Posts Tagged ‘Les Sylphides’

Dancing in the North

April 1, 2009

Last night, the tech rehearsal at Hering Auditorium. It had been a lovely day–the air above freezing, warmer in the sun, snow glistening in the brilliant way it gets right before it truly starts to melt. Redpolls and chickadees flit through the woods, flocking in a feeding frenzy before their mating season. Sam is shedding so much that ravens swoop down to the corral to lift clumps of white hair for nests–or for play.

So, it was hard to drive to town to spend the last hours of the afternoon sitting in a dark theater watching the rehearsal, but I’m glad I did.

A tech rehearsal can be boring for anyone not rehearsing, but I love the loose quality of it. It’s the first time the backstage folks interact with the dancers and everything is fine-tuned. For Les Sylphides, there is a drop–a large canvas backdrop painted to look like a Gothic scene–in the 19th-Century sense. Two large bare trees frame a scene of a lake or tarn lined with bogs with wisps of mist rising in the moonlight. In the background, dark hills and a ruined castle or cathedral–the epitome of “the picturesque” combination of nature and antiquities, which the Romantics were so fond of. The moon, a circle of white, dominates the drop.

As I sat there, I watched the business of the rehearsal take place. Kids in leotards and sweaters sat in the theater doing homework or chatting with friends. Men, former parents who run the stage crew every year, shuffled around the stage, pointing at lights at the drop, at the floor, mulling how to light the dark scene hanging there. First a blue wash–a chilly night–then a bit of yellow, some red to warm it, and finally white along the bottom of the drop, which brought out the filmy quality of the mists–the ethereal sylphs themselves.

Finally, the dancers came on stage, still in rehearsal dress–black leotards and pink tights–and took their places. Since Saturday, they have refined their precision, and, with the backdrop, the dreamy quality of the dance has evolved. Only the principals wore full costumes, and it was lovely to see how the tulle of the dress floated with the movements and lifts of the pas de deux. I can’t wait to see the whole company filling the stage with long white tutus, transforming these kids to a Romantic ideal–and in a ballet that is pure dance, using the choreography of Fokine.

After the rehearsal–the Flower Festival pas de deux, and a lively dance to Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony choreographed by Norman Shelburne just for the company–I went back stage to talk to the graduating seniors for an article for the Fairbanks Daily News Miner’s Latitudes page. (It should be out Friday.) As one might expect, they had a wide range of feelings. For some, this will be their last dance performance, as far as they know, and they are sad to leave the home they have made for each other in the studio, but eager to go on to new challenges. One girl, planning a career in medicine like her father, said that dance had taught her to strive for perfection, even if she wasn’t perfect.

Nick Read in his blog Mindbody writes of the drive of the performer, concluding that those so driven eventually need to step away and learn to focus on the human things–family, friends, ordinary life–for their mental health. Yet some dancers, like one I talked to last night, feel they are born to dance. The boy I spoke to told me that when he first saw dance, he knew that was all he wanted to do. He flies through the air and has the entrechat six and temps de fleche or cabriole of a polished dancer. Watching him move with his long-time partner and on his own was to watch him fill the theater with joy of movement.

If you see me Saturday night after the performance, I’ll be wiping away tears. I’m long past the stage of pretending dance–and all it means to these young people and to those who watch, teach, and encourage them–doesn’t move me. These kids, and Norman and Sue who have given them the context and training to do so, are reaching for the perfection of dance. They make us believe–at least for a moment as brief as a balance en pointe–that it’s possible to come close to our dreams.

Performances are Saturday 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm-for those of you in Fairbanks.

Dancing in the North

March 31, 2009

Saturday, I sat in the studio at North Star Ballet and watched the Senior and Junior companies rehearse for their Spring Gala next weekend. The Junior Company is performing Carnival of the Animals and the Senior Company is taking on the “white ballet,” Les Sylphides.

Fifteen years ago, I performed in one of the first performances of my adult ballet career as a sylph, a member of a rag-tag corps de ballet that ranged in age from seven to forty-six. I was one of the older dancers in the performance, without the background of a young studio dancer in picking up choreography and in giving my movements over to the direction of a choreographer. I loved the lush music of Chopin, the romantic poses, the stillness of the corps, forming a gauzy backdrop to the lively movements of the prima sylphs in their solo roles. It was when I truly came to love ballet and understand its power over dancers and audiences.

The dancers at North Star are well disciplined in their technique by Norman Shelburne and Sue Perry and the Spring Gala performance is the time when the company shows off what the dancers know and offers a challenge to the senior dancers in their last company performance. The kids in the studio have all grown up together since their creative movement classes, and a few reach this time of year poised to go off and try their luck at a ballet career. This year Jarrin and Sophia, who have been partners for all these years each are in the process of auditioning and weighing their options–college or apprenticeship? The path in dance is fickle. Some, who are determined, genetically lucky, and accident-free can make a life of it. Some who might otherwise have been beautiful dancers for many years to come are derailed by injury, lack of confidence, unlucky choices, or other paths.

Watching the girls and Jarrin dance to Chopin’s romantic etudes–the sylphs floating across the floor in bourre or light frothy leaps, the “poet” leaping for joy at their beauty, beating his legs in mid air, I wanted to hold the moment. The corps was not yet perfect–they practiced staying still in their poses, the poet and his sylph missed a few steps. All were tired, but persistent. And this moment in the studio, just before the final corrections, the last stitch of the costume, when these are all still teenagers about to become for a brief time the epitome of all that’s possible for a human to be, at least in our imaginations, is the moment in dance that I love best.

Tomorrow night I’ll go to tech rehearsal and get a few comments from the seniors. Saturday I’ll go to the performance and watch them float in the lights and share the moment of joy that audience and dancers share sometimes. I’ll go back stage and hug the ones I know well and watch them wipe streaks of eyeliner from their cheeks where their tears fall. Then we’ll all go out into the night air. It will be April, finally, a hint of light lingering on the northern horizon already, a breath of the warmth to come.

If you’re in Fairbanks, the performance is at Hering Auditorium, Saturday, 2pm and 8pm and Sunday 2pm. Don’t miss it.

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