Day 13 – 34 days until performance
Things go better today. I find the final man, Abraham, who was recommended by several dancers as having clean lines and being available. When I see him in class, I realize he’s smaller than I’d like (about 5’7”) but has a good look and very good lines. I think the smallness might become an advantage in Horizon. The other two men I have, Barry and Ted are about 5’6” and 6’1” respectively – but Adriana and Mary, who, along with Frances are the cast in Horizon are about 5’5”, 5’1” and 5’6” (The decision was based primarily on schedules. Morgan has the tightest schedule, so she’s in two ballets instead of three.) If Frances and Ted are in the center and Adriana & Abraham and Mary & Barry at either side, I’m hoping that Abraham’s size when partnered with Adriana will balance the side couples a bit more.
In Armature, however, I put Abraham with Morgan, and begin to make a simple pas de deux on them. I have them enter from opposite corners to meet each other, and spend the first five minutes getting Abraham to think about walking properly. He’s got great raw material, and clean training, but unsurprisingly, he’s rough around the edges. He can do double saut de basques, and point his feet, but he can’t walk, yet. It’s the placement of his head on his neck, he juts it forward. If one walks with one’s neck craning forward, it looks rather savage. Movement habits are not erased by a single correction, though. I correct him repeatedly, but attempt to be encouraging about it.
Most of the vocabulary I’m using is simple, but very exposing, and I seem to be drawn to the Cecchetti ports de bras with the opposition in the shoulders. Why? I was never trained by a Cecchetti teacher, so the attraction to me is a small mystery, but in this ballet I seem to be looking for a pre-Balanchine épaulement. As harrowing as silence is to the dancers (it’s twice as hard to retain steps isolated from music) I love watching the combinations in silence. It focuses your eyes. For a work that is very conservative in vocabulary, it all feels very experimental to me. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that one can experiment around the edges of a form, but it’s also very possible and very healthy to experiment within the center as well.
Morgan and Abraham’s pas de deux is derived from the opening phrases from the previous day, reverences become more central because there are two people dancing with each other. They meet, bow to each other, he offers his hand, she takes it and walks under his arm to pose in ecarté. The dance continues like that, and it wasn’t until I heard Frances softly humming the music from the grand pas de deux in act III of The Sleeping Beauty that I realized consciously what I was doing. I hadn’t stolen any choreography, but the Kirov Beauty had unquestionably gotten under my skin. It’s another one of the pleasures of choreography. When I see what I make in the studio, I know what had been filling my head in the interim. Tanztheatre and Cunningham in other years, now the Kirov and Paris. It’s always ballet, that’s what I know, but the accenting is different each year and each work.
I make small solos for each of the women next. I learnt yesterday that I had my work cut out for me, because the palette of movement I want most for this ballet is really only natural to Frances. Adriana was trained at the Joffrey, she moves beautifully but she’s athletic, not delicate. Morgan is delicate, and has a beautiful back and arms, but they are so flexible that she’s almost never orthodox. So I start to try and make solos for them that take the way they each move and make it look as clean and classical as possible. Adriana senses I’m perplexed about her ports de bras, she keeps asking me “Can you just tell me a little clearer what you want? If you can tell me, I can do it.” She’s right, the problem is, I can’t quite tell her. So I make a solo that works with what she does, very aerial. She laughs softly at one point, “It’s a man’s variation!” It isn’t, but it is a variation for a jumping female. It very well might be one of Adriana’s nagging fears that her ability to jump and turn means that she’s not very feminine and I’d rather not exacerbate that.
Frances’ section contains more ports de bras than Adriana’s, but also several difficult turns, and I try to make use of her precision, the very quality that was giving her a hard time in Scherzo Fantastique. She retains the steps much faster today than yesterday, I’m glad some of the tension is gone. For Morgan, I try to soften the unorthodoxy of her arms, getting her to move just a little less floridly, but only a little. The moment either Adriana or Morgan try to do things “correctly” it doesn’t look correct, it just looks strained. It’s my job to make how they move naturally look correct. When we break for the weekend, I know that I have to decide on an order for the ballet. Once that is done, it will fall into place.