All, Art, Tales from the Tutu Side

Corps-eography

Performing is one of my favorite parts of being a dancer.  After all, performing is really the purpose, the point of it all (pun intended).  All of those hours of training and sweating and rehearsing in the studio, while rewarding in themselves, are meant to lead to the sharing of those honed skills and artistic gifts with an audience.  Ballet is indeed a performing art, and one could say that a performing art is a relationship, a relationship between the performers and the audience.  Performing is simultaneously one of the most gratifying, humbling, and exalting experiences in the life of a dancer.

 

Music major quote
These words can definitely be applied to dancers as well.  Image credit to Classic FM’s page on Facebook.

 

 

Moreover, during performance weeks, the regular class and rehearsal schedule is almost always different due to theater time, costumes fittings, etc.  I like the change of pace.  It is a welcome break from the usual expectations of the day-to-day.  There is also a palpably different energy surrounding performances.  Excitement and nerves are in the air.

Here where I dance, we just completed another performance.  I danced as a sylph in the corps de ballet of “Chopiniana” also known as “Les Sylphides.”  The ballet does not have a narrative.  The only plot line consists of a poet (the only male role in the ballet) who is dreaming of and dancing with a “flock” of sylphs.  The ballet was created over one hundred years ago and is of the romantic style, meaning that the tutus are long and the arms and heads are held in a particular way.  It is much softer and more ethereal than other styles of ballet. I truly feel as if we are a painting come to life.

The corps de ballet is the large group of dancers that are often on stage with and behind the soloists and principals.  Though the corps members are not the “main” dancers in any given ballet, one would feel their absence were they not there.  A well-known example of corps de ballet work is the dance of the Waltz of the Flowers and the Snow scene in “The Nutcracker.” Those particular two pieces are extremely aerobic and physically taxing.  But the true on-going challenge for the corps is pronounced right there in its name. “Corps” means “body” in French, and that it is the task of the corps dancers: to move as one living organism.

The corps work for “Chopiniana” was not as technically or physically difficult as Flowers or Snow or other corps roles, but the challenge was the meticulous care put into making sure the small details, the slow movements, the spacing, were uniform and correct.  Even eye-lines and head angles were under scrutiny.

Being in the corps teaches one to be a team player and to be spatially hyper-aware.  If, during a performance, the person in front accidentally goes off the intended mark, one must follow in order to keep the integrity of line.

I once saw the corps of Nutcracker described as the “unsung heroes” of the ballet because they had danced in every show.  That is another challenge or benefit (depending upon one’s perspective) about dancing in the corps.  Unlike principal and soloist roles, which often have multiple casts for a run of a show, the corps is usually the same for every performance. I read once that a professional dancer said she was in her best physical shape when in the corps because she was so strong from dancing in every show.

The next time you attend a ballet or watch one on video, I encourage you to be more aware of the corps de ballet.  Pay attention not only to its actual dancing, but also to its smaller movements, its poses, its angles and headlines.  Many hours of rehearsals and painstaking polishing of details went into that seemingly effortless final product.

Even though it may be an “unsung hero,” the corps is an integral part of a performance and without it the beauty and richness of many classical ballets would certainly be depleted.

 

Swan Lake photo from Ellman's
Image credit to Ellman’s Dancewear Facebook page.

 

 

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All, Culture/Life, Tales from the Tutu Side

The Nostalgia of Nutcracker

bishops-wifeIn the 1947 Christmas film The Bishop’s Wife (which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it), one of the characters, a college professor, suggests that the holidays are a good time for looking backward. Nostalgia and memories certainly seem to be an integral part of this season.  Emotions, both joyful and painful, can flood one’s heart and mind alongside these memories.  Images of lost loved ones, remembrances of past friendships, family traditions, funny stories, and everything in between.

A large part of my nostalgic reminiscences this year has involved dance and “The Nutcracker,” undoubtedly, because I recently performed in this ballet for the first time in many years. It was truly a joyous experience to be a part of it all again.  Nutcracker, as with all shows, can bond people together and facilitate camaraderie.  Carpooling to and from theaters in and out of town, hours-long rehearsals, waiting around in dressing rooms, cheering on friends and colleagues from the stage wings, enduring and laughing at all the random mishaps, mistakes, and bloopers that inevitably occur when all the various dance, stage production, and musical elements are combined.  And, of course, the unpredictability, nerves, and exhilaration of performances.  All of this can come together to produce memorable moments.

Naturally, performing in a Nutcracker again evoked memories of the people and places connected with my past Nutcracker experiences.  So many people who were my best friends, my teachers, so much excitement, laughter, hard work, tears, so much of what my life and my family’s life was like at that point. Looking back through the lens of intervening years and experiences, I can now appreciate even more the sweetness of those times.  It would be fun to have a time machine to transport me back if just for a day.

But I am also reminded of this Lewis Carroll quote: “It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” My friends and I were still kids, dreaming about what we would all be and do. We were different people back then–not just age-wise but emotionally, spiritually.  Nevertheless, I believe the heart of those friendships is still there.   I still truly care about all those people, even though I have lost touch with some of them, and I would welcome the serendipitous crossing of our paths once again.

“Some people come into your life for a reason, others only for a season.”  And some, I have learned, may enter, exit, and then re-enter one’s life when one isn’t expecting it…just like a dancer on a stage.  It is cool to be old enough to have gained the perspective to see how God can intertwine various aspects, experiences, and people in one’s life.  Some people that I danced with years ago and but with whom I lost touch, are now back by my side in the studio on a daily basis.  I consider it a providential gift and a happy surprise when occurrences such as that happen.

One shouldn’t live in the past because doing so blinds one to the blessings and lessons of the present moment.  However, now and then, perhaps during the holidays, it is good for one’s spirit to indulge in nostalgia and to travel down memory lane, to cherish what one had because it most certainly contributed to the person one is today.

Cheers to you, Nutcracker, and to all my friends, old and new, who are ineffably a part of those oh so memorable days!

 

nutcrackers