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Day 12 – First day of Armature, 35 days until performance

Starting work on the new piece is exhausting enough for me, but it brings the dancers right back to square one of frustration. It’s a tough day, and I spend some of my energy trying to work, and a good deal of it just trying to get them through the rehearsal. Armature seems simple in structure, worked in sections, some to music and some to silence, but it only provides the dancers with complications. I’ve thought about Armature for a while, it’s to be the “classical” work on the program, most specifically, the work about classicism. I wanted it to be like the “Visible Man” dolls we had as children, a ballet with the skin peeled back. I have a notion to start with a stated theme, as a simple series of ports de bras and a small dance primarily à terre. It’s not a particularly original idea (Serenade, Études, The Goldberg Variations) but it’s an appropriate one. I start on Adriana, but Frances catches my eye almost immediately as she tries out the ports de bras, her long limbs and academic training (I believe she’s the only one in the room from an academy, the Australian Ballet School) are exactly what I want in the series of ports de bras, and I can give her clear, almost Cecchetti, épaulement and it looks like something.

But nothing moves smoothly. Because the combination phrases are only slightly differentiated and not set to music, even the dancers with the strongest retention are having problems remembering the steps. Worse, these sections seem to play into the dancers’ weaknesses instead of their strengths. The vocabulary may look exactly right on Frances, but for the life of her, she can’t remember a step of it today. Adriana learns it, but it doesn’t look as suited to her. Everyone’s tense, and trying not to be short-tempered. Mary isn’t here, having gone to Washington DC for the week to teach and I sorely miss her at the moment. I think part of the tension is her absence. Often she stabilizes a room.

We make three phrases in the rehearsal, the one mentioned above, a second one amplified from the first (it includes jumps and turns). At this point, about 2/3 of the way through the rehearsal, I put on some music (the prelude from Bach’s solo partita #3 for violin) just to give their aching heads a rest and make a phrase to that. Even with the frustration, I instinctively feel like I saw what I wanted for the piece out of Frances when I saw her first do the ports des bras at the beginning, a classical style, academic and patrician. But how to make that look right and natural on all of my dancers? I’m going to have to build their individual sections on each of them.

I let Frances and Adriana go early, and make Morgan’s section of Scherzo Fantastique. Jeff Salzberg comes in at that point, because he’s doing the lighting design, and watches as I finish the ballet. We put together the 30-40 seconds quickly, it’s very sweet, innocent music. “Younger than springtime, are you.” I instruct her. Morgan plays the ingenue very well. Her solo is related to the lush trio that follows it, extensions and developpés, so that the trio becomes an amplification of her solo.