Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BalletCollective in The Times

The moment BalletCollective had been waiting for... The New York Times Review!

Whether you're a dancer, musician, choreographer, librettist, composer or director, you are all conscious of the reviews about the performances. Monday, August 19th marked a "first" for BalletCollective: our first review by the toughest critic for the New York Times - Alastair Macaulay. 

Stepping out on stage for the first time opening night at the Joyce Theater, one of my thoughts was... "I hope they like us!" Being theinsider, I was aware that many critics were to attend BalletCollective's performances. Who would write reviews and who wouldn't was up in the air. 

Days after the performances, Troy and I were still on such a high. It was an exhilarating experience. We kept thinking what great performances we showed. Yet, what we think isn't everything. What the critics think is important too. 

Then The New York Times review by Alastair was published. It is an incredible review. Alastair comments on all art forms of the collaboration (naming the dancers and collective members), and raves about Troy and BalletCollective. He calls Troy's ability as a choreographer, "a completely fresh use of familiar ballet language. And it’s the firmest sign, among many in the two works shown by Mr. Schumacher and BalletCollective last week at the Joyce Theater, that his is an intriguing new dance voice."

Alastair acknowledges the way Troy allows the audience to see into the society he has created, and also talks of his refreshing style: "He's addressing central questions about the genre of ballet — music, gender, body language, academic vocabulary — and without strain. His answers look both direct and unforced, experimental and refreshing."

He concludes by saying that BalletCollective and Troy Schumacher are the Joyce's "Balletv6.0's real discoveries"! 

If you missed The Times article, you can find it here!

Hearing the audience roar at the end of each performance was special. Reading the review in The Times was the icing on the cake! Cheers to many more years for Troy and BalletCollective! We look forward to the future and our next performance.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Second Time Around

Photo: Erin Baiano
Thursday was BalletCollective's second performance at the Joyce Theater. It marked a "first" for BalletCollective: our first two performance season. BalletCollective has never had two consecutive performances. Usually we have a one night only performance so having the second night was a special treat for the company. The dancers and musicians had a second chance to perform these ballets, and the collaborators another look at their creation, while Troy had an opportunity to take a second look at his company.

Since we had performed Wednesday night and celebrated 'til the early hours, Thursday was scheduled as a late start day. Even though I was up late celebrating, I rallied to take Willy Burmann's 10:30 am class at Steps on Broadway. Although Troy was offering company class later in the day, I knew my body needed to get moving early. Each dancer is different. My body tends to function better if I take an early ballet class, then rehearse and perform in the evening. However some dancers prefer to sleep in, rest 'til warmup class a few hours before the show.

After Willy's class I grabbed a quick lunch and took a cat nap just in time to head to the theater for Troy's company class. Troy taught class on the stage. I took again, even though I had already taken ballet class. For me I was hopeful that it would work for my body as a rehearsal does. I don't like to perform without having rehearsed that day. My muscles perform better when they are tired and have been pushed earlier that day. After our warmup Troy opened the time up for anyone wanting to rehearse. A few of us wanted to get a puff in (this means getting your heart rate up and getting out of breath) as it helps with stamina. If you have been puffed during the day in rehearsal the performance usually feels easier. I ran the first movement of Epistasis, Fireflies, with some of the dancers. Fireflies calls for a lot of energy and involves fast paced jumps. Running only the first movement allowed me to get that needed puff without completely exhausting my legs.

Warm and my blood flowing, I banged my pointe shoes on a brick wall (banging the pointe shoes helps to minimize the sound of the shoe on the stage. It is never good to hear dancers running or clunking around.) and headed downstairs to begin my pre-show make up and hair.

Soon I was ready and in the studio warming up. My third barre of the day. My legs were finally starting to feel like my legs: a bit of tiredness mixed with adrenaline. I did my crunches, got a hug and "Merde" from Troy, and off to the dressing room I went. Moments later, an Altoid in my mouth, I was beginning my traditional on-stage warmup as the audience filled up.

Thursday I felt strange. I was excited, relaxed, and tired. I wasn't sure how the performance was going to go. Some nights you have a feeling that the show will go one way or the next, but that night I was unsure. The lights went dark and we were on stage.

The Impulse Wants Company was in motion. Kaitlyn nailed her first solo. From that moment on I knew the show was going to be a good one. Twenty minutes later all the dancers but Taylor were off stage in the wings. We had just finished our last steps. While we watched Taylor execute his intense solo, some dancers were happy with their performance and some had complaints. It is interesting to do a ballet with live music two days in a row. Musically things sound different, there is a different energy amongst the dancers on stage and with the music. Therefore it is normal to have a different experience each night you do a ballet. For me Impulse went better Thursday night. No matter the difference in tempo or energy, I felt in the zone.

We bowed and ran to the dressing room to change modes into Epistasis.  My quick change (costume and pointe shoes), hair change and make up refreshening happened much smoother than Wednesday. I was up and practicing on stage within minutes. I tried a turn from my pas de deux that didn't go as well as I would have liked on Wednesday. Then it was "places".

Epistasis was happening. Right before I made my first entrance I remember thinking, "enjoy every minute, you never know when you will get to dance this again." As I am an original member of BalletCollective and Epistasis, this ballet is very special to me. And to be given the opportunity to dance the central pas de deux, something I have watched and admired for years, was a dream. Each section of Epistasis I relished in the moment. Dancing my solo in silence and the pas de deux with Taylor were amazing. I remember thinking how quiet the house was when I was making my way through my solo. Then smacking my foot on the ground at Taylor was the beginning of the end. After meeting eye to eye we parted to our respective sides of the stage. The music began and we were connected. The musical cues met us at the appropriate times and we were in control of our time together. As we joined in a series of crouching steps, Taylor whispered to me " here we go!" The "break down" music  (the fast break and transition into the coda of the pas de deux) jolts and then moments later we were breathing hard and in the end pose. We slightly catch our breath and the ballet continues. For a quick moment Taylor and I find ourselves off stage about to enter for the last time. It was a last push till the end. We looked at each other, high fifed and said "We got this!"

Photo: Erin Baiano

One last look and Taylor and I were slow dancing in an embrace as the lights went dark. I will remember this moment forever. Together BalletCollective had made it. All seven dancers were joined in that instant together. The bond and the memories had been made. We bowed together as a group, and each separately. It was an incredible feeling to be applauded and recognized alone, each of us, for our performance and hard work as dancers. I want to feel that again!

BalletCollective had made its mark. We are officially on the ballet map. Thank you to our supporters and all who were there at the Joyce.

That night BalletCollective was excited. Troy was thrilled and encouraged for the future of his company and mission to create collaborative work. The dancers: happy, relieved and hungry. We as a group celebrated at BareBurger. We cheered to the future (and for a fair review from the critics)!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Joyce Performance Recap: Wednesday

Photo: Erin Baiano
Now that I am somewhat rested, a day under my belt in Tennessee and my dog Bailey on my lap, Ithought I would share my insider's view of BalletCollective's experience performing at the Joyce.

Wednesday the nerves were flowing. Why? Because there was much to accomplish in a short amount of time. With the ballets in performance-ready shape it was now a matter of configuring the lights and working the ballets on the actual stage. The Joyce's Balletv6.0 festival only allows a day of the show load in and load out. This tight set up and take down enables the Joyce to have six companies in the short two week run. Yet, it makes for a stressful start.

As BalletCollective had never performed at the Joyce theater, we were all unsure of what the experience would entail. Troy and Brandon headed to the theater bright and early Wednesday morning. With only two hours allotted to hang, prep and configure the lighting, Brandon needed to have his design set before he entered the theater. Troy's dad and stepmom acted as dancer doubles by walking around the stage while Troy and Brandon worked out the kinks of the lighting. By noon, the lighting had been cued and the stage was ready for the dancers and musicians.

BalletCollective arrived at the Joyce in time for our one and only rehearsal in the theater, which so happened to be our dress rehearsal as well. The Joyce Theater designates the company's dress rehearsal as the official time for the press photographers to shoot. This then makes for a pleasant performing experience for the performers and the audience members, as there are no photography/photographers allowed during performances.

Our dress rehearsal went off without a hitch! We ran both The Impulse Wants Company and Epistasis smoothly. BalletCollective was ready!

After a short break, a chai tea and a banana (my pre-show snack) I was ready to begin my performance make-up and hair. The dancers, all in the same dressing room (this may be unconventional to most, but we enjoy being together no matter our gender. Bathrooms suffice for changing and keeping privacy.), have the music blasting as we put on our stage faces. With many jokes being made and fun stories being told, the dancers were calm and seemed to be pumped up!

An hour before the curtain goes up I am in the studio warming up. First some stretching and light strengthening exercises, then I am ready to begin my barre (a series of ballet exercises that we do to ensure that our muscles are ready to perform). Sweating in my LuLu Lemon warmups, I do my last part of my warmup: my crunches to ensure a tight center and also in hopes of showing cut abs (for both my costumes I was wearing a midriff top which showed my tummy... yikes).

As we were all finishing up our warmups, Troy entered with "Merde cards" (comments on our work) and began his pre-show pep-talk. Troy acknowledged how a year ago he didn't know where BalletCollective would be, let alone be debuting at the Joyce Theater. He expressed his appreciation and gratitude for all of the dancers' hard work over the past few months. Getting choked up, he slowed down and took a deep breath as he explained how much he had loved working with each one of us, and that he couldn't have done this without us. He rounded the room with hugs for all while wiping tears.  (It was extra hard for me to hold back tears as I watched Troy get emotional. We and BalletCollective have come so far that it was a great sense of joy to be where we were.) He said Merde and out he went to the audience. It was now up to us to pull this off.

Costume is on and I head to the stage to practice before the "curtain goes up".

One of BalletCollective's signature moves is to do away with the curtain. In all of our seasons we have never had a curtain for the performances. Most companies keep the pre-warmup and practicing a mystery but Troy thinks that it breaks down a barrier that makes the process more interesting for our audience members. It creates a more intimate viewing. The audience is able to learn about the dancers and their individual personalities and quirks. For example, I like to practice many steps and go over the ballets on stage right before the performance begins. I also do a specific on stage warmup which consists of running the perimeter of the stage, a few turns, and then 16 jumps (8 small, 8 big) followed by a high five on the last jump. Other dancers do not do as much. Some stand and chat, stretch or pace.

Soon the house was packed. The sounds of excited audience members filled the stage. Brandon gave us the "places" call and the dancers cleared the stage.

The performance was about to begin. The musicians tuned and the lights dimmed. Hugs and exchanges of "merde" occurred. The first notes of The Impulse Wants Company were heard... BalletCollective's debut performance had begun!

Photo: Erin Baiano
The music to Impulse is quite difficult to count but the challenging rhythm must be counted because it determines where we are in the music and when we are to enter or do specific steps. Since it is not typical, easy to count music, we count as a group to stay focused. After all of us counting 6,10, 8, 10, first David went out and met Kaitlyn, who was already on stage. The dancers remaining in the wings kept their focus and before long Meagan, Lauren and I were counting our 10, 6, and three 8's. Then we were on stage. My first appearance at the Joyce was in action.

Before I knew it the lights went dark and we were running on stage to bow after The Impulse Wants Company. Throughout the ballet the energy on stage was incredible. Everyone was like one. The focus was intense. Each dancer was in the moment. It was an amazing feeling to be on stage with the entire group of dancers each giving 150%. This energy was matched by the audience. They seemed to be very into our performance.

We bowed a number of times. Then the dancers scrambled off the stage and downstairs to our dressing rooms to quickly change our hair, costume, and shoes. After a quick refreshing of my makeup, and a new midriff shirt and shorts, I grabbed an Altoid and headed to the stage.

The quick intermission was great because we had just enough time to change our clothes and freshen up but not enough time to get cold (staying warm is key to a great performance). I immediately reviewed my steps to Epistasis. Within minutes "places" was called. The lights went dark, and we were off!

Although I am an original dancer in Epistasis, this year I was also doing the central pas de deux in addition to my original parts in the ballet. My nerves were heightened for sure. The ballet calls for great stamina for all the dancers. I just wanted to dance well for myself and for Troy. We begin the ballet with a high paced energetic opening number which leads in to a series of solos (6 dancers have a solo). Immediately following my solo the central pas de deux begins as Taylor and I meet face to face. We locked eyes and I knew we were connected. Like The Impulse Wants Company, each dancer was living in the moment, intently focused, and filled with intense energy.

Before long Taylor and I were embracing in our final slow dance sequence. This is my favorite part of the ballet. The music matched with Troy's movement is quite touching. We had made it through Epistasis! All drenched in sweat, we were thrilled with the performance.

As the lights came up, BalletCollective bowed. The dancers and musicians love seeing the enthusiastic crowd. I felt accomplished and so did BalletCollective. Thank you to all of you who supported us!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Joyce Performances

BalletCollective's debut season at the Joyce this Wednesday and Thursday was an incredible experience. It was an amazing opportunity for the artists to share their work with a diverse and enthusiastic audience. Both nights the house was sold out with people lined up around the block waiting in hope of scoring one of the few remaining seats. Such a great feeling!

Dancing the premiere of The Impulse Wants Company and the reworked Epistasis at the Joyce was memorable. I can't wait to tell you all about it! But I am getting on a plane to visit my family in Tennessee where I will catch up on some much needed 
R & R. 

The full run down on BalletCollective's first season at the Joyce is coming soon, watch for it!

In the meantime, here are some captured images of both Epistasis and The Impulse Wants Company. Enjoy!

Photos by Erin Baiano

Monday, August 12, 2013

Meet the Artist Monday: Troy Schumacher

Photo: Henry Leutwyler
As a prominent dance critic characterized Troy Schumacher’s work, “Everything is alive, everything breathes, everything is now.” Inspired by historic ballet, music and art collaborative efforts, Schumacher has created BalletCollective as a twenty-first century model. Its mission is to present ballet-based work in an intimate setting with live music that represents contributions from the choreographer, dancers, musicians and artists who engage in an ongoing give and take process. Schumacher’s vision originated with BalletCollective’s predecessor in 2010, Satellite Ballet, and resulted in the production of three ballets, including “Epistasis” and “Warehouse under the Hudson.” In addition to founding and directing BalletCollaborative and Satellite Ballet, Schumacher has created original works for the Atlanta Ballet’s trainee program, the 92nd Street Y Fridays at Noon series and an interdisciplinary duet for a New York City Ballet principal and a Metropolitan Opera countertenor. The New York Choreographic Institute offered Schumacher a residency for its Fall 2012 workshop, during which he created a ballet to William Walton, as did the School of American Ballet, during which he created a ballet to Poulenc.

Here is my Q and A with Troy:

Me: What does BalletCollective mean to you?
    Troy: BalletCollective is a venue for artists to collaborate as equals.  It’s an opportunity for me, as a developing choreographer, to work with other artists across genres to be influenced and influence others.  On the other hand, it’s an amazing opportunity for me to learn how to run a non-profit organization from the ground up. It’s a fascinating learning experience that puts me in touch with the amazing people that make ballet possible.

    What do you enjoy about working with your collaborators?

    Every time I participate in this process, it’s life changing and makes me think differently about both ballet and the other art forms that go into making our ballets possible.  This season had an even greater effect on me.  Working with Ellis Ludwig-Leone, Cynthia Zarin and Brandon Baker over the past nine months has been an amazing experience and I’m honored that they’ve devoted an amount of energy above and beyond what I expected. 

    What inspires you to choreograph?

    So many things! But, above all, you can’t have a ballet without dancers. I’m so fortunate to be working with such an amazing group of dancers.  Each of them is individual and strong, both as people and dancers.  I’m very inspired by them and I owe so much to the hard work and hours they put into making BalletCollective possible! I strive to make them all look more like themselves and to give them each movements that make us all understand them more. 

    After a hard day of choreographing, what is your favorite meal?
      I love to cook.  It’s an amazing way to unwind-- chopping vegetables.  But I can’t always commit to a full meal after six hours in the studio, so lately I’ve been settling for just salad dressing and Seamless Web.  

      Your most memorable onstage moment?
        I would say, bowing after our first [BalletCollective] performances as Satellite Ballet in NYC.  It was such a huge accomplishment to start a non-profit and present a performance in New York that, when the show ended, I was overcome with emotion, which was something I hadn’t experienced at that level before.

        What's your favorite way to pass time?
          There’s something very meditative about sitting down at the piano.  It’s just me and this amazing instrument, and it takes a lot of focus, which clears my mind.

          What are you reading?
            I wish I had the time right now. A book that I recently read and loved was Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve.

            What's the most recent song/album you've downloaded?
              The past few months, I’ve been in real focus mode, listening mostly to the music I’ve been choreographing to. But, last week I indulged with a little Robin Thicke, Daft Punk, and Hunter Hayes.

              If you could die and come back as an animal, what would you be?
                I would love to be a hawk. These are creatures that instantly mesmerize me: to be able to fly so effortlessly. If that wasn’t an option, I’d opt for shark, mainly so I wouldn’t be so scared in the ocean!

                Your greatest influence?
                  Ah! So many. But, I really can’t ignore Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, for inspiring me to continue dancing.  

                  Anything else you'd like people to know about you...
                    I love to paint. 

                    Troy has been working on BalletCollective's 2013 New York season for the past nine plus months. While dancing at New York City Ballet he often is wearing multiple hats: director, choreographer, collaborator, dancer, fundraiser, secretary, etc. to make this non-profit ballet company thrive. I don't know how he does it!

                    Troy is so excited to see his hard work and dedication unfold onto the Joyce stage next Wednesday (and Thursday)! As a dancer in his company, and also his fiancée, the butterflies are building as we are only 2 days away until the big day! I hope we make him proud!

                    Saturday, August 10, 2013

                    Four Days Until Showtime!

                    Today marks the half way point in BalletCollective’s eight day rehearsal period leading up to Wednesday, our opening night.

                    As our Joyce debut is fast approaching, we have been rehearsing six hours daily. Like BalletCollective’s first rehearsal period, where we accomplished a 22 minute ballet - The Impulse Wants Company - in just 9 days, this time we managed to put back together The Impulse Wants Company (meaning we left the ballet for a few weeks so now when we are back again, the dancers and other artists have to remember the choreography and get the piece looking whole again) and re-work Epistasis, an older work, (the second ballet on the program) in just four days. 

                    Troy and the dancers did their homework and certainly came prepared, but this rehearsal period is functioning slightly differently than our previous rehearsal time. We have a ballet mistress, Glenn Keenan, to help the dancers and to assist Troy. Glenn, a former New York City Ballet dancer and now a ballet mistress for the company, is trained in this field. Having her being in the studio has allowed Troy to focus on wearing one hat: choreographer, rather than trying to fill two. As Glenn becomes more acquainted with the ballets and Troy’s choreographic style, the ballets are looking sharper. 

                    Glenn’s previous experience as a ballet mistress has enabled her to join BalletCollective’s process seamlessly. I must say that having Glenn in the studio makes everyone's job much easier. Before we had a ballet mistress, I tried to help Troy out by wearing both the dancer and ballet mistress hats. It was difficult to dance and try to focus on everyone else. Having the extra pair of eyes in the studio allows me to focus on myself and my dancing. At the same time we as a whole look better and have a clearer picture of what the steps are supposed to be, and on what counts exactly to move. Glenn is a life saver!

                    Photo: Troy Schumacher

                    Photo: Troy Schumacher

                    Tonight, Troy and I are celebrating (as I'm sure the dancers are too in their own way) with dinner and drinks at Cafe Frida. Yet not celebrating too hard, we still have a lot of work to do before Wednesday! 

                    Next up... continue cleaning, tweaking and running both ballets in sequential order to build stamina for the big night!

                    Tuesday, August 6, 2013

                    A New Chapter: A New Joy

                    July 25th marked the end of something special, an experience I will treasure always. 

                    It all began towards the end of our New York City Ballets spring season, when Peter Martins, the head of the company, approached Troy about participating in the School of American Ballet Summer Course's Choreographic Workshop. Although Troy already had a busy summer lined up, he felt this was too great an opportunity to turn down. So starting July 15th, the day after we returned home from our New York City Ballet Saratoga season, "we" began working with the students. 

                    I mentioned "we" began working with the students. That's right! I was involved, not as a choreographer or my usual position as a dancer, but as Troy's ballet mistress. This was a position I had not experienced before.  

                    Last fall when Troy was choreographing for New York City Ballet's New York Choreographic Institute, I came as close as I ever had to experiencing a position as a ballet mistress. I "helped" out the two days leading up to the workshop showing. My job was to "clean up" arms and heads, which means make sure the positions are crisp and clear and relay corrections from Troy to the dancers on their movements; I was a last minute "dust bunny". (This was only a small taste of what I would come to experience this summer, which would turn out to be ten-fold more work and responsibility.)

                    For nine days, during the last two weeks of the School of American Ballet summer course, the advanced levels, both male and female, take their normal two, two-hour classes, daily and in addition work with a choreographer from 6-9 pm. The goal of the program is to give the advanced students an opportunity to work with a professional, experience new movement, and perform. Not only does this benefit the students but it also allows the School of American Ballet faculty to see what the dancers can do outside the academic ballet class. 

                    On Monday, July 15th, Troy entered the studio as choreographer and I entered as ballet mistress. 

                    Troy began and so did I. As I had no hand in casting the ballet, my first step was to learn each student's' name, all 18 of them! This was the easy part. Getting them to dance the way Troy and I wanted them to was the most difficult part. 

                    Being a dancer, not only at City Ballet, but also working under Troy as a dancer in BalletCollective, I have a pretty good understanding of what he likes and what he is looking for. Although Troy usually tries steps out on me before the rehearsal process begins, for this SAB ballet, just coming off choreographing his latest BalletCollective ballet, The Impulse Wants Company, he wanted a more spontaneous approach and to feed off the youthful energy of the student dancers. 

                    Troy's job: to choreograph a great ballet. My job: to help with the demonstrating of steps, cleaning arms and heads, helping the students grow as dancers, building their confidence, and teaching them to perform and use their whole bodies to help them when they dance. All of us, the choreographer, the dancer and the ballet mistress, each face challenges!

                    Troy's Challenges
                    "It's a really fun and different challenge to work with students, especially those on the brink of making the transition from dance student to professional dancer. As opposed to simply just choreographing, I also get to teach them how to be choreographed on, which is always very different from ballet class. It was fascinating to watch all sixteen kids grow exponentially from the first day to the last." 

                    A Dancer's Challenges
                    Below is an interview I did with Olivia Behrmann, one of Troy's dancers. Olivia describes her experience this way:

                    Photo of Olivia and Ashley

                    Me: Where are you from and how old are you?
                    Olivia: I'm from Indianapolis, Indiana and am 15 years old.

                    What are the challenges you face as a dancer in a new choreography piece? 
                    I think some of the challenges I face as a dancer in a new choreography piece are being able to pick up the choreography quickly and doing it exactly the way the choreographer wants. Also, it is important to understand the mood or tone of the piece and what the choreographer's vision is so I can convey his message through my dancing.

                    What helped you the most in this experience?
                    What helped me the most in this experience was having you and Troy there for the rehearsals. You were both good at explaining the steps and paying attention to every detail. It was helpful that you were there to clean sections while Troy worked with a particular dancer or small group of dancers. It was also helpful that Troy explained what the piece was about before we started. We knew the piece was supposed to be happy and playful.

                    Did you feel accomplished after the showings?
                    I definitely felt accomplished after the workshop performance. It was a great feeling to have the piece come together because of everyone's hard work. 

                    What did you learn or take away from the SAB summer course workshop experience? 
                    I took a lot away from the SAB summer workshop performance, and for me, it was one of the best parts of the summer course. First of all, it was amazing to have the opportunity to work with you and Troy, two real New York City Ballet dancers! Also, working together as a group to get a new choreography piece performance-ready (and something you and Troy would be proud of) was hard work, but very gratifying. It taught me that you have to be ready for the unexpected and be prepared to do your part to fulfill the choreographer's vision. The SAB summer course workshop was an example of how hard work and team work pay off!

                    What were your feelings after the workshop performances?
                    My feelings after the workshop performances were mixed. It was bittersweet because I was happy that the performances went well, but I was sad that the experience was over. I was also hopeful that you and Troy were proud of how the piece turned out. It was such an amazing experience, and I was so grateful to be a part of it. It was truly one the highlights of my summer course!

                    My Challenges
                    Being on the other side of the spectrum, now as a ballet mistress instead of a dancer, lent itself to different challenges. Such challenges include:

                    • Clarifying the Choreography: I would translate what Troy showed and help to make everyone unified. Yet, there were 18 students to coordinate! 
                    • Corrections: Getting the kids to remember their corrections from hour to hour and day to day. As a ballet mistress, I could clean the piece and have the dancers looking great one minute and the next, they have forgotten everything we just talked about! 
                    • Counts: Learning the counts to the whole ballet was tricky. I now know why at times Troy counts wrong or forgets the counting sequence. There are so many counts and it's hard to yell them out, while watching for mistakes, and counting for all different groups (at times three dancers maybe counting something completely differently than another group or solo dancer.)
                    • Young Students: Working with young students. These students ranged in age from 15 to 17 years old. Some have had lots of choreographic experiences and some have had none. It was a process to get the students to watch the choreographer or me explain the step and then replicate it. 
                    • Corps de Ballet: Getting the students to work together as a corps de ballet. The dancers were not great at staying in lines or dancing as a group. Each dancer would be "dancing to his/her own drum!"

                    Lessons Learned and Techniques Used
                    In an effort to combat these challenges I turned to simple techniques.
                    1. Communication: Learning how to saying things in many different ways helps with the absorption of corrections and choreography. Each dancer responds to different words. Learning how each dancer thinks and processes is key.  
                    2. Break steps down: Learning to slow down helps tremendously. Steps can be complicated, so taking one step at a time often helps with coordination. 
                    3. Show don't tell: Some dancers respond and perform better by watching you or their peers try the steps and/or apply corrections. If they can see the difference, often times they can then apply it to themselves. 

                    Pizza Party
                    As the students often only had 30 minutes (dinner break) in between their last class and the beginning of our rehearsals, Troy and I threw them a pizza party one night during our first week of rehearsals. It was an opportunity for Troy and me to not only feed the dancers, but also to get to know the dancers outside of the studio. Soon after the initial scramble to get pizza, each dancer settled into a spot on the couch. Pizza in hand, casually chatting amongst each other, someone bravely asked me a question: "What is it like being a professional dancer in New York City Ballet?" For the next hour, small talk seized the stage and all of us were conversing about the professional world. 

                    Photo: Troy Schumacher
                    Pizza Party Talk with Ashley

                    I never thought the pizza party would turn to this subject, but I was so delighted to talk to them. To share with them my experience, my ups and downs as a dancer, and the things I have learned throughout my career was amazing. I hope that through our conversations I was able to provide clarity and answers about things one could only know by going through a professional career in the ballet world. The students left that night hopefully more informed, hopeful about their dreams, and with more confidence. Troy and I left feeling closer to these dancers and inspired by their love for ballet and its art form.

                    A Dancer Injured: The Show Must Go On
                    Tuesday night presented the biggest challenge of all! Just two days before the showings, as the clock struck 9 pm, Troy finished the ballet! It was a very exciting and relieving moment to have finished the ballet with two days to clean and perfect. That night as Troy and I boarded the 1 train, heading back home, we both felt accomplished a lot. It had only been 7 days but the dancers were looking great and had come so far. 

                    Wednesday morning I headed to the School of American Ballet to take the highest level ballet class. During the last few minutes of the difficult class, one of our dancers, who danced the lead in our ballet, tweaked her ankle. I panicked for only a split second because in a blink of an eye she was dancing again. She even finished out the class doing quick pointe work.  

                    I returned home to relax before our last late night rehearsal before the showings. At 3:30 pm Troy suggested that he and I both go get massages at the new massage place just steps from our apartment. He referred to it as "His Treat! And thank you for all the work I did". An hour later I had a 45 minute body massage with 15 minutes of foot reflexology. It was pure bliss!

                    As Troy and I left, he got a phone call from the School of American Ballet's registrar, who sadly had bad news. "The dancer, who tweaked her ankle, was injured and would not be able to dance in the workshop showings". Our relaxing state of mind and body lasted all of two seconds. We scrambled to the School of American Ballet to re-stage the entire ballet; this time in only three hours!

                    As the show must go on, Troy and I came up with a reasonable solution: to split the lead girl's part into six parts. This allowed more dancers to benefit from the experience and gave Troy and me a way to get the ballet ready for the showings the next afternoon. 

                    It was a stressful few hours, but we pulled it off! Both the dancers and Troy and I worked together like a team! 

                    Cut Capers
                    Early Thursday afternoon, Troy and I conducted our last rehearsal for the premiere of his ballet, titled Cut Capers. We wished everyone "Merde!" (a ballet dancer's tradition for good luck) and in that instant our jobs as choreographer and ballet mistress were done. I explained to the dancers that the ballet was now theirs and theirs to have fun with. It was up to them now to remember all that we had discussed the past nine days and to put their performing touch on each step. 

                    Both showings went extremely well! The music started and the students danced! The dancers showed off their individual personalities, performed and executed the steps with ease. It was a joy to watch. Each teenager entered that studio as a student and walked out as a dancer. Troy and I couldn't be more proud of the work they have accomplished in such a small amount of time.

                    Cut Capers was a hit!

                    The Cast!

                    The Ballet Mistress - Dancer Bond
                    Ballet mistressing has proven to be emotional. Throughout the process I began to notice attachments toward certain dancers. Working with the students day in and day out created an undeniable bond. Seeing them blossom into dancers only made that bond grow. 

                    At the conclusion of the two weeks, while writing their "merde cards" (a tradition that most choreographers/ballet mistresses perform for the dancers in their piece. It is a way to write a personal message about your time working with each dancer), my heart was sick. I knew this was going to be the last time I saw them dance Cut Capers, but also the last time I would be in their presence, there as an encouraging light in their ballet careers. 

                    I didn't know how attached I was to the dancers until it was time to say goodbye. Each good bye was hard, but giving my last hug to Olivia Behrmann was by far the hardest. Both of us in tears, and with a sick tummy feeling, it was then in that instant that I knew my experience as Troy's "dust bunny" was all worth it! Olivia is something special. Someone I will never forget. 

                    Exceeding Expectations
                    Looking back at Thursday, July 25th, which marked the final day Troy and I would work with the most amazing group of students at the SAB summer course, I smile and then fill up with tears. It was an indescribable experience that I will treasure always. The dancers all performed so well! Each dancer pushed his or her self to the max, performing with such energy, and personality. 

                    I never thought this experience, as a ballet mistress, would be this rewarding. Not being compensated for this adventure, as a choreographer might, I definitely underestimated my reward. My experience was priceless! I learned so much about working with students and the choreographic/staging process. Night after night, seeing the students learn and grow, was beyond refreshing and opened my eyes to the other side of dancing: the creating or staging of a ballet.

                    Still today, almost two weeks now, I get emotional when I think of my Cut Capers experience. The feeling of having an impact on these young dancers and possibly inspiring them to grow and become better is a feeling I will hold on to forever. 

                    Cut Capers... Thank you for opening my eyes to joy and a potential future as a ballet mistress!

                    Monday, August 5, 2013

                    Meet the Artist Monday: Meagan Mann

                    Photo: Troy Schumacher

                    Meagan Mann was tapped to join BalletCollective for their 2013 season. Recognized for her style and musicality, she evokes a distinctive piquant quality with every movement.

                    Here is my Q and A with Meagan:

                    Me: What does BalletCollective mean to you?

                    Meagan: To me BalletCollective means teamwork. Troy looks for each dancer’s distinct qualities, and what draws his eye to them, and then utilizes it while choreographing on them. He is also able to work collaboratively with other artists such as musicians and poets. His collaborative process is intriguing.

                    What do you enjoy about working with Troy?

                    I have genuinely enjoyed Troy’s appreciation for each of his dancers. It is such a pleasure to be treated with respect by a choreographer. You don’t have to be tough on your artists to achieve a great piece of work, but unfortunately so many choreographers are too tough on their dancers. Troy keeps the rehearsal environment a place where everyone is comfortable in their own skin.

                    After a hard day of dancing, what is your favorite meal?

                    I always love steamed spinach, roasted sweet potato, rotisserie chicken, and maybe some slices of cheddar cheese. That has got to be my favorite combination of food for dinner.

                    Your most memorable onstage moment? 

                    The first time I performed "Arabian" in New York City Ballet’s the Nutcracker.  I was literally out there, by myself, and all I could think about was… “How did I get here? What’s happening?” I was cracking myself up in my head because my response to the experience was not what it should have been.  As I performed the role more, I began having so much fun with it, and I became more comfortable.

                    What's your favorite way to pass time?

                    I love some good old TV time on the couch with a glass of wine!

                    What are you reading?

                    The Cuckoo’s Calling, by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith; I was so excited when I found out she had written another book! It’s a shame she couldn’t keep her secret longer.

                    What's the most recent song/album you've downloaded?

                    I never download music, I love Pandora and I love when other people introduce me to new music, but I don’t have much of my own collection.

                    If you could die and come back as an animal, what would you be?

                    A cat or a bird. 

                    Your greatest influence?

                    Janie Taylor. Her movement quality and attack when she dances are so inspiring. Also I can relate to her having been through some serious injuries. 

                    Anything else you'd like people to know about you?

                    Beyond my rigorous schedule of ballet and college, when I have some time to relax, I like to just be normal and hang out with my friends and go out to a movie.

                    Meagan is a great addition to BalletCollective and I have loved being in rehearsals with her. I look forward to performing together in both Epistasis and The Impulse Wants Company!