Tag Archives: Bach

Touring Ecuador with Miami City Ballet, Part I.

Quito, Ecuador

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pre-travel pep talk they gave us before we left for Ecuador was full of warnings: don’t brush your teeth with tap water (use bottled), don’t eat any uncooked fruits or vegetables and for God’s sake keep your mouth closed when you take a shower. This was the first visit to a third world country for many of us and the company needed us to stay healthy.

Still, who wouldn’t want an all-expenses-paid trip to Ecuador? That’s what I thought until they informed us that we were going to have to take malaria pills to prepare for our trip to Ecuador. As I gulped down the first pill I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into.

I soon forgot all about it. Nothing beats the excitement of going on tour with your very own shiny, new tour case with your name boldly emblazoned on its pristine surface… it’s the dancer’s equivalent of having your name in lights (off-off-off Broadway, of course).

But Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet (far above the sea level we were used to in Miami) presented an entirely new challenge. The simple formula of higher altitude=less oxygen meant trouble – and we were performing Concerto Barocco, one of George Balanchine’s most strenuous and aerobic ballets. Oh yes. During this ballet the corps dancers never once leave the stage.

In the spirit of proactive thinking, oxygen tanks were installed in the wings on either side of the stage. Even though they told us not to worry, knowing that there were oxygen tanks waiting in the wings did little to reassure anyone. Nor was it ever explained how we were supposed to get oxygen if we really did need it. Instead they remained a troubling reminder of all that could go wrong.

Though we all did our best to be careful, many dancers ended up with digestive issues – and all those desperate runs to the bathroom made performing logistically complicated and frequently interrupted rehearsals. Some dancers were forced to sit them out altogether, waiting until the stomach cramps passed.

Concerto Barocco:

The night of our first performance finally arrived… along with heightened anxiety. We did what dancers always do – went through the motions as if it were any other night: warm up, put on makeup and costumes, warm up again backstage, practice tricky moves onstage until final curtain call, breathe, pray.

The music started and so did we. Somehow things always work out once the music starts. Some primal part of the brain takes over and you begin. One count at a time. This move and then the next. The music for Concerto Barocco (J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins) is particularly beautiful and inspires full-out dancing with abandon. I’ve always felt like it brings out any dancer’s beauty.

Except.

Halfway through the first movement, the corps dancers move in patterns around the stage, striking bold piqué arabesques as they circle one another. Music mimics movement, reaching to a crescendo with each arabesque. It is our one moment during the ballet to shine, front and center.

A flurry of notes announced my moment had arrived. My feet swept me into my place, front and center. I struck out into my bold arabesque. This was my moment to shine center stage.

The Universe had other plans. In the middle of my bold strike, my supporting foot slipped. Like I had piquéd onto a banana peel. In a split second I ended up on my hands and knees. Front and center.

My shining moment.

The heat of shame and humiliation flooded my body as I quickly picked myself up. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I swept back into place and continued dancing, my limbs shaky from shock, willing myself to finish while stifling the urge to cry.

The 2nd movement was my chance to recuperate a little; in this section the corps creates a series of tableaus, each dancer striking a pose and holding it for long periods. I caught my breath enough to calm down completely before the 3rd and final movement, an all-out no-holds-barred aerobic section with no less than a million hops on pointe, jumps and turns. And it’s fast – so fast it’s almost hard to whip your body around quickly enough to keep up.

But keep up we did and finished with a flourish, drenched in sweat to the point that our white leotards were transparent in multiple places. My chest felt cold, so cold. I am sure this was due to oxygen depletion. It was the only time I ever wished the audience would stop clapping, for Pete’s sake.

Immediately after the curtain went down, Edward Villella, our Artistic Director, came backstage to talk to me. He gently reminded me that falling happens, even to the best dancers, which I found heartening. His support meant a lot in that very humbling moment.

I am happy to report that my love for Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins was not in any way diminished.

A Ballerina’s Love Affair With Pointe Shoes, Part IV. The Agony of Da Feet

 

feet

Conjure up an image of ballerinas spinning effortlessly en pointe and you’re not likely to come up with, say blisters… or corns… or bunions. Yet the two go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. Regardless of the shape of one’s feet, though, the show must go on and every dancer if eventually faced with the unfortunate and painful prospect of having to dance with bloody toes.

 

There are work-arounds, of course. There have to be. That’s where a dancer’s best friend comes to the rescue: good old Dr. Scholl’s. No, they don’t just make arch supports and sandals that are the equivalent of wooden flip-flops (but comfy!). Many dancers rely heavily on Dr. Scholl’s Blister Treatment, Corn Cushions (and remover), bunion cushions, and Moleskin Padding to protect wounds and sore spots when the going gets tough and the tough must keep going.

 

Every time I put on my pointe shoes, whether for class, rehearsal or performance, there was an elaborate ritual involved (which had nothing to do with the preparation of the pointe shoes… this part was all about the feet). It would be professional suicide to just stick your unprotected feet into a pair of pointe shoes and dance so long and hard that you give the 12 Dancing Princesses a run for their money. Instead, there is a process. What worked well for me was to wrap each toe with medical tape and then use paper towels or gel pads to make the whole experience more comfy. I dealt with the occasional corn (man, those suckers are painful!) by dosing it with remover and by using an oval-shaped corn pad to relieve pressure.

 

I was one of the lucky one who got blisters on very rare occasions… until I moved to Miami to dance with Miami City Ballet.

 

Miami is commonly acknowledged to be a part of the Continental US, but the climate (and the culture) is tropical by nature. It’s warm year-round, which brings tourists and older folks in droves and its monsoon season (typically in July/August) would rival that of Mumbai, India, Bali, Indonesia or anywhere else that gets pelted with driving rains so fierce that even with the windshield wipers on high it would be lunacy to attempt driving.

 

Miami is also humid as h*ll… which means blisters. Lots of them.

 

My time in Miami was the first and only time in my life when I had blisters all the time. The tropical climate kept everything perpetually moist and feet were no exception. Every day brought on new and disgusting terrors and no matter how hard I tried to stay on top of it, I got more and more blisters.

 

I even had blisters on top of my blisters.

 

But the winning moment came one night when we were on tour in Palm Beach. I was putting the final touches on makeup and costuming, attempting to delay the inevitable moment when I’d have to put my bloody toes in pointe shoes and dance my part in Concerto Baroco.

 

For the record, Concerto Barocco is a beautiful Balanchine ballet set to Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, by Johann Sebastian Bach (achingly wonderful music). It is also one of Balanchine’s most taxing ballets for the corps de ballet. During the entire 20 minutes of the ballet, the corps never leaves the stage. The first movement is brisk and uptempo, followed by a second movement that is quite slow where the dancers are forced to hold static lunge positions for many long minutes at a time.

 

But the end of the ballet is a real killer; it is fast-paced, technically demanding, relentlessly aerobic and in its final moments, there are a million soutenu turns from side to side and endless hops on pointe.

 

In essence, it might be the worst possible ballet to perform with a nasty collection of gaping blisters.

 

When life passes us incredibly painful moments, sometimes there’s no choice but to belly up to the bar(re). Which is what I did. After painstakingly cutting out moleskin pads that were perfectly-sized for each and every blister, I wrapped every toe carefully, cushioned the whole mess with padding and said a silent prayer before heading backstage to psyche myself into the proper mindset to get through the performance.

 

First I tried some pique arabesques. Those were tolerable. If you’re comfortable with the feeling of having your foot pierced by a red-hot poker. The soutenu turns stepped things up a few notches. The hops on pointe were worse than natural childbirth (I know from personal experience) so I stopped doing them. After that I stayed off pointe and kept my muscles warm until the final moment of reckoning arrived.

A taste of Concerto Barocco:


 

But when the music started, it transported me away from my worldly troubles… at least for the first two movements. Some music is inspiring enough that it can do that, force us to forget the things we’d rather forget and let our bodies simply respond to the exquisite sound of a musical masterpiece. Add the theatrical elements of bright light, a company of fellow dancers and an enrapt audience and the pain disappears… almost.

 

Except for the third movement and those bloody (literally) hops on pointe where I could feel the raw meat of my wounded flesh grinding against the concrete confines that were the boxes of my shoes… well, that was special.

 

Final bows were one of the hugest reliefs I’ve ever experienced. I walked off stage- okay, no- I hobbled. When I looked down I noticed blood had seeped through everything, including the pink satin exteriors of my shoes. Now that was serious.

 

Such is a day in the life of a dancer.