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.