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.