Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Week with ABT's "Corsaire"

(still more to come about this but for now here's an overview...)

What an incredible week this was!

As a super in ABT's production of "Le Corsaire" at the amazing Metropolitan Opera House, the week was a taste of the glamorous life I (and so many other bunheads) have always aspired to. That stage! Those dancers! That music! Those costumes! (Read the Times review here. Tonya writes about it here, here, and here.) And see my pictures here.

After "auditioning" last week I was certainly excited to be back on a big stage (dear Radio City, how I miss you...). But what I had forgotten about enjoying more being a super previously was just being up close with those incredible dancers.

We had a few brief rehearsals the week before, where Associate Artistic Director Victor Barbee taught us when and where we'd be onstage. Though we honestly didn't do much at all, the rehearsal process was fun because Victor would basically do the entire ballet before us by himself, quickly marking through every character's parts to explain to us when to watch for cues and so forth.

But the real fun started Tuesday, when we got to the theater. Having been there before (as a super, and then for a few auditions recently, I made my way straight in through the stage door, to the sign in sheets immediately inside, down the long hallways past the loading dock, and up the super slow elevator to the supers dressing room upstairs. I remember the first time I went back there - how confused and in awe I was at most everything. The confusion had passed this time, but I'll always be in awe of the theater - any theater, really.

I staked out a small corner in the dressing room packed with other supers (servant girls like me, many more slave girls, and quite a few lovely young girls from the JKO school who danced in the 3rd act Jardin Animee scene). Then we went down to the stage for what was a loooooong day of spacing, dress rehearsal, and performance!

The spacing rehearsal was quick, but it was our first chance with the company dancers. It was surprising to see that a lot of them actually marked a lot of steps during rehearsal rather than doing it full out. I'm sure they had to save their energy. The men seemed to mark a lot more than the women. Just an observation.

Anyway soon we were back upstairs and getting into costume for the full dress rehearsal. We had had a costume fitting previously for our rather silly looking servant costumes, but it was our first time seeing the fabulous hats we had to wear! Haha. Oh how I love the flamboyant-ness of stage costumes. It was fun to find a tag inside mine that said it came from Boston Ballet - my home! Although, I don't recall the company ever doing Corsaire while I was in the school there...but maybe I just missed it, haha.

On we went to the dress rehearsal, although very few of the dancers were in costume. What I loved most was the orchestra. I think it's because I have fond memories of being backstage at Nutcracker in Boston and hearing the musicians warm up elegantly in the hallway outside the ruckus of our crowded children's dressing room, but I love love love hearing a live orchestra warm up. And Corsaire's music, though not my favorite ballet music, is beautiful and so very familiar as studio music pianists play during class.

Everything went smoothly in the dress rehearsal, and before we knew it it was time for the first performance! We did have a short break in between, but that day felt like I didn't leave the theater for 24 hours. I told you though, I could live there and be perfectly content. They have a wonderful cafeteria in the basement there for all the dancers, crew, and other employees. It's great and super cheap, haha. Even better than Radio City's basement catering, haha.

Anyway, for every single show all week I stayed in the wings and watch every second of dancing possible. There is so much to learn just from observation, especially with these incredible technicians and beautiful people. After the first performance I realized I was much more concerned with what was actually being done onstage than about getting that "performance rush" kind of thing myself. I hardly noticed the big audience out there at all (except for during bows, when I admit I got a little teary inside wishing it were me haha). When I first stepped on that stage 2 years ago in Romeo & Juliet, it caught my breath. It was the biggest theater I had ever seen - so many ruby empty seats staring back at me. But after being at Radio City for so many shows, I can't say the Met looked small, but it didn't have that same shock value, haha. The dork that I am, I looked it up: the Met seats just under 4,000 people, while RCMH seats about 6,000. Both are just amazing. The Met's audience seems a lot closer to the stage, with the rings extending on the side to almost touch the proscenium. And it appears to go up much higher, with more levels of balconies. But RCMH is a lot wider, I think. And the orchestra seats go back further. That's what it looks like anyway, from the stage(s).

So instead of feeling that great butterfly nerves effect of performing, I was so focused on things behind the curtain (hey, literally all we did was stand and walk, and stand. Not too tough, haha). I loved being able to see the varied casts each night and the differences between their take on the ballet. With ballet tickets costing upwards of $50 these days, that opportunity is not likely to come around again anytime soon. It was interesting - the dancers that I tend to like best as an audience member viewing from afar are not the same ones I like best up close.

The first show was Paloma Herrera, who was just gorgeous. Her lines up close are even more envy-worthy. Besides that though her dancing was pretty much flawless. She and David Hallberg gave a clean, good show, but it was really Daniil Simkin who stole the show. It was my first chance to see the new soloist live, If you haven't seen his videos on youtube, do so immediately. So many of ABT's men can do tricks - incredible, unbelievable tricks - but in Daniil's variation as "Lankendem" each time this week, he showed exactly why everyone's talking about him. He can do those tricks, and more, but when he returns back to earth to land he may as well be coming down on eggshells. He has such a natural ease that when he ends a double tour on his knee it is the most gentle, soft, careful, calm thing I've ever seen. Whereas Angel Corella in his equally incredible Slave solo in act II throws himself with an uncontainable force through every movement, Daniil makes it look effortless. I was in awe, standing there trying to be a still servant girl behind the "pasha" and not applaud right there onstage.

OH speaking of the "pasha," the two men who played this role throughout the week were SO funny! Victor Barbee and Roman Zhurbin had the character down pat, but it was the subtle changes each show that made it perfect (especially for us standing just behind him on his fluffy pillow). I remember when I saw the production last year from the highest balcony I was distracted from the dancing but the overly hilarious pasha on the sidelines, and the same was true up close. It was fantastic. Victor would make these facial expressions, or Roman would swat flies in a confused frenzy. They would toy with the "odalisques," inviting them to sit on their lap, or reaching out for them. When Lankendem gives the pasha Gulnare's yellow scarf, they would toss it around, play hide and seek with themselves, or pretend it was a dress. When they dance with "Medora," they would fall clumsily or use their royal staff to balance extra long. At the last show, Roman used the staff as if he were playing the flute. Needless to say, we CRACKED up. The worst is when you're onstage, trying hard to be serious, and uncontrollably attempting to hide laughter. That makes it worse. Trust me.

The spontaneity and variances of live performance are what made the week most interesting. While most of the other supers in my part went upstairs to chat, eat, or relax, I sat in the stage right wings for the second act when we didn't have to be onstage. How could I not take advantage of seeing every single cast up close in that famous pas de trois between "Condrad," "Medora," and the slave? Wow.

I think the most passionate couple of the week were David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy on Thursday. They seemed so comfortable with each other, so natural in their dancing. Gillian was by far not my favorite in terms of acting, but her successful triple fouettes after her variation made up for it. While watching I tried to study every detail of her turns...I must duplicate in class this week! Haha. It's so easy for her - or it looks to be. Ah and David's gorgeous lines...

Of all the "Medora's" I think Michelle Wiles was my favorite in terms of becoming the character (which is interesting because it was she who I saw dance it last year and, though I reviewed it positively here, left little great impression on me previously. But she really came to life with Cory Stearns as her "Conrad." Xiomara Reyes also had some good acting going on, but I preferred her partner, Gennadi Saveliev, in the role of Lankendem instead.

But by far Irina Dvorovenko gave the most solid performance of the week. Wow! I was really not a fan of her after seeing the Balanchine program last week, but she has immediately become one of my very favorites of the company. She jumps SO high, which really made her variation during the third act Jardin Animee scene stand out from the other ballerinas. She she may have been the only one to cleanly finish those crazy fouettes in act II. Amazing.

At the risk of going name by name down the cast sheet and commenting, I'll stop here. But let me add the Misty Copeland was my favorite Gulnare, Craig Salstein my favorite lead pirate, and a few corps members as odalisques were exceptional (and yet I still don't know everyone's name...many look so alike, even up close!).

Ah, but the last I must mention is the retiring Nina Ananiashvili. She was just wonderful in both her shows this week, and I felt honored just to stand there onstage with her (and all the rest of them!). Her curtain calls after the last performance Saturday night went on forever! Usually I'd be out the door by the time everyone bows, but since we were completely done I had to go get paid (yay, we love that! haha) and so I stayed a few extra minutes in the wings to watch the endless front of curtain bows. That audience loved her. And rightfully so.

How wonderful to be a part of all that. I can't say enough of how grateful I am for opportunities like these, and even though a lot of people see them as little nothings - nobody's watching me, I'm not really dancing, it's a waste of time - I can't help but appreciate every minute onstage, any stage, and especially that stage with those people.

The last time I left that stage 'for good' I wondered if I'd ever be back. Now I just have this hope and feeling that I definitely will be.

The whole week just made me want more of what I'll probably never have. And it really made me remember why I want to do that all day, every day, again. I'm hyper-motivated to get back to class this week and get to work, despite my achilles tendon telling me otherwise. I feel like I've seen so much this week and I want to apply it to myself, work harder, push harder, for what I want. Re-inspired, I guess, is the word. As if I ever lost that inspiration.

Dear Radio City,
Please call to rehire me.

1 comment:

Anne Coburn Whitmore said...

This was amazing to read - and I'm sure even more amazing to have actually experienced! ;) Thank you so much for writing about it all here. What a magical week for you!

Hope all is going well... :)

and PS to Radio City:
Please rehire Taylor!!

Anne W.