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September 1, 1999

Day 26 - 15 days until the performance

Chuck and I work on Aubade first. We don’t do a run-through, but rather work on isolated sections. I give notes on a few steps, but I’m not unhappy with the way he’s handling his technique, and don’t feel a need to nit-pick. Rather, at one point, I see him looking towards the “balcony” pensively, but in a way that seemed to me indistinct; someone “acting” sad rather than being sad. So I ask him what he was doing at that point. Chuck starts to tell me the story he’s made up in his mind about the ballet, without specifics (I don’t want them because they’re unnecessary) but that the woman he’s dancing for is someone he likes, but it’s an impossible situation. I start to watch a few phrases of it and I become excited because I can see how that might work. The dancing becomes a way of saying, “Even though this can never work, I remember that wonderful time we had together.” She may not be at that balcony to which he’s directing his dancing, it may simply be the place where they first met. The danced phrases become conversational in nature, especially the repeated steps. Now, they’re no longer musical repeats, but emphases of a point, done for the same reason one might repeat the same things in a conversation. “Do you remember? Do you remember?” I can see the idea works for Chuck. The phrases become taut and start to shimmer with an inner life. We’re not working together Friday (he’s working with Susan Hendl of NYCB, which I’m pleased about.) but I’m looking forward to the next rehearsal even more than usual. It’s become more than pretty steps.

We have a calm and productive rehearsal of Horizon, and it’s a refreshing change from the previous two days! Lots of progress gets made, we go over the third movement and I tinker a bit with the new section to make it move better (it’s a matter of changing some spatial patterns and inserting a fouette before an arabesque). I then teach the three pas de deux in the second movement, changing them all slightly to suit the dancers. Adriana’s becomes more linear, she gets more extensions, and the angles get changed to show off her legs. I’m really impressed with how Mary coped with hers. This ballet is not her best ballet (that’s Scherzo, which she very nearly steals). It’s simply too abstractly technical for her. Mary has technique, but not without motivation, and she’s not a leggy dancer, and this ballet is all legs. But what we did was took a pas de deux built on a long limbed, almost floppy dancer and changed that entire elastic quality that the pas originally had to the specific sort of adagio quality she does best; that sort of McKerrow-Kirkland like delicacy where one gently resists every step with the chest and arms as if one were walking underwater. Almost none of the steps were changed (whip turns were changed to finger turns), it was a question of emphasis. It was also why I cast her in that specific dancer’s part. I knew she didn’t have the same adagio quality that the original dancer did, but I knew she could produce one that would be equivalent. Frances’ section gets changed the least it seems, questions of favoring one leg over another or changing the position of a lift. She and Tai, who originally performed the role, actually have a similar linear quality, so the changes I make are more to suit Frances than to suit my eye.

September 2, 1999

Day 27 - 14 days until the performance

Horizon continues to progress. The ballet was set in its entirety today, when the “window dressing” (what the other dancers are doing when one couple comes forward to do a pas de deux) in the second movement was completed. Because I was often dealing with one couple at a time, there was time for each couple to go into a corner and work out timing and technical issues quietly and at the level of detail that suited them, and everyone looked better today. Not everything was perfect, but steps that had looked like a struggle were flowing. Were I to set the ballet again, I might start with the central adagio movement, rather than the outer ones. I taught them first, because they are the most demanding, but some of the tension in rehearsals was from the initial shock. Working on the slower second movement might give new dancers a chance to ease into the ballet and test out their partnerships.

Once the initial learning of the steps was completed, we began cleaning the ballet phrase by phrase, beginning with the first movement. “Cleaning” is a process just like it sounds, one looks at all the dancers doing a given movement and ensures consistency and correctness of vocabulary and spacing. It’s a slow process, and can be a tedious and tense one. If a dancer has been doing a step a certain way for a while, and you ask them to alter it to conform to the other dancers, you’re breaking his or her kinesthetic memory, and there’s a physical as well as a mental strain involved. The rehearsal period for Horizon has been short enough that I don’t think the ballet is very firmly embedded in anyone’s muscle memory, so cleaning is less frustrating in that way than it might be.

Also, as I have said about ballet dancers, they work from the outside in. Now that the dancers know the steps and their transitions, they are starting to shade the movement and find their inner impetus, much as Chuck started to do yesterday in Aubade. As I suspected, the first to do so was Mary, because she’s already worked with me, and we understand each other’s metaphors. The sort of corrections I gave her during her variation in the first movement: “It’s all about the expansion of the chest, it’s that prow of the ship thing.” “Yes, more like Gelsey!” “Take a breath at the top of the movement here and keep it moving forward.” They sound inscrutable, but she knew exactly what I meant, and delivered it. I’ve also started to correct Abraham the same way. “Show me both shoulders and both hips when you dance, don’t close yourself off from the audience. We want to see more of you.” “Keep your torso moving legato, even when your legs are moving fast. Your arms and chest need breath in them.” Most of the dancers also requested small changes in their first movement variations, which I accommodate. A series of turns for Mary became a similar one that she did more reliably, Abraham asked for a different jump in his variation, so we changed it from a saut de chat to a cabriole with a fouette, Adriana asked that a series of turns on a diagonal be moved to the opposite side, Frances is still tinkering with the specifics of a manège of pique turns. They’re making the ballet their own. And once again, I’m having fun.

September 3, 1999

Day 28 - 13 days until the performance

We continue cleaning Horizon, and run the ballet twice, once at the beginning and end of the rehearsal, to build up stamina. It’s a tough ballet, 23 minutes long, with long stretches of uninterrupted dancing for the dancers and lots of petit allegro, both characteristic traits of my work. However, the studio where we work has many advantages (quiet, inexpensive, great location and the proprietor gives me the time I need) and one massive disadvantage, the floor is extremely hard. All of the dancers’ ankles are hurting.

I function today primarily as a traffic cop, to keep the process moving smoothly and steadily. Sometimes one dancer will get excited and race ahead, and a section isn’t cleaned unless everyone understands it. I’m also trying to coach the work, and that has varying effects, depending on the dancer. Mary and I tend to use similar metaphors to describe things, so she usually knows what I want when I start talking metaphorically. It’s less successful with someone like Adriana, possibly because she’s more matter of fact about dance than I am, but also because, as with Matt, my metaphors for things aren’t hers. Saying a word like “hover” to her doesn’t mean the same thing it would to me, and I have to keep searching for common images. For Frances and Abraham, I have to watch out for them taking what I meant metaphorically too literally in their eagerness to get what I’m driving at.

It’s also interesting for me to reset this ballet from 1993, as this is the longest time between original performance and revival of any work I have yet revived. It’s odd to meet yourself six years earlier. So much has happened, personally, artistically. Someone else might not notice it, but I notice the change in my choreographic style. I don’t think it’s a linear change, that my concerns in Horizon will never be my concerns again, I could make another ballet like it again some day. But Horizon is a very leggy work, and the new group works are very interested in the upper body (Aubade is also very leggy, but then, so is Chuck quite literally!) It’s also a very dense work, more so than the present ballets. Less telling, I see things in Horizon I’m glad I finally have the chance to edit out, awkward exits and changes of direction. The ballet had a cast change due to injury three weeks before its premiere in 1993, and there was barely the time to re-teach it, much less clean or edit it.

September 7, 1999

Day 29 - 9 days until the performance

I’ve had a good Labor Day weekend. It felt like a vacation, but then I realized I didn’t really get a day off, on Saturday and Monday I worked in the office, and on Sunday I was den mother at Wigstock for Shasta Cola’s and Girlina’s dancers. I didn’t realize until I cracked a broad grin helping Matt ballet master Girlina’s number Saturday evening how refreshing it was to be helping out on something that was not my problem. Interesting though to be in a room containing several dancers from the Cunningham, Morris and Graham companies, to say nothing of White Oak or American Ballet Theatre, all being chorus boys. I make a very good parent. “Who needs water, I brought water!” “You do what you need to, Matt, I’ll lace him up.” “Not a problem, I brought safety pins!” “You don’t have black shoes? I’m wearing black shoes, are we the same size?” [further comic aside – at the moment I am busy unlacing my shoes to switch them with a dancer, a man in a red ball gown with a microphone in his wig and a camera crew trailing behind him sticks another mike in my face, exclaiming that he loves my shirt. I am torn between the desire to promote my show and the need to get these shoes on the dancer.] All goes well and I discharge my final duty of the day. “You danced very well. Here’s a cookie! You danced very well! Have a cookie!”

I think I’ve had a bit too much hubris over the organization of the performance, because the gods fired two warning shots across the bow. On Monday, there is a message on the answering machine in the office from the production stage manager, explaining awkwardly that for personal reasons he cannot do the show, and he is busy trying to find a replacement. I call Jeff, the lighting designer, and offer him the position first, which I think is a better solution, because it allows Jeff to be better compensated for the extra work he’s already put in. Chuck and I work on Aubade first, primarily dealing now with acting issues. It’s tiring, but there’s no question he can do the solo, although when a guest walks in late halfway through it to watch, he shouts out jokingly in mid-leap, “I’m not running it again!”

We run Horizon, cleaning the outer movements before the run, but Frances comes up to me, red faced and exhausted after the run and the second warning shot is fired. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to make it through three ballets. Please take me out of Scherzo.” I think about it for a moment, she’s not just talking from fear. She’s come off of an injury, and isn’t built for stamina. I ask her if she’s sure, and if she realizes that at this point that her decision would be final and she says yes. I do what I’d usually do in a situation like this. I grab Mary and ask her advice. She knew someone who had said they’d be happy to get thrown into a ballet in case, but Mary suggests that rather than trying to teach someone new the ballet, we see what it looks like as a trio. Instinctively, I know she’s right, there were crowding and traffic problems in the quartet, and this may even solve more problems than the immediate one.

After a run-through of Armature, we set to work on making a trio out of a quartet. It’s surprisingly short work; all of the sections with four dancers in them are in unison, the effect is much the same with three dancers as with four. Because Morgan had missed a few rehearsals for the central section, she wasn’t onstage for much of it, and was available to step into Frances’ sections. I will miss Frances in the ballet, but thankfully, the effect of the work as a trio is very much like what it was as a quartet.

I have cast on and am mostly finished knitting a warm winter hat for a charitable drive for Russian orphans, the gods must be appeased. I’m just hoping they are satisfied with warning shots and don’t fire off a salvo I can’t handle.

September 8, 1999

Day 30 - 8 days until the performance

The closer we come to the performance the less I am a choreographer and the more I am a producer. There is a certain amount of coaching that I do, but also I try to choose “self-cleaning” dancers, the process of readying a ballet is so ingrained in them that I function primarily as an arbiter. Cleaning can get tricky at times like this, they know to ask me if something is a piqué or a relevé, for instance, but often I don’t care, they should do the one that works best within the combination (and usually one of them has grown comfortable with a piqué and yet another with a relevé. . .) Other times I will be specific, because the step has a specific effect.

We worked on cleaning Armature and Scherzo today, but my attention gets divided more and more between the concerns of the dancers and the concerns of the production. Jeff was there trying to get as much information as he could for lighting and production management, and Peter Lopez, who is doing the sound editing for Armature was also there. The violin partita has “erasures” in it where the music fades out, and I needed to supervise their placement (it couldn’t be where a dancer needed a musical cue.) The dancers still need help with the sequence of Armature, I’ve written out a sequential order of the work to give to all of them, post at the wings, and give to Jeff to assist with the sound cues. Scherzo got its first step-by-step cleaning today, of the first 10 minutes of the work. One reason Horizon takes so long to clean in comparison is the cast is double the size. If six people are all doing a given step, the ballet isn’t clean until all six of them are consistent, and that takes longer than ironing out inconsistencies in three dancers. One of the reasons Aubade takes so little time to clean is that Chuck can really do any step he chooses, within reason. It’s a solo, if he opts for a piqué instead of a relevé, no one is going to know.

Another person watching the ballet was Lilian, who is doing publicity for the show. I insist on doing the initial publicity, and the writing of press releases, because that’s my image and I wish it to be accurate. But it’s been a relief to hand that job off to someone else after the mailings were done, and have her do the follow up. It seems the decision to work with Chuck has paid off practically, when Lilian makes follow up calls to invite VIP’s to the concert, they are aware of it. I know from my own experience as a writer that the brutal truth in New York is that one gets enough PR and other mail demanding one’s limited time and attention that a lot of it gets ignored. If I am sent a press release and see no name on it I recognize, it gets thrown out. At least I know that mine has not been thrown away this year.

September 9, 1999

Day 31 - 7 days until the performance

A long, crazy day. I thought I was leaving early for rehearsal when to my horror, I realized I had left the music tapes and CD’s at the office, and I did not have any extra copies at home. After an interminable cab ride through Times Square to the office to retrieve the tapes I tried to hail a cab back to the studio. I narrowly avoided a confrontation with two very large black women who sauntered right in front of me to hail a cab after I had been attempting without success for five minutes and my temper was quite short. I’m not sure if I would have been the first choreographer to appear on Jerry Springer for “Jell-O wrestling with people who steal your cab” but I opted to run the 16 blocks to the studio instead. It ended up being faster than my original cab ride.

I arrived 30 minutes late for my hour-long rehearsal with Chuck, but we managed a decent rehearsal anyway, going through Aubade musically once, than running it full out. The piece is ready to be put on stage. At this point, I just enjoy watching it. David took measurements for Chuck’s costume, Jeff was there making a video and making notes for lighting cues.

Horizon rehearsal consisted of cleaning the second movement and about 3/4 of the third movement and a full run through. It’s progressing, but the scale and the size of the dance means that rehearsals are still more tiring than any of the others - six people in a room all trying to figure out what they do and what they need at once. Like most dancers, I don’t get it when people have problems with something that comes naturally to me. I have tremendous sympathy for someone having technical struggles, but just cannot comprehend problems with retention or musicality. I know intellectually to be patient, and I think I am, but my understanding is purely on an intellectual level. Viscerally, when I see someone simply unable to hear a musical cue or remember sequence, I keep wondering why he or she can’t do something so patently obvious to me. Still, they run the ballet and it’s shaping up. I need to get them to a certain comfort level with it, so they don’t look like they are assaulting a particularly treacherous mountain peak or rappelling up a sheer cliff. Part of that is my choreography, the ballet takes a lot of stamina. It’s 23 minutes with only brief rests for each dancer. I was going to say that my work has gotten less demanding, but it hasn’t. Horizon, Les Noces (1996), and Reger/Mozart Variations (1998) are all dense 22-25 minute ballets with intricate petit allegro work that are demanding on both the body and the mind because they tend to be complex in structure and repetitive, but with slight variations to make them even more fiendish. Horizon is more driving and angular than the other works, but I made it at a point when my only model for choreography was Balanchine. I can tell the difference that broadening my dance viewing made in my choreography, Horizon is a massive, final closing of an insular period for me as a choreographer. I also notice that in this diary, there comes a point in each work when I can finally see what I’ve done, both as the dance stands alone and in relation to my other work and I start describing the work almost as if I were writing about some other choreographer, not myself. It must seem very self-absorbed, but it’s part of the final stages of making the dance for me. I don’t quite know what I’ve made until I really, really look at it.

After rehearsal is done, Mary, Abraham and I trek out to Queens to Peter’s studio to record the vocal sections of the score for Armature. Abraham comes along as a lark but proves invaluable, because he marks the dance Mary is narrating at tempo, becoming her guide and metronome. Mary is recording a narration of the steps of two sections, plus a few simple sentences (“This is the beginning of the ballet”) all done to focus the audience’s attention on the structure and inner workings, the armature of a ballet. It takes three hours and several glasses of warm water to record about four minutes of spoken material, but we get what I think are good tempos and correct inflections. It was above and beyond the call of duty for both of them (we all got home well after 11 p.m.) and I promised to take both of them out for dinner.

September 10, 1999

Day 32 - 6 days until the performance

A quiet day. Cleaning rehearsals for Scherzo and Armature, both of which are in decent shape. Very little of note happens in Scherzo rehearsal, we clean the ending of the ballet, run it and end early. I spent a little time with Abraham (“But, Dad!”) before the actual rehearsal going over his two solos in Armature, changing the longer of the two slightly to keep him moving and eliminate egg-on-face moments in it.

Peter arrives with a rough edit on CD, which works as I expect it to, but it’s a little shock to the dancers, especially the erasures in the violin partita. I think they will have the effect I planned, which is to focus attention on the music by its absence. The most difficult section to deal with is Mary’s narration of Adriana’s solo, which is at the best tempo we could manage without Adriana’s presence, but certain sentences are too drawn out. I get Adriana to move through the solo section by section, finding pauses that Peter can eliminate in the score to bring it to the tempo she’s used to.

There’s an undercurrent of edginess, but it’s normal at this stage of a rehearsal, people are fatigued and nervous, but somehow they all managed to remain collected and things got accomplished. I was glad Morgan had given me some jellybeans before rehearsal. When things got a little tense, I would sidle up to whichever dancer needed it and slip one into her hand.

September 11, 1999

Day 33 - Saturday. 5 days until the performance

We work in the early evening on Saturday to give Horizon a final cleaning rehearsal - beginning Monday, we will be using rehearsal time to run all the ballets.

My friend Amy comes to rehearsal as an extra eye to help out with the ballet. I’m glad she’s here, the central part that Frances is doing was originally choreographed on her, but she was unable to perform it because of a ripped ligament in her foot. I begin by cleaning the last three minutes of the ballet (where we left off the last rehearsal) and then we run/mark the piece movement by movement, giving notes, and then do a run full out. Amy asks me why they’re marking the movement by movement section, and I explain that the studio floor is so hard they really can’t do the ballet twice full out. I’m not making excuses for them, unfortunately. One day, I jumped only a little to demonstrate something and my ankles and back started to hurt. Alas, finding 110 consistent hours of rehearsal time for an affordable price in New York City is no easy task.

The rehearsal progresses in an orderly enough fashion, although with the same edginess that’s been present. I have to really insist on the dancers paying attention to me, they’re wrapped up in their own anxieties and concerns. Once all the notes are given and the rehearsal ends, all hell breaks loose. I spend a good deal of time listening to some upset dancers who can’t communicate their concerns to their partners. It’s upsetting to them, and justifiably so, but I’ve done six concerts now, and something similar to this tends to happen right about now. I need to mediate where necessary, but most of this is nerves. At this point in the process, I’ve gone from being a choreographer to being a manager, because the steps are done and that’s what’s needed.

September 13, 1999

Day 34 - 3 days until the performance

Tools in the arsenal of the ballet master:

  • Preparedness and competence
  • Sufficient rehearsal time
  • An even disposition
  • Gummi Bears

We run all of the ballets in program order, cleaning and rehearsing as necessary. Scherzo has a solid run, Mary looks absolutely astonishing in the ballet, marvelous and frightening in her pathos. I really enjoy watching the piece. I love it when the ballets get to a point where I just want to watch. After all, that’s why I choreograph them. Chuck runs Aubade and gets a gummi bear (actually several.) It’s a little less solid than it was on Friday, but nothing to provoke concern.

Peter has dropped off the CD of Armature and Adriana’s section is much improved. This ballet has the most technical concerns to it, Jeff is there and “calls” the blackouts and music cues so everyone can get used to them. Several gummi bears are distributed to calm frazzled nerves.

Horizon looks much better than it did on Saturday. I give at least 30 minutes of the rehearsal over to letting each partnership go off and hammer out some of the tough spots, with me occasionally acting as referee if they’ve hit an impasse. It seems as if I’m doing nothing, but it’s what they seem to need most at the moment, to talk to each other. The timing of the beginning and ends of each movement is gone over, which is where that seemed weakest. The newly choreographed part of the third movement (about a minute and a half before the end) is still unclear, I need to really clean it step by step, which I will do tomorrow.

The run of the ballet looks much better than it probably feels to the dancers, let’s just say all the gummi bears are gone. I’m a little surprised with myself this year, I can’t recall being this calm ever in a previous concert. It could be that I’ve dealt with productions in far worse states than this one, or it could be that I’ve done enough concerts to realize that dancers get very edgy and their behavior gets exaggerated during theater week. It goes with the territory and it sorts itself out. Even so, it feels awfully nice not to internalize their tension, but it also makes me more effective for them if I don’t.

I’m bringing jellybeans for tomorrow’s rehearsal. I think I may have to break out M&M’s and other heavy-duty stuff for the theater.

September 14, 1999

Day 35 - Last Day in the Studio. 2 days until the performance

Jellybeans are used today. Again, all the ballets are run, but we turn them away from the mirror, so that the dancers don’t use it to stay together. I’m not saying that much today, again mostly in reaction to their nervousness.

Mary to another of the dancers: “I think our motto should be, ‘It’s just ballet, it’s not World Peace!”
Response: “Oh, if only it were World Peace!”

I admit I find this exchange breathtaking. My version of the same came when a dancer said “I’m afraid I’m going to hit the chairs when I turn.” I replied simply, “Then don’t.” It’s better advice than it’s taken for. A lot of the nerves are self-manufactured and unnecessary. One of the dancers nearly injured her heel when she stamped on the floor in a fit of temper because she was sick of the hardness and slipperiness of the floor. Even with all the nerves, the ballets all look in shape to go into the theater.

After rehearsal

More and more time is taken up on errands, with Mary and I running to Capezio to pick up shoes, tights, rosin and other sundries for the performance after rehearsal.

I head to the theater after rehearsal where Jeff is loading in, and Matt is constructing the sets. There isn’t all that much for me to do there except check in. Matt’s set for Scherzo looks ominously small, the sculpture of picture frames (“I was possessed by the spirit of Louise Nevelson.”) takes up too little of the stage area, and reminds me more of the Stonehenge sculpture from Spinal Tap. The Armature set has the same problem of scale, the ropes he uses are too thin, and don’t read from the audience. Matt knows all this already and asks me for more money to buy rope. I try to remember that Matt’s process tends to be absolutely last minute.

Jeff and I go to the impound lot on the Hudson River to release his car at 11 p.m., after having been towed, and I return home to find my hard drive has in all likelihood crashed. I avoid the issue by going out to see Shasta perform at midnight. The current Time Out has been delivered to newsstands, and I go to look at it. Gia Kourlas’ article is about 3 times the length I thought it would be and about as flattering as it could have been if I hadn’t written it myself (perhaps more so.) I float all the way to Barracuda to watch Shasta lip synch Madonna.

September 15, 1999

Day 36 - Spacing and Dress Rehearsal

My brain won’t really shut down enough to sleep. I turn on the computer tentatively at 6 a.m. to realize whatever problem hasn’t solved itself while I wasn’t looking. I can’t sleep, so I call my father and wake him up, but also because I know he can solve the problem by loaning me a computer. That problem tentatively fixed, I’m able to sleep a few more hours (and probably owe those hours of rest to my father in some Karmic Sleep Bank. Thanks, Dad.)

I go to the office for last minute preparations. I drop off my computer with my father to be fixed and check email and write hurried notes to people. I take one of the six copies of Time Out that I bought and cut and paste it into a single page layout which I run down to the copy shop to have enlarged. Press material and other boxes are loaded into a friend’s Jeep for an inordinately long drive downtown where I narrowly avoid being late for spacing rehearsal.

The main difficulty in the theater for me is to mediate between the technical staff and the dancers, who immediately begin complaining that the floor is too slippery, the lights are too bright, etc. The first action I take is to delegate that all issues will go through Mary to me or Jeff, partly because I don’t want to hear the same thing six times, but mostly because Mary is reasonable. Another dancer has already asked that the marley floor be relaid because of a gap. We have exactly eight hours in the theater daily and it takes at least two hours to lay down a floor. I ask her when she expects this to be done. Dealing with the slipperiness of the floor is a necessary issue, we have a small showdown with the theater on the use of rosin to achieve a compromise that allows rosin boxes, but not the use of rosin on the stage. Jeff asks me to get ammonia for mopping the floor tomorrow, I stupidly ask the theater director where it can be bought, where she predictably tells me it can’t be used on the floor. I’ve already figured out that the best course of action is to nod my head and buy it anyway.

There will be two rehearsals today, a walkthrough to adjust spacing and a dress rehearsal after a dinner break. The space is a good deal wider than the studio we worked in so adjustments need to be made for entries and exits, but fewer for the dances themselves. Spacing rehearsal goes with no major incidents, but a walk-through without lights is not the same as a full-out run. Dress rehearsal is another matter.

I don’t believe in smooth dress rehearsals, because people tend to relax in a bad way after a good performance, and the next performance catches them unaware. I’ve seen this happen more than once. This one was not smooth, although not bad - if we were able to rehearse all the pieces in the time allotted, and we were, it can’t qualify as bad. There were missed entrances and difficulties with crossovers. Tensions about lights seemed to dissipate once the lights were gelled, but not problems with the floor. A very thorough mopping is scheduled. The major problem is that Abraham is working all wrong - too tense and nervous and trying to overcompensate for it - he’s making horrible faces and he blows the double tour to the knee in Armature and starts swearing and stamping. He never has this problem in the studio, but the blackness of the house instinctively throws the dancers back. By Horizon, something is wrong, he’s obviously in pain, and stupidly trying to dance full-out through it. I shout from the house for him to mark, and his partner, Adriana, tells him the same thing. Since he’s not unable to move, I know it’s not a desperate situation, but it still is one that needs immediate attention. We get him to walk the rest of the ballet, and he goes upstairs and collapses on his back. Mary begins by seeing if anyone else in the cast has a muscle relaxant, and I gather up his clothing from the dressing room and make sure he has food and something to drink. It’s pretty obvious he’s sprained a back muscle, but not too seriously. Once we know what’s up, and I make sure he’s ok and feels better, then I start to yell at him that he can’t work like that and that kind of tension and inefficiency only leads to injury. “Stay on your back tonight! And don’t try to test it!” He looks at me guiltily because I’ve read his mind. We get his stuff and take him to the street and bundle him into a cab and safely home. I know there are lifts I’ll have to change tomorrow, but I spent my entire career with back pain, and know what it looks like. He’ll be able to dance.

September 16, 1999

Day 37 - Opening Night

It was a lovely day for a hurricane. The theater director called me at 10:00 am to ask me to cancel the show. The night before, the New York Times had sent a photographer to shoot the dress rehearsal, and Jack Anderson was coming tonight. I couldn’t take the risk he couldn’t re-schedule. At Jeff’s suggestion, I called New York City Opera to see what they were doing and they were going ahead with performances, so I felt I could also. Elizabeth Zimmer of the Voice had called and left a message saying that if there were a way to get there, she would be there. The dancer that concerned me most was Morgan, as she lived an hour away in New Jersey. After a rumor that the subways were shutting down was dispelled, I was able to make the decision that we would definitely go. Jeff left Westchester at 12:00 for a 3:00 call and I called the dancers and told them to leave now and left a message on the Dance as Ever voicemail that there would be a performance tonight.

At 1:00 p.m., when I left for the theater, there were no problems with the subways. I arrived at the theater without almost any delay (nor almost any rain) and ran to the supermarket to buy ice for the dancers, and some extra yogurt, bread and bananas for myself and anyone else who couldn’t get out of the theater to eat. Everyone arrives in time for the spacing rehearsal, except Morgan, but there is a garbled message on my machine that she is in the city. Working around her absence, we walk through Aubade first and then Horizon. By this time, a box office attendant tells me that a female dancer had called saying something about a fire in the subway and “her nerves sounded pretty frayed.” That’s my Morgan. I gave the attendant a message to tell Morgan to get into a cab and I would pay for it, and I continued with rehearsal.

Morgan arrived about 30 minutes later, and a cab had been unnecessary, the transformer fire at Times Square had been cleared. Abraham had visited an acupuncturist (at my expense) and was able to dance, but with his lower back taped (visible in the Armature costume, but not distracting.) and certain lifts we felt might be too jarring or dangerous were changed to promenades or other non-weight bearing steps. We walked through all the ballet and we all ran upstairs to change; the dancers into their costume and I changed into a sport jacket and pants. I would have worn a suit for opening night, but I felt it was inhospitable to look that formally and carefully dressed when the audience had to brave a hurricane and would be feeling wet and bedraggled.

A crowd of about 20 people wound up seeing the opening night performance, mostly press, hardy friends and one or two stalwart audience members who had reserved or purchased tickets in advance. I made a speech before the curtain to thank them for their fortitude, and we began.

Scherzo looked marvelous. Matt had blown in about 5 p.m. and hurriedly added extra wood and gold trim dripping off the frames to bring the backdrop to the proper amplitude. As is his nature, it was finished at the very last minute, but it was also very effective. The dancers looked wonderful in the ballet, David had brought in their costumes yesterday, but he also had obviously been working overnight, they had all been secured and hemmed and fitted so they flattered each dancer. This night’s run may have been the ballet’s best. Aubade also went well, and the audience clapped loudly enough to seem like a real crowd. There was a certain festive intimacy to the occasion; press, friends and audience members all braved the storm together.

was more nerve wracking. It was danced well, but Jeff had never called the ballet from the stage right wing, rather he called cues for the lighting and sound operators from out in the audience on dress rehearsal. Armature, with its silences and erasures in the sound track, and similar and repeated steps was treacherous from a technical standpoint. There were some miscalls of sound and light, but the ballet was fragmented enough in structure that such things, unnerving as they were to the dancers, Jeff and myself, would not be taken as abnormal by the audience.

Horizon also had an unintended silence in it, but was danced solidly by the cast. After calming down a frayed nerve or so (and occasionally putting my foot down, telling one dancer that there was a rehearsal tomorrow and she would be there) we plan to use the scheduled rehearsal time for tomorrow to go over the cues in Armature. It’s been a soggy, long day, but we opened, and all told, did a good performance. There may have been 20 people in the house, but among them were the New York Times, the Village Voice and WQXR. And the show went on.

September 17, 1999

Day 38 - Second performance

As in the final week of rehearsals, tempers are short and some of the dancers are obstinate, not understanding why they have to rehearse if the problem with Armature is technical. I don’t even bother wasting the time to explain, I just run the rehearsal, and we go over the questionable cues in Armature twice. It pays off. The ballet becomes visible tonight and has its best performance of the run. It was a pleasure to get to see it. I find it sly and witty, but also beautiful at the same time, and I like the idea that it is open to so many interpretations. (Is it a spoof or a love song? Yes.) Scherzo is a bit more disjointed at its opening than the night before, but I still like watching it. It’s a great opening ballet, both for the audience and the dancers. The fact that it’s in soft slippers lets the dancers find themselves on the stage, and the audience loves the atmosphere. What I am struck by while watching it is how gay it is. Not because it’s camp (it isn’t) but because of its iconography and portrayal of the women. A straight man wouldn’t have made them look like that, as a larger than life iconic heroine, a Vivian Leigh in Streetcar or Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms. Aubade goes well although Chuck accidentally edits about 16 counts of the ballet out at one point and has to resort to emergency mime. Horizon, however, looks as if it had been rehearsed in separate rooms. The videographer is shooting emergency footage in case there’s a major slip up in the performance tomorrow, when a two-camera shoot is scheduled, but I think precious little of the footage tonight would be usable, there is that little synchrony among the dancers. I make it clear that this ballet will be rehearsed tomorrow before we leave for the evening.

September 18, 1999

Day 39 - Third performance

I don’t believe in detailed notes or rehearsals before a performance, the dancers’ brains are overloaded already. I deal with Horizon by putting on the music and simply telling them to walk through it and watch each other, then we go upstairs to prepare. The ballet is videotaped tonight and we have our largest audience, where I have to ask a few of my friends to give up seats so that a reviewer can have a clear view of the stage. Many dear friends are in the audience, and I’m pleased that the dancers give the all around best performance of the run. Morgan comes into focus tonight, her past two performances were diffuse, but she gives delicate and beautiful performances tonight, and on Sunday as well. Chuck gives a strong, accurate performance of Aubade, and Horizon again looks properly rehearsed. My only regret was that Armature peaked the previous night, and while it was performed well on Saturday, there was a certain magic to it on Friday evening. Still, it is precisely that evanescent magic, the indefinable tension and energy among the dancers that never quite makes it to video. When I look at the tapes of the two evenings, my guess is that they will look exactly alike.

September 19, 1999

Day 40 - Final performance

We all arrive late and a bit stunned for the matinee. The celebratory atmosphere of the night before felt like a closure, I have to reassure the dancers that there is still one performance left, and that it matters. They give a very strong performance, to a decent house for a matinee. All the ballets are strong, Scherzo is danced the best since the first performance. Chuck gives easily his best performance of Aubade, I only wish it had been videotaped, especially the I-stopped-counting-at-five pirouettes ending in perfect fifth position on relevé. Armature and Horizon are both solid and suddenly it’s all over.

It’s done.

We did a good job and there’s nothing more that can go wrong. I don’t need to be on alert anymore. I’ve guided them all through it all, through every potential hazard. I get a gold star.

I go to the dressing room in a haze, having packed the auction items and left them in boxes at the loading dock. The men’s dressing room is eerily clean; there’s not even a trace of Ted and Barry there. Chuck left after the final intermission; he had to pack and go to Toronto the following day to dance Swan Lake with the National Ballet of Canada. I don’t really want to say good bye to anyone though. I hate the sense of closure, as if the moment can never be retrieved. The tiny voice inside of me as people praised the performance kept asking, “But what if this is the best thing I ever do? What if this is the top?” But I think the best thing I ever do will be the thing that I am doing now, today. I didn’t watch Horizon with much interest even though it was many other people’s favorite ballet. I made it six years ago; in some ways it feels like a stranger. And yet, I also got to revisit the past and re-write it. I re-made a ballet I was dissatisfied with in 1995 and I got it right this time. I felt the 1998 concert was nearly crippled by personnel issues. This year I felt I managed the production with efficiency and mastery - almost like a zen warrior. I learned how to work; I learned to be sure to do what was necessary and to not do the unnecessary. Seemingly unrelated, but crucially, I was able to care for myself through the concert, there was always something for me to eat and clean clothing to wear. My apartment was navigable; I was able to even accomplish things other than the concert (knitting, some writing, even this diary.) When one lives alone, there’s no one to care for you if you can’t. And if you can’t, depression follows soon after.

At the end of the 1996 concert, I nearly quit choreographing. I had done a good job, but couldn’t see how that possibly mattered, I was making no headway towards a career as a choreographer, managing only to throw myself further into debt. I took what I said was a year’s hiatus, but I didn’t know whether it wasn’t actually forever. The time when I knew I needed to start the 1998 concert kept approaching nearer and I was paralyzed with indecision and fear as to whether to go on and risk the pain or just give up. But if I didn’t choreograph, no matter what else I did, I wasn’t sure who I was. So I went back, thinking, “Better a flawed personality than none at all.” And I did give up. I didn’t give up trying to choreograph well, I just decided to give up trying to get what I thought was somehow my recognition due from others. If the only person in the audience was me, I still had made the ballet and that was what mattered. When I looked at the ballets during the performances this year, I realized finally that I what I wanted most was simply to see them, to watch them. I made them because I wanted them to be made. And even though their existence is as evanescent as all of dance is, they still constitute a map of my life. It may be written in mist or sand, but there is still something indelible in the writing, something that makes sense of the fact that I exist. It may be a whisper, and no one may be there to hear it, but it still persists, “I am here, I am here, I am here. . .”