Relive World Ballet Day

Didn’t catch World Ballet Day? Did you have to work through part of it (I unfortunately did). Or if you just want to re-watch it, you can now watch The Australian Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and the National Ballet of Canada’s videos on YouTube:

The Australian Ballet:

Royal Ballet:

National Ballet of Canada:

Beginner Ballerina Profile: Galene

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This week’s profile is of Galene, who started ballet almost three years ago because she wanted to try new things and she was impressed with the athleticism and elegance of a ballerina.

When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

I started almost three years ago. I was a freshman in college and wanted to try new things.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

I took a community ballet class when I was around 5, but that only lasted a few months. I did gymnastics from ages 3 – 8, and I think that “prepared” for future Galene’s ballet experience.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I was always so impressed with the athleticism and elegance of a ballerina, and I wanted to achieve that too.

Where do you take classes?

Joy of Motion Dance Center and Maryland Youth Ballet

What is your favorite part about ballet?

I like the barre. It’s my time to relax while still exercising my body.

What is your least favorite part?

Ballerina “fashion” … the adorable leotards, legwarmers, skirts… there is a lot of pressure to look good.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

I watch a lot of ballet videos on youtube. I like the Royal Ballet. I get to peek into professional dancers’ lives and live through them. It encourages me to try harder in class.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

I like overcoming challenges and pushing myself to new limits. The accomplishment keeps me sane.

Do you take any other dance classes?

I took one jazz class. I really struggled.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

I like to play piano.

What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

Don’t give up! I really had a hard time adjusting at first. There is no easy way into ballet. When I thought something was easy, I was doing it wrong!

An Unexpected Opportunity

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“I’ve got a part for you,” said my teacher. This news was a complete surprise. I had not registered to be in my school’s end-of-the-year performance. Being in this performance usually requires rehearsing 4-5 days a week for at least a month. Unfortunately, I am not usually able to rehearse that much. But I was too excited to say no. Besides, my teacher already knew my schedule and was able to work with it. Peter and the Wolf was one of the pieces on the program. I was to be the wolf!

The wolf was totally different than any other part I’ve had before. It was challenging to try to portray a fierce, villainous forest creature, but it also was extremely fun. I would easily agree to do a part like this again. And, as no one is ever 100% happy with their performance, there are some things I think I could improve on.

The choreography was based on the Royal Ballet School’s film of the ballet. In their version, the role of the wolf is designed for a male dancer. It has sequences of turning jumps and other steps that are beyond my ability. So, my teacher adapted the part and gave me some opportunities for improvising.

Yes, the costume was very hot! But the young students in the show really seemed to like it. Backstage, they repeatedly told me things like, “put on your wolf head!”, “put on your claws!”, and “you look like a real wolf!”

When I finished dancing in Hansel and Gretel back in March, I thought I was going to have to wait until September before I start rehearsing another performance. But, happily, I was wrong. It was a wonderful thing to be wrong about!

Guest Post: Performing Character Roles

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 Party Scene in Birmingham Ballet’s Nutcracker

Adult ballet students often find themselves cast as party guests, mothers and fathers, royal court members, and villagers. On the surface, these can seem like “little” parts. But, as veteran performers know, character roles are challenging, rewarding, and worthwhile–not to mention being important to the plots of story ballets! Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of Boston Ballet, told Pointe Magazine, “In a character part, the dancer doesn’t have the technical framework of a traditional role to fall back on. It’s all acting. People really have to go deep into their emotional side, and it takes guts to get out there and do that.”

Ideas for Preparing for Character Roles…

Think about the “who, what, and why” of your character –what motives them, how they respond to different situations, and why they respond this way. If your character doesn’t have a name or back story, create one yourself.

In her video Becoming a Character – NutcrackerKathryn Morgan, a former New York City Ballet soloist, says that you should ask yourself the five key questions that actors are taught to inquire about their characters:

“Who am I?

“Where am I going?”

“Who am I going to meet when I get there?”

“What do I want?”

“What extent am I willing to go to get that?”

Morgan also advises that you consider, “What is the music telling me?” She says, “The music is your guide to your character.”

Watch movies with characters similar to one you’re going to play. 

When New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin was preparing for the role of Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty, she turned classic childhood films for inspiration. She told Pointe Magazine, “I called my dad and asked him to send me tapes of every Disney movie that had an evil witch! I took a lot from 101 Dalmations’ Cruella de Vil in particular.”

The first year that I was cast as the feisty, flirtatious maid in the Nutcracker party scene, I used Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolitte from My Fair Lady as inspiration for interpreting my part. Like my character, Eliza is working-class, spirited, romantic and enjoys dancing and chocolates. I also liked Eliza’s animated body language and I tried to imbue some of that energy into my performance.

If your character’s personality is more open to interpretation, such as a party parent or royal court member, period dramas or movies and tv series from the fantasy genre might be a place to find a character to inspire yours.

Remember, you don’t have to directly mimic every aspect of a film character, you can just take elements of their personality, expressions, and body language that you like best and that work well for your role.

Watch performances of ballet character parts on YouTube, DVDs, or live if possible.

Do strengthening exercises like Pilates. Movement is part of acting and greater strength will improve your overall movement quality. This will help your performance even if your character doesn’t dance or isn’t supposed to be graceful. American Ballet Theatre director Kevin McKenzie explained to PlaybillArts, “Character performances must be defined by energy—by how the dancer moves.”

Film yourself rehearsing at home. Experiment with different expressions, reactions, and gestures. See which ones you like best.

Have fun! Character roles are great opportunity to explore your dramatic side and become more fully immersed in the fairy tale onstage.

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Photo by Rachel Hellwig.

~Resources~

Pointe Magazine: Quite A Character

PlaybillArts: In Character with ABT: Exploring Character Roles in Ballet

Becoming a Character – Nutcracker | Kathryn Morgan:

Rehearsal of Carabosse for the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty:

(Re)Beginner Ballerina Profile: Terez Mertes of The Classical Girl

This week’s profile of Terez Mertes of The Classical Girl (she does ballet and plays the violin!), who returned to ballet at 35 after giving it up because she joined the Peace Corps.

When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

When I moved to the Santa Cruz area, fifteen years ago, when I was thirty-five.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Yes, I started when I was ten, at a local studio. Once a week, I took ballet and tap in a dimly lit, basement facility with linoleum floors. Quite the humble affair, but it was walking distance from our house and when you are the seventh of eight kids, the only one taking ballet, you do what’s convenient. I didn’t move up to a “real” ballet classes, with aspiring pre-professional students, until I was sixteen and could drive myself there. I remained enamored of ballet through high school and college, and was fortunate enough to perform with a local dance company through my college years.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I’d joined the Peace Corps upon college graduation, which quickly put an end to any further ballet aspirations. In my late twenties, I  thought I’d “outgrown” ballet and the need for it, but something deep in my soul was clearly still craving it. I’d told myself no, that ballet was for younger bodies, and I joined a gym instead. But the urge, the pain of missing ballet, wouldn’t go away, so finally I returned. I had to stop once again a few years later, however, when I had a baby. In truth, I’ve started, stopped, started, stopped. Life does that to you sometimes. But I always come back.

Where do you take classes?

At the International Academy of Dance, in Santa Cruz.

What is your favorite part about ballet?

I love classical music, so that’s a big perk right there. I love the intellectual challenge of ballet, the music and movement choreographed in a way you’ll never find in an aerobics or kickboxing class. I’m forced to keep my attention focused in ballet, be present in my body, not lost in thought and just sort of going through the motions.

In class itself, I think I most enjoy the grand allegro section. It feels like the dessert portion of a meal. It’s where I don’t have to struggle with balance, with extensions, where I can just fling myself out there and really dance, regardless of how old I am or what kind of shape my body is in. It feels like the old days of performing, and I just love that. I’m also really enjoying petit allegro work, which is not something I would have said when I was younger, so maybe there are advantages to dancing as an adult. I’m stronger at it than I used to be, perhaps more driven for the chance to “perform” it, if only for myself and the mirror.

What is your least favorite part?

The fact that I can’t do things at the same skill level I used to is the least favorite part of my adult ballet experience.Ballet2 copy I have to stick to single and the occasional double pirouette. I have much lower extensions, wobbly balance, a thicker waist—these are all limitations I’ve come to accept, but they’re still not much fun.

In class, what I enjoy least is the balance work required in the adagio section. I hesitate to say all of the adagio section, because that used to be my favorite part, such a wonderful opportunity to stretch, emote, really pour everything into slow, beautiful art. Part of me can still enjoy that, the elegant upper body expressiveness, while the other part struggles and wobbles and mentally mutters curses.

Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

Every time I watch professional ballet being performed, whether in a live performance or YouTube or on TV, it re-ignites a fire in me to be doing the same thing. It gets me up and moving. It drives me to try harder, maintain what little of the art, the craft, that I can.

In terms of specific performers I admire, I’d say San Francisco Ballet principals Yuan-Yuan Tan and Sarah Van Patten, for their strength, their lyricism and the originality they bring to their dancing. On YouTube, I have just been stunned with admiration by Alina Cojocaru, principal with the Royal Ballet. (Her Aurora in Sleeping Beauty – wow!) And NYCB dancer Sarah Mearns, as well as ABT’s Misty Copeland, both embody to me everything that is healthy and positive about ballet and dancers today. Great role models, both of them, for the rising generation of ballet dancers.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

Call it thwarted ambition or the desire to excel, but as mentioned above, there’s this fire in me, this feeling that I’m only half-alive unless I’m reaching for the sky, the stars, through dance. The feeling, the pain of it can consume me when I don’t have a regular dance practice in my life. Especially if I watch a ballet performance, and I’m sitting there, passively observing. All these strong emotions rise up, this understanding that you can never be what you were, do what you once did. I know there are former dancers who don’t go back to dance, or watching performances, for that reason. And yet, it’s so deeply ingrained in me, the love of ballet, the need for the movement. When I feel that way now, I know it’s time to hurry back to the studio for another class ASAP.

Do you take any other dance classes?

No, but I’m a longtime yogi, and enjoy, in particular, the vinyasa or “flow” classes, which give me the opportunity to really “dance” the practice, which I love. I take a kickboxing class which couldn’t be more different than ballet, but it’s a good cardio workout, it’s free at my gym, the time slots work, and there’s free childcare there. (A big perk in past years when my son was little.) I also lift weights and jog; I like diversity in my workouts, and that ballet dancer’s ethic of working out six days a week has never left me.

What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Seven years ago, when my ballet class at that time disbanded and nothing else seemed to fit my time/budget constraints, I decided to switch arts and started playing the violin. Very, very challenging! And yet, it was something performing arts-related that I could do, from my home, on a daily basis. It was classical music-based, so that part of the equation felt right. Now that I’m back in a ballet class, I’m still trying to keep up with the violin. It’s a very nourishing (and humbling) experience, to be an adult beginner on the violin. It’s why I relate so well to adult beginner ballet dancers, even though I myself am a lifelong dancer. We all understand the journey of discovery as an adult, how thrilling and humbling it can be. Switching gears, I’m also a book-reading junkie and always have stacks of books around the house, often reading two or three at the same time.

What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

Enjoy the journey, and it’s all about the journey, and the love of what you are doing, moving your body to the music. it’s such a beautiful, organic thing to do, and at the same time, it’s a pursuit that will challenge you mind, body and spirit. Don’t talk yourself out of the impulse to give it a try and/or keep at it. (I’ve blogged about this very topic in the post called “Beginners’ Remorse” over at my own site.)

And this: don’t think you’re too old, too big, too clumsy, too tall, too anything. If the urge is in you to dance, then the solution is simple. You go, and lovingly pursue that goal. And, for the record, no one arrives at perfection in ballet. Ever. You have flaws, fine, so do all of us. We all just show up to work on our stuff. Oh, and to dance to pretty music!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Aim for the stars. Dare to dream, and believe. And come visit me at my blog, The Classical Girl (www.theclassicalgirl.com)!

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