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.

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