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!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Darren Henault

Darren Henault, Photo by Carolyn Jones
Being part of a new ballet company from the ground up, it quickly becomes apparent how much goes into making new work possible. It's more than choreographing, composing, dancing, and writing; it's a combination of all that work plus behind the scenes activities to help raise the continuing support to make it happen. BalletCollective has a wonderful group of supporters, and I thought it would be interesting to get to know one of our board members. Darren is a fun, loving father of beautiful twin girls, a ballet lover,  an interior designer, and a dear friend. Darren was one of the first people Troy told about his idea for starting BalletCollective. Here is my interview with him:

Me: What does BalletCollective mean to you?
Pure and simple it means that I get to participate in some small way in supporting a new and exciting talent. I believe in Troy and look forward to seeing where he'll go and take us.

What prompted you to get involved?
I like watching young dancers progress over the course of a few seasons. I've been aware of Troys dancing for the New York City Ballet for a few years now. When he told me his concept for a new dance company I was immediately interested. 

Being on the "inside" you get to attend rehearsals and develop a greater understanding of the work. Meeting the dancers gives one a direct connection and makes the performances more personal, more intimate.  It's like having your favorite players on a sports team. You experience the "highs", and less often the "lows", with more passion. In a slightly parasitic fashion it gives me a creative outlet. 

What do you love about dance?
What's not to love about dance? Honestly when someone tells me they don't like the ballet I think, "Lord, what a dolt!" Clearly they've only seen one or two very similar pieces, or maybe nothing but long story ballets. There's an enormous range in ballet and dance. If you don't like the ballet then ask a dancer to choose four things for you to see in a season.  You'll change your mind.

When you watch a beautiful piece being performed by an excellent dancer you're watching an instrument in motion. You're watching a body move that has been trained for years and years to express itself in ways that no ordinary person could possibly mimic.  I'm not being melodramatic when I say that it's transcendent. The simplest movement can make me weep, as much as the bold tour de force makes me feel like jumping out of my seat.

What are you reading?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead (yes this one is about dance)

What's your favorite ballet? Why? 

I can't do just one...

Troy Schumacher's Epistasis... I haven't seen it enough times to adequately put into words what I like about it. 

Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain... Because with just two people on stage he expresses all of the ennui, regret and hope that the world has ever known.

Jerome Robbin's Glass Pieces... It's modern and energizing and crisp and dynamic.

Balanchine's Symphony in C... It's what everyone thinks of when they think of ballet. It's classically based, fantastically athletic and the sheer number of people on stage is impressive.

Troy Schumacher's All That We See... I've been lucky enough to see a few rehearsals. I can't wait to see the final piece.

Have you ever danced before?

Never. I wish.

You’re a decorator, which in many ways is similar to choreography. How does interior design compare with dance?
When we first started coming to the ballet we would sit in the orchestra so that we could see the individual dancers. It was Troy actually who suggested we sit in the first row of the first tier. That way we got to see what I call the architecture of the ballet; the full sweep of the movement in it's entirety. What I think the choreographer really wants you to see at first, only focusing on the individual movements or dancers as he reveals them to you. It's what I hope to achieve in my work. I'd rather you get the sense of the entire environment and only notice individual things after you've spent more time in the rooms.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A New First

Troy Choreographing, Me Assisting Photo by Devin Alberda
This summer has been filled with many "Firsts": Troy and I got married (!), BalletCollective appeared at the Fire Island Dance Festival (where Harrison and I danced with the sunset as our backdrop), BalletCollective had its first summer residency in Telluride, and I took on the role of BalletCollective's Choreographic Assistant!

The role of Choreographic Assistant is that of being the right hand person to the choreographer. Helping to take down notes, corrections, patterns, marks in the score, dancers' individual counts and/or steps, make coffee runs, film the daily progress of the piece, or even call when it's time for a five minute break - all are part of the job description. In this case, the choreographer is Troy. Since I was not involved in one of the two new pieces for BalletCollective this year, as I am featured in Dear and Blackbirds, Troy asked if I would like to try ballet mistressing again, but this time for professional dancers. (You can read about my experience as his assistant for his School of the American Ballet Summer Intensive here.) I immediately jumped at the opportunity as I love to coach and be hands on in the process of learning and perfecting ballets.

Taking on the role of BalletCollective's Choreographic Assistant is different than my other experience working with students. This time, I would be working closely with my husband (not my boyfriend) and with my fellow BalletCollective colleagues. I thought to myself, this will be fun! I love to help make things more cohesive and clean for the group or even help coach friends in variations. I thought my goal would be to help alleviate moments of uncertainty and keep the process moving smoothly for Troy and his dancers.

At first, I would arrive during the choreographic process, finding my place at a chair in the front of the room near the music jack, ready to be seated and be mostly silent. I would start and stop the music, help count out steps occasionally and help clarify if Troy needed it. At home, Troy and I would watch the daily videos of his work and critique every move - weeding out the bad and showcasing the good. Once the ballet was mostly mapped out, I had more liberty to chime in with my observations on corrections, mishaps and or moments of weakness in the studio.

Me watching Claire Photo by Troy Schumacher
When we were in Telluride, it was close to show time. The ballet was rehearsed on stage daily, which gave a better vantage point not only for Troy as a choreographer but also for me as his assistant. We could see what worked and what didn't, what was weak, and where things needed to be more together and precise. Each day we would run the ballet, Troy and me sitting out in the audience, he watching, and me taking endless notes and corrections. I wrote down anything that he said, but also in between writing down his thoughts, I'd watch and take my own notes. He and I have different eyes and
different minds (thank goodness for that!) so we would see different things. I'd spot many more mishaps than he - he mostly focusing on the choreography and me on the execution of the steps and the way the dancers looked. Using my eye to help make the dancers better is something I consider a gift. I find that I can spot problems and often suggest good solutions or corrections to make dancers feel more at ease or better understand Troy's movements. I think I was helpful, at least I hope I was!

My ideas and thoughts going in to this new role were all correct, except I forgot to think about how I would feel not being a part of the group - now being a slight outsider. Working with students was easy. You say, they do. With professionals, we each have different ideas, our own learning processes, ways of moving and taking corrections. As I respect each one of Troy's dancers as my peers, dancers, and friends, I often felt uncomfortable giving endless corrections to them. Though they were receptive of my input, it was a tough time, learning to put that discomfort aside and focus on my task of being Troy's Choreographic assistant. In the end, I learned so much about myself, my insecurities and the world of coaching.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meet the Artist Monday: Claire Kretzschmar

Claire Rehearsing New Salle in Telluride
Claire joins BalletCollective this season bringing her crisp musicality and dynamic athleticism to the New Salle piece and The Impulse Wants Company.

Here is my Q and A with Claire:  

Me: What does BalletCollective mean to you?
BalletCollective is a very intimate company made up of some of the most talented, individual, and genuine artists I know. Throughout the rehearsal process, it is inspiring to be around such people, and so uplifting to see how much we truly value each other as dancers and friends. There is no hierarchy in the company, which adds to this egalitarian feel and gives us the opportunity to freely explore our artistry. I feel very liberated on many levels when I dance with the company.

What do you enjoy about working with Troy?
Troy really understands that dancers are individuals with distinct personalities and movement styles. During the choreographic process, he allows us to infuse our instinctive movement qualities with his steps, which gives his ballets very unique and personalized qualities.

After a hard day of dancing, what is your favorite meal?
This is such a tough question because I love all foods! But I suppose that one of my favorite comfort meals is a hearty plate of pasta loaded with meat and veggies, and followed by a homemade brownie sundae or perhaps a slice of hummingbird cake from Magnolia Bakery.

Your most memorable onstage moment?  

When I was 19, I got my braces off on a Friday morning before our evening show of The Nutcracker, and I couldn’t wait to get onstage and show audiences my new, smooth smile. That night I decided to make my first entrance in the snow scene extra big, particularly since I enter from the back wing by myself. Turns out the snow scene was a bit icy that night and upon taking my first step, my leg slipped out from under me and I landed flat on my bottom! After laughing and smiling enormously throughout the rest of the dance, I remember Megan Fairchild saying to me after, “Your slippery teeth must have made the ground slippery too!” I think that was my first fall ever onstage.

What's your favorite way to pass time? 

I love to play good music on my speakers and bake something delicious in the kitchen.

What are you reading? 

I’m not reading any books for pleasure at the moment, but I’m reading an interesting book for school called “Influence” which explains how people can persuade and be persuaded in everyday life.

What's the most recent song/album you've downloaded?
I just downloaded the Grand Budapest Hotel Soundtrack; it’s so quirky and puts me in the best mood!

If you could die and come back as an animal, what would you be?
Flying as a bird would be amazing, but I think I would want to be a sea otter because they look like they have so much fun swirling around in the water!

Your greatest influence? 

My parents - It’d be impossible to list the all of the ways that they have influenced my life.

Claire is a wonderful addition to BalletCollective. It has been great to work with her both in coaching and as a fellow dancer on stage. I look forward to our New York season and watching her grow as a dancer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New Salle

Photo by Devin Alberda
The New Salle piece is great. I know I may sound biased, but by the same token, I have been involved, in some capacity, in all of Troy’s works and I think Dear and Blackbirds and the New Salle are two great ballets. Each is a huge step forward in his choreographic growth and maturity. 
The New Salle features five dancers, Taylor, David, Lauren, Meagan, and Claire. The music is composed by Ellis (with Troy’s influence) with the collaboration of David Salle who created artwork (a series of 8 pieces) that helps drive the music and then Troy’s choreography. Each movement is unique in all aspects. The music is distinct through all eight movements. One of the things that I find so special about this piece is that each movement is completely different from the next, musically and choreographically. It is varied and complex, yet simple and clean. The piece is complete dance. I mean pure dance! No drama or froufrou - it is dance at its best. The dancers each have moments all their own, whether it be a solo for one or a pas de deux, it is jam-packed with pure talent and joy. I love watching the piece. It makes me want to get up and dance. 

New Salle Photo by Troy Schumacher
Though in the high altitude, the piece was an extreme push for the dancers. As it is pure dance, they hardly stop moving. Oxygen was heavily used throughout the rehearsals! (Thank you Palm for providing the tanks!) Not sure what we would have done without them. Like Impulse and Dear and Blackbirds, we worked our way through each section daily, giving corrections, cleaning and making choreographic changes. 

Towards the end of the rehearsal week, Troy finished the 18 minute ballet! It was a day of celebration! He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to finish the piece before the workshop performance but being in Telluride was definitely inspiring and helped him to create!

Stay tuned for my experience being Troy’s Choreographic Assistant and our adventures in Nature!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Telluride Rehearsal Fun

Fire Island Dance Festival
Photo by Whitney Browne

The next few days were hard work. No more easy days! We started every day with ballet class taught either by Troy, Lauren or David. Each class was very different but our "teachers" welcomed some fun. Along with their varied styles of teaching was eclectic or pop music, depending on their mood, a nice change from formal classroom routines. Though the studio space was limited, the room was fully equipped and had an amazing sprung floor (the floor was made by using tennis balls placed in the corners joining the wood planks to create spring). It was such a pleasant surprise to find that the floor was great. (Often times, when performing at smaller theaters or other venues, the flooring can be a problem - causing injures, and pain to your joints.) The class environment was intense. We worked hard, pushing ourselves to break through the altitude difficulties and move toward better stamina. It was a process but BalletCollective is used to process!

After class, we moved to the stage for rehearsals! 

Troy usually began rehearsing Dear and Blackbirds with Harrison and me first because we needed only 15-30 minutes to run the piece (this allowed the other five dancers to take a quick break before moving on to the other two ballets). At the Fire Island Dance Festival we performed an excerpt of the pas de deux; in Telluride, we were to show the complete nine minute plus pas. At this intense degree of altitude, Harrison and I felt out of shape. Just a week prior out by the ocean, we were performing seven minutes without any problems. Yet, at 8500 feet above sea level, we couldn’t even get through the first movement --only 2.5 minutes! We started out slow, stopping when we felt like we were going to “die”, making sure we did not overdo it the first couple of days. We wanted to gain momentum but not peak too soon (a dancer tries to time the readiness of the piece and the performance just right so you are at your highest level the day of the performance). We worked our way through all four movements daily.

New Salle Piece
Photo by Troy Schumacher

After that 15-30 minutes I was pooped! But I still had another ballet to rehearse: The Impulse Wants Company. Putting together The Impulse Wants Company was refreshing but also tedious. It is always nice coming back to a ballet you are familiar with. Your body has wonderful muscle memory and, in a way, magically just knows what to do or how to move depending on the ballet. Especially when a ballet was created on and for you, the steps never seem to leave you. Six of the seven dancers were originals to the piece so we only had to work Claire into the piece. Troy, not having a choreographer’s assistant to help with the staging, had to basically relearn Claire’s part to be able to coach and assist in her slotting in. Thankfully Claire had done her homework and taught herself most of the ballet on her own before arriving in Telluride. (It is very common for dancers to be asked to learn a ballet from performance and rehearsal footage. It saves lots of time!) Most dancers check out videos of new ballets they are to learn anyway, just to begin familiarizing yourself with the context and style of the ballet, so teaching yourself is just one step further. 

Claire fit in nicely, beginning to make the role her own right from the start. We made it through Impulse, but it was definitely rough. Luckily we had six more days 'til it was to be performed!

After a quick lunch break, Troy and I started to work on the last piece, title to be determined, with the other five dancers not involved in Dear and Blackbirds. Currently it is noted as New Salle piece as the collaborators are Troy, Ellis and David Salle, an artist often exhibited at MOMA. I mentioned “Troy and I” because I am his ballet mistress or as he likes to call it, the “Assistant to the Choreographer”. I have filled this position before, click here to read about my experience during Cut Capers, and had a wonderful time working side by side with Troy and the other dancers, just in this new capacity. The New Salle piece was a work in progress. Troy had choreographed about 12 minutes while we were in New York City, but had hopes of finishing the piece before our workshop performance in Telluride. Daily we would go through each section, of which there are eight, work, clean and then he would continue to create. 

By the end of the day, sometimes 5pm but mostly 6pm, we were all exhausted. A quick stop at the local market, Clark’s, to grab any needed ingredients for the evening's meal and we were off to the Mesa for dinner and bed! 

More on the New Salle piece!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Day 1...

Hike to Waterfall
Photo by Meagan Mann
Troy and I woke to the smell of fresh coffee brewing and bacon in the oven! BalletCollective was up and preparing for our first day in Telluride. 
After breakfast, on the porch with a beautiful view, we gathered our dance bags, water bottles and, of course, the oxygen tanks (to help with the altitude) and packed everything  into our two rental cars. Troy drove and I worked the Sirius radio (40s on 4 or 80s on 8 were my favorites)! Before long, heading down the windy cliffs and endless fields towards Telluride, we arrived at The Palm Theater, our summer residency facility! 

The Palm Theater is a lovely theater, attached to the Telluride academic school and filled with a music room, basketball courts, dressing rooms, rehearsal studios and a performance stage and theater. Brandon gave us the grand tour (he was up and at ‘em early as he had to get the stage ready for us - have lights hung, the floor cleaned, oxygen tanks filled, and marley taped) and within minutes we were settled into our dressing room and then headed to the rehearsal studio for our first ballet class at high altitude. We all grabbed a spot at the barres and began stretching, doing our individual warmups. 

Lauren under the Fall
Photo by Ashley Laracey
Troy started class around 10:30am. (Sometimes it’s nice to stick to your normal routine, so morning class suited all of us.) Barre was tough, and center was even harder. We found ourselves out of breath after the easiest things (even walking up or down a flight of stairs). The altitude was more difficult than we had expected. I had a constant headache from the moment we landed in Montrose that lasted for 48 hours (and on and off all throughout the week) and others felt light headed or just plain exhausted. After class, and a few hits of oxygen, we walked through the three ballets in the small studio (all scheduled to be performed on August 2nd), taking it easy. 

Day 1 was a light dancing day as our goal was to acclimate to the conditions. But that did not mean go back to the house and rest…Tour Guide Harrison had plans for us! We set off for a small .25 mile hike to a water fall near the theater. Some of the dancers braved the freezing cold water and stood under the water fall! We then took a gondola ride to the next mountain, and relaxed at the Mountain Peaks Spa soaking in the Jacuzzi, swimming pool and having fun on the water slide! Harrison is a pro going down that slide!

Dinner and S’mores followed! Star gazing occurred too! More soon…

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Traveling to Telluride

Early last week, BalletCollective (all seven dancers, plus Brandon - lighting designer, and, of course, Troy) boarded a plane en route to Denver, Colorado followed by a quick transfer to Montrose, where we were to be shuttled an hour and a half to our home sweet home for the week, on Wilson Mesa outside of Telluride, for our first summer residency!

BalletCollective has always wanted to have a summer residency so when we were asked to come to Colorado, it was perfect. The thought of having the opportunity to be in a breath taking place such as Telluride, surrounded by nature, endless outdoorsy activities at our reach (to take advantage of after or in-between our rehearsals), and for Troy to get to create, and the company to rehearse and perform - was a dream come true.

Room with a View
Photo By Ashley Laracey
"Welcome to Colorado", the Captain announced. We quickly jumped off the plane and were immediately out of breath as the altitude in Montrose is just over 5000 feet. After grabbing some water  at the concession located near baggage claim (supposedly to avoid altitude sickness one should drink tons of water) and collecting all our checked bags (yay they all made it!), we piled into the waiting 10 passenger van and began our journey to the Mesa. Upon arriving at Wilson Mesa, elevation over 8000 feet (located just 30 minutes outside the town of Telluride), we were all blown away by the beauty of the massive landscapes unique to Colorado. Waterfalls, large reddish rock, deer grazing in the fields, and the occasional brown bear or elk were our entertainment for the week. We were living in a National Geographic magazine or, even more, a NGC episode in high definition! It was truly unbelievable.

The house up on Wilson Mesa was generously donated for the week to BalletCollective. Just so happens it is home to one of our dancers, Harrison Coll, and his parents. It is their family home that they frequent often and for many weeks at a time most summers, winter and spring breaks. Harrison was in his childhood vacation home and definitely ready to be our tour guide for the week! He made our stay memorable and full of adventure! We are very thankful to him and his parents for their generosity. More on our adventures to come...

After receiving the grand tour of the "cabin" house, and everyone finding their new rooms, we began preparing our first meal on tour as a BalletCollective family. (The Coll's so kindly stocked the fridge with enough food for all nine of us for a few days, so we didn't have to make another trip into town for groceries after our 12 hour travel day.) Troy and some of the dancers cooked and a few us, including me, were the "Dish Queens". We had steaks, sweet potatoes, salad, and zucchini! It was delicious. We toasted with non-alcoholic beverages, as it is advisable to refrain from consuming alcohol (or other dehydrating liquids) your first few nights as it makes getting over the altitude sickness and adjustment to it harder. After a quick clean up we headed to the fire pit for S'mores and banter!

Soon the stars we shinning, shooting stars were shooting. We settled in for the night after everyone had witnessed a lucky shooting star! The adventures are just beginning...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fire Island Continued...

First Performance
Fire Island Rep Picture
BalletCollective is "on deck"! I disrobe, taking off my Uniqlo warmups and my American Apparel legwarmers, and Troy gives Harrison and me one last "Merde". The hosts of the event begin announcing Dear and Blackbirds, talking about BalletCollective and its mission, as Harrison and I give each other a tight hug! We head to the stage stairs, I dab one last bit of rosin on my point shoes, and we both make our way up on to the amazing stage. The view is breath taking, the sun is smiling, and the audience is attentive. As we take our places, I look at Harrison and say "This is so freaking cool!"

The music begins! We walk.

Dear and Blackbirds is a ten minute pas de deux, yet only seven of those minutes was premiered. It is an intense duet that portrays a journey in the relationship of these two people, Harrison a young lad, and I an older, more experienced woman. He, at times, is a bit rambunctious, filled with young energy, not quite sure what he is doing or what he yet wants in life. As for my role, I know exactly what I want and need and go after those desires. We begin by walking, yet even at the start we each want to be going in different directions. The push and pull of our dynamic is evident. I get feisty; he accidentally throws me to the ground. After some time we meet in the middle - both in regard to each others' energy and personality as well as their journey to togetherness.  I won't give it all away... but it is one of the most special pieces I have ever danced. It feels right in every way.

The first performance was interesting, though a bit nerve-racking at the start. As Harrison and I held hands to begin, the energy was flowing with slight shaky waves coursing through our bodies. Soon after five counts of eight we were off and in it. No more signs of nerves! The middle transition musical cue went well and before I knew it we were in the last movement. The emotions were there, Harrison and I were connected.

Troy was super pleased with the ballet and I could tell he was happy (It was the first time he had seen it performed, ever!) though he mentioned to me that "the last movement was too sad." I was shocked at his comment. The last movement felt so real for me and I was really moved at our connection. I felt as though Harrison and I could read each other's thoughts, feelings and hearts. Yet, somehow it came across as too sad to him. I was utterly confused. I took a moment to unwind by myself, grabbed some water and then returned to await the final group bow.

The first show was done! It was 6:45pm and we were all headed back to the green room to freshen up as the second show was about to begin in fifteen minutes.

Since the turn around time was so short, the second show to start at 7pm, there was no need to re-warm up. I covered myself in my warm-ups and stretched to keep the blood flowing.

"Five minutes to the top of the show!" called the tech crew. After the opening number, the Romeo and Juliet balcony pas de deux, a speech was given. During the speech I was stretching backstage. Soon into the speech, the talking stopped, and the EMT's arrived. Someone in the audience needed medical assistance. Fortunately the gentleman was able to walk out of the venue with the EMT's to receive treatment. The audience and performers sat patiently while this played out.

Before long the show resumed and we were on deck again...

Due to the medical emergency, the show was delayed about 20 minutes, unfortunately for the gentleman who got sick, but fortunately for BalletCollective because Dear and Blackbirds was now to be performed in the prime sunset lighting!
Sunset Show
Photo by Troy Schumacher

Harrison and I stripped off our warm-ups, got our "Merde" hugs from Troy, and began to get pumped! I ran forwards and backwards to make sure my feet were awake (normally when you perform you have a chance to be on the stage a few moments before the piece starts to get the blood flowing or to try out a few steps). Seconds before we got the go ahead from the stage manager, I said to Harrison "It might be a long time before we do this pas de deux with sunset lighting again, so let's enjoy!"

We held hands and began...

The second show felt even better than the first. I hit my swivels (a swivel is a tricky step that seems like luck every time you try it - it's when someone basically just spins on one leg multiple times), the lighting was absolutely perfect and Harrison and I took the last movement to a different, less sad place emotionally. We had one minor glitch - in the third movement, but the audience didn't seem to react so we can't wait to see the video to analyze exactly what happened. (I would try to explain what happened but honestly I have no clue - one minute we were doing the steps, and the next we were both rolling on the ground.) We recovered quickly, maintaining our "in it faces" and finished out the pas de deux.

After the final bow, we all headed back to our hosts' houses, freshened up, and had a celebratory drink before the scheduled "performers dinner". After a delicious dinner, on our way back to the 50's beach house, we made a pit stop at the local bar Sip N Twirl, checked out the scene, and then called it a night!

It was a long day, and I was exhausted. More on our last day in the Pines tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fire Island - Dancers Responding to AIDS

Being a part of the Fire Island Dance Festival was an absolutely incredible experience! BalletCollective not only made its company debut appearance at the festival, we also premiered an excerpt of our newest work Dear and Blackbirds.
Awaiting the Pines ferry
Photo by Troy Schumacher

The journey to the island is a bit of a trek - an hour and half bus ride from the city to The Pines Ferry, a 20 minute ferry ride, and then a casual walk on the boardwalk to the location. But once you set your eyes on the Pines and the Fire Island Dance Festival performance venue, you fall in love.

Throughout the weekend, the performers and dance companies were on tight itineraries to ensure that we could make it to all the wonderful events, see the amazing beach houses (our hosts have an original 50's beach house!), take a dip in the many pools, and of course be wined and dined by the amazing people who make the Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA) possible.

Friday, after arriving on the island, we made our way to the first of our scheduled events - a pool party! We relaxed, had some lunch, and then freshened up for the opening night cocktail party. We were then punctually whisked away to the cocktail party, met a few hundred people, and enjoyed a performance by the Mark Stuart Dance Theater. Immediately following we were graciously met by our host families holding up a sign that read "Troy and Ashley Schumacher". Troy and I were hosted by Jim Streaker and Scott Ahlborn. Upon arriving at their beach house we were immediately struck by its 50's charm and detail! Jim and Scott were so welcoming, respectful, open,

50's Beach House
Photo by Troy Schumacher

funny and just a joy to be around. Troy and I were greeted in the morning by coffee and a freshly made frittata with vegetables from their garden, and in the evenings after the performances yummy Malibu cocktails or martinis with pickled green tomatoes! We sat, watched the passers-by from their all-glass windowed living room, and enjoyed each other's company!

Our host family's house was conveniently located two doors down from the dancers' greenroom and four doors down from the performance venue. We had the best and most prime location for everything! It made life so much easier (the other dancers had to lug their performance clothing and dance bags to and from events to make sure they'd have all that they needed for the tech run through and performances). I just had to walk next door.

Because the greenroom was so close to my house and the performance venue, Harrison Coll and I warmed up in my hosts' kitchen. It was more comfortable and less chaotic than the greenroom, as we were only two, instead of 20, trying to warm up and get in the zone. Dear and Blackbirds was fifth on the program, so at the top of the tech rehearsal or show, Harrison and I would make our short walk to the green room, put on our costumes and make any last minute adjustments before being escorted to the venue.

Rehearsal "Dear and Blackbirds"
Photo by Troy Schumacher
Saturday was performance day! After a brief orientation and coffee time with our hosts, Harrison came over and he and I gave ourselves a ballet class warm-up in the kitchen. Our tech run-through was at 1:40pm. This was our first time up on the stage, feeling the floor, etc. The intense natural sun light was blinding, and the no wings or backdrop (just the ocean) was disorienting, but after a few minutes of trying things we were ready to begin our walk through. Troy went over the musical cues with the tech crew while Harrison and I took our places for the top of Dear and Blackbirds. In the midst of our tech rehearsal, Troy says to us, "Get together... picture time!" We do as we are told, and then look behind us and there, waving, were Jim and Scott... kayaking behind the stage! It was the coolest thing ever! They watched our run-through from the ocean.

After our run-through, Troy, Harrison and I took a dip in Harrison's hosts' pool to cool off and relax for a few. At 3:15pm Troy and I headed back to our 50's beach house to regroup and get focused for the first performance. At 3:30pm I jumped in the shower to warm up, then started to put on my face (do my stage makeup). Since the lighting is "au naturale" my stage makeup reflected that: mascara, a little eyeshadow, blush and lip gloss. At 4pm Harrison came over and we began our joint warm up together. An hour later, the show began. We headed over to the greenroom, slipped on our costumes-- mine a blue dress from Lord and Taylor, and Harrison's a Uniqlo polo shirt and mustard yellow Zara pants cut into shorts--styled by myself, Troy and Jeff from the DRA. I sewed in my point shoe ribbons, grabbed last minute rosin and a sip of water. Soon we were escorted to the "on deck" position and awaited our turn!

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 1 Fire Island Rehearsal Period

After a hard week touring with NYCB in Saratoga, Troy, Harrison and I are back in NYC, working on Dear and Blackbirds. An excerpt of Dear and Blackbirds will debut this weekend at the Fire Island Dance Festival!

Rehearsing in Saratoga
Photo by Troy Schumacher
Yesterday's rehearsal was so much fun! Up until then, we had worked on Dear and Blackbirds in segments meaning section by section, continuing to choreograph the lengthy pas de deux and rarely going back to the beginning.  This was because we were rehearsing with limited time in between NYCB rehearsals or during performances, so the priority was to keep making progress on the choreography and save the connecting and cleaning for this rehearsal week. 

Troy's plan worked! We started the rehearsal with a calm confidence knowing that the excerpt of Dear and Blackbirds to be performed at Fire Island was finished choreographically, so Troy could focus on piecing it together. To aid in the connecting of sections, Harrison and I did our homework  (meaning we watched the rehearsal videos the night before so we could come in prepared knowing all of our steps). 

Harrison and I took our places for the start on the ballet and Troy pushed play! We were off! Though not making it too far without stopping, we managed to work our way through the seven minute pas de deux. Fixing heads, arms, timing, and working on character development, within an hour we had gone through the entire ballet. Harrison and I grabbed some water, and then while looking out the window into the hustle and bustle of Times Square, both thought "We should try running this thing!"

So that's exactly what we did. "Taking it easy," we said, but easier said than done. We didn't take it easy, we ran Dear and Blackbirds! It was a great feeling to be able to run the ballet and see our way through to the end. As the ballet is only two dancers it is physically demanding so to reach the end pose we were both beyond thrilled. We did it! No mess ups, no stopping! 

Harrison, Troy and I all left New 42nd Street Studios feeling excited!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

2014 Season Announcement

BalletCollective is back!
The Impulse Wants Company
Photo by Erin Baiano

After our successful season this past summer at the Joyce, BalletCollective is up and running again, gearing up for our 2014 New York Season to be held at NYU Skirball, October 29th and 30th. It is exciting to be back in the studio again working on new pieces for BalletCollective.

This year BalletCollective has 2 new dances planned in addition to last year's The Impulse Wants Company. The first new work is to feature the collaboration of director and choreographer Troy Schumacher, indie rock composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone and artist David Salle; the other new piece, titled  Dear and Blackbirds, will feature the second collaboration of Troy, Ellis, and writer Cynthia Zarin.

The Impulse Wants Company
Photo by Erin Baiano
The process of creation for Dear and Blackbirds is off and running. The poem is written and the music is mostly complete. The dance, a 10 minute pas de deux for Harrison Coll and me, is in the beginning stages. Troy began working with us one evening last week before a NYCB performance to get a sense and feel for the ballet and the direction it should take. Harrison, an energetic young lad, portrays just that in the piece. I am an older woman (as I am about 10 years older than Harrison, AHHH), annoyed at his youth but interested in his vitality. The piece starts out fast paced for Harrison and slow and steady for me. It has been fun and interesting working with Troy and Harrison on this pas de deux. Harrison and I have a very playful dynamic which seems to be perfect for this project. We are both open to ideas and feel quite comfortable working together (we should, considering Harrison was my first "Party Scene child" in the Nutcracker about ten years ago!). I am encouraged by our first three rehearsals and like what Troy has created so far.

Stay tuned for more about Dear and Blackbirds as the ballet progresses along with all the inside scoop on BalletCollective and its company!