Posts Tagged ‘interrelation of arts’

Dancing in the North

March 25, 2011

Spring Gala White on White

Tomorrow night, the North Star Ballet dancers will perform in their annual Spring Gala—a little early this year.  They will be performing Snow White—a ballet set to a composite of music, retelling the story in a way that allows the Senior Company dancers to take on more roles.  There’s a cat, complete with tail, who leaps about, bossing the dwarves around.  And there’s Snow White, herself, and the wicked stepmother Queen.  I’ll go Sunday to see the final performance—tomorrow is the John Haines memorial—but I’ll really be waiting for the second half of the show.

It’s not a bait and switch, exactly, but it has always seemed to me that Norman does the choreography that really engages and stretches him and the dancers in the second half of the Spring Gala.  While the story ballet in the first half lures in the parents with kids who want to dance, the second half demonstrates just how technically developed and with how much range the North Star dancers are.

This year, the company is doing John Luther Adams’ “Dream of White on White”—a ballet in unitards to Adams’ geography-inspired music, spare, luminous, with chime-like tones inspired by the Aeolian harp which make tones as the wind blows through it.  As the dancers move, the lighting changes—the ballet provides a chance for Kade Mandelowitz to use washes of colored light as integral to the play of sound and motion.

I have seen this piece several times before, but when I heard the first notes through the thin studio walls one night as I was doing plies in Adult Ballet, I felt happy with anticipation.  The next week, as I was changing and the girls were in the dressing room preparing for rehearsal, I asked them how they liked it.

“It’s interesting,” they said.  One even said it was cool.  These are ballet girls, used to dance that imitates flight, that defies gravity, poised and tall on the small square-inch toe of a pointe shoe.  Often, ballet trained dancers don’t adjust to the earth-hugging Modern style, but these kids do.  They go at it with all the precision of a ballet dancer—and the dance reflects their ability and their connection with the place they live.  They are all Alaskan kids, after all.

There are other pieces in the second half, including the technical, fast-moving Tarantella.  At the end of Sunday’s performance, the kids will gather behind the curtain and hug each other and cry.  Their parents and friends will take photos of them, clustered together, mascara streaking below their eyes, clutching roses and carnations.

There are a few seniors graduating and moving on, but coming along behind them are a larger group of younger dancers, mid training, with lots of North Star performances ahead of them.  They may get teary-eyed, too, not knowing why, but I do.  They have the chance to dance to the work of a living composer, moving to choreography set just for them.  It’s an opportunity so rare that they won’t fully understand it till years later.

But those of us watching will.

Come watch these dancers and hear John’s music tomorrow, March 26 at 2 or 8pm or Sunday, March 27 at 2pm.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

February 12, 2009

This morning, I was finishing throwing hay to the horses and spending a few minutes scratching their necks under their manes and inhaling their earthy, yeasty smell when the corral, the yard, the snow on the spruce trees began to glow with a copper light. It’s lighter every day now. The change is significant, the day extending by as much as an hour a week. The return of the light starts a fizz of energy in my stomach–or that place in the center of the body that the Chinese call chi. I look at the cutbank behind the house where I have been trying to get wildflowers to grow for the past six years. This year, I think, I’ll find a way.

Then the sun slipped up behind the clouds that spread across all the rest of the sky and the light dulled. Still, to the southern horizon there was a peachy band of light above the silhouettes of the mountains, then thick, flat grey.

I heard Obama’s speech the other night; like everyone else, I’ve been thinking of the economic situation, flattening the mood of delight I felt at the inauguration. I read about places where, already by last summer, people were abandoning horses in forests, in farmers’ fields, in empty horse trailers at horse shows or auctions. I even heard of horses found shot by owners who couldn’t keep them. Here in Alaska, we tend to feel the economic trends on a different cycle than the lower 48–sometimes by as much as five years. Still, we know it will impact us. We live in a place where extravagant living is unsustainable. In rural Alaska, the situation is more grim, as fuel prices went up in the fall just as rural communities needed to put in their winter supply. Some villages, like Emmonak, are in dire straits, but have found a way to make their plight–needing fuel and food–known and some relief has reached them.

I think about how things might go for us–including horse lovers and those working in the arts. We will keep on as long as we can, knowing that the things that sustain us are not all material or financial. Writing is an inexpensive art–though I’m writing on a laptop now, I could convert to pen and paper. Dance only takes the body and a sense of rhythm, though the production of a performance takes a whole lot more. Riding horses takes, well, the horse–and that’s more challenging here in the North than it might be in some more temperate place. It’s when we what to share our arts that the economy affects us the most. As the “recovery package” goes out around the country, I’m listening hard for reference to the arts, knowing that we will be dealing with some bread-and-butter issues first–but still, I’m listening.

I’m finishing this at night, the full moon of last night shaved a bit thinner now, and covered by the clouds still spread across the sky. The wood stove warms the room. The dog sleeps, a mound of brown fur.

Poetry Challenge 5

January 30, 2009

This comes from a Creative Movement exercise today at the Effie Kokrine Science and Creative Expression class with Ruth Merriman from North Star Ballet. 

Negative space:

In art, this involves drawing what’s around the object, rather than the object itself; in dance, it’s using the shape of the space made by the movement or gesture of the body; in a poem, it’s writing about everything but the thing you’re focusing on–the objects, background, shadow, sounds, smells, textures, rather than the thing itself.  For examples see Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons.

So, choose an object.  Write about what’s all around the object or what it displaces.   Don’t mention the object.

Feb 3–

Here’s the poem I wrote today while working with the kids (we selected objects from a bag; mine was a horse bit):

Light glints on metal:
a bridge, a curve,
a circle of cold.
No leather attaches
but the soft gums
in the mare’s mouth
remember it even now.

The air chills
to its chill, light
bends to it;
a horse’s neck arches
and turns. Weight
and firm touch,
a bitter taste:
pennies, nickels
turned in the mouth,
a hard pebble
through which we
speak, then
trot on.


Glow sent this:


making love under a ceiling fan,
my Beloved asked,
“what is that sound?”
A rattle, a misplaced hum,
a rasping breath,
an uneven gasp.
On the bed in the corner,
orange as a persimmon,
lay purring contentment.
Not a loose bearing after all.

Dancing in the North

January 21, 2009

(I’m going to branch out in the weeks to come and write some short pieces on life around the North Star Ballet studio as the kids prepare for this year’s ambitious performance of Firebird.)

Finally, after a long break for the holidays and the deep cold followed by a thaw and black ice, I made it back to ballet class last night. For years now, my weeks have been bracketed by Sue Perry’s adult ballet classes–Tuesday and Wednesday nights. In the closed world of the studio, we relive our past dreams of dancing. Some of us have danced on stage; some have never had a dance class before we walked through the door. But in class, we are moving toward a mutual goal–to become that ideal of lightness and grace that we imagine dance to be, to defeat gravity where it overtakes our bodies first–arms, legs, back, bellies.

I had been dancing for some time before I met Sue, but I started as an adult and adults progress through the forms of ballet at a different rate than children do. My son and I started together, me at 34, he at 5. Now, he is a free-lance dancer who has performed in four countries; I’m a permanent adult intermediate dancer. When I walked into Sue’s class, it was as if I had started over as she systematically took me back to the good habits I should have developed in the first place. Sue, however, treats each adult as if her or his potential is unlimited and as if whatever level we ultimately reach is a level worth reaching and worth working hard for.

Last night, I noticed how my right and left arm move differently. I was dancing at the front of the class and watching my port de bras in the mirror when I realized that my left arm–my writing arm–moved back down through the arc of the movement faster than my right one, which stayed floating longer. Try as I might, I couldn’t get them to move at the same rate and still concentrate on the echappes that we were doing. I realized that this is also a problem for me in riding: one side of my body reacts faster than the other; one side stays in balance better than the other and it makes the horse move stiffly to balance me out.

It’s like this blog–to me, all the things I’ve listed in the heading are connected, and each is an art in itself. As I read around the blogosphere, I notice others working on the interrelation of the arts–and we each have a different set of arts to interrelate. More on this in the days to come.

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