In The Beginning

This summer, a handful of students attending summer intensives around the country will be sharing their experiences with Pointe. Here, Andrea Thompson recounts her first few days at San Francisco Dance Conservatory.

 

"There will be an orientation meeting at 8:15am on the first day." After that…show up for class at 9, leave at 6. That's all we need to know as far as the schedule.

 

The general pattern seems to be a (three hour) ballet class every morning, followed by a chunk of hours with choreographer Alex Ketley and a chunk of hours with former LINES dancer Christian Burns. Summer Lee Rhatigan, the director of the Conservatory, teaches ballet with a commanding presence. Hers is the most challenging and inspiring class I've ever encountered, and even in my third time around doing the summer program it still demands just as much from me as it did on my first day two years ago, if not exponentially more. Chiharu Shibata is the other main ballet teacher for our group, and with formidable bluntness and dry wit she takes us through ballet classes that leave our inner thighs burning with effort.

 

Alex Ketley can oftentimes be found choreographing in a corner of the room with his headphones in while we're taking ballet. But he's not mundanely dreaming up sets and lighting designs, calmly coming up with spacial patterns and costume ideas. Instead he's snarling, biting and gesturing frantically. It's not uncommon to catch a middle finger thrown up, or a hand in the mouth, or fingers being blown away from the face. The madness Alex is scheming gleefully in the mornings will come into play later on in the day. Then there is Christian Burns, one of the most absolutely natural and skilled improvisers I've ever laid eyes on, let alone learned from. His gentle, encouraging tone and sense of humor allow the studio walls to fade away into an alternate dimension where judgment, both internal and external, seems to have never existed.

Without a physical schedule posted anywhere, these afternoon chunks aren't classified as "rehearsal," or "class." They're just time provided to work on improving yourself for your own benefit, and if you wind up performing the result, fantastic! If not, you have the experience of all the investigation you've done to provide you with new ideas and information. For instance, with Alex, we immediately begin learning a phrase. And then another. And then another. And then a permutation of the first. And then we link them all together and do them to rap music, and then to an Arvo Part mashup. The next day we add more, and review the phrases we already have. But he also has us watch a partner improvise off of the phrasework, provide feedback and watch them try it again. No word as to whether we should remember every phrase for the piece he will eventually make on us, but nonetheless right off the bat we're asked to have a thoughtful and critical eye on each other, which I find useful as a tool for making changes in myself. What I look for in other dancers are the qualities I would like to have for myself, and pointing those out right away helps me focus my own work in the direction I find most appealing and interesting to explore. 

With Christian, we work on instantaneous interpretation and ownership of movement. He improvises, we watch, and then we interpret and piece together in groups what we remember seeing. The groups come up with phrases that are quite drastically different from each other (and probably the original choreography as well), but have similar elements of particularly memorable moments of Christian's improvisation. It's a challenging task to simultaneously memorize movement, physicalize the memory, and flesh out the uncertain tidbits, but great for pointing out weaknesses in any of those skills. Our time with Christian is  where we do most of our improvising, whether it be across the floor with a partner, independently in a large group, relating to a large group, or with a partner through a crowd. The different situations create unique environments, and with each environment a different sensitivity for relating to others is necessary. Another thing we do with Christian is climb on each other—a lot. My favorite of these contact improvisation exercises is one in which my eyes are closed, and I have a group of 7 or so people who are providing platforms for me to stand on, crawl under, hang on to, push off of, etc. They are in almost constant motion, so I have an ever-shifting jungle gym to play on. This one is a great ice-breaker, too—lots of "glad my butt is such a good stepping stone," and "I was lying on your whatnow?" All in good fun though, and it's great to be in a group of people who aren't afraid of contact and who aren't afraid to take chances. We have a really strong class of 27 dancers who are hard-working, interested, and daring. I can't wait to see how far we get in six weeks.

 

For more about the SF Conservatory of Dance, check out sfconservatoryofdance.org, Facebook and Twitter.

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Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

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CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

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KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

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A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

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A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

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SOUTH CAROLINA

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July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

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TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

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UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

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A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

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Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

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