Thursday, July 30, 2015

Telluride Round 2

BalletCollective in Telluride
Being in Telluride has been a breath of fresh air especially for me following my tick ordeal. From the mountainous view seen from my peaceful terrace, the lush green landscapes, wildlife sightings and welcoming community, BalletCollective feels at home.

This week, BalletCollective has been hard at work and hard at play! Each day the dancers take ballet class, taught by Troy, and then begin the day's rehearsals inhaling bottled oxygen every step of the way. The altitude here in Telluride is over 8,700 ft, and takes time to get used to. Last year I tried to be tough and refrain from using the oxygen, but this year I have no shame. It is helping me with the Lyme diseases and with the stamina needed for the intense ballets.

This year's workshop performance at Telluride's The Palm Theater will include last year's Dear and Blackbirds, the new Mark Dancigers male duet featuring David and Taylor, and the new group ballet composed by Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Both new works, though they were started in our Millbrook residency this past June, have been refined and polished here in Telluride. Troy's goal is to get the works in great shape for the workshop performance this Saturday which will then function as finished templates for our upcoming New York season at the Skirball Center November 4th and 5th.

David and Taylor in Bunker, Photo: Troy Schumacher
In the midst of rehearsing five hours a day, we make time for hot tubs to soak our muscles, walks along the river, nighttime gondola rides, fun family dinners, ice cream runs, and social events to raise awareness for our upcoming show.

Additionally, Troy has begun filming at some of Telluride's most remote and beautiful landscapes to capture moments from each new work soon to become short films. Last year Harrison, Troy and I filmed the last movement of Dear and Blackbirds on Willson Messa (where Harrison's childhood home stands). The film captures the emotion of our dance and the magical picturesque backdrop of Telluride.

Just yesterday, Troy, David and Taylor ventured to a brick bunker-like location with painted rustic doors, rough ground, and shot moments from the male duet. Today, Troy and Harrison are ATVing to a remote quarry near a waterfall in the mountains to shoot Harrison's solo from the new group ballet. I can't wait for you to see the footage.
Harrison in Quarry, Photo: Lauren King

Tonight we have an open rehearsal for the community to come experience the residency and its creative process. Then the dancers, Brandon, Troy and I will head to a cocktail party celebrating BalletCollective followed by a pig roast in the park with the Telluridians!

Sunday, July 26, 2015


In Nantcket Photo by: Troy
Two weeks ago yesterday, I awoke with intense head, hip, and back pain, covered in sweat, with a fever, and swollen lymph nodes. By noon, after dropping Troy off at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, SPAC, for ballet class (which I had planned on taking in preparation for that evening’s NYCB Gala), I sat in a cold, sterile hospital room, alone. For the next five hours I was poked and prodded. I was stabbed three times as they tried to take blood (supposedly my veins are tricky), given a crystal light flavored solution to drink for a procedure, and pumped with radioactive fluids during the CT scan, all while an IV of fluids ran through my body. I sat alone in the freezing, bright, uncomfortable 8 X 6 room. Troy came rushing to the hospital after he was finished performing in the matinee and kept me company as we awaited the test results. Hours of wondering passed, with scared thoughts running through my head as I sat staring, waiting for life to come into the ice box to provide answers.

And then I was told that there was no infection or irregular levels in my blood and that the CT scan showed signs that possibly a cyst burst as there were some fluids in the pelvic area. The doctor could not explain the fever, night sweats, or lymph node swelling but concluded that I probably had a cyst that burst.

It was now five o’clock. I was not allowed to perform that night so Troy took me home. As we drove I had a sandwich and felt a sense of relief as supposedly we had answers.

That evening I was in bed by 6:30pm and slept till 10:30am the next morning, hoping to wake feeling like new.

The pelvic pain was gone but new pains now existed. I began to feel my lower back ache that eventually traveled up spine and into my neck and jaw. I lay low that weekend, attaching a smile to my face as our Saratoga house hosted a pig roast. That night the pain grew, and the night sweats continued.

It’s now Tuesday and I was hoping to be able to dance, yet something wasn’t right. I hadn’t danced since Friday and yet I had intense joint, back, spine, neck, and jaw pain and a migraine like pressure that never seemed to go away. I became sensitive to light and my forehead seemed to appear different. As we drove in to SPAC I began to think something was really wrong. I abruptly turned to Troy and said, “I want to go home, back to the city.” He was confused and thought that I was feeling better. I explained to him that I had been trying to put on a happy face so that I wasn't a drag in the house. I knew something was wrong. Even if I was cleared to dance by the gynecologist, I knew, physically, I just couldn’t. I no longer could bend over and touch my toes, I couldn't touch my chin to my chest, I couldn’t move. I saw Marika Molnar for physical therapy hoping she could get my back to release, though at that point I had already made up my mind…I was going home. And Troy was coming with me. I was not about to go through more poking and probing alone again.

Within two hours, we were driving back to the city. I had an appointment with an internal medicine doctor the next day.

Wednesday morning was like the past five mornings, I woke up covered in sweat. Though just as we were about to sit down and have a morning cup of joe for Troy and for me tea, I noticed a light pink circle with a darker purple center-like rash, the largest one behind my left knee. I had four on my right leg, a few on my rear end, and two on my back.

Rash Photo by: Troy
Troy began to help me write a time line of events, symptoms, and travel locations to later help serve me while retelling this ordeal to the doctor. He also did some Google research and had an inkling that I had Lyme disease. Before the rash showed up, we thought I had meningitis. Even though I was not feeling well, with intense pain throughout my body and in my joints and spine, my migraine head pressure, sensitivity to light, and this new gross looking rash, I was happy to be in my own apartment. We were hopeful that this doctor and Weill Cornell Medical Center would figure this out, but I was also done being in the hospital/urgent care and dreaded this fourth visit to a medical facility.

As we jumped in a cab headed to West 84th street I was beyond scared. Thankfully Troy was there to be with me.

We entered the elevator and soon were checked in awaiting my name to be announced through the open doorway. A few minutes after my scheduled appointment time the nurse called “Mrs. Laracey.” Soon my vitals were recorded and the doctor was in the room. I retrieved my timeline and notes and explained each detail as she took notes herself. After a short examination, she began by saying that she was pretty sure that this was a “textbook” case of Lyme disease and that she was going to take blood and send it to the lab for extensive testing. In the meantime, I was to start on a 21 day dose of Doxycycline, the protocol for Lyme. She explained that she was going to do a full tick panel to make sure that in addition to the Lyme I didn't have one of the other three tick-borne illness parasites. But those test results would take up to five days to get back.

Troy and I walked the four blocks to Duane Reade to collect my new prescription, talking as we walked and thankful that we had answers. As I stood on the corner of 88th and Broadway, I took a swig of water and downed my first dose, hoping to feel more like myself soon.

A few days later, my aches and pain symptoms started to slowly ease and fade, yet the migraine head pressure remained. After day six of no activity and no dance (day three of antibiotics) I felt up to attempting a ballet barre. So I got myself to the theater and lightly gave myself a ballet class. I could barely stand up and had no strength but it felt good to be able to move a little. Each day got better and better, and I was able to do more and more of ballet class.

This past Monday, Troy and I traveled to Nantucket for the Nantucket Dance Festival where Troy had a ballet being performed. The piece is a bit unconventional in that its original performance was at the Players Club in New York City in 2012. The piece was a duet for NYCB principal dancer Jared Angle and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. I was heading to Nantucket to support Troy and his piece, also able to take ballet class every day with the festival and rehearse myself in Concerto Barocco for my upcoming debut in Vail on August 9th.

Doctor's Orders Photo by: Me
Tuesday I found myself sitting outside enjoying lunch and some quiet brief moments before heading into the theater to watch Troy’s piece when my cell phone rings. It is my doctor from New York. She explains that in addition to the Lyme I tested positive for Babesiosis and need to see an infectious disease doctor right away. I immediately run inside the theater and explain to the stage manager that I need to find a doctor ASAP. A very quiet-spoken woman interrupts me and says “Grab your things; I will walk you to the hospital across the street to see the Lyme specialist on the island.” Dr. Timothy Lepore is a leading man in tick illnesses and squeezed me in right away. He concluded from my lab results that I was one of those rare souls that got bitten by a nasty tick carrying both Lyme and Babesiosis. “Lucky me”, I thought. He listened to my long story of events and said I was a text book case of Lyme and Babesiosis and that the migraine and head pressure plus fever are signature symptoms of Babesiosis. He called in two additional antibiotics, one a pill, the other a thick golden liquid. Dr. Lepore said “ Take the gold liquid with fatty foods. We recommend French fries.” I thought to myself… “When in Rome! He said eat French fries, by golly French fries it is!”

After seeing Dr. Lepore, the fifth doctor in ten days, my ordeal seemed to finally have full answers and proper diagnoses. I walked back to the theater, hopped in my car and drove to pick up my prescriptions. By the time I finished, Troy was through with his rehearsal and we were off to Fifty Six Union for French fries and a pop. Doctor’s orders.
 I am fortunate to have been in Nantucket, supporting Troy in his choreographic endeavors, to be only steps away from the leading man in tick disease. Check yourself for ticks!

Now that I’m on the road to recovery, stay tuned for more BalletCollective news! Next stop …Telluride!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A First Look at New Works in Progress

Photo Credit: Claire Kretzschmar
BalletCollective has set out to create two new works this year. Unlike years past where a librettist and painter were involved, this year’s new works are collaborations with a choreographer, composer, and photographer. This combination lends itself to an interesting and rather different process than previous collaborations. With each photographer, the choreographer and composer would discuss their own individual processes and ideas that inspire them. From there, the photographer would venture out to capture images that then become the driving force for the music and dance.

New Work Maffi, (let’s call it until it is titled) is a group ballet with choreography by Troy Schumacher, musical composition by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, and photography by Paul Maffi. Maffi a fashion art photographer, whom Troy and I have worked with closely in the past on shoots such as CR Fashion Book Series 2 and video shoots. Maffi offered images that spurred BalletCollective's resident choreographer and composer on to a new direction. The outcome of this uncharted territory is a series of seven songs and three interludes which take you on a journey of introspection. BalletCollective’s Lauren King, Meagan Mann, Claire Kretzschmar, myself, David Prottas, Taylor Stanley, and Harrison Coll are all featured throughout this 25 minute ballet. The work is packed with group dance, female pas de deux, male trios, and an introspective male solo. Each dancer has moments of his or her own and moments that explore new levels of emotion and connectedness through movement.

Photo Credit: Troy Schumacher
New Work Dafy Hagai, until titled, is an eight minute male pas de deux for Taylor and David. The work introduces two new collaborators to BalletCollective: Dafy Hagai and Mark Dancigers. Israeli photographer Dafy Hagai and Now Ensemble director Mark Dancigers have created quite a thrilling piece for their first go at BalletCollective’s process. The source photography, a series of four images, provided a canvas for Dancigers to create a well rounded score. The score explores tenderness, angst, difference, indifference, joy and humor. Troy took this music intended as a male duet and created a conversation.

Creating a male duet is a “first" for Troy but a dream come true. For as long as I’ve known him he has always been interested in exploring the ideas of a male duet and its rarity. The intensity, the roads uncrossed have intrigued him. Troy’s understanding of both David and Taylor, their friendship, their individual movement, temperament and qualities, were invaluable to this new work. Throughout the process, Troy took moments to check in with David and Taylor, hear their thoughts as he took the duet into uncharted territory. As his assistant I found that watching this develop gave me a new sense of dance. I hope to interview Troy to learn about his experience collaborating with the two new artists, Dancigers and Hagai, with whom he has never worked.

Photo Credit: Troy Schumacher

Both ballets will be premiered on November 4-5 at NYU Skirball Center along with last years Dear and Blackbirds and All That We See! Visit for Tickets!

Monday, June 29, 2015

All Aboard!!!

Two weeks ago, BalletCollective boarded the 7:57am Harlem Line train at Grand Central to Wassaic, New York for an unknown adventure: our first Millbrook Residency! Suit cases were packed first with leotards, tights, dance belts, warm-up booties, tennis balls, pointe shoes, ballet slippers, and then sunglasses, bathing suits, sundresses, blazers and polo attire!

Straight from the train station, with a quick pit stop to buy brown bag lunches, the dancers were driven to the Millbrook School where we were greeted by the school staff.(The greeting actually happened daily! They were beyond sweet.) We were then given a tour of the beautiful facilities, a studio with large windows with lush country landscapes in view, art work-lined hallways, a fully functioning kitchen, a comfy lounge, dressing rooms filled with fun costumes, and, most importantly, a quiet sense of calm.

Troy set huge goals for BalletCollective during our two week residency in Millbrook. He and his collaborators, whom I will cover in detail in posts to come, had planned two ballets totaling 33 minutes! Troy figured that he should try to accomplish 3 minutes daily in an effort to complete all 33 by the conclusion of the residency. Yet even he thought this was near impossible.

The dancers quickly dressed for the day’s work and Troy began creating. After a quick ballet class warm-up, Troy began with the ladies section of the group ballet, soon to be titled. A series of steps were developed on us, consisting of 4 counts of music per part: part A, B, C, D; the four ladies, myself included, were excited about learning the rest of the ballet. The music is filled with song, a jiving tempo and a deep sense of introspection.

Troy then moved on to the second ballet, an 8 minute male pas de deux for Taylor and David. Having never started two ballets in one day before, Troy was unsure of how this would unfold. While I served as his assistant, working the ipad and blue tooth for music and documenting the choreography, Troy took off running. The conversation of the steps came skipping out. It soon was 5pm and Troy had met his goal of three minutes of choreography!

We all piled into three cars, a Suburban, Expedition, and truck (generously lent for the residency by three board members who all have homes in Millbrook) and drove to our new home for the next two weeks. Pulling up to the beautiful, yet grand farm house was like something out of a movie. We were so excited to start our adventure of living and being immersed in the Millbrook community while doing what we love! A "Welcome BBQ" started off the BalletCollective festivities hosted by Karin, our host, that included sausages, steak, corn on the cob, summer pasta, a salad filled with greens from her garden and red wine. We toasted to a wonderful two weeks ahead, working hard and playing hard, and to the people who made this possible. We are beyond grateful.

We'd like to thank the Millbrook School and Darren Henault, Claire Mann and Karin Day Kingsley (three of BalletCollective's board members), for their never-ending generosity, organization, love and desire to help BalletCollective and its artists continue to do what we love!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

And the Show Begins!

Dear and Blackbirds Photo by Matthew Murphy
The Impulse Wants Company, first on the program, is a very communal ballet filled with tons of energy. The dancers were focused, filled with excitement, yet perhaps on edge a bit (possibly due to nerves for our own dance steps but mostly because collectively we all wanted this event to be a huge success) Though as soon as we each arrived on the scene and stepped on to the stage, our nerves and jitters subsided.  

The ballet ended with an overwhelming response from the audience. The dancers were encouraged and excited to now go on to perform the premieres.

Up next, Dear and Blackbirds. Though this was a premiere, Harrison and I had performed excerpts in Fire Island and Telluride this past summer so it didn't feel as if I had never danced it. However, I had never performed it with Troy, so it was going to be a different experience for sure.  Troy and I rarely dance together at City Ballet, but do occasionally dance together on projects of his creative works, so this was not our first rodeo together. The lights go to dim, we steal a quick "merde" hug and we begin walking. After just four steps the musicians began playing. Everything happened as planned thus far, except the musicians were off to a gallant pace. Luckily for me, the beginning of Dear and Blackbirds is minimal dancing for my part and starts out slow, unlike Troy who was flying around, jumping and turning at the speed of light. We had moments where our eyes met - both understanding by the look and expression that "Wow, this is fast!" Before long we had settled into the quick pace and just went along for the ride. Though, at times I felt rushed, overall the performance was exciting and spontaneous. I enjoyed portraying a different woman and telling a new story dancing with Troy and I think he had a blast too!

All That We See Photo by Matthew Murphy
After taking our bows and during the three minute pause, I ran to start the laundry for The Impulse Wants Company costumes, that way by the time the performance had finished, I could hang the costumes up to dry overnight. I managed to make it back to the stage before All That We See started.

Troy and I, dabbing off our sweat, catching our breath and taking sips of water, stood watching from the sidelines. All That We See is a wonderful ballet filled with great music, varied tempos, moods, and interesting steps. Created for five dancers, with eight movements, everyone dances hard for 18 minutes and they are exhausted by the end. I love watching this ballet and find it so diverse. I think it could be Schumacher's best yet!

The crowd was incredibly supportive of all three works. BalletCollective left feeling extremely accomplished and grateful.

After the performance Wednesday night we all headed to a party to celebrate the night that thrown by our supporters! Needless to say it was a blast, but also a late night. Thursday Troy and I slept in and had a slow start to the day. Instead of getting up early and taking morning ballet class, Troy taught a warm up class at 5:30pm for the company on stage.

I arrived at the theater early to finish dealing with the laundry and making sure the costumes were ready to go for the evening performance. Then I got straight to my makeup and hair, giving myself plenty of time to stretch and prepare before our warm up class. After class, Troy and I ran Dear and Blackbirds to get a "puff" in. It is essential to get a puff in before doing something hard. (It makes it easier in the performance having already danced hard.) And since the pas de deux is 10 minutes of non-stop dancing, we needed to feel winded.  Some of the other dancers did excerpts of All That We See to get moving as well.

The on stage call was announced and the dancers were ready! Interestingly enough, the New York Times review came out online an hour before the show was to start. Usually Troy, and the rest of us, would not jump to read something that reviewed the same ballets we were soon to dance, but Troy received word from his press advisor that he must read it. So the article filtered through the theater, and caused a rush of excitement and joy to all at BalletCollective. That night's performance had an extremely different feeling. The atmosphere on stage and in the orchestra pit was fresh, relaxed, joyful, and an excited ball of energy, feeling lucky to again perform something so special to all of us.

We finished the performance with hugs and kisses, all looking forward to BalletCollective's next and future endeavors!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Arriving at NYU Skirball Center

Photo by Matthew Murphy
BalletCollective had an amazing run at the Skirball center! Thank you to all who attended our performances and supported our many artists. For those who missed it...

Wednesday was a jam-packed day! Brandon Baker, BalletCollective's lighting designer, arrived at the theater at 5am to begin "set up" and lighting for the different ballets. After taking class at Steps, Troy arrived at noon to assist with lighting, and oversee any other theater doings. The dancers trickled in around 1pm to put on our stage make up ... because press photographers were going to be shooting our dress rehearsal. Soon after the musicians arrived and did their sound check, we were ready!

Both premieres: Dear and Blackbirds and All that We See, had complete dress rehearsals, meaning performance makeup and hair for both male and female dancers, and a full out run of the ballets with live music and lighting. However, each ballet began with a spacing rehearsal with the musicians playing through the piece, as the dancers took it easy (marked through the steps without going full out with energy and feeling). Then once the music levels sounded balanced and the dancers had a sense of the space, we danced each ballet full out. For The Impulse Wants Company, since it was not a new piece, we rehearsed in practice clothes and took it under top speed - to make sure we saved some energy on reserve for the evening's performance, which was a very quick turn around!

Photo by Matthew Murphy
It's a hard day, entering a theater for the first time, having dress rehearsal and then the first performance all in a few hours. Getting ourselves organized and comfortable on the stage has to happen in about 60 seconds! Thankfully the Skirball Center is a wonderful theater. The stage was a great size, much bigger than I had imagined. It is rather wide compared to most theaters. There are two large columns that flank each side - though the stage extends about five feet farther on each side into the "wings". Yet, there were no actual wings. And the floor was not slippery nor too hard.

At five o'clock, the dancers grabbed a snack and headed to our coed dressing room to relax before beginning our pre-show rituals. With the music blaring Simon and Garfunkel or the occasional "Call Me Maybe," we were pumped.

Two hours before every show I start my makeup and hair. Once my face and hair are made up, I change into my Uniqlo warmup fleece sweater and pants, eat a banana, put on the last finishing touch: my Mac Russian Red lipstick, and head to the stage to start my barre. I love stretching and warming up on or near the stage; it gets me in the zone. One hour before the show I give myself a ballet barre warmup, similar to morning ballet class in that it works the whole body, do an ab series, and then put on my pointe shoes. I then change into my costume and grab two Altoids for the road!

Photo by Matthew Murphy
About half hour before the show, the audience started to file in; meanwhile the dancers were warming up on the stage, for all to watch. Troy loves to remove the wings and curtains from all our stages. He feels that it allows the audience to see what goes on behind the scenes: stretching, talking, hugging, heavy breathing, collapsing to the floor, etc. One of Troy's hopes for BalletCollective is to help ballet become more accessible by breaking down the barriers and removing the facade.

Brandon, acting as stage manager and lighting director, called "places" and soon the audience grew quiet and the lights went dark.  

Stay tuned for more about our performances!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Few Days Away - Unexpected Cast Change

Me by BalletCollective's Wild Posting Ads
BalletCollective is just a few days away from our New York season at the NYU Skirball Center! We have been in the studio at New 42nd Street rehearsing this past week, refining the ballets and preparing for the performances. With an unexpected bump in the road, we are in good shape.

Just last Sunday, as our New York City Ballet fall season came to a close, Harrison Coll hurt his foot dancing in the last ballet of the matinee, George Balanchine's Theme and Variations. Sidelined for the next few weeks, on crutches and in a boot, Harrison sadly will not be performing with us this Wednesday and Thursday but will make a full recovery.

After much discussion and weighing our options, Troy came to the conclusion that since we were unable to find a replacement for Harrison (with such little notice and time), and with a number of dancers already committed to other projects or on vacation... he would dance! Although Troy is wearing many hats: director, producer, now dancer, he is the perfect fill-in. Having created the ballets, he has a greater understanding of the steps, and knows exactly how they should be done; they are his steps and creation after all!

Late last Monday night, soon after making the decision that he was to dance in both The Impulse Wants Company and also the premiere of Dear and Blackbirds, I dared Troy to put on the music and run the Dear and Blackbirds pas de deux with me. It was a sight to see! In our living room, at 10pm in my Uniqlo pajamas, he and I were jumbling through the ten minute piece. Not surprisingly, Troy basically knew the whole work. I knew plugging him into the ballets would be no sweat!

In our late night mock rehearsal, I realized that Dear and Blackbirds was going to be a new experience for me. Having a work made on you and another dancer creates a strong bond and connection. You develop your individual "characters" or impressions and mental connections with that other person. After working out the kinks, and having several performing opportunities, dancing excerpts in Fire Island and in Telluride, Harrison and I had built a chemistry that just kept growing  each time we danced the pas de deux. It was intimate, refreshing and always a joy. In a way, I always knew where he was going to be or what his next move was, or even what the emotional arc was trending that day. With Harrison gone, I know this will be a new experience of exploration in dancing with Troy, and we have already begun reinventing the piece for the two of us and having fun doing it! (I only hit him with my elbow once! OOPS!)

These past few days have been hard work but by the end of yesterday, Troy had been slotted in to both ballets and the second of two premieres, All That We See, was put back together. All three ballets are in great shape for tomorrow
when we rehearse with the musicians for the first time!

For ticket information go to We hope to see you there!