need to make sure our members interests are being dealt with at these meetings.

So more Sonnets. We now have a brief group dance . I had stated before that the Indian and sign language sections were a bit more literal and the ballet sections were more abstract.

Well, this tiny section is a bridge between the two. It is pretty much just a little bit of suggestive mime. It is done in three groups of three, But all groups do the same thing.

Offer a hand. Offer a hand.
Take a hand. Take a hand.
Pull away.
Call to the audience.
Call to a higher audience.
Reach into space.
Scribe a thought into the air.
Put a period on it.

The only difference in this year's staging of this is that I have added Leila (who will later dance a solo) to the foreground. She watches and then joins the girls, doing alne what the do in unison. I put Leila there to let the audience know that the girls were being conscious of being observed as the did their movements.

As the music stops, and Gail finishes the poem she was reading, Noriko expoldes forward. The music becomes aggitated and the other girls rush offstage. This leave Noriko and Leila to execute two complimentary solos at the same time. The solos are being done to different aspects of the music. They could be performed seperately. But I wanted to throw the audience off balance for a moment before we get to the next section.

Not so coincidentally, the solos contain many off balance elements. The dancers are like leaves beig buffeted by the wind.

As the solos are danced, Abby enters from the opposite side of the stage and slowly crosses straight downstage.

Now, here is an example of our open door policy. Leila Gardner had danced with is in seasons past. At the beging of the last season, she had moved to the east coast. We began working on SONNETS at the start of our season. Midway through the season, Leila came back to San Diego. Although SONNETS was halfway done, it was not completed in my mind. So when Leila asked if she could dance with us. I found a place for her in the piece. Now things don't always workout like this, But in this case, they did.

At the end, of this quick interlude, Leila and Noiko leave Abby onstage alone. Ready for one of the more convoluted sections (dramatically, choreographicaly and historicaly) of the ballet.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 26, 2007

Non-Narration Narration

Day off..
But much work to be done.

Had a meeting with the Membership Committee of the San Diego Performing Arts League, which I chair. We were doing some strategic planning. Also had a meeting with my fellow resident company directors at Dance Place San Diego about a collaborative summer program we are holding this year. We finalized our ballet schedule and admin stuff.

SInce the dancers had today off, lets give them a day off the blog as well. And a perfect day for it, because as it so happens, we have come to the part of the ballet where they get to take a break. Our narrators become orators. The next two sonnets are simply spoken. No dance.

I wanted to give each actor a chance to just read a sonnet without having to worry about finishing it before the music stopped or attaching it to a movement. Gail Mackler who read part of the sonnets last year is our educational outreach coordinator. A graduate of United States International University, she often reads the narratives that accompany our ballets at local schools.

Steve Gunderson is a frequent collaborator on my theater projects. A wonderful actor, singer, composer and friend. Both Steve and Gail bought a great deal of sensitivity to their work and it was a pleasure working with them. The thing to remember is that in this particular instance, they are not "acting." In reading poetry, the most important thing is that the IDEA is being get across. Not necessarily the emotion. We want the audience to understand the argument that is being made by Shakespeare. Not just to think, "Oh that guy is really sad."

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Dark Lady


Only 4 days of rehearsal left.

Today's piece is the centerpiece of the second act. A very long pas de deux that illuminates 3 of Shakespeare's poems dealing with a mysterious "dark lady." It is set to a Turkish whirling dervish, so I had always envisioned it as pretty much perpetual motion. Twisting in and out of knots.

Now, we get requests all the time for dancers to appear at a function. And when we ask how long they want the dancers to dance, we usually get the same answer. "Not long. Maybe 30 or 40 minutes."

Just imagine running nonstop for 40 minutes. And trying to look pleasant the entire time. 5 minutes is a long time for a dancer to keep dancing nonstop. This pas de deux is 8 minutes long.

Of course, the dancers didn't have it thrown at them at once. For something like this, I like to set daily one hour long rehearsals. That way the dancers build their endurance as they learn. The more you do a piece, the more you learn where you can "rest" and breathe. Even if it is only for a second. Every second helps.

Now, the dancer that originated this piece, Heather Falten, had to leave us this year to go make some money dancing at Bally's in Las Vegas to pay off her student loans. I could have replaced her with someone in the company, but I didn't really want to. There are other pieces where I don't feel as strongly. Where I think, "Well, let's give it to this other dancer and see what she can do with it." But in this case, I didn't want to.

At least for now, this is Heather's number. So Heather got some time off and will be joining us on Tuesday to get plugged back in. Don't think she hasn't been working on it. She has. Just not with us.

So when she arrives, she and Askar will go off into a rehearsal studio and try to get back the timing and nuances that they had in the piece last year. Sometimes re-setting can be a frustrating process. Because people change. Not just in weight but in tiny imperceptable things. So a step that might have been simple before can suddenly elude you. And you wouldn't be able to figure out why.

This is an interesting image because it is one if the few moments in the dance where they are just standing still and she is not on point. Although, they are "acting" you can also see that their bodies are a bit exhausted. Remember that this dance occurs after an hour plus of dancing in the first act.

An interesting picture, because this is actually a spin. He seems a bit off balance, but he is actually swinging her around.

We have had alot of dancers perform with the San Diego Ballet over the years. And we have a very open door. While I do my best to make sure that the dancers that we have here are growing as artists, I also made certain pieces for certain people.

So as long as they are still in good dancing form...

Johnathan Sharp would always be welcome to play Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Peter Kalivas would always be welcome to perform his role in Mambomania.
Stephanie Aubuchon would always be welcome to perform as the Firebird.
Khristina Kravas would always be welcome to perform the role of Charlotte Bronte



Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hey There Lonely Boy

So today, we replaced Shannon. It was a bit sad but it was also nice to see how quickly the dancers were able to adapt to learning new parts. Rather than just give all of her stuff to one person, I split it up so that 3 dancers would have more opportunities. It also gives them less pressure to learn something new in a week. We were going to stage the dancew that is featured today, but that will happen tomorrow instead.

This dance features another lonely boy. The sonnet begins "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes..." As it goes on, the "beloved' comes in, as do many other couples. This dance has a Spanish flavor and features many lifts and tosses. Although there are two new dancers doing it this year, they have alot in common with the originators.

The girl is very small, which is important because the lifts must look effortless. She is really more of an apparition. During the dance, they don't smile as much as they are in this picture. I don't mind the dancers having fun during rehearsal. As a matter of fact, I want them to have as much fun as possible. Both in rehearsal and on stage.

I may re-work some of this number when I stage it tomorrow, as I think I want it to be a bit more passionate. Right now, it is very nice, but it is a bit smooth. It needs a bit more drama.

This picture makes me laugh. I look as if I am having an emotional breakdown. Which I never do in rehearsal. And in this particular case, the ending pose of this piece always made me chuckle. So why I look so angst ridden is beyond me. As I have looked at these rehearsal pics, I have come to realize that I am probably more emotive in rehearsals than I give myself credit for.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Uma! Uma! Uma!

On to Act Two of Sonnets.

We open with guest artist Uma Suresh doing another classical form of dance. This time from India.

When I began dancing, I studied with a wonderful teacher named Jack Tygett. He and his wife, Marge, had been dancers in Hollywood. They danced with all the great movie choreographers of the time. Agnes DeMille. Eugene Loring. Nick Castle. Bob Fosse. And Jack Cole. Jack Cole was considered the Father of American Jazz dance. He created a fusion of classical Indian dance forms and jazz music that is still the basis of alot of we see in Broadway shows today. So when I began dancing, I learned some basics of the form.

Now as you can see, although it is a classical dance form, it is very different from ballet. Classical Indian dance has three fairly disinctive features which set it apart. The first is a very intricate set of foot rhythms. These percussive patterns are quite ferocious and intense. Think along the lines of Irish Step dancing, but in bare feet and a very deep plie.

The second distintive feature is a complicated series of hand gestures. This dance was always envisioned as being a partner to Andrea's dance in Act One. Unlike the ballet sequences, which deal with the sonnets in a more abstract sense, both this and Andrea's dance are visual translations of the sonnets. They use dance as language.

The final feature is a very strict set of facial expressions. The eyes... mouth... even the nostrils, have specific places that they need to be to express a certain emotion. While this may sound as if it is a very constricting kind of dance, it is actually very emotive and dramatic. Uma is a very dedicated artist. Very intense. Very formidable. It is a joy to work with her. Especially since we have a very free form kind of company.

We had some very good news and some very bad news today. One of our dancers, Chelsy, had been out because of an injury that she sustained at a photo shoot. She came back today, a bit shaken but ready to go. we were all happy to see her back. Unfortunately, another dancer, Shannon, injured her foot during class. At this point, it looks as if she will be unable to perform in the show. What makes this sadder is that Shannon had been dancing very well this year and was coming into her own as a dancer. So tomorrow, we will begin the process of replacing her in her various roles in the show.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 22, 2007

All Dance, Everybody Dance

Alright, so now we have the second part of the Act One Finale of SONNETS.
The couples and Jillian leave and are replaced by a new soloist. Christine. She is the dancer in the furthest downstage position. As she dances, groups of dancers come in and out, joining her in a communal dance.

Now, I have two basic ways of teaching things. Half the time, I will look at a group of dancers and think, "Okay, that dancer for a solo and those two for a pas de deux." Then I will work out the choreography on the dancers I have chosen so it fits their bodies. But sometimes I think, "I want everyone to learn this movement." Usually it is because I want all the dancers to get that communal feeling of working on a piece together. It helps with camaraderie and builds company cohesiveness. Additionally, if I do a piece next year that builds on movement that we expirimented with this year, I need everyone in the company to have the experience. Not just one person. All dancers have a specific way of moving. And sometimes, I want them to learn to move like me. Now, you have to be careful with this kind of exploration. You can't do this and then just turn it into a solo for the same person show after show. The other company members would grow to resent it.

In this case, I knew that everyone was going to be able to show the movement. So I didn't have that problem. As you can see the horde of dancers are all moving in the same way, with the same intent. I always knew that there would be a lead soloist, but Christine was not picked to do the lead until all of the movement had been created. In the end, I felt that she had the best handle... grip... presentation of the movement.

As we were working on the remounting of this piece, I did change one thing. Christine used to enter and exit for every group section. When I saw it again this year, it struck me as slightly comical. I don't think that anyone who saw the piece for the first time would think so, but it seemed a bit manic. So I decided to keep Christine on stage through the whole dance. It actually makes the piece go by faster.

As the piece finishes, the men come in and jump around. Christine joins them and they all jump offstage. End of Act One. And the audience goes off to get a little refreshment to get ready for Act Two.

Today at the ballet, we had more clean up. The ballet is almost entirely restaged. We should finish it tomorrow. Uma, our Indian dancer, whose piece we will discuss tomorrow, came in today to work with Gail. There should be an e-mail blast going out today. Our radio spots and ad in the paper came out. So we are going into the final ticket selling push. If you are reading this blog and live in Southern California, buy your tickets now :)


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Peruvian Pipes

Sonnets end of Act One.

The number that finishes Act One is broken into two pieces. The first is another dance for 5 couples, much like the beginning of the ballet, but some of the girls are different. This is a fairly tender piece. I was very dubious about the music I chose because even though it is a folk tune (Peruvian), the first section sounds like a commercial song. It has a very New Age-y orchestration, but I guess thats because New Age music sounds like some indigenous Peruvian band is playing it. The topper is that even though I used to cringe when I would hear it (I have gotten over that), all of the women who hear the music always comment on how beautiful and romantic it is. So I figured fine, let the audience speak.

The piece is constructed as a sort of follow up in waves. One couple. Next Couple. Next Couple. etc. All doing similar movement. As you can see from the image, dancers often have to get in very intimate positions. However, depending on the piece, this proximity often means nothing. As you can see from Abby's expression, she is less concerned about where Ryan is than making sure that she is retaining an attractive line with her arms and head.

Now, even if we don't have an optimum situation, we have to keep rehearsing. Here you can see that Chris' partner is missing. That doesn't mean that he doesn't need to rehearse. And sometimes it is good to rehearse without your partner. It forces you to think about what they are normally doing. While Ari and his partner, Damaris, look fairly composed in this image, they have actually just completed a fairly complicated twist lift. You can tell by the fact that her skirt is still in motion.

Halfway through this romantic reverie, a female soloist, Jillian, enters and dances among the couples. In many ways, she is a choreographic "cousin" to the girls who danced behind Chelsy, Pali and Ari. The difference being that rather than being a backround nymph, Jillian becomes the central figure when she enters and darts about the couples. Like Cupid's lover, Psyche, pointing out the couples in love.

Today at the ballet, we had a productive day cleaning things up. Rehearsal was short, because we have some people out with illness. Better everyone get sick this week than next.

Tomorrow, we will wrap up Act One.