Tag Archives: Balanchine

Ballet Career Highlights: The WISH official Countdown

The piece of Indigo’s ballet journey that readers witness in WISH is just a small part of a dance career. Many (although not all) dancers begin taking ballet classes when they are quite young and study for years before auditioning for a summer intensive with a professional ballet school. While this is a big step, it’s still just the beginning of the professional path. If all goes well, a dancer is accepted in a summer intensive and later becomes a permanent student. Even then a real career is still years away.

After all the years of literal blood, sweat and tears, it finally happens: a real job with a real ballet company. Then the true adventure begins. Here are a few favorite moments from my career:

World tour: Israel
I’ll be honest: Israel was not a country I would have chosen to visit on my own. My mind conjured up vague images of giant dust storms whenever I thought about it. But once we arrived the sights (unique! exotic!) and smells (fragrant! decadent!) were so different from what we found at home. And oh, yes. Let’s not forget the uniformed men with guns. Correction. Not just any guns. AK-47s. Not a sight I’d ever seen a farmers’ market before. Unnerved, we walked in the opposite direction. Moments later we were walking along Via Dolorosa, The Way of Sorrows. Here we were, in Jerusalem, walking the same path where Jesus carried the cross, our feet retracing this ancient, Biblical event. Maybe we breathed in a few stray atoms that were remnants from that time.

The next day we ate breakfast while bombs shook the windows then visited Bethlehem, rode camels and went swimming in the Dead Sea. The high saline content made it possible to float in any weird position we could dream up.

It doesn’t get more adventurous than that.

dome

First professional performance in New York
They say there’s nothing like your first time. That was never more true than my first professional appearance with a world-class ballet company. Pacific Northwest Ballet needed a few dancers to fill in the corps for Balanchine’s Chaconne during their New York City tour. Not only did I land a solo, this was a “hair down” ballet, which was something I’d never experienced before.

We performed with PNB a handful of times at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I was sixteen at the time, and I have never felt more beautiful than during those few moments in the spotlight, dancing that ethereal ballet with my hair flowing down my back.

Having a tutu built from scratch to my specifications
Most ballet companies keep a list of ballets in their repertoire that they repeat year after year. While the roster of dancers may change over time, the costumes do not, which means you might have to squeeze yourself into a costume that was made for someone with a much shorter torso or a larger chest. The costume basically fits, but not exactly because it wasn’t made for you…it was made for someone else (plus who knows how many other people before you have sweated profusely in it).

There is nothing like having a costume made specifically for your body. It fits in all the right places, no bunching, pinching or sagging. Being measured for a costume fitting is magical: for a split-second you feel like a v.i.p. The very first night I performed with Miami CIty Ballet I danced in the world premiere of a ballet and was lucky enough to have a costume made for me, a stunning tutu that was a swath of luscious purples and fuchsia. Yummy.

These are just a few of my favorite moments…but there are enough for another book. Maybe one of these days…after I finish writing the rest of the Indigo Dreams Trilogy.

MORE READING:

Debunking Ballet Myths

BUNHEADS 101

A Day in the Life of a Professional Ballet Student

Dancers Discuss Life After the Stage: Jenna Lavin-Crabtree

Jenna Lavin-Crabtree is originally from Queens, New York. She began ballet training with Mme. Gabriela Darvash and Jody Fugate. She later graduated from the School of American Ballet where she studied with such teachers as Alexandra Danilova, Antonia Tumkovsky and Stanley Williams.

Ms. Lavin began her professional career at 17 when she was invited to join the Chicago City Ballet, under the direction of Maria Tallchief. Ms. Lavin also danced with the Atlanta Ballet (directed by Robert Barnett) for seven years. Her principal soloist roles with the Atlanta Ballet include: Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, The Four Temperaments, Serenade, Tarantella Pas De Deux, Minkus Pas a Trois as well as Le Corsaire Pas De Deux, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Ms. Lavin was a principal dancer with Nashville Ballet where she danced Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and the title role in Giselle as well as principal roles in the company’s contemporary repertoire. Ms. Lavin spent eight summers as a member of the Chattaqua Ballet Company, under the direction of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux where she performed principal roles in ballets by Balanchine, Bonnefoux and Clifford. She is a former soloist with Edward Villella’s Miami City Ballet where she danced principal roles in many ballets including Divertimento #15, Jewels, Pas De Dix, Raymonda Variations, Valses Fantaises, Western Symphony, Glinka Pas De Trois, The Nutcracker and Who Cares? Ms. Lavin has worked with numerous choreographers, creating principal roles in ballets by Alonzo King, Lisa de Ribere and Stanton Welch, to name a few. In the summer of 2003, Ms. Lavin performed in Casablanca, collaboration between Warner Bros. and John Clifford’s Los Angeles Dance Theater.

1. How did you get your first contract with a professional company?

My professional career started at 17.
I was finishing up my last year at SAB and wondering what to do for the summer in terms of my ballet training. I auditioned for the Chicago City Ballet summer program based solely on the fact that it was directed by Maria Tallchief. I very much wanted to work with her. She was not at the audition that day. The audition class was run by her associate directer, Paul Mejia. I guess he liked what he saw of me that day because after the audition was over he told me I was accepted into the summer program. Then he told me that he thought Ms Tallchief (that’s what we all called her) would like me very much, maybe even enough to offer me an apprentice for the Fall! Of course I was very happy to hear this as I was trying to find a company position somewhere for the next season. I started that summer as a student in the summer intensive and finished that summer with a company apprenticeship contract signed, sealed and delivered! I stayed there for a year and a half at which point unfortunately Chicago City Ballet folded. I’m so grateful for that time with the legendary Ms Tallchief. She was truly an amazing force to work with and I was very much in awe of her.

2. Describe some of your favorite moments from your dance career?

There are so many! I danced professionally for 18 years in 4 different companies PLUS tons of summer work, Nutcracker guestings and freelance work.
My husband and I fell in love while doing freelance work here in NYC with a small pickup company who had hired Staton Welch ( now the director of Houston Ballet )to choreograph a new ballet. Cornel and I were partnered together and Staton was/is incredibly talented and having that ballet created on us was really a magical experience. Every one of the performances was a journey for us and really I think some of my most enjoyable *moments* on stage were spent happily in my soon to be husband’s arms!

While with Atlanta Ballet so many wonderful opportunities were given to me by Robert Barnett, our loving and very generous director. My first Sugar Plum and Dewdrop were danced with the Atlanta Ballet. Symphony of Psalms and Carmina Burana rehearsing with Fernand Nault -an amazing experience. Really the rep in Atlanta was wonderful, everything from the full length classics to Balanchine to contemporary works.  Later on in my career as a member of Miami City Ballet, Edward was very good about “spreading the wealth” when it came to casting and almost always tried to have 3 casts of the principal and soloists roles. One of the principal women in Divertimento #15 was a favorite, favorite part of mine. I was cast in this part immediately, it was actually my first rehearsal with the company! Performing at the Kennedy Center for the first time was definitely a highlight.

Other memorable moments were performing the title role of Giselle with the Nashville Ballet with a live orchestra and a packed audience. So interesting and awesome to dive into a character so thoroughly. I loved that work in the studio. And Black Swan, completing those famous 32 fouettes on stage for the first time! So exhilarating! So many wonderful and beautiful memories.

3. What made you decide to end your dance career? How did you decide what to do next?

What made me decide to end my career was pregnancy!! I had started teaching at Ballet Academy East (where I still teach today) about a year before I became pregnant.  It was a great fit from the start.  I still danced my first year while teaching at BAE but only freelance gigs and Nutcracker guestings. Once I became pregnant I continued to teach up until about 2 weeks before I had my first son. I’ve had 2 more boys since then and with each pregnancy I taught all the way through to the end. So really I had already started on another career before I had time to sit and ponder what I would do “after dance”.

4. Is dance still a part of your life now? How?

Dance, as always is a huge part of my life even though I no longer dance professionally. It has been my passion since I started training, at age 7. The obvious way it’s still a part of my life is my teaching.  To this day (and I retired 9 years ago) I still love being in a studio. I teach the beautiful kids at BAE and that work in the studio that I so loved doing is still very much alive in me. I think this comes thru in my choreography that I do for our student company. I’m incredibly lucky in that I get to choreograph on the kids 2-3 times a year and it’s such a joy for me!  That feeling of moving to the music in thinking up their choreography is what reminds me most of dancing and keeps it such a huge part of my life.

5. How do the things you learned from ballet influence your life today?

Ballet teaches such amazingly focused discipline and perseverance.  I know these qualities have stayed with me long after I have left the stage. I think also spending all those years studying your craft while staring in the mirror has maybe now turned into studying my life and tweaking it to make sure all is running smoothly. I think dancers are great at ” fixing ” things. We learn early on to make the best of a situation and trudge onward. Now that I’m a Mom these qualities are serving me well!

6. Is there anything you would change or do differently if you could?

I absolutely wouldn’t change a thing. I have always felt that everything happens for a reason. I was so fortunate with my career because I worked with so many choreographers and danced so many different ballets. It wasn’t always wonderful of course but no one’s situation is perfect, even if it appears to be. I sailed thru my 18 years on stage with only 2 minor injuries and one terrible ankle sprain that left me out of the studio for 2 months. That was it. I got to do most of the full length classics (minus Don Q and Bayadare. Next lifetime) I got to do tons of Balanchine and also tons of contemporary works. What more could a dancer ask for?  Then I married the man of my dreams whom I have 3 amazing boys with and we have just celebrated our 10 tenth wedding anniversary. Life is so inspiring!

 7. Do you have any advice for young dancers?

1) Find a school to train at that can give you a good classical background. It’s very important these days when you enter a company that you can dance in every style. Classically trained dancers can do anything.  There could be 3 ballets on a program : one Balanchine, one classical and one contemporary.  You must be able to dance them all! It’s not enough anymore to just be able to do one of them well. You want to be the dancer that the director feels can conquer the entire repertoire.

2) Finish your education. Life on stage is very short indeed and you will still be so young when your ballet career is over. Another career might be there waiting for you if you keep your mind and heart open enough to see it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenna has been teaching ballet to young dancers throughout her career, beginning in Chicago when she was 17. She has taught master classes in Atlanta, Michigan and for the Nashville Ballet School.

Ms. Lavin has been on the faculty at Ballet Academy East in NYC since 2003 where she teaches and choreographs for the Graded Level.

She is married to Cornel Crabtree and they are the proud parents of three boys: Sky (age 8), Grayson, (age 4) and Cooper (age 1).

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.

 

 

 

Becoming a Professional Dancer: The Fine Points

 

PearDiet 

Becoming a professional dancer requires one to have certain characteristics and abilities. How do you know if you’ve got what it takes? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, they are:

• self-discipline, patience, perseverance, and a devotion to dance
• good problem-solving skills
• an ability to work well with others and function as part of a team
• good health and physical stamina
• flexibility, agility, coordination, and grace
• a sense of rhythm and feeling for music
• creative ability to express themselves through movement
• finally, be highly motivated and prepared to face the anxiety of intermittent employment and rejections when looking for work.

It can be argued that this list is incomplete because it fails to mention one last key ingredient: body type.

In 2001, eight-year-old Fredrika Keefer auditioned for the San Francisco Ballet School and was told she did not have the “physical attributes that the school looks for”, namely “a well-proportioned, slender body.” Fredrika’s mother filed a lawsuit against the school, alleging size-biased discrimination. The lawsuit created a heated debate among feminists and advocates of affirmative action, as well as professional dancers. Toni Bentley, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, asked rhetorically, “Should music students be admitted to the Juilliard School who are tone deaf and to medical schools with C and D grade averages? Should short guys be hired by the NBA? Should round little girls be admitted to professional ballet schools, thereby being subjected to a competitive discipline for which they are at a disadvantage?”

Ballet companies are particularly notorious for being particular about issues of weight and size, particularly after the introduction of the Balanchine ballerina, a willowy, long-limbed, long-necked creature that has become the industry standard in the decades. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of dancers fit the bill.

The professional dance world looks for slender dancers and there is no escaping that reality. As dance students mature and look for employment in dance companies, the demand for perfection and physical prowess becomes all the more intense. Weight management is expected – and discussed any time a dancer’s weight fluctuates enough to tip the scale of disapproval.

In other words, weight is a constant issue for dancers. In essence, the San Francisco Ballet School did Fredrika Keefer a favor by preventing her from entering an arena where she could not hope to compete. If an eight-year-old dance student already has weight issues, chances are there will never be a place for her in the professional ballet world.

Why not examine other options? If a child loves ballet, then she can take classes at a different ballet school that is not so highly competitive. Ballet classes hold obvious merits for all types of dancers and athletes, and learning to move gracefully is a lifelong gift for anyone. A firm foundation in ballet technique will serve any dancer well as they pursue other forms of dance that may not be quite so strict about body type. Modern dance, theatrical dance and traditional or folkloric dance companies are a few examples to consider.

In the end, dancers choose to dance because of their love for it. While an individual may not be cut out for a spot in a leading professional dance company, there are countless other stages and opportunities available if one is willing to look for them.

For info about a dancer’s diet, click here.