dance

Nutcracker Memories

When it comes to Nutcracker, I feel like dancers, critics and dancegoers fall into one of two camps: You either love or loathe it.

I fall into the first category. I’m a sucker for most things holiday-related: twinkly lights draped all over the city, old-school Christmas carols playing at home, a pine tree in the corner of my living room—even freakin’ gingerbread lattes!

Given that, it’s probably no surprise that I love the Nutcracker, too. I’ll admit that I usually wish I could fast-forward through the party scene and skip to “Snow” and the pas de deux. And the embarrassingly outdated, stereotypical Land of Sweets characters make me cringe. But over the years, the Nutcracker has remained one of my most enduring holiday traditions. Over the past 31 years, no matter where I’ve been, or what was happening in my life, I’ve always been able to count on the familiarity and nostalgia of the Nutcracker, every Christmas season.

Like many kids, one of my earliest ballet memories was seeing City Ballet’s Nutcracker. I remember being amazed watching the tree grow, and seeing the Mouse King with his manyВ heads.

In years following, my mom also took me to New York Theatre Ballet‘s one-hour production for kids, and the Harlem Nutcracker.

As a college student, a group of friends and I saw Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker. A couple years later, while working at the Boston Herald and doing some dance writing, I had the opportunity to review Jose Mateo‘s Nutcracker. That same season, I watched Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker again—and thought their “Snow” choreography was the best I’d ever seen. (One reason I’d love to revisit that production.)

Boston Ballet's Nutcracker

When I moved back to NYC in fall 2006, one of my “welcome home”.gif"abt's nutcracker" href="http://www.abt.org/performances/nutcracker.asp" target="_blank">ABT’s Nutcracker on two different years—and really enjoyed Ratmansky’s fresh take on the ballet. (Like how Clara and her Nutcracker prince mirror Sugarplum and her cavalier, as they dance together in the snowy end of Act 1.)

ABT's Nutcracker

And with my own return to ballet, I’ve had the chance to perform “Snow” and “Flowers” during the last two Novembers. (We did both pieces in soft shoes, though I’d still love to dance them en pointe…)

waltz of the flowers

Last December, when I was in London, my parents surprised my best friend and me with tickets to see the Royal Ballet‘s Nutcracker. That evening at the Opera House was a big highlight of my quick trip.

royal opera house

Tonight, Evan and I are seeing City Ballet’s production. As a New Yorker, I’m a bit biased—Balanchine’s version has always remained my favorite.

NYCB Nutcracker

I was also surprised to learn that Evan has his own Nutcracker memories, about the same production. When he was a kid, his mom used to take him suit shopping, then to Houlihan’s for lunch, and then to City Ballet’s Nutcracker.

I’m excited to keep my—our—tradition going.

…now if only someone would please update the Land of Sweets! 😉

How Three Australian Ballet Dancers Prep Their Pointe Shoes

Pointe shoe prep

The other day I watched this video that’s been making its way around social: how dancers from the Australian Ballet prepare their pointe shoes.

Maybe it’s because I’m one myself, but I’m always curious about other dancers’ pointe shoes. I wonder what brands they use, how they break them in, and any other rituals they have to make the shoes feel natural on their feet. It’s such a personal thing.

So I appreciated seeing what these three pros do. Take a look:

(As someone learning pointe as an adult, trying to make up for lost time,В I don’t have too much of my own pointe shoe prep process, yet. I sew my ribbons and elastics a specific way—from the base of the shoe—stomp on the box, and water the sides the first wearing or two, for flexibility.)

Other dancers: How do you prep your pointe shoes? Or if you do another sport or activity, what’s your ritual?

Diversity and Ballet

pointe

I was very happy when I saw the cover of Pointe magazine’s June/July issue. It’s about time that talented ballerinas of color—ABT’s Misty Copeland, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Ashley Murphy and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s Ebony Williams—get some time in the spotlight!

Pointe‘s current issue tackles the lack of diversity in ballet. For this, I applaud them. I have a hard time being critical of the art that brings me so much joy, both as a dancer and a spectator. But I do think ballet’s lack of diversity is a real problem, and one that needs to be addressed.

I touched upon this issue before, in my post about Dance Theatre of Harlem. I still find it hard to believe that now, in 2014, there are no black principal female dancers at any of the country’s major ballet companies—and very few Asians, Hispanics, Indians or other minorities in the upper ranks. Though I’m way past the age of pursuing ballet as a career, I feel a bit disheartened when I sit through entire ballet programs without seeing a single dancer who looks like me. So I can only imagine how talented, young, minority dancers must feel when they try to decide if they could ever succeed in the ballet world.

In addition, the lack of diversity makes ballet seem like it’s stuck in a bygone era.

Pointe‘s three cover ladies discuss the difficulties they faced, as up-and-coming ballet dancers of color. Murphy noted that one of the reasons she never considered ballet, as a career, is that while growing up, she never saw ballerinas who looked like her. Williams recounts an incident when she was a scholarship student at Boston Ballet: A dance mom pulled her aside, told her she was paying for her to be there and was undeserving of the roles she received. And Copeland describes the isolation she felt being one of the few black ballet dancers at ABT. (It should be noted that Alicia Graf Mack wrote the cover story. She, herself, is a classically trained ballet dancer who was turned down by both ABT and NYCB. She dances with Ailey, and continues to be a standout among a company of fantastic dancers.)

The magazine also has a timeline of diversity in ballet. (There are very few milestones.) A longer piece addresses what companies are doing to become more diverse. ABT’s new Project PliГ©, for example, grants scholarships to talented dancers, teachers and arts administrators of color; works with other ballet companies on outreach; and has a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to identify minority children with ballet potential.

It’s a start. Hopefully we’ll see some changes soon.

(Image via Pointe)

Everywhere We Go

More video love.

Check out this trailer for Everywhere We Go, Justin Peck’s new ballet, premiering during New York City Ballet‘s spring season, on May 8. This piece will be Peck’s second collaboration with musician Sufjan Stevens. (Their first was 2012’s Year of the Rabbit.)

I’ve been trying to figure out which of City Ballet’s spring performances to attend, and those withВ Everywhere We Go have shot to the top of my list. You’ll be able to see why, after watching.

The trailer was directed by Jody Lee Lipes, who also shot the film Ballet 422, about Peck’s process of choreographing the ballet Paz de la Jolla. That’s at the Tribeca Film Festival now, and I’m hoping to see it, if I can still get a ticket!

In the meantime, enjoy Everywhere We Go. My favorite part is around 1:15—the close-up of dancer Tiler Peck’s gorgeous feet.

(Found via Pointe)

The A-Z of Dance

I love this video. Dubbed “The A-Z of Dance,” it’s actually an ad for Diesel, promoting their new, flexible jeans. But it’s still an awesome celebration of dance, in its many forms.

One style or stepВ is represented for each letter of the alphabet—and quite a breadth are displayed! Of course, I was happy that it opened with an arabesque. (Though I could have done without the prolonged twerking, rendering this video a little NSFW.)

Watch below and enjoy! How badly does it make you want to get up and move, too?

(Found via Fast Company)

Ballet Classes in Buenos Aires

As you might have guessed from my previous entry about tango, I didn’t seek it out in Buenos Aires. But I did take ballet.

Before my trip, I researched open ballet classes in BA and found Ballet Estudio. They offer many levels of classes a day, and had trained a number of renowned dancers, including ABT’s Paloma Herrera. Plus, I learned that in September, Alvin Ailey held a master class there. Via Facebook photos, it was cool to see a bit of my NYC in BA—the faces of company dancers whose photos are all over my NYC studio, and whom I occasionally see. Plus, it confirmed that I’d chosen a legit place!

I went to the studio on the Monday afternoon of my trip, for an advanced class. (I figured if I usually take intermediate classes in NYC, then I’d survive an advanced class in BA.)

The studio was on the second story of a Recoleta building.

ballet estudio 1

The doormats read “Welcome Home,” which made me smile, as did the weathered ballet photos in the reception area. Especially this one of Paloma Herrera.

paloma herrera

I paid for my class (100 pesos), went into the changing room…and noticed something odd. All the other dancers looked about 12 years old—niГ±as!

Ballet Estudio’s site advertises classes for all styles, levels and ages. I hadn’t realized that all the ages would be together. Here in NYC—and most places in the US—adults and kids are in separate classes. Still, I went with it.

The class ended up being me, five niГ±as and, thankfully, one other adult—I nearly fell over with relief when she came in. But being with mostly kids threw me. I felt off and out of place—which isn’t ideal, considering how much of ballet is mental!

Besides internally wrestling with that, I thought the class was an interesting experience. I’m glad I didn’t cop out because of the kids. The teacher, Mimi, couldn’t have been lovelier. She was warm, welcoming and kind, and had beautiful technique and extension.

She was also very patient with my lack of Spanish. As soon as class started, I realized that though I had no problem understanding the steps and combinations, I could barely understand anything else—my past studies didn’t cover the nuances of alignment, turnout or focus. There had not been a Coffee Break Spanish lesson that included terms like “Don’t tense up your shoulders” or “Pull up over your legs.”

Despite that, I was still able to understand many of Mimi’s corrections through her gestures and the words I did know. Her critiques and tips were all spot on. (Like telling me to straighten my legs and travel more in assembles, and not let my turnout drop when going into left pirouettes.)

As for the niГ±as—they were good! One had especially beautiful control and technique. I rarely see kids dance, and I realized it was gratifying to see Argentina’s next generation of ballet dancers in action.

And at the end of class, I felt a tad less awkward being in the same lesson as them. But just a tad.

ballet estudio

Ballet Estudio’s second floor studio