Raisa, the pianist for my morning class played this for grand adagio today and it just so happens that I had also gotten a bit inspired with the choreography (because of the holiday?) and the result was a rather lovely bit of dancing. Second time through I broke the class into two groups so they could watch each other and I could feel both watchers and dancers breathing carefully throughout. It was one of those times when you don’t have to remind people how to feel beautiful because their instincts have taken over. The class was about half professionals and half amateurs struggling to keep their heads above water but I’m telling you, there was not an inelegant body in the room. I love it when people forget to “try” because they are busy enjoying something that also happens to be incredibly difficult. I feel like myself and Raisa and most of all Albinoni, that master from all those hundreds of years ago, have tricked them into being immortal. Sitting up there in the front of the room watching them live out my intentions makes me feel powerful. And also jealous.
When it was over I said, “Well done,” which is not something I say all the time - because it’s not often true. And then I told Raisa she was stunning. And then, because everyone was still sucking wind and needed a little more time to recover before we moved on to simple pirouettes, I said, “I wonder what it was like the first time that music was ever played, I wonder how the first people who heard it felt. I can’t imagine that they didn’t just sit there in shock, utterly blown away by the genius! But maybe it was just like a new Gaga song, maybe they were like, ‘Hmm interesting, wonder where he’ll go next?’”
Gaga mentions in ballet class always get a laugh, and laughter is important because otherwise what we do is only disappointing, difficult, and, on the off chance it happens to go quite well, devastating.
After seeing what Gaga and her team did on Idol I’m worried for the “Alejandro” video. It’s not a “hit it” dance song like her others, it’s a salsa (on1 LA-Style, rather than NYC on2, which will piss the salsa snobs off to no end but like all other NYC snobs they’re not happy unless they have something in which to be disappointed, so it all works out) and it was very apparent she was not comfortable with the earthy, smoldering type of movement the song needs. And this, I’d wager a guess, is why she was the only female moving up there; anyone with any significant “feminine” movement in their hips would have made her look extremely rigid.
The hottest moment of the whole performance was when she sat back down at the piano and demonstrated just how well this song would work in your latin band “everyone takes a solo” situation. This is obvs her “La Isla Bonita” (yeah Gaga doesn’t use latin percussion but tap it out, same timing/beat) and it could end up showing her limits rather than nominating her as a versatile dance-floor dominator a la Madonna.
And let’s be honest, Britney is not and never was the heir to the madge-badge, she was either a pretender to the throne or at best the regent. Gaga is a real grown-up person who, however much artifice goes into it, is at the helm of her enterprise. The comparison might be a puppet vs. a person wearing a foam costume at Disneyland: the latter has a whole body, is autonomous, and is actually making decisions. The other is a husk with a hand up its butt.
So if Gaga is going to be as awesome as I want her to be - the dance world desperately needs another (better!) Madonna, and would settle for another (crappy) Britney - she needs to not eff this up. Madonna was not the best dancer in the business, by a long shot. But dancers have a saying, it comes in handy when you’re faced with a role that is alien to your body and natural rhythm:
If you can’t do it, fake it. If you can’t fake it, fake faking it.
Gaga needs to start faking faking it. And hopefully get smart for the video, wear something with movement in it (not to belabor the “Bonita” comparison but it’s a not a bad example of limitations well-skirted) (lovehate the pun), and don’t make “Telephone Tries To Salsa” which is what she came pretty embarrassingly close to doing on Idol.
The part where she actually salsas with one of the boys? I cringed. Say what you will about Madonna. She did a lot of pretending but she never looked uncomfortable.
i really loved this music. it reminded me of city streets, the hasty buzzing of all the people on the sidewalks coming and going. perhaps looking discordant yet there's a rhythm in that too.
Exactly. I definitely see a “walking” motif at certain parts. Not strolling. Urban, purposeful walking, walking that’s like thinking, not like dreaming. But I’m already tending to blend that with the courtly walking dances (particularly the polonaise), when I’m playing around in my living room. I have to figure out if that’s really where I want to go … if I even want to go at all.
It’s very helpful for you to point me to the image of a city street. That’s something that I’m passionate about, the feeling of being alive in a place like Manhattan or Athens or Bern, cities that are beautiful but more than just a museum to a past time, a place where real people are living and parts are quietly crumbling and that thing is happening where we all participate in the chaos so emphatically that it snaps into order and then immediately dissolves, over and over, and the only predictable part is that it’ll happen again momentarily, but off the beat.
I was worried about this last night because I wasn’t sure I could find something to say, other than “how beautiful this music is!” and that’s not typically enough for more than a few phrases of movement. You’ve given me something to bite into. Thanks.
At present I’m thinking five girls and it’s hard to resist the temptation to put them in white leotards - this is my Balanchine background showing. Bach does some interesting things with fives in the piece, and five is great for implications of chaos because it will never be symmetrical, nor will it have the balanced “trinity” feel of something divisible by three. No couples, no families, no individuals but lots of individual moments. Well, it’s a start.
Then there’s the dilemma of whether or not I dance in the thing. It’s so hard to pass up an opportunity to perform! But I spent this past weekend ripping apart another choreographer for appearing in her own work and therefore not being able to see how flawed and boring it was. I’d hope I could trust myself not to get lost in my own role, to wear the hat of the chef and also be in the stew. But that’s a pretty tough line to walk. And I do think I’d be sad that I could never really “see” the piece, except in video, which is NOT seeing the piece. Dance happens live, unless it’s specifically made for film and the camera is choreographed in with the rest.
I got a big lecture at PT about “caring for” my apparently torn rhomboideus minor and levator scapulae but I’m probably gonna take a late class tonight because he talked for 20 mins and I need some revenge. That’s about as tl;dr as my life gets.
Let it hurt you let it hurt you let it hurt you don’t fight back
"After all, if you’re not paid for your art then you need not question your motives."
- Tony Bentley, Winter Season
Like everyone else in the city I slept poorly last night and woke up uncomfortable so I’m skipping class this morning. I’m not required to be there and I have no upcoming shows for which I need to be in tip-top shape. The only reason to go is to perpetuate the dream that’s I’ve been chasing in class since I started training at ten, and I am trying not to dream so much anymore. I am at the stage in the ballet life-cycle where dreams have to fit inside reality, a messy, bottleneck point where infinite possibility is squished down to “what you actually get to do.” It seems small by comparison no matter how big you get. The only way for me to control how much it will hurt, when I’m 45 (wishful thinking!) and can’t move fully anymore, is to keep the dreams from over-growing the realities. Reality has to stay in the game.
What dancers do is extraordinary. The world doesn’t notice but that was never part of the dream. I went to professional ballet school because I didn’t give a crap about the world so why should it give a crap about me? The world is fun but it is ugly. Ballet is neither of those things (although interestingly enough every class and rehearsal is peppered with a constant stream of snarky, sophomoric jokes). Ballet class is the hard, cold look you give yourself in the mirror where you say, “Who the fuck are you?” and our product is whatever we answer. If we lie it’s boring, pretentious, muddled, pathetic. If we find a way to actually tell the truth I don’t care how much or how little our audience knows about dance, they are going to be moved.
But then, whether you were authentic or not, it’s going to be over and that comes a long time before you die, long before you feel ready to retire from a full and active life. Put another way we could seem lucky - we actually get to have an afterlife here on earth! But it’s true that the idea of not-dancing is like thinking of your own death. I guess it’s no great discovery that no matter how far you go you’re never really ready.
What’s going to haunt me, when I’m gone, is the same thing that usually gets me to class on days when I otherwise have no reason to go; sometimes I call it “the knowing.” There’s a pseudo-science about “body knowledge,” how people who use their body and muscles retain a preverbal intuition, a wisdom set apart from the thoughts we box in with words. It’s what drives musicians, I suspect, this “other thing” that we have to say that doesn’t just resist words but renders them invalid (let no one say that musicians are not physical artists! Athletes perhaps not, but physical absolutely, and I think that plays into why we care so much about how they look). Even when I can’t dance anymore I am going to hear those thoughts in my body and I won’t have a mouth to speak them anymore.
Which reminds me of the time that my sister and I were discussing what, if anything, the family dog would say, if suddenly she could speak. I posited that it would probably be something along the lines of “So what does a dachshund have to do to get some bacon around here?” My sister was incensed. Her argument was: “You don’t know what’s in her head! Maybe there are poems and theories and ground-breaking architectural sketches in perfect scale! We have no proof she’s an idiot! She could be a DOG GENIUS!”
Aside from the fact that it would be an honor to be the owner of a dog genius, I sincerely hope that she’s not. To have the Guggenheim ceiling imprisoned in your thoughts with no hope of escape sounds like nothing if not punishment.
And my tragedy is that it’s not even the ballet equivalent of the Guggenheim ceiling I’ll be carrying around in a body that can’t express it. It’s just your average pretty house on a hill, a nice arabesque here or there but nothing the world will miss. Does that make it better or worse?
That seems like a rather pointless question to answer, especially since if I sit here any longer I’m going to be late for physical therapy and it’s one of those days when I’m especially relieved to have an excuse to take a good, honest beating.
Are We Winning? and other questions that are a bit more dangerous to ask
I know nothing about baseball but my sister does. Her Yankees obsession nearly drove us apart the summer we lived together. The only thing that preserved the relationship was if I was banned from talking and asking questions - especially anything about They Who Must Not Be Named (the opposing team) - during games. Also I was not permitted to turn a game back on if she had decided our watching was “not helping,” no matter how much I wanted to see the end. This sister-shaped monster scared the crap out of me so I followed her rules.
A few days ago The Awl posted an excerpt from Will Leitch’s book Are We Winning? that centers around a baseball game that took place in Chicago in 2008. I did not expect it to be a good fit for me but I thought maybe it would make a good gift for my sister so I read what was posted. I actually kinda liked it so I bought the book and read it for myself.
It’s a well-paced, entertaining read and you don’t need to give two craps about baseball to enjoy it because yes, it’s a lot about baseball, but it’s even more about our shared human condition, how we deal with it, how we escape from its miseries and terrors, how we celebrate its improbable wonders, and how we memorialize its least-ostentatious, most valuable pleasures.
I found myself comparing baseball to religion and ethnicity, with their mythologies and rituals, their demi-gods, saints, and heroes, their fallen priests and champions-turned-traitors, and quite early on I stopped pretending like I “don’t know anything” about baseball because it was clear that - ignorance of rules and stats aside - I do. It’s as though, through cheeky little anecdotes and a few heartfelt discussions of the past and present Leitch takes off his jersey and shows me how it was made, and I see that it’s essentially the same shirt I’m wearing just a different size and color.
Which is to say I found myself comparing baseball-fandom to ballet-fandom again and again, to the point that I started to think of the two passions as interchangeable (obviously I’m still struggling with that, I keep typing “baseballet”) and had to remind myself to keep proper perspective. I also went off on a little tangent in my margin note where he discusses the professional players and their own reverence (or lack thereof) for the game. He writes:
Most of us would give away years of our lives to have the opportunity to play major-league baseball, and we would do it for free, if they would let us.
But we’re wrong. It doesn’t work that way. I’m glad I wasn’t a very good baseball player. I think it makes me love baseball more.
I’ve heard people say almost the exact same thing about ballet dancers and it boils my blood every time. Now, the way my career is going it’s starting to look like I’m something equivalent to the players who Leitch describes as “completely irrelevant … who play in the majors for a couple of weeks, are never really noticed, and then disappear.” But I’m still on the team, so to speak, and sometimes they let me play in the games. So I’d like to say this in defense of the players who seem not to love it as passionately as the fans do out in the bleachers:
If they are anything like me and any of my friends who are pros then they absolutely do not love it less. Their passion for their craft is as defining of their identity as anything can possibly be, it was likely with them virtually from birth, certainly it was required to get where they are given the fierce competition and other challenges they endured to get there. Their love for the sport is as integral to their identities as a true fan’s love for her team is to hers. But, as with one’s love for a great dad, which is so significant and precious and profound that speaking of it feels difficult at the best of times and downright dangerous at others, expressing what they truly feel for baseball is probably extremely perilous for the pros. They treat a loss like “oh well better luck next time” not because they aren’t deeply in love with baseball; they treat it like that because they’re so very in love with baseball that if they allow it, for one second, to leave the cerebral, logical place where a loss really isn’t so bad then it enters a Bermuda Triangle type of emotional hot-zone. If you go there it’s even odds on whether you ever come back or not, so better not to go there. Being a world-class player requires world-class skills and one of the most necessary skills is the detachment that keeps you out of emotional danger. It doesn’t cancel out the passion that drives it all, not even while you’re complaining about the “job” parts of it, not even when you’re bored with it, not even when you’re making choices that would seem to say you don’t give a crap about it. The type of passion that gets you someplace so prized is rarely anything other than imperishable.
I obviously identified with a lot of the book, and that went as well for what I understand to be the main topic, Leitch’s relationship with his father. It is treated subtly and, in keeping with the stoic, masculine silence that Leitch both sends up and reveres, his feelings are not fully articulated. But even though it’s not stated outright, this is a story about a love so strong that it can bend the rules of reality.
Midway through the book Leitch declares:
When your baseball team looks helpless the world’s a forlorn place. You feel impotent. You feel like real life.
(Alert! Spoilers follow.)
At the end of the book Leitch’s team has been beaten and he stands huddled with his father as their arch-rivals celebrate all around them, but rather than a feeling of impotence or heavy reality there is a sense of microcosmic unity. For 283 pages this father-son relationship has seemed blessed except for a slightly vexing distance, and in this moment of defeat, a supposedly terrible event for these Cardinals fans, that distance itself is defeated. The Cardinals go down, as we all eventually do, but the Leitches cling to each other and love reverses the fall; one of the worst days for the Cardinals can still be one of the best days for its most devout fans simply because they share it.
My sister called while I was part-way through the book and I pounced on the opportunity to ask her some questions about baseball turns of phrase that were mysterious to me. We got to talking about stats and she laughed so hard she nearly peed when I asked her, “What is RBIs?” and pronounced the “s” like it was part of the acronym (which is not so dumb if you think of things like eReader and Mac IIsi).
She was pretty mystified as to why I was reading a book about baseball so I read her a few things I’d underlined. She asked if she could borrow my copy and I said sure, but that there are loads of insane little notes in the margins.
"That only makes it better," she said and I smiled so hard I thought I might cry.
And The Heart Says I'm Not Happy But That Doesn't Mean I'm Bad
On the back cover of Emily Gould’s book Jonathan Franzen is quoted, “This is not a ‘nice’ book.” I’ll agree and add that it is, in fact, a sad book.
It’s full of unique friendships, intrigues in one of the world’s greatest cities, sex with attractive, interesting people, and a career that goes in more or less a straight line from college student through being recognized around the NYC media world to having the chops to get a book published. But the person on that awesome-sounding ride partakes in a lot of subtle self-(especially previous self)-flagellation and seems condemned to dissatisfaction with the present because today’s pride is built on being better than yesterday, which of course implies that tomorrow is going to look down on today. Why not get started early?
That was the mood I felt while reading it, anyway. Certainly I think someone as talented as she is could have a lot to look forward to, even if she doesn’t get one whit better at any of it, relationships included.
Although, I think her grieving process could probably be allowed some more breathing room. I base this on nothing other than a “sixth sense” type of impression I got, something in the subtext of the entire story as it’s been told. The farther I got into the book the more I felt she was holding back an incredible sadness. Not a disappointment in herself, or in her peers, family, or anyone else. She is well in touch with her disappointments. But her grief for the things lost, both by her own decisions and the ones that were out of her control, I got a sense that grief was being held off. She claims responsibility obsessively but elides whatever version of sadness might come along with it: sadness that I needed something difficult, sadness that I caused someone else pain, sadness that the world failed me, sadness that injustice will stand. There are some things for which merely taking responsibility simply will not do, especially because you’re not the only responsible party - and for all of the saddest things in this book she is at most only partially responsible.
The passage that most startled me is on the second to last page, referring to the central romantic relationship in the book, a relationship she actively ended through infidelity:
And then I went to work and betrayed him, and broke up with him and still betrayed him, and I am betraying him again now, writing this.
I don’t quite buy that she is as vile as she insists. It’s clear she doesn’t feel heroic, and in truth the noblest thing to do, where this man whom she loved was concerned, might have been not to write it as she did. But that is not betrayal; the betrayal stays firmly in the past. What’s at play now is just the sad fact that in order to write the truth we have to write things that hurt, and the hurt cannot always be confined to oneself even when the topic is essentially oneself.
So she chose the nobility of the writer rather than the nobility of the ex-lover. There’s nothing wrong with that except that she seems kind of tortured by it.
But who doesn’t love a good bit of self-torture? It’s well-written and clever, full of “tell it, sister!” observations about life as a young urban female, spot-on descriptions of NYC idiosyncrasy, and, among other lolz, a Jane Austen reference you really don’t want to miss.
It is difficult. It hurts. I’m preoccupied by thoughts of food and money because I never have as much of either as makes a body feel comfortable. It is expensive (daily class! shoes!). It is frustrating. There are no jobs. I have an un-ideal body, getting thinner does not solve my body problems, but getting fatter definitely enhances them. I’m old, so old that taking five years off my age doesn’t make me young anymore, in “ballet years.”
I dislike whining. I was nurtured to feel it is a product and indicator of weakness. You either do it or you don’t. You can acknowledge unfortunate realities (life’s not fair) but you’re not a victim of circumstance. You chose it so own it.
I choose the thing where I start each day with a series of exercises that hurts my toe joints so much I’m getting a callous where I bite my lip in response. After about ten minutes everything relaxes and the pain goes away until about nine hours later when it returns in the form of a throb that prevents me from sleeping if I don’t obliterate it with ice.
It’s been creeping up on me slowly but it’s undeniable now. I have real physical limitations imposed by nothing other than my age. Even when I’m in perfect health, as I am now, I have to be careful not to test the limits lest I break. I have always loved how intense training results in hyper-awareness of physical nuance but now that means I can feel the beginning of the end. I can feel the prologue to the process of dying. It’s only just beginning to begin and already it’s breaking my heart.
Last night on the midnight bus, at about back-cramp-thirty, we finally hit NJ and suddenly instead of darkness and gas stations the seats were lit up by skyline and I felt my seatmate, the French-Canadian hair stylist who’d never been to NYC before, have that “holy shit NY!” feeling of reverence and excitement that I get at odd moments, like when the express train goes full throttle or I turn a corner and have a full view of the ESB or I’m in a bar with a piano and someone knows Gershwin. No matter how closely you follow your routine the city finds ways to keep life from being routine. Keep your manicured Albany mansions and king-sized Albany hotel beds. $31 gets you a bus ticket, a seatmate, a skyline, and a reminder that getting up early is a relatively small requirement for life in a city that never sleeps.
You do, however, have to walk through Times Square at 2am, because Port Authority closes the subway crossunder, and then walk through it again 5.5 hours later on your way to work, and the space between trains is maddening and once you get on one the conductor plays every automated message from the MTA over and over again so you and the other three passengers don’t snooze through your stop, which is a danger for me now on the metro north, which is why I am typing, typing, typing on my phone until I get to Ossining and kiddies, work, music, dance, dreams, and, if I’m lucky, tea.
"Midnight Bus To Penn Station" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
But I could work something into the lyrics like, “I’d rather live in this world than have missed the bus and spent the night in the station, especially given that cocktail dress and beat-up but sexxy weitzman heels (working my evening looks since 2005, bless their soles!) is apparently not the midnight bus uniform and thus I feel a little bit overdressed.”
That’s pretty much what I imagine comprises San Francisco.
NYC is the yummy phase. It’s gummy bears and cupcakes and bacon and cocaine and all those other things that equally assault and delight the senses with no effort. SF is an acquired, hence, more complex and mature taste. It’s bourbon and goat cheese and IPA and proper self-loathing. Not for the faint-hearted. I don’t know what I just wrote.
The summer I spent in SF was the first time in my life I ever got fat. Because of this I blame that place for all my career failures.
Which would be worse: blogging my post-performance depression or blogging the antics of the cat I'm babysitting?
Looks like I’m not leaving the apartment this evening, either way.
PS If a cat is on a raw foods diet can I give it milk that I warmed up in the microwave? Can I warm up the nasty raw meat in the microwave? If it cooks a little while I’m warming it up does that violate the raw foods diet?
PPS Why THE FUCK is a cat on a raw foods diet? Christ. As if I wasn’t ragey-sad enough I get the plaintive meows whenever I make normal food for myself.
PPPS I did not mean to imply there is something wrong with raw foods diets, not for cats and not for people. It’s a cold way to eat is all, and it’s complicating my life a teensy little bit and rather than address the problems in my life I prefer to trivialize the things other people have done to fix theirs. Or in this case, their cat’s. Be well, raw-foods-eating beasts of the world.
PPPPS I did not mean to imply that if you eat a raw foods diet you’re a beast. Related: please someone come put me out of my misery.
My sister is a PA for a show that did Letterman today and is doing The View tomorrow. Naturally they needed a few of the props from the theater, but because of union rules a stagehand had to be called in (and paid for a minimum of four hours work) to take them from the theater and put them in her car.
The situation was tense because for past promotional events the PAs have found crafty ways to retrieve the props without incurring extra expenses, and the stagehands definitely know it. So in the interest of diplomacy my sister tried to park near the loading door. There was, however, a huge SUV parked directly in front of it, and cabs standing along the curb for most of the rest of the block. She ended up parking around the corner.
When she got to the stage door the stagehand was there waiting impatiently; nevermind that he’s being paid for four hours, he knows it doesn’t need to be more than a ten minute job and if it lasts longer he’ll be ticked.
"Unfortunately we’ll have to carry the stuff all the way around the block," she apologized, trying to smooth things over. "Some asshole parked his huge car in front of the loading door. If it makes you feel any better, though, I saw he got a ticket."
The stagehand looked over at the SUV. ”That’s my son,” he said.
I first heard this piece when Brian Boitano skated to it years ago. It’s beautiful, and up until now, only available on an out-of-print CD, Symphonic Hollywood. I was able to find an excerpt once; now, here is the six-minute elegy, in its exquisite simplicity. You can get it from iTunes.
LA isn't actually that terrible (and I speak as a former NYCer who now lives in LA). just as many of the cliches you hear about NYC are untrue, most of the cliches about here are just as unfounded. plus i've found shallow, superficial people in both places so you learn to deal no matter where you live.
You cannot persuade me to give up my rivalry. No matter how many awesome people I meet from LA (and I’ve met a lot) no matter how many great things happen there, not even if I went there and had a good time, because the LA that I’m against isn’t the one that exists out there, it’s the one from the overheard conversations of my childhood, the one that comes here and thinks it knows our business better than us because it makes movies with stars in them and wears sunglasses inside a dark theater.
This is my Yankees v Red Sox, something I inherited from my parents’ community of stagehands/performers. Grown-up me knows it is silly and pointless and based on nothing.
But when I’m with my dad and my cousins and all their buddies from Local One it’s understood that LA is The Worst Possible Place because they are bringing in some chick from some movie and they told us, with a straight face, that she needs two dressing rooms and that both need to have a toilet, and what? she shits gold in one and silver in the other? These people are crazy, out of their minds, if Jesus himself was coming to do Superstar he’d have to share the bathroom with Judas, for Christ’s sake! no pun intended get me another beer these people are gonna kill me - is what my childhood sounded like and so in some strange way I have fond feelings for LA bashing and cannot in good conscience admit that it’s as awesome as I know it can be.
That said, I would die to join Los Angeles Ballet. Love their rep. And I would have to die - of shame - to do it. Every family gathering would forevermore require my cousins to needle me until I cop to being a total traitor.