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January 17, 2007

First Steps, Again

I started making a ballet today again for the first time in over three years.

It started with a series of emails in October. Mary, one of the dancers I’ve made the most ballets on, sent me an email saying she had talked to Frankie (another classmate who also worked with me) and they had got to talking about how they missed working with me and that they had decided I needed to do a pas de deux for them before they got too old to do one anymore.

Yes, it made my day.

The hardest thing for all of us at our ages isn’t body issues – both of them at least are in unnaturally good shape. It’s our schedules. It took several months to find time we all were free to work together. I blocked off Wednesday nights and finally once Nutcrackers and the holidays were out of the way we got together.

It’s nice to work with friends and contemporaries. Frankie and Mary are still in good shape, but we have experiences in common as well as training and colleagues. I know how the two of them move and how they think. It makes things very comfortable, though it doesn’t make me feel any less rusty. Steps, what are those?

I had been joking with Mary for years that I was going to make a ballet for her loosely inspired by the character of the child vampire in Anne Rice’s novels. When she and Frankie approached me (both of them seemingly, and irritatingly, ageless – Bitches. I hate them.) it seemed like the right time to do it. I’ve never made a narrative work before. Because I was too lazy to find music that perfectly fit the plotline (and because I like it when people get to work) I asked Eddie Guttman, who made the cello solo for Equilibrium in 2002, to compose a piano score. He’s out of town; we’ll hear fragments next week.

To give everyone (especially me) a chance to ease into things, and because it’s hard to make real progress without a score, we worked tonight mostly on plot, character and motivation. Who these people are; what brings a seemingly young girl and an older man into the same deserted alley late at night. It’s interesting to see how motivation inspires and enriches movement – you touch someone’s head differently when you decide that the reason you’re doing it is to check for a bruise or cut. The interesting part is to then translate back this movement to ballet vocabulary. Rising onto pointe will be an important part of how to communicate this little girl is not what she seems – little girls can’t rise onto the tips of their toes.

What feels most different is there was no build up to rehearsal. With Dance as Ever there was so much preparation involved, and much of it was administrative. There’s only so much artistic preparation I can do before I walk into a studio – it still feels made up on the spot. I can’t prechoreograph. This is far more casual; there’s no performance date, and no music either (yet). I’ve deliberately not worried about finding a venue; I don’t mind being released from the ambition and hopes I had when I was younger. It’s just three friends in the studio, working.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at January 17, 2007 11:04 PM

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That sounds pretty cool. Even for someone who knows next to nothing about ballet.

Posted by: JoVE at January 18, 2007 9:17 AM

Leigh, this is so incredibly wonderful. I've been worrying for a while now that you weren't making any dance, wondering how long you could go. I know the inherent challenges (both in term of schedule and finance) of hiring, rehearsing and costuming a company, of preparing for a specific performance date, and of doing promotion and fundraising on top of all the artistic work. How wonderful that you are choreographing without all the distracting business-related distractions. I know you usually start by listening to the music over and over until you know it inside out. Bit of a change this, eh?


Posted by: Margaret at January 20, 2007 8:18 PM

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