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!