As four members of the Shanghai Ballet blocked the opening of Jules Perrot’s Pas de Quatre at Shanghai’s Majestic Theatre, a lone cowboy wandered out of a wing. Clad in the bright aqua shirt and black Stetson worn by the male corps in George Balanchine’s Western Symphony, Sacramento Ballet dancer Eric Holzworth sharply contrasted with the Chinese dancers’ pink Romantic tutus. A voice from the back of the theater said, “Well, the Americans have arrived.”


Indeed they had. Ballet traditions and national identities commingled during the tech rehearsal for the May 4 shared program that featured Sacramento and Chinese dancers in Shanghai. That night, Sacramento showed off its Balanchine repertoire, performing the first movement of Western Symphony, the third movement of Scotch Symphony and the pas de deux from Apollo. The Chinese dancers presented all 19th-century works: Company members danced Pas de Quatre and the pas de deux from Grand Pas Classique, and students danced the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty and a pas de deux from Paquita.


Western Symphony
and Scotch Symphony were whirlwinds of complexity compared to Pas de Quatre and the students’ extremely slow-tempo Rose Adagio. The pas de deux from Apollo, danced by Kirsten Bloom and Jack Hansen, looked astonishing following Paquita. After seeing the Chinese dancers’ absolute verticality, Apollo, particularly the well-known “swimming” moment, in which Terpsichore arches her body as her hips rest on Apollo’s upper back and neck, recalled the revelation Apollo must have been at its première in 1928.


Shanghai’s school director, Hang Xin-Yua, had especially wanted his students to see the Balanchine works. His 400-student school follows a strictly Vaganova syllabus which, over the seven years it has to train young dancers, yields a firm technical base, however, the students are not exposed to neoclassical or contemporary ballet.


“The dancers here need to see Balanchine, not just on DVD, but in live performance,” says Hang. “The Balanchine style has such a strong personality to it, and Chinese dancers seldom have chances to see such a strong personality.”


The Chinese students also watched company class and took a Balanchine-based class from Cunningham. Huang Jun Shuang a student at the Shanghai Dance School who took Cunningham’s class and performed in Paquita, says, “Balanchine is so full of rhythm. We focus on the basics and muscle training here at school, but the musicality in Cunningham’s class was faster and much more flexible.”


The Chinese may have been struck by the “personality” and speed of the American rep, but the Shanghai students’ strong technical foundation impressed the visiting dancers.

Sacramento dancer Bobby Briscoe, who formerly danced with The Joffrey Ballet, noticed how the Chinese dancers’ deep pliés and perfect fifth positions allowed them to execute double tours with an entirely different sense of timing from anything he had seen before. 


“Watching and then going out to do Scotch Symphony pushed me technically,” he says. “I’m more comfortable as an artist, but I started thinking about technique more in the moment of performance, instead of hitting marks and being in line.”


Observing the Shanghai dancers and students from the wings gave the Americans more than just a new perspective on technique. Despite the language barrier, many managed to
communicate with their Chinese colleagues, while others focused on the Chinese company’s way of working. The dancers were surprised that Shanghai Ballet Artistic Director Xin Lili stayed in the wings throughout the performance, calling out to her dancers mid-variation.

While language posed an obvious barrier among the dancers, shared knowledge of ballet’s challenges created camaraderie. Sitting in the audience during the tech rehearsal, Bloom found herself rooting for a Shanghai Ballet ballerina working her way through the long series of single-foot relevés in the woman’s variation from Grand Pas Classique.


Almost all of Sacramento’s rep was totally new to Shanghai, especially Trey McIntyre’s Wild Sweet Love, choreographed to songs by Roberta Flack, The Partridge Family and Queen, which was performed as part of the performances Sacramento presented on its own in Shanghai and Beijing. Cunningham and Binda had not planned to bring such a contemporary work to China, but after the McIntyre piece received wild applause at its March première in Sacramento, the directors added it to the tour. 


The Chinese audience, prone to talking and taking photographs during the performance, grew silent during Wild Sweet Love. As the dancers, led by soloist Ilana Goldman, swerved through McIntyre’s almost animalistic movement, everyone, regardless of national background, sat rapt.


And for the Sacramento dancers, the international experience was exhilarating and potentially long-lasting. “The first performance in Shanghai I had a lot of adrenaline for the collaboration,” says dancer Annali Rose Lulebas. “I think this has been uplifting for everyone. We have a renewed sense of energy at the end of a season.”

Clare Croft is a dance writer for the Austin American-Statesman and a PhD student in the Performance as Public Practice program at the University of Texas–Austin.

My name is Amanda Schull. I am a fifth-year corps member with the San Francisco Ballet. During my time with the company I have been lucky enough to travel on tour to several different countries. This past September, SFB stopped in Athens, Greece, before heading to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, England.

This tour was one of the most intense I had experienced with the company. By the time we got to London we had already been on tour for 10 days, and the schedule planned was daunting. We opened three different programs in three days, a total of 11 ballets. I knew our seven shows would be memorable so I documented the experience in a diary. 

Wednesday, September 15
The company arrived in London today. Arriving and checking in is always hectic on tour. We got to our hotel tonight at about 11:30 pm and all 51 of us scrambled to get our luggage from beneath the bus and then made a mad dash to the hotel lobby for our room keys. Adding the element of hunger to the mix, we were a lobby full of cranky dancers. 

Room service was closed, so we wandered the streets in search of sustenance. A group of us found a small Middle Eastern take-out place and wolfed down our falafels before going to bed, because tomorrow morning we start work. 

Saturday, September 18
We can’t get into the Sadler’s Wells Theatre until the day of the first show, so Saturday and Sunday we rehearse in the Royal Opera House. This morning, The Royal Ballet took class in the studio next to us. Their class started after ours, but once we realized they were next door, a bunch of us crammed in front of the viewing window and ogled their class. Sylvie Guillem stood in the corner. I think she is the only female dancer I know that men marvel at just as open-mouthed as women do. It’s crazy to see our principals so starstruck over another dancer. I wonder if any of The Royal Ballet dancers feel that way about us. 

I think one of the most interesting parts of touring is using other companies’ workspaces. Getting to see other professional dancers in class and rehearsal is both educational and relieving. No one looks perfect in class (except maybe Sylvie), and knowing that this is true for other professionals puts many minds at ease. 

Today and tomorrow are long workdays. Because our rep is so ambitious for this tour, SFB flew in our company chiropractor. We also have our physical therapist and massage therapist with us, so what little downtime we have is often spent on body management. I know it sounds like we’re spoiled, but the physical demands are great and it’s hard to take care of injuries while on tour. We don’t have the regular comforts of home, and we spend a lot of time lugging our bags everywhere, so we’re all thankful for the extra therapy.

Monday, September 20
Program 1: Square Dance, Continuum and Le Carnaval des Animaux

Tonight was opening night at Sadler’s Wells. We had class at 11:15, then dress rehearsal from 1:30 to 4:30. I was in Square Dance. After the dress, we got our notes onstage. The artistic staff seemed a little anxious. Opening night in a city as culturally aware as London means we need to be at our best. 

Then Helgi [Tomasson, SFB artistic director] gave us an inspirational “just go out there and dance!” talk. It’s relieving to hear that he is aware of our stress level. By the time you get to opening night, if you don’t already have the technique, it isn’t going to happen in the next couple of hours. 

Dress finished at 4:30 and there was just enough time to grab a snack, collect our thoughts and do it all over again for the 7:30 curtain.

Backstage, our crew sets up small tables with everything we could possibly need for the performance, including emergency sewing items (needles and thread of all colors), safety pins, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Advil, colored markers for costume camouflage, tissues, hairpins, hairspray, toe tape and a box of rosin.

Before each show, the girls usually congregate around the rosin box and discuss the upcoming ballet while we put on our shoes. Tonight we discussed our collective nervousness. Balanchine’s Square Dance is one of the most demanding ballets—both physically and technically—any of us has ever performed. The guys seemed calmer. I don’t know if they really were or if they just wanted to appear macho. 

Throughout the ballet, my partner, Garrett Anderson, talked to me onstage. He knows I like the verbal encouragement. It seems silly, but it really helps to have someone cheering you on when you feel you are reaching your physical limit. 

Whenever possible, I try to connect with the other dancers onstage. We are each other’s support system, especially when we are away from home. Tonight when I looked at my fellow dancers, I was humbled. Everyone looked great, especially Tina LeBlanc; she danced like she had lightning bolts shooting through her feet. 

We hit our final pose and the audience roared on the blackout. Square Dance is so technical that it sometimes doesn’t come across to an audience unless they understand ballet. This audience did. Whenever I question why I do what I do, I am reminded when I bow. Perhaps it is the validation or the confirmation that all we put ourselves through is appreciated. Today we put ourselves through a lot.

Back in the dressing room, the corps girls spent at least 15 minutes dissecting the ballet from top to bottom. We broke down each little section and imitated ourselves doing every step, each one of us exaggerating our flaws more than the last. After exerting so much energy I think we all needed a little comic relief. 

After the performance, one of our principals and resident choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, asked me if Square Dance was “hard.” What? Hard? That doesn’t even encompass it. He said we all looked so calm and controlled. That is a huge compliment, considering we all felt as though we were going to die of exhaustion. 
There was a reception in the theater lobby after the performance. Everyone there was very complimentary about the show, but the party didn’t last very long. We have to do it all again tomorrow. 

Tuesday, September 21
Program 2: Ballo Della Regina, Concerto Grosso, Study in Motion and The Four Temperaments

Like yesterday, class was followed by dress rehearsal onstage. I misjudged the amount of time I had to get ready for Balanchine’s Ballo Della Regina and ended up doing rehearsal pretty cold—not good for a jumping variation.

Because of that, I was disappointed with how my rehearsal went. After Ballo, a couple of the corps girls who had been watching from out front complimented me. It’s funny how much a peer’s praise can lift your spirits when you need it. 

I returned the favor by watching The Four Temperaments (also choreographed by Balanchine) from the house. When I went onstage afterward, everyone was hungry for corrections and advice, especially the girls. Sometimes on tour, the little things get overlooked because of time constraints, and we often rely on each other for feedback.

Wednesday, September 22
Program 3; Allegro Brillante, Paquita Pas de Trois, 7 for Eight, and Rush 

I feel like I’m living in the movie Groundhog Day. Again we had class, dress rehearsal and then the performance. I danced in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush . During class, Tina LeBlanc slipped and twisted her ankle. She dances so much on this tour, she is the last person we need going down. She performed through the pain, but after the show she was pretty uncomfortable. 

Tomorrow we repeat Program 1 again. No more dress rehearsals!

Saturday, September 25
We’re done! The final stretch was pretty rough, but surprisingly, for a tour this intense, there were very few incidents. 

Tina ended up having to take off a show because of her ankle, so Vanessa Zahorian stepped in for her in Square Dance. She and her partner, Guennadi Nedviguine, hadn’t even touched each other since last season, six months ago. She had one rehearsal the day of her performance, but she remembered all of the choreography and nailed the show.

I think everyone is ready to go home. Before the performance tonight I saw three of the moms in the company, Katita Waldo, Kristin Long and Tina LeBlanc, do a huddle and cheer, “We’re almost there! Tomorrow we get to see our babies!”

It made me realize how much these women sacrifice for their work.

After we finished, Helgi bowed onstage with us. When the curtain came down, he gave us a little “congratulations” speech.  He was really pleased with our tour, which of course made all of us happy.
After the show a group of us went out for a “tour-well-done” dinner and toasted ourselves—how egotistical—but we deserved it. It was finally time for vacation!


Amanda Schull is a member of the San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet.

Boston Ballet dancers at Teatro Coliseum in Barcelona

Go behind the scenes with Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga as she blogs from the company’s Spain tour —plus photos!    


I’m writing from Barcelona, Spain where I’m on tour with Boston Ballet for five weeks and in six cities throughout the country. We just flew into Barcelona last Saturday, all 45 dancers and some staff, which was an experience. I fell asleep on the plane leaving Boston before we even took off.

We’re performing at the Teatro Coliseum, which is definitely a European theater. It has a beautiful façade and our name in lights on the front. I’ve been dancing Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina and Helen Pickett’s Tsukiyo while in Barcelona. So far I’ve been on every night, all four performances. I’m off tonight, and then dancing again tomorrow.

Ballo is one of the hardest ballets I’ve done. It’s challenging, but I like the challenge. I was very lucky to work with Merrill [Ashley] for this ballet. She was so inspiring. She was the original cast and worked with me on so many of the details and shared her experiences onstage. She gave me so much encouragement and so much confidence with this ballet.

I’m dancing with James Whiteside in Ballo and he’s great to dance with! We’ve danced a lot together this season and this is our first year of being principal dancers together. I feel good with him because we’ve grown up together in this company, we’re about the same age and he makes me feel very calm to dance with because he has good energy. He’s very inspiring because his technique is so solid and I feel like I always have to be solid too. I think we inspire each other. (I hope he thinks so!)

I have two casts of Ballo and also dance with Jeff Cirio. (I do quite a lot of Ballos on this tour!) Jeff is a first year corps, very different from James, but he is amazing in this ballet. It’s nice to be able to dance with two different partners and feel different energies onstage every night.

I’m also dancing Tsukiyo while on tour. It was created this season for three couples by Helen Pickett. I dance with Yury Yanowsky. The music is by Arvo Pärt.  There is set choreography, but no set musicality, so all three couples do it differently and all three couples look totally different. It can almost look like three different pieces.  I love working with Helen, she’s a very intelligent choreographer and working with her this time, on this intelligent piece, made me think a lot about life.

It’s exciting to perform in front of audiences that are in different countries and different cultures. I’ve heard a lot of comments that people have never seen Balanchine’s ballets before. So, this is a great opportunity for us to perform and show American ballet.

More from me next week! I’ll be in San Sebastian and Santander.

To see a great video of what the dancers are up to this week click here!


Richmond Ballet is currently making its international debut in a tour to London. Dancer Maggie Small is giving Pointe the inside scoop. Read her earlier post here.

 

The past two days we have been rehearsing in the Royal Ballet School studios and at the Linbury Theater where we'll be performing tonight and tomorrow. It's so interesting how we can cross an ocean and be in a different country, but once we get to the studio or theater we're back in familiar territory. There is almost always a barre, a piano and mirrors or in the theater, a dark quietness that separates us from the outside world until an audience fills the seats, which is what will happen tonight. One more rehearsal this afternoon and it's game time.

Richmond Ballet is currently making its international debut in a tour to London. Dancer Maggie Small is giving Pointe the inside scoop. Read her earlier posts here and here.

 

We've completed our weekend of performances at the Linbury Theater! The audiences were responsive both evenings with more than a few "Bravos!" plus a "Come back anytime!" from a particularly enthusiastic front row center patron. There's nothing like the energy of an opening night show or the bittersweet feeling of putting a ballet to bed; having experienced both in the past 48 hours I am a touch bone-weary, very satisfied and can't believe that not only do I get to do something I truly love every day, but it comes with all kinds of amazing perks like international travel and realizing childhood dreams. Now for a day off!

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is currently on tour in Israel to perform in the 25th anniversary of Karmiel Dance Festival. Principal dancer Alexandra Kochis is guest blogging about the experience for Pointe.

 

Our second day in Israel dawned sunny and beautiful. After breakfast, most of the company hit the beach to enjoy the bathwater warm Mediterranean waters. With the many domes and minarets adorning the horizon, it's such a different beach vista than I'm used to. Afterwards, it was time to travel to Karmiel, the site of the festival, to take class and rehearse. I always find the trips to destinations almost as much fun as the destinations themselves when you're in a new country. At times the hillsides of northern Israel reminded me a lot of the Northern California landscape, perhaps with a few more olive trees. The festival site was bustling with many different types of music broadcast over the speakers. There is quite a vibe of excitement buzzing around this quiet little town in anticipation of the festival. It felt good to stretch the muscles after all that traveling.

 

After rehearsal, the company ventured out to see some of the local sites. We had the bus drop us near the center of the "Old Town" of Acre and wandered around the maze of stone streets and alleyways. It was quite magical—the sun was beginning to set over a beautifully tranquil Mediterranean Sea and as we started the walk along the parapets of the ancient fortress walls we could hear the Muslim evening call to pray echo off the stone walls and archways of the ancient city. Never, in all my travels, have I truly felt like I was someplace so different from my everyday existence.  

 

We ate at one of the various restaurants lining the harbor. The fresh, flavorful cuisine was a crowdpleaser: ceviche, shrimp with saffron and artichokes and fluffy pillows of potato gnocci in porcini mushroom sauce. The area thrives late into the night with even families coming out hours past sunset. It's on trips like these that you realize how different we all are and yet how the similar—in the pulse of a drum beat, in a child's squeal of excitement as he jumps over an ocean wave and in a shared experience beyond words and conveyed by a smile.
Day three in Israel was a busy one! We had an early bus call to Karmiel to explore and get something to eat before class. The area was like an upscale suburb in the States with tree-lined streets of shops and little gardens. Most of the signage was in Hebrew so it was hard to tell what each store held until you peered inside. My favorites were the small, locally-owned shops with delicious smells of fresh-baked bread wafting through the doorways and fruits and vegetables piled high.

 

After, we took class, my husband and I had a radio interview with a station back home in Pittsburgh, and we did a short rehearsal. Then we took a look around the festival. There's a large bazaar set up in what is normally a soccer field with tents hawking everything from cheap sunglasses (Ray Dons!) and air chairs to hand-made jewelery and clothing. I think Eva Trapp won the best souvenier award with a gorgeous hammered silver necklace. Dance truly takes center stage here. Several former tennis courts are cordoned off for public dancing. We had another radio interview, this one with the Israeli army radio, a popular station here and a whole audience of onlookers was snapping photos outside the window of the trailer from which the show was being broadcast! One of our docents, Maya told us that many people from the Karmiel area return home to catch up with family and old friends during the festival since everyone comes. The festival worked it's reunification magic on us as well when we bumped into an old friend whom we had danced with in Boston Ballet 15 years ago! He was now dancing with a company in France that is also performing at the festival. It was so strange to come upon a familiar face so many miles from home.

 

Various local dance groups led a parade through the streets. A lot were dressed in folk costumes and were singing and chanting. When the sun went down around 9 pm, we watched the opening performances of the festival in an outdoor amphitheater under the stars. Around 8,000 people were scattered across the vast lawn on blankets and chairs—young and old, families and couples, dancers and non-dancers. The show opened with a high-energy contemporary piece with a folk dance flavor. There must have been at least 60 dancers on the stage, all moving in unison to live music.  

 

Yesterday, our first performance day, we met the mayor. Pittsburgh and Karmiel have been building a cultural relationship as sister cities for the past 12 years. We arrived at the beautiful, modern municipal building and were escorted upstairs and into a wood-paneled boardroom where the mayor welcomed us. We also met many people responsible for coordinating our tour and various Jewish cultural foundations. Everyone was friendly and you could tell that they were extremely proud of their town. We learned that Karmiel was only founded 47 years ago, but the mayor felt it could be a model for all of Israel with it's history of peaceful coexistence with the neighboring Arab villages. After lunch, it was to class at the studio and then our first look at the theater. There had been a performance by the Brazilian ballet company just before our rehearsal and the crew and production staff were scrambling to get our lights and cues hung and programed before our rehearsal and performance at 8 that night. Then they were going to have to break that down and re-set the Brazilians set-up once again for a 10pm show!

 

The rehearsal was the first time we got to hear the two Israeli musicians who were going to be accompanying our company pianist Yoland Collin in playing Beethoven's "Ghost Trio" for Mark Morris' Maelstrom that was the first on our program. It sounded amazing.

 

What a performance it was! All the dancers were especially energized to be here, thousands of miles from home, in PBT's first international tour in decades. The audience responded with generous applause and they were quick to start clapping along with the music during Dwight Roden's Step Touch. The end of the show brought many curtain calls. It was a tremendous kick off. 

On Thursday, we performed in Rishon Lezion just outside of Tel Aviv. The theater was a large marble complex with extensive backstage facilities including a separate studio to take class and spacious dressing rooms for everyone. We warmed up, did a quick rehearsal and then had a few hours for dinner before the show. The performance went really well, even though the audience was slightly more subdued compared to the raucous atmosphere of the Karmiel Dance Festival. It felt good to know we'd been good ambassadors for the United States. Everyone was in a jovial mood once the pressures of performing were off and a spontaneous sing-along broke out in the bus back to the hotel.

 

Friday was a free day. Several day trips had been set up, one to the town of Nazareth, another  to a winery north of Acre. My husband and I decided to take it easy and enjoy the beach at the hotel. We took a stroll over to a nearby a cafe for brunch. A really nice brick walkway had been built through newly planted gardens of flowering desert plants and palms—Israel is the only developed country in the world to end the 20th century with more trees than it had at the outset. The bougenvelia was blooming everywhere along our walk and the beach seemed busier than usual with the weekend crowd arriving to enjoy some relaxation before the shabbat began at sundown. Many of the smaller shops were dark already.  

I don't think there has been a meal here that hasn't been a fantastic feast for senses. I love the style of eating in Israel: Many small mezze plates and samplers of condiments and sauces accompany the meals. So many different flavors and textures to try! Even breakfast has olives, tuna, tomato chutney and pesto set out with our omelets.  

At the beach we fell into conversation with an Israeli who seemed anxious to hear how we enjoyed his country. When he bid us farewell, he touched both hands to his heart and then laid them, open, towards us with a humble bow of his head, asking us to spread the word back home what a good time we had had here. We also ran into two younger Israelis with a whitewater kayak out playing in the surf. My husband and I had taken up the sport a few years ago when we moved to Pittsburgh so we whiled away a few hours teaching them how to roll their kayak, for which they were very appreciative. We were struck by how open and trusting they were even though we'd just met.  Who knows if I will ever return to Israel but the experience has been one I will never forget.

Our final day in Israel was magical. The first stop was Mt. Olive for an amazing overlook of the Old City of Jerusalem. Everything was layered, both in the sense of time, with each century erecting their monuments upon the previous, and in the sense of religion, with the most holy of sites for so many all converging on each other in this small area.

We drove down towards the Roman walls that surround the Old City. Walking up the steep hill towards the Lions Gate entrance, us dancers joined the pilgrims of all types: arabs in there long white robes, women in head scarves, jewish men in black suits, some with scarves covering their heads, some with yarmulkes. This area had passed through control by so many hands, from Persian to Roman to Arab to Jewish. It seemed like with each step you could be passing over the foundations of a forum, a monastery, a church and a pagan temple all at once.

The Old City was one giant bazaar with hundreds of shopkeepers hawking colorful scarves, jewelry, leather sandals, persian rugs, religious statues, fruit juices, candy. You couldn't help but stumble upon marker after marker of famous religious sites and shrines. I've never experienced such a feeling of "living history." I was amazed as I laid my hands on the sun-warmed stones of wailing wall: From afar, it looks made of rough, porous sandstone-like rock, but beneath my fingers it was smooth, I suppose from the many millions of hands that have been there before mine.  

After, we headed to the Dead Sea, spotting herds of goats and even a few camels along the way. My ears popped as we started our descent towards the Sea, the lowest place on earth. We all were taken by surprise as we stepped off the prickly sand of the beach into the slick, oozing mud beneath the surface of the murky, hot water. It was incredibly difficult to walk without slipping, and every few feet you would plunge into a muddy sink hole up to your knee. Then we realized it was easier to float your way around. It took absolutely no effort to just lay back! It was the most bizarre feeling, almost as if this wasn't water at all but some other element entirely. We smoothed the mud all over our bodies to soak in the healing minerals. I tried to take in the significance of being as close to the center of the earth as I ever would be, right then. An incredible end to an incredible journey.


The Joffrey Ballet School Performance Company is currently on tour in the South, and dancer Melissa Westlake is sharing her experience with Pointe.

 

Day 1: Monday, April 15

Our first full day in Charlotte, North Carolina, started off with an adventure: We taught some local kids selections from our rep, then performed with them on the court of the Time Warner Cable Arena before the Bobcats vs. Knicks game. What a feeling it was to hear the announcer say, “And now, performing alongside the young dancers of Charlotte, we have the Joffrey Concert Group!” And we were off!

 

There were a few mistakes of course because, as we all know, no performance is ever perfect, but the feeling was irreplaceable. Onward it was to Rows O and P in section 123 where we screamed and yelled and cheered on the Knicks. (You can take the dancers out of New York, but you can never take New York out of the dancers.) My friend Kristina and I made it our mission to get a picture with rap artist Nelly, who was watching the game courtside. The other dancers doubted us, but fail we did not. It took jumping over a few chairs and creeping and crawling between people but we successfully got our shots!

 

Day 2: Tuesday, April 16

Off to the host families. After two nights at the Country Inn Suites in Charlotte, we were on our way to Statesville Performing High School of the Arts for our next performance. It was our second year at the school and we were excited to be back in familiar territory where we didn’t mind taking half an hour to space. While the men unloaded the truck with our treasure chest of costumes and props, the girls ran backstage to make sure that we got the biggest dressing room, seeing as there at least twice the number of girls as boys. But we couldn’t let the men do all of the work, so we grabbed the bars and prepared to take company class.

 

Later, while backstage getting ready for the performance, we all enjoyed the company of our baby mascot, Connor, the son of our associate director Brian McSween. We played pirates and wizards with swords made out of hangers—and taught him to sew our pointe shoes. Though our program was cut short one piece because of time, the company did an amazing job. We opened with Larry Keigwin’s Elements-Air followed by Mr. McSween’s One Last Breath and artistic director Davis Robertson’s Sibling Rivalry, and finished strong with Gerald Arpino’s Kettentanz

 

The audience could not have been more appreciative. After the show, we sat and talked with the school’s dance program. There was nothing but laughter and full conversations in the room. Little Connor was a big hit, as always, showing off his awesome pirate skills. And just like that we were in our vans again dropping everyone at their new homes for the next two nights. One family was kind enough to invite some of us take a quick a dip in their pool, which turned into doing cannonballs into the lake and sitting in the jacuzzi for some much-needed relaxation in front of what was the most beautiful view we could have asked for.

 

The Joffrey Ballet School Performance Company is currently on tour in the South, and dancer Melissa Westlake is sharing her experience with Pointe.

 

Day 3: April 17

First night in hosts’ family homes was a success! I, unfortunately, had to pull the first all nighter on tour in order to get my schoolwork in order. It’s tough being on the road and having finals at the same time. But in a few weeks I will have finished my sophomore year of college!


Performance number three was Larry Keigwin’s Air, Brian McSween’s One Last Breath, Dwight Rhoden’s Threshold Inlay and Gerald Aripino’s Kettentaz and Birthday Variations at Central Piedmont Community College. Being on all the different types of stages is really taking an effect. Tight calves, plus tight hamstrings from sitting in the car, Achilles’ starting to pull, quad muscles sore and even some very painful Charlie horses. This stage was by far one of the most difficult, spacing wise, because it was a trapezoid. We did not expect it to be that small or oddly shaped. With a little improvisation though everything ended up running smoothly.


Afterwards, our host family gave us a quick trip on a two passenger airplane. Racing down the runway, the meter reached 60 RPM and the plan lifted off of the ground and off into the sunset we flew. The pilot even let me fly for a bit!


Day 4: April 18

Next up was Duke University in Durham NC. We arrived pretty early because Mr. McSween was headed off to teach a master class so there were about 4 hours to kill before our own class. The company scattered and explored the campus, then had a game of frisbee. I guess we stayed in the sun a little to long because after, a good majority of us looked like red tomatoes in the summer heat! It was a miracle we got through class and rehearsal afterwards.


Day 5: April 19

We had a class at 10 am and rehearsal at our associate artistic director’s, old dance studio, King David Christian Conservatory with Mr. Sal and Ms. Barb. This was an important rehearsal for us because we had a show the next day and unfortunately one of our company members, Kristina, was injured and two other dancers, Vanessa and Shaina, had to replace her. Anything can happen while on tour.


After, Mr. McSween had to go and teach a master class so they gave us a day at the mall. We went shopping, watched a movie, and even had some frozen yogurt. And as soon as we got back to the hotel it was straight to bed, with a 7:45am departure time the next day.


Day 6: April 20

The studios at Carolina Dance Theatre in Raleigh were absolutely beautiful and the studio in which we performed in was twice as large as ours in Manhattan. Vanessa and Shaina were fabulous! For only rehearsing the pieces for a couple of hours, they truly did a fantastic job.


Then it was back into the vans for another two and a half hour car ride back to Charlotte. In downtown Charlotte we were all excited to head to Fuel Pizza Shop where they have some of the best gluten free pizza. One of our company members, Victor, is allergic to gluten so it was a good meal for him, he could have had a whole pie by himself! As everyone went out to enjoy the last of daylight, I stayed in Fuel Pizza reading up on my child psychology class to prepare myself for a quiz that needed to be done by 11pm the next night. Then it was back to the hotel though to prepare for our next stop, Atlanta Georgia!


Day 7: April 21

Our day started off with an early morning birthday breakfast for company member Shaina and Mr. McSween. We were all pretty excited to get to Atlanta, just because it felt as is if we were in North Carolina for so long. On the way, we found a great state park with a beach, boats, a lake, any and everything that we wanted to do outdoors. An hour and a half went by pretty quickly, and it was time for us to go and meet our host families. Megan and I were sent off with the Cash family. A wonderful southern dinner was awaiting us: baked macaroni and cheese, pulled BBQ pork and a delicious fruit salad. It was an early night, but a very good one.

Boston Ballet is about to take off for England for a six-performance run at the London Coliseum next week. To show off the company's range, the dancers will be performing Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, Balanchine’s Serenade and Symphony in Three Movements, resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, Forsythe’s The Second Detail,  Wheeldon’s Polyphonia and Kylián’s Bella Figura. How does a dancer prepare for such an intense program overseas? Principal Kathleen Breen Combes gave Pointe a peek inside her process.

 

What are you most looking forward to about the London tour?

Getting to dance in London for the first time! It's a huge hub for dance media and I'm excited to show them what Boston Ballet has to offer.


How are you preparing?
 

Physically, it's been intense. We've had a long season and I'm trying to stay in top shape without getting injured. Also, we're bringing quite a diverse repertoire, and it's tricky on the body to switch back and forth so frequently. But I'm doing what I would for any other hard program: Preparing as much as I can, so I can let go on stage.

 

Do you have any airplane tricks? 

Compression socks are a must-have. I learned that the hard way: I once landed in Korea with ankles that looked like elephants! I spent the night with my feet in ice buckets and prayed they would fit into pointe shoes the next day.

 

What's the most challenging part of performing on a new stage?

It's so interesting how you get used to dancing on a particular stage. A new theater takes some adjusting. I try to get on stage before the first rehearsal to get a feel for the floor and lights. A lot of it is mental; I try to not focus on what is different. Usually you only have that one rehearsal, so you don't want to waste it worrying about things you can't change!

 

What's your least favorite part of touring?

Checking into the hotel with 60+ people after traveling for hours!

 

Best part?

Getting to experience new audiences and their reactions to what we do. It reenergizes the dancers as a group, and we come home a stronger company because of it. Plus, I get to travel to wonderful places and experience different cultures. It's a lot of work—but also a lot of fun.

 

 

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