by Cara Marie Gary
I began taking pointe classes when I was eight years old. I still have my first pair of Leo’s pointe shoes. They’re so small and narrow I don’t think I could fit my first toe and bunion inside them now! One of my ballet instructors, Anita Pacylowski-Justo, helped me transition to the shoe she wore as a dancer. Every since trying on her Bloch Serenade, my foot “fell in love” with this shoe.
I’ve tried to experiment with other brands like Chacott, Russian Pointe, Gaynor Minden, Sansha, Freed, and Capezio, but I always keep coming back to Bloch Serenade (Style: SO131L Width:D Size:2). I like this shoe because it has a wide, square platform which is good for my peasant foot (meaning that my toes are similar in length). I also like that the shank is strong enough to prevent my foot from going too far over pointe.
How old were you when you first started taking dance classes and what did you think of them?
I started dancing when I was three, but I have loved to dance since I could walk. I always loved making up dances when I heard music and performing them for anyone around me. When I was in 5th grade (I’m in 10th now), I started at The School at Steps’ Pre-Professional Program, which turned my dancing from a hobby into a real part of my life. I always knew I loved theater and jazz dance but I never thought I would love ballet as much as I do now. Falling in love with ballet was something I discovered through my training at The School at Steps.
How many classes are you taking now?
I am currently taking 11 classes a week over the course of 5 days. I take ballet everyday, and, in addition, I take pointe, jazz, theater dance, Horton, and partnering.
What has dance taught you about yourself?
Dance has taught me a lot of discipline and control. It has not only helped me in the dance studio but has also taught me to manage my schoolwork and my friends. It can be hard to balance it all, I devote so much time to my dance and homework, yet still want to keep a social life. The key, I have learned, is to have a good work ethic in both my schoolwork and my technique in dance. In the studio, dance has taught me to stay focused and work my hardest each and every day. It has helped me understand what I want, that I may not be perfect at everything immediately, and to focus on particulars. Once I feel I’ve reached my goal, it is about enjoying myself!
What do you think is the hardest thing about dance?
The hardest thing about dance for me has being able to accept my body for the way it looks and is naturally made. I definitely don’t have the “ideal” body type, especially for ballet, and have bad turnout on top of the way I am built. I can honestly say that I haven’t fully overcome what I’m considering the hardest part of dance for me, but that is also what gives me strength as a dancer. I don’t think I am alone in this either, I believe that embracing the way you are made, taking those natural challenges and using them to be stronger and more unique, can create the best dancers.
What is the most enjoyable thing about dance for you?
One of the most enjoyable things for me is seeing the goals you created for yourself become a reality, whether it be perfecting an extra turn, picking up combinations faster, or emphasizing your expressions more. It takes a lot of work, focus, and time to achieve something, but the moment you realize you have succeeded is amazing.
I also think the best feeling in the world is being able to perform on stage in front of other people. The rush of adrenaline and passion that goes into any performance is difficult to describe — the moment when you get to give a performance everything, after working so hard.
Do you think you will stay involved in dance, and if so, how?
I can’t imagine my life without dance right now. That being said, I don’t see myself becoming a professional ballerina, nor did I ever, but I know that whatever I do in life, I want dance to always be there. I originally increased my dance training because I wanted to be an actress, and I knew dance was necessary to pursue my Broadway dreams. Now I have become very interested in choreographing, not performing in the pieces, but rather creating the art. I’m unsure how exactly I want dance to be in my life, but I currently dance so much, I know I don’t ever want to give it up entirely.
What would be your best piece of advice for a new dance student?
I think my best advice for a new dance student would be to go into whatever kind of dance they want to pursue with a really open mind. They should understand that everyone is at a different place in their dancing, and, if they love it, the hard work will pay off. I would also tell them to go see dance, whether it is going to the ballet, seeing your peers perform, or even watching YouTube videos. So much of my inspiration comes from watching other dancers on stage, and finding a piece of myself in those dancers I look up to. When you watch other dancers you can notice things they do that relate to your training, and then take that into the studio the next day to better your technique.
The School at Steps cultivates young dancers, ages 3 mos. – 18 yrs., from their first step in a dance studio through their pre-professional training. Students discover their individual artistic voices in a creative environment with the guidance of an internationally recognized faculty. The personal attention the school provides encourages students to mature as dancers, grow as individuals, and enrich their passion for the art form. School at Steps graduates go on to dance with professional companies, study at top college dance programs, and perform on Broadway. http://stepsnyc.com/the-school-at-steps/
He looks over at me with that twinkle in his eyes, and I see the mischievous 7-year-old boy gleam through my husband’s 32-year-old self.
“Come on babe… just do it. Just show them your feet… please?” and turning toward his friends – okay more like acquaintances… practical strangers to me – he proudly says, “You guys have gotta see these things…”
I shoot a half glance-half glare back at him and he knows exactly my train of thought. But how can I be mad at him when he’s looking at me like that? When he’s so proud of them for me? How can I really be that embarrassed by my “worker tools,” as he puts it? After all, that is what they are, callouses and all… And it could be worse… He could ask me to put my leg over my head, or have them guess my weight.
I meekly slip off my loafers and hesitantly raise my gaze to meet their slightly horrified faces.
“Um…. Wow. Aghh… Yeah. So do they hurt? Because they look like they hurt.”
That’s the typical reaction I get whenever pedestrians (non-dancers, that is) see my very ugly ballerina feet – and they are very ugly. Our physical therapist, Boyd Bender, actually keeps a photo of them on his iPhone to show any of his clients who might feel self-conscious about their own toes…
And ever since Center Stage and that scene where Jody Sawyer takes off her pointe shoes to show a very bloody blister (you know the one…), it has been a point of fascination – pun slightly intended.
The funny thing, I find, is what we consider “pretty feet” in the dance world has nothing to do with how pristine they look in flip-flops… That’s relatively easy to accomplish: buff down those callouses and shellac a bit of red nail polish and voila! You’re good to go… ish.
There’s only so much you can do for those bunions…
The hard part is getting those feet to look pretty in pointe shoes… harder still to get the pointe shoe to cooperate with you. To conjure the effect of weightless, effortless floating; balancing or turning on a dime – these are hallmarks of ballet and yet not easy feats by any means. I can’t always blame every problem I have on the shoes, but sometimes they really do have a mind of their own!
Well after 19 years of wearing these mini instruments of torture I’ve learned a few tricks to making them work for me, instead of the other way around…9
As a dancer, I spend my entire day in socks. They are my preferred footwear — my dance shoes, my ballet slippers, my performance-wear, my fashion statement, my secret weapon. With only one exception (Alejandro Cerrudo’s Lickety-Split), all of the repertory I have performed onstage with Hubbard Street 2 has either been in calf-height socks that neatly match the rest of the costume, or ankle-height socks that match my skin tone. The latter look has been dubbed by some as “the Hubbard Street sock,” but it’s not just this company that performs in stocking feet. Most contemporary dance shows I’ve been to in the past six years have been performed either barefoot or in socks — a phenomenon I’ve come to understand and love, but which also elicits from the audience questions like, “Why are the dancers wearing socks? Are they in their pajamas? Where are their shoes?” Hopefully by sharing my passion for this form of footwear I can debunk and demystify the all-important Contemporary Dance Sock.
The first time I danced in socks was in 2009 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. We were working with Alessio Silvestrin from The Forsythe Company, and without fail he wore socks over ballet shoes in every rehearsal. Coming from a ballet background, this was a new concept to me. I knew it was trendy to wear socks over ballet shoes in order to warm your feet faster for the first combinations at the barre, but I had no idea that in contemporary dance, people actually wore socks onstage in performance. Being the dutiful student I was, I tried to copy Alessio’s look, but I didn’t yet fully grasp the art of dancing in socks. I tried out all kinds in rehearsals: crew-cut athletic socks, calf-height socks of all synthetic blends, those plush fuzzy socks that are great in the wintertime, warm slipper-socks with rubber grips on the bottoms. When so many sock varieties failed to satisfy me I tried keeping my ballet shoes on and danced barefoot a few times, but soon realized that most contemporary choreography really works best in socks.
My friend Carson Stein (now a dancer with Liss Fain Dance and Sharp & Fine in San Francisco) tipped me off to the most important factor of sockage in dance: high cotton content. Synthetic blends had me slipping all over the place. Thick, fuzzy socks tended to stick more to the floor than to my feet, and my poor toes were swimming inside with all the extra room. Athletic socks worked alright, but I soon found that I was bothered by all the extra padding underneath certain parts of my feet and wanted to be able to feel my own skin nearly on the floor, but with a thin layer in between that hugged my foot and enabled me to slide around a bit. Enter the H&M sock: with 83% cotton content (higher in select styles!), it was a revelation. To this day it is the most affordable, most reliable sock I have found to dance in.
Of course there are trends. American Apparel’s knee-high athletic socks were all the rage to dance in a few years ago, particularly the ones with stripes. I’ve found many a fun pair of patterned and unusually-colored socks in the men’s section of Uniqlo. They’re a little more slippery than my standard H&M sock, but depending on the floor they can also work. I usually go for a calf-height sock, but if they’re taller, like the men’s socks from Uniqlo, I’ll just fold them over. Hubbard Street is the only place where I’ve worn ankle-height socks, but when they’re dyed just right, they do a great job of continuing the line of the leg. One could argue that ballet shoes and bare feet do similar things for line, but wearing socks enables you to do all the sliding and swooshing around of contemporary choreography while keeping the skin of your feet in one piece.
For a while, even after I had gotten used to dancing in socks in rehearsals, I preferred to take ballet with ballet shoes on. Then I gradually started taking barre in socks and putting shoes on only for center. Then, sometimes, I would forget to change footwear during class. After I had an ankle surgery, I stayed in socks the whole time to make sure I could really feel the alignment of all the bones in my feet on the floor. I thought I would eventually put ballet shoes back on for at least part of class, but after trying a few times I realized I preferred to feel as much of my foot as close to the floor as possible. My feet feel more supple, dexterous and intelligent if they aren’t closed up in a shoe, dealing with leather pads under my toes and fabric bunching up inside.
When my feet are free to play the floor in socks, I have a much better sense of where my weight is and I feel like I have access to 100% of my articulation, instead of feeling like I’m dancing in mittens or shoeboxes. And I think similar to the idea of those free-running shoe-gloves, you learn to deal with impact in a totally different way when you don’t have any padding underneath your joints. Jumping in socks was a little scary at first, without having the reassuring leather padding underneath the balls of my feet. But after some practice I found that in order to soften my landings while staying buoyant I was actually informing the entire rest of my body from the information I was getting from my feet. My plié had to adjust and become more sensitive, and my landings and takeoffs have, I believe, benefitted from the new knowledge.
From ballet to floorwork to sliding, slicing and swooshing, socks provide the perfect blend of friction, articulation, and maneuverability and so, no, we contemporary dancers have not forgotten to put on our shoes. We revel in our sockage.
Andrea Thompson and Hubbard Street 2 tour Europe with mixed repertory February 21–March 5, presented by Norddeutsche Konzertdirekton. Performances in Heerlen, the Netherlands; Treviso, Italy; and four cities in Germany will feature recent works by Bryan Arias, Ihsan Rustem, Loni Landon, HS2 Director Terence Marling and Hubbard Street Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. For a complete HS2 touring schedule, artist profiles and more, visit hubbardstreetdance.com.
Contributor Andrea Thompson (Maplewood, NJ) trained at the New Jersey School of Ballet, American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and the Ailey School in New York City. Thompson has also studied at the Juilliard School, Northwest Professional Dance Project, Springboard Danse Montréal, Nederlands Dans Theater and Batsheva Dance Company, which brought opportunities to perform choreography by Gregory Dolbashian, William Forsythe, Natalia Horecna, Jessica Lang, Marina Mascarell, Idan Sharabi, Robyn Mineko Williams, Paul Lightfoot and Sol León. At the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, under the direction of Summer Lee Rhatigan, she trained with and performed works by Christian Burns, Alex Ketley, Thomas McManus, Robert Moses, Ohad Naharin, Alessio Silvestrin and Bobbi Jene Smith. Thompson joined Hubbard Street 2 in August 2013, following work in San Francisco and New York with Zhukov Dance Theatre, Chang Yong Sung, LoudHoundMovement, Backwoods Dance Project and the Foundry.1
Some insight on being fully immersed in a role, creating a character, not comparing yourself to the past 400 years of Juliets, and kissing your co-workers…
by Alessa Rogers
“Let love drive you.” These are not the words of Shakespeare but of stager Giovanna Lorenzoni as she attempts to mold me into a Juliette Capulet worthy of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s stunning ballet. They are the words that have been driving me since I was first cast as Juliette in October 2013, through the intense rehearsal process that led to the first time Atlanta Ballet performed the ballet last year and now, as I prepare for an encore round of shows February 6-14. As I prepare for my second shot at what has become my favorite ballet, I reflect on the process, on remembering that opening night is just one night, and how the genius is in the details.
For me, being cast as Juliette was a dream come true. But as is the case with most dreams, reality was a little different than I imagined. First of all, this version, which was choreographed in 1996 for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, is a departure from the classical versions I grew up with. This is a stripped down, more contemporary version. Third Act I am barefoot. There are no lavish sets, cumbersome period piece costumes, and nary a sword or a vial of potion to behold. Instead, the story is told through the movement and the musicality only. As such, every step is vitally important. Nothing is thrown away or meaningless. There is text in every gesture, tension is every moment of stillness.
Juliette herself is different too. She is older than she is normally portrayed, closer to woman than girl. She is fierce and fearless and knows a thing or two about the world. She knows herself and what she wants. She takes the lead in the budding romance with Romeo, demarcating their boundaries or lack thereof. The streak of mischief in this Juliette is part of the reason why I got this role in the first place. Early in the process one of the stagers from Monte-Carlo came upon me in the hallway, shoving a piece of cake into the mouth of one of the other dancers. That, she said, is exactly what Juliette would do.0
The opening of the Royal Ballet’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland interposes a psychological basis for Wonderland. Alice (Lauren Cuthberton) is not a little girl in this version, but a young teenager who shares an infatuation with the gardener’s son Jack (Sergei Polunin). But, tsk tsk, this is the Victorian Era and Alice’s mother (Zenaida Yanowsky) disapproves of this class-disparate romance. She takes the opportunity to dismiss Jack after she erroneously believes he stole a tart. Not surprisingly, Yanowsky returns in Wonderland as the Queen of Hearts and Polunin returns as the Knave of Heart who “stole tarts”. The premise of dual characters is carried farther as family friend Lewis Carroll (Edward Watson) reappears as The White Rabbit, and tea guests such as the visiting Rajah (Eric Underwood) and Magician (Steven McRae) later morph into The Caterpillar and Mad Hatter.
Video projections are appropriately used to portray Alice falling down the rabbit hole. In the sequences that follow, a combination of projections and more traditional theatrical effects help create the famous “Eat Me” and ”Drink Me” episodes (where Alice grows and shrinks) as well as the “Pool of Tears”. All of these scenes are fun to watch, although, if you haven’t read the book in while, they might be hard to follow in places. “The Pool of Tears” is actually the most visually effective though it’s also the most conventional – dancers “swimming” in between rows of stationary scenery painted to look like waves. While suggesting just enough of reality, it retains the charm of a storybook illustration – something that is not as easy to accomplish with video projections.
A challenge in adapting Alice in Wonderland for a non-verbal medium is the fact that much of the story’s potency comes from wordplay and parodies of poems and songs. The wordplay, of course, can’t be translated into dance, but there is a perhaps a nod to it in some of the projected backgrounds which feature skies of scrambled letters. The element of parody though does find an interesting parallel in Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography which incorporates spoofs of classical ballet, most memorably in the Queen of Hearts’ botched Rose Adagio. Elsewhere, Wheeldon employs a mix of non-satirical classical ballet, contemporary ballet, and, occasionally, other styles of dance. The Mad Hatter is in fact reimagined as a tap dancer, an effect which works remarkably well.
As for the music, I admit I have mixed feelings about the original score by Joby Talbot. Of course, it makes sense that a soundscape for Alice in Wonderland would express the madness, confusion, curiosity, and even violence that are integral to the story. However, whether or not you enjoy Talbot’s approach to this will depend on your taste for modern symphonic music, which, of course, doesn’t shy away from dissonance and percussion-heavy moments. At the risk of sounding like a throwback, I think it’s harder to pull off effective dissonance than it is effective melody. So, to me, the score is most compelling when it sticks to the latter. During these moments, such as Alice and the Knave of Hearts’ courtroom pas de deux, the music takes on an engaging cinematic quality which enhances the already engaging visuals onstage.
Speaking of engaging visuals… the costumes, colors, scenery (with a small caveat about out-of-place grimness of the kitchen set with its sausage maker and pig carcasses), lighting, and overall composition of each scene is top-notch, sometimes to the degree that the designs begin to compete with the dancing for your attention. The courtroom in Wonderland just might be the best for its geometry, full prism of costumes, and a giant house of cards looming in the background.
When that house of cards literally and figuratively falls and Alice awakens in reality, we notice that she is now wearing a modern-day dress. The Knave of Hearts/Jack, sitting nearby her, is sporting a t-shirt and blue jeans. Yes, as it turns out, this story wasn’t about a Victorian youth dreaming of madness, love, confusion, and discovery based on her real-life experiences. It was instead a dream about a Victorian youth who had such a dream. Hmm… I’m not sure this conclusion is quite as interesting as the scenario seemingly set forth at the beginning.
The dancing, of course, is world-class all around, as you would expect from the Royal Ballet. As Alice, Lauren Cuthbertson is like a music-box ballerina in her seemingly effortless precision, line, and musicality – her technique so pure it’s almost startling. She also possesses a natural girlish playfulness and lightness that are ideally suited for the role. The other standout is Zenaida Yanowsky as the Queen of Hearts. Her acting is spot-on, and, even more impressively, her classical grace radiates so thoroughly through her every movement that you’re simultaneously in awe of how well she embodies her comical character and how she makes it so beautiful to watch — without dampening the fire of the satiric choreography.
This OpusArte DVD of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is from 2011. Since then, the Royal Ballet has revised and extended the production. I haven’t yet seen the updated version, but Sarah Crompton of The Telegraph wrote that the changes were all improvements. I truly believe that this ballet has masterpiece potential, though, as with all art, it takes time and revision to achieve that end.0
It’s always interesting when one artist inspires another–especially when they operate in two different mediums.
Brock Clawson is a choreographer who has had work performed by both the Milwaukee Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet. Herbert Migdoll, artist, Director of Special Projects for Joffrey, and long-time company photographer, recently created a series of art pieces based on Clawson’s piece, “Crossing Ashland”.
We wanted to learn more about how the inspiration for this work came about, so we reached out to Mr. Migdoll to learn more about his process. (Please feel free to click on the photos below to bring up a larger view.)
What was it about Brock’s piece (Crossing Ashland) that you were drawn to specifically?
Initially, in the Joffrey dance studio, the work reminded me of the ballets performed at Judson in the Village in the olden days. That period included such artists as Carolee Schneeman, Laura Dean, Meredith Monk, Twyla Tharp, Cathrine Litz and many others. It always had a rawness and simplicity in the aesthetic, which allowed one to realize that all movement is a part of dance. The core came from rough ideas, and the motion of the dancers presenting those elements were indulged by an audience and relished by visual artists–like Rauchenberg who jumped into dance and even performed in a work with Steve Paxton there. A photo from that performance is on my list of paintings, TO DO.
The bodies of the dancers (in Brock’s piece) rolling to the left and then to the right is totally unique to how bodies are normally focused upon.
As a kid I loved to roll down low ravines or in the shallow waters of an ocean tide foaming onto the beach as the twilight of evening was approaching. All of this creates a visual plethora of ones past experience with rolling around. I knew fairly quickly that Brock had touched a nerve in my collective consciousness and that I would have to run with it. That electrical moment does not occur that often and when it does you are not able to not jump into the creative process.
God does good stuff too–like grass and human bodies seemed inevitable elements of collaboration. The grasses in Lurie Garden are often nifty, and also in Ping Tom Memorial Park.
Do you have a particular piece you gravitate toward?
The first grey panel I produced with colored bodies on top and flesh bodies below would be my first choice if I could afford to buy one. But I can’t.
Also the 5 bodies lost in the Lurie Garden autumn grasses is uniquely magical.
Bob Joffrey once remarked that wonderful art will always have a quality of being magical. It’s the magic that allows you to enter that other dimension.
What was your creative process like with this project?
It started by watching a rehearsal–and from that to know that I had to shoot a lot of rolling around stuff. And I did.
Then I edited down to nine iconic images and placed them mostly sequential order as they appeared on stage–but not strictly. Next I looked at them in Photoshop to eliminate the photographic aesthetic and coax the slickness out of the photo into an evolved
sort of drawing–and then to finally take shape into an acrylic reproduction–producing a digitally painted series of nine images in a row.
The monochromatic “drawing-like” figures were so on the mark, I stopped and simply continued to create an almost square of bodies which became a matrix for the possibility of endless modular combinations. And these compositions of modules will now continue on as long as I have funding to produce new canvasses.
The grey backgrounds on some of the works led to the beauty of colors against grey, and intermingled with the lush flesh colored bodies. All of which have nothing and everything to do with Brock’s ballet. Rothko, one of my heroes, inspired me to pursue the soft edge of one or two colors firmly blended and totally separate. It’s all kind of a “stream of consciousness” response–and finally a leaving of the source of inspiration. It is an acceptance that the inspiration is the golden source–not because it recreates the final images–but because it evolves art totally unique from the source.
Painting is not illustration. It’s something else!0