Tag Archives: tour

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.

Touring Charleston, South Carolina with Miami City Ballet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any tour to a new city is often full of unexpected surprises, but the best is finding a city to fall in love with. Such was the case when we arrived in Charleston, South Carolina. I had no expectations or preconceived notions about what I would find, which left my mind wide open for love at first sight.

The company had arranged for an outing in the midst of our hectic performing schedule. It was a few short weeks before Christmas and we quickly adopted the holiday spirit. It was hard not to – the shops lining the quaint city streets were filled with lights and festivity. Peoples’ attitudes seemed to match everywhere we went… or maybe it was just some good ol’ Southern hospitality. Those warm, buttery accents sound festive no matter what day it is.

A group of us grabbed the opportunity of a horse and carriage ride. These rides rides often make you feel as though you’ve time-traveled to a different era and this was no exception. Our running commentary was full of wonder as we gawked at the picturesque antebellum mansions that lined the city streets. It began to grow dark and the city felt even more alive and magical as the holiday lights on these private homes came on one by one.

We rounded a corner and then we saw it:

One of the grandest mansions of all had been transformed into a veritable fairy kingdom, or at least it appeared so in the dark. Every square inch of this home was covered in white twinkle lights, from its palatial rooftop to its perfectly groomed shrubbery and grand, sweeping staircase flanked by majestic stone columns.

It was breathtaking. Literally. I stopped breathing as I drank it all in. I have never seen a better holiday display before or since. The memory of it (although decades old at this point) still burns brightly.

Today it keeps me coming back to Charleston  because it is a place where magic happens.

 

My First Tour. Ever.

F-L-A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this blog series we have been discussing firsts in terms of touring so I thought it appropriate to share the experience of my first tour. Ever. The year is 1987. Our scene opens with a newbie Miami City Ballet corps dancer driving alone in her (totally cute black convertible) car (top is up because topless freeway driving is unbelievably windy).  Although the company always had bus transportation for us, I elected to bring my car because it was a quick trip to Fort Lauderdale.

Somewhere around the one-hour-plus mark things took a bad turn. I’d missed my exit. Even though I’d been watching the signs closely, I hadn’t seen the exit mentioned in the (company-provided) directions. I exited the freeway, turned around and headed back, hoping to see the exit. No such luck.

After the third try, I felt slightly panicked. Where the heck was this blooming exit? Did it exist? I read every letter of every sign I passed. Still nothing. My panic bloomed.

And then – holy misprint, batman– there was the exit…. The number was completely wrong, but the name matched. Sort of. It was right within reach, a mere 500 feet away… but I was… in the middle lane.

No way was I going to miss the exit a fourth time. Okay, I sort of abruptly cut across traffic.

Breathed a huge sigh of relief after I hit the off-ramp.

Until I noticed a car on my tail. Like, right on my tail. As in mere inches separating us. In my review mirror I could make out a huge red, haired Amazon female driver. There was a small child in the passenger seat.

I drove on, through bizarre terrain – what looked like oil derricks and other humungous industrial outcroppings. I sped up, hoping they would give up the chase. They followed right behind. For miles.

When I glanced back at them again, they shook their fists at me and sped up, grazing my bumper.

Freaking scary much?

I was now officially terrified. (Keep in mind this was also the pre-cell phone era). We were in the middle of nowhere. As in, there was nothing. Truly. No shops. No restaurants. No payphones. No help.

More miles passed. I didn’t know what to do. Where the hell was the damn theater? And what was up with this lunatic lady I’d never seen before in my life?

The theater swept into view. I turned down the long driveway. They followed. I drove as fast as I could to the parking lot. They followed. I parked. They followed.

The parking lot was empty. I had no plan. I decided to make a break for the theater, thinking they couldn’t possibly follow me in there.

I started walking. Then I heard it.

“What the f*ck is your problem?” Her voice was gutteral, deep, colored with some accent (Brooklyn, the Bronx?). She sounded like she meant to rip me a new one.

I was alone with this angry maniac. And she was huge. Like definitely over 6 feet. But she had killed hair, I’ll give her that.

Her kid, who was all of 5 or 6, stepped up. “Yeah. Your mama. You’re a f*cking b*tch,” she taunted, hands on her hips.

Nice. Classy.

Just then, some company members drove up. I was saved!

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied.

She bolted over to my car. Tore the strip of molding that ran along the side of it and whacked my car with it repeatedly until there was a huge dent in the side door. Then she and her spawn got back in the car, burning rubber on their way out.

My colleagues looked at me with shocked expressions. “What was that about?”

“I don’t have a clue.”

Police were called. One of the other dancers had gotten the lady’s license plate number. Did I want to press charges?

In the end, my father talked me out of it, reminding me that dancers were often in the public eye, therefore vulnerable to further problems with psychopaths carrying a grudge. She caused over $800 in damage.

But the show went on. Doesn’t it always?

Ballet Companies on Tour: Perks and Perils Part II

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you are touring with a ballet company there isn’t a lot of time to go exploring, so you learn to make every little bit count. Even a full performing schedule has a few openings to squeeze in a walk before or after breakfast or grab a snack or coffee in between shows or rehearsals. After all, if you’ve already flown halfway around the world (and hey, someone else even paid for it!) you owe it to yourself to go see something.

A group of us decided to use the time between breakfast and morning class to explore on foot. A few minutes into the walk we came across a farmers’ market. The sights and smells were so different from what we found at home: fried bread, twisted and dusted with powdered sugar, hunks of marbled halvah, a decadent treat made from sesame seeds that managed to be oily and flaky.

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.

“Those men have guns,” said one of the girls. “Are we safe? Should we even be here?”

We all looked over nervously, assessing. The men were obviously military of some sort. They wore mirrored sunglasses so it was impossible to tell if they were watching us. They held their rifles stiffly, fingers resting on the triggers. There was nothing casual about their demeanor.

“We’ll be fine,” said our token male dancer. “They aren’t interested in us. They’re just standing guard.”

The other girls tittered nervously. “It creeps me out,” said one.

There was something unnerving about a bunch of guys with assault rifles standing within arms’ reach (sorry about the pun). We took it as our cue to exit stage left.

Walking back along cobblestone streets that were potentially thousands of years heightened the sober mood. Moments later we were walking along Via Dolorosa, The Way of Sorrows. Here we were, in Jerusalem, walking same path where Jesus had carried the cross. Our feet, retracing this ancient, Biblical event. Maybe occasionally breathing in a few stray atoms that were remnants from that time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a moment I wondered if God might be watching.

Just then a flock of birds soared past, the fwap-fwapping of their wings dispelling the thought. I tracked their progress, watching the group of them wind around a tower nearby, spiraling up into the blue before breaking formation to come to rest on a distant rooftop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We continued back to our hotel. I decided not to mention the dead cat staring mutely from a pile of garbage. Instead I wondered alone about how it ended up that way, which did nothing to ease my sense of security.

The Dome of the Rock came into view. It was a breathtaking sight, the colors and textures of azure blue and blazing gold so rich we ran the last bit of the way to it, laughing. Once there, we took photographs of one another, pretending we were shooting mock Gap ads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then we saw them. Although maybe they saw us first. A bunch of young soldiers in uniform, armed with rifles came running our way. They appeared to be our age or younger, many of them barely more than children. The sight of them with rifles was incongruous and made me feel queasy.

One of them was disarmingly handsome (sorry about the arms puns, my subconscious just keeps tossing them out, making me laugh as I type them). Truly, he was. He approached us, lowering his rifle as he introduced himself.

photo by Kevin Young

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were speechless. The combination of that many guns and the hot guy was too much to handle at once. Plus we were terrified. Should we talk to them? Who knew what they would do, what they wanted. Yes, they were being friendly, but they had guns. We were a bunch of skinny dancers, hardly more than teens ourselves. This was not our country and there were no rules.

But moments later we were taking photos with them. The international language of chemistry traverses all borders. So, hell. Why not seize the moment and take a picture with the hot guy? You only live once.