For those of you who know me, and know me well, it comes as no surprise to you to know that I was a child actor. Oh yes indeed. Appearing as the cute little boy with the bicycle asking the man at the car dealership if he had “one of those 94 Grand-Am SE Sedans with air” (not to mention a big bit about the fact that the car had a REAL CASSETTE PLAYER!), or as the younger brother in a sitcom pilot who kept saying “I don’t wanna wear no pants!” (referring to the snow pants his sister was supposed to make him put on…of course!), or the personal favourite moment: the moment that actually cemented both in my three-year old mind and into the minds of my parents that I was meant to be a performer…
It was the Nova Scotia Drama League’s annual “All-Star-Fantasy-Frolic” (say that five times fast); the show was Annie, and I was playing a little apple seller boy on the street during the scene when all the homeless people sing “We’d Like to Thank You”. My father was a member of the band, playing the drums, and I believe that is how I got involved in the first place. So, it was the end of the show, the whole cast had done their curtain calls, and were exiting as the band was doing the “play off”. The lights were going down, and there I was standing all alone at the front of the stage, totally oblivious to the fact that my fellow thespians were no longer there with me. In my memory of that moment, which is actually one of my most vivid early memories, I was actually scanning the large audience to see if I could spot my nanny/babysitter, who my mom had told me was coming that night. There were so many people, and I remember looking over all the faces and seeing all the strangers that had just watched me do something on a big stage. The only time I had ever gotten people to watch me before was when I conducted shows for my parents in the living room, as I’m sure many performers had done when they were young children. It was an unforgettable experience, and I still think about it every time I stand on stage during a “call” and look out into the applauding audience.
Believe it or not, I am not just delving into the past, but rather thinking about it and how it relates to my present. This coming week, we at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo will be presenting Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Le Songe”…also known to English speakers as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. If you will bear with me and take a wander back to your high school English course, most of you may remember the different groups of characters in the play:
There are the Lovers: Lysander, Hermia, Helena, and Demetrius. As well as the other Athenians; the queen Hippolyta, the king Theseus, and Hermia’s father Egeus
There are the Fairies: Titania, Oberon, Puck, the page boy (or in our version: Puckette), and the other fairies
And finally, there are the Artisans (the ones who want to put on a play for the royalty): the carpenter Quince, the joiner Snug, the weaver Bottom (he’s the one who gets turned into a Donkey and Titania falls in love with him), the bellows mender Flute, the tinker Snout, and finally the tailor Starveling, played by yours truly! (In the second cast at least)
For all intents and purposes, this is a typical ballet; dancing to music. However the music is different for the different characters. For instance, the Lovers dance to the classical music by Mendelssohn, most of which was selected from the incidental music to his opera version of the play. The Fairies dance to odd electronic music, to give them a magical, otherworldly feel. The Artisans…well that’s just it…. We don’t really have music per se. I mean, there is the occasional “soundscape ” that we may have in the background, but for the most part there is none because we have dialogue. That’s right, you did hear me correctly. Dialogue
But speaking in a ballet you say??? That’s preposterous! Well, under normal circumstances, you would be correct, however these are not normal circumstances. Of course there are no long soliloquies or epic monologues worthy of Shakespeare himself, but our voices and other acting skills do get a fair bit of a workout. There is a slight bit of dancing that we do, both during our “performance” for the royals and when we are hypnotized by Puck. Apart of that however, it’s us and our expression, with no steps to hide behind.
I have to say, it’s been a very different process, but a very rewarding and fun one. There is a certain amount of freedom that we have as to the type of character we create (within the confines of what we have to do in a given scene, of course!), and I’ve found it to be so much fun to concoct a ballet persona that actually gets to speak from time to time. He’s a little shy, and nervously fidgets with his hands all the time, his voice sometimes cracks, and he also likes to sneak up on people and awkwardly stand there with no regard for personal space. When he has to audition for the part of the lion in the play against Snug…he screams. Like a little girl. And to answer your obvious question; yes, we are supposed to be funny!
So here I go, entering this last week before summer holiday, really looking forward to our (the second cast’s) chance to have our premiere in “Le Songe”. Wish us luck, because I know we’ll already be having fun!
So recently I was discussing how the use of video and the advent of the digital age has been changing the dance world in terms of how we learn ballets as dancers, and also how they are maintained over the years; staging after staging after staging. However, there is also another major way that the use of video specifically has changed the lives of dancers in companies all over the world: after the conclusion of a given program or performance, you can take the video and watch yourself, and examine the work that you have just done.
Now, sometimes the desire (or lack thereof, but I will get to that in a minute) to watch yourself dancing on video simply stems from curiosity: “how did I do?”, but it is also an invaluable tool for learning and making your dancing better. For instance, you can have a ballet master give you the same correction over and over again, and even though you understand what they mean, you may not be able to “fix” it in a way that is satisfactory to the people sitting at the front of the room. After having the chance to watch yourself, even just once, that same correction can be fixed in an instant: there is this “aha!” moment that occasionally happens if you’re lucky, and everything that anyone has ever told you about a specific step immediately becomes clear, like wiping the mirror after a hot shower.
Personally, I find that I learn an immense amount simply by watching myself dance. I actually like to watch a video of a premiere the next day, before the following show. I repeat this process several times during the run of a new ballet, and every day I try to pick out a couple new things to think about that night onstage in order to make my performance even the tiniest bit better. This is what we are always striving for, isn’t it? Perfection?
Though, this is a double-edged sword, because one can easily become bogged down and obsessed with the little details of your dancing, losing sight of the larger picture of the piece. This makes for a terrible onstage experience when you next dance the same ballet because all you can think about are the little details:
Be sure not to travel too much stage right
Watch the angle of your head in the back bend
Make absolutely sure to stretch your knees and feet in this next jump
And while this may improve how you look onstage, the spirit and joy is inevitably lost. It’s no longer fun to perform, and it starts to fee like WORK! Therefore a certain amount of detachment and realism about what you’re seeing stare back at you on the screen is imperative.
Many dancers also cannot stand to watch themselves at all. Some will just never be satisfied, and are constantly upset whenever they have to watch something that they have danced. There is often a disproportionate relationship between how a dancer feels during a performance, and what the end product looks like. You can have what felt like an amazing show, and the ballet master may say it was not your best work, or you may see the video and cringe in horror. The reverse is also true (and not to mention is a huge stress reliever when you can finally bring yourself to watch the video). I have developed a certain method that keeps my head sane during a run of performances: I always watch the worst one, the one where I was so tired I felt I could barely lift my leg, or I was in a bad mood and just wasn’t feeling it. I never look at this particular video critically however, I always just watch, as if I were a member of the audience. Afterwards I ask myself “how did I feel about my performance, without thinking about how it felt on the day?” more often than not, the answer is a resounding: FINE. Not great, just alright, which on an awful day is a blessing. Then I say this: “well, at least I know it will never look worse than that” Then I shower and go home, feeling slightly reassured about the whole thing.
Now let us all hope that I can continue to be able to feel that way for many years to come!
We live in a fantastic digital age don’t we? There is always information right at your fingertips, now more than ever, with the advent of the smartphone. There is always something new to watch or to listen to, or news happening somewhere in the world.
This age is both a blessing and a curse to the ballet world. On one hand, the process of learning a ballet is a much simpler one with video being so easily captured and stored. It is no longer necessary for someone staging a ballet to be intimately familiar with notation; Benesh Notation being the most common form. This is a way of writing down dance in an internationally recognized form, which is laid out almost like written music when you see it. Now, my knowledge of notation does not extend much farther than that, and it looks just as foreign to me as reading Mandarin…but I digress. We can now watch a video of any ballet that we have been asked to learn, which allows for the rehearsal director to save much-needed time when there is a time crunch if the dancers already have a loose idea of the steps they will be asked to do when they come into the studio. However, this is also a hotly debated topic both by balletomanes (people who love ballet) and the dancers and ballet masters themselves. For instance, a dancer will always have in his or her mind the way that they saw a certain step executed on the video, and will inevitably try to emulate it, whether consciously or not. In a way, there will always be some hint of the dancer who inhabited that role before (however this is most certainly not always a bad thing!). From a more practical stand-point, there is the issue of “how was this step meant to be?” I can’t tell you how many times I have stood in the studio, watching some performance over and over again, only to reproduce what was actually a mistake that the dancer on the video made. Perhaps he had a mental blank for a moment, or perhaps his turn was not quite going the way that he wanted it to, and did something that was not in the original choreography to try to save it from really going sour. Either way, whenever a new ballet master sees you dance the role, or has a different memory of the way it was, it more often than not leads to no small amount of confusion.
I remember when I was in school, one of my teacher told me a story about one specific ballet that he had danced. Throughout the ballet (it was very abstract), those who were not supposed to be dancing at a particular moment were allowed to wander around in the back on the stage, and watch those who were dancing. It gave the ballet a great feeling of competition between the dancers; A sort of “look what I can do!” and “oh really? I can do better!”. However, there was one solo in the middle section of the ballet for the lead woman, and there were specific instructions that no one else was to be onstage during the solo, any other time, but not then. Perhaps it was the rebel inside him, but on one performance, he felt a little different, and decided to stand in the upstage right corner with his arms folded or hands on his hips; watching her. He then told me that a recent video that he had seen of another company performing that same ballet had one person in the upstage right corner during the lead woman’s solo, arms folded. He inadvertently had changed the history of that ballet simply through that one choice he made that night!
So you see, video is both a blessing and a curse for us. I just hope that when the time comes for someone to learn off a video that I danced in, that I will have done the ballet justice!
Several months ago, at the end of April, when Spring was just starting to really assert itself (well, I have to admit that we were a little further along over here in Monaco!) Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo had just finished a run of five shows of a mixed program of three completely new ballets. These ballets had been created on us, and it was the very first time that anyone in the world had seen them. It’s quite a remarkable thing when you think about it, to be part of something new and exciting, not knowing at all what you will be wearing, or even what music you will be dancing to or what kind of steps you’ll be doing at the moment when you see your name on that rehearsal schedule to work with someone you probably have never had the chance to work with before. However for the moment, that’s all that I will say on the subject of dancing something totally new, because my thoughts are concentrated on one image that I associated with our last day at the Grimaldi Forum (our theatre here in Monaco) in April.
This is an image that does not necessarily have anything to do with that particular program, but it is something that happens frequently in the life of a performer of any kind. After the last show, after all was said and done, pictures taken, thank yous made, and make up put away, I was walking out of our dressing room (four levels below the ocean actually!) I noticed the garbage can in the corner. It was filled to the point of almost overflowing; with ballet shoes. Simple flesh coloured pieces of canvas, but that represent so much. They are perhaps the most important tools of our craft, they cover our feet, allowing us to jump and turn without the friction of bare skin on the floor, while still giving the illusion from the audience that our feet are as plain as the day we were born.
Yet there they were, discarded into the bin and left behind, as were our thoughts of the ballets we had just performed. They were new, and not actually part of the current repertoire, so who knows; maybe one of them will return again, and maybe not. It is quite possible that all the work that we did from January to April has faded into the past, it was well used and had served it’s purpose to allow us to reach the point of standing on that stage and presenting something new and exciting to the world. We have moved on to other ballets, both new and familiar, and all we take with us are the memories, or the things we learned about our dancing and ourselves, or maybe even an injury or two.
This process happens rather frequently for not just dancers, but for performers in general. We work and work and work towards a particular project, and in the end get a very disproportionate amount of time to share it with the world compared with the amount of rehearsal and effort that was put in, both inside and outside of the studio. Yet that’s why we do what we do, for that magic moment when the house lights are dim, and the audience is hushed, watching the curtain rise. That short moment of silence before the music begins holds nothing but potential and expectation, both from the audience: What are we about to see?, and from the dancers: I wonder how this is all going to go…. And with any luck, the end result is something that all involved can be content with. We live in this fashion, from magic moment to magic moment; leaving one ballet behind and moving onto the next. Though with any luck, we will take with us that which we have learned and use it the next time we grace that stage. Who knows, we may just surprise ourselves.
This past weekend was a special weekend for me (and I bet for some audience members as well, given the ballets we performed!), it was the first time Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo had ever been to Syria, and the first time that I had ever been to a middle eastern country. It was an “experience” from start to finish!
Now, given what has been going on in various countries in that area of the world, we were all slightly apprehensive about taking the trip to Syria. Especially since there is a huge protest against the government scheduled in Damascus on March 15th. After returning home to France, I can safely say that our worries were completely unfounded. I don’t think that I can remember a time that I have been to a place so different, and filled with so many multitudes of history and culture. And why should I have expected any less from the oldest most continuously populated city on earth, and has sometimes been called “the cradle of civilization”!
Embarking into the city our first day, we had to drive a fair distance since our hotel was situated closer to the airport than the city center, I was immediately struck by the incredible differences between rich and poor. Before you reach the center of Damascus, you have to pass homes that barely have walls, people making campfires in the middle of fields outside their homes, and huge, red, plastic water containers on their roofs. My first thought was “and we’re doing ballet here?”. It made me feel very lucky to be where I am and doing what I love day in, and day out.
Having said that, the reason that the company was invited to dance in the first place, was to benefit BASMA, an organization that helps children in Syria who are dealing with cancer, so in a very small way, I felt like I was doing my little part to help in some way! Judging by how full the audience was, I’d say we did pretty well…
Now, everyone doing their part for humanity aside, I have to say that I cannot remember the last time that I have been to a country when the food was so overwhelmingly fantastic every place we went (barring my checkered relationship with Arabic coffee…) although I think the company went through many upon many boxes of gum and mints in a four-day period, in an attempt to hide the amounts of onion and garlic that we had ingested. At least we were all slightly…shall we say “perfumed” in it, so perhaps it all evened out.
It was not all sight-seeing and eating, however. We actually did dance! Scheherazade and Daphnis and Chloe to be precise. I wasn’t sure how the ballets would be received, especially since Scheherazade has a slightly more “provocative” ending to the story, but when we finished the ballet and all was said I done, I was floored by the cheers and bravos coming from the audience. Perhaps a change is not as far off as I might think, and fingers crossed that they will have us back in a few years. And next time, I’ll be the first on the plane!
So, several months later, we get a little sneak peek at the work we did for the film version of Scheherazade. The full ballet airs this summer on French TV!
So here I am, sitting at home in good old Beausoleil once more. After spending three whole weeks in Torino, Italy, and gracing the stage twelve out of fifteen times while there. Not to mention rehearsals and orchestra runs, costume fittings and bus rides. Oh, and let us not forget Christmas and New Years, with three more shows at home in Monaco thrown in for good measure. But that all happened before January 3rd… and it is most definitely not January 3rd today. Nope, it’s the 16th in fact, and I here I am, finally ready and organized to head back to work: with one half of my second season with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo already behind me.
For the past twelve days, I have been spending my (I think) well deserved vacation time in the UK, in the place that is in my mind, far and away my favourite place on earth. London. Now, I could go on and on about the shows I saw (I spent a lot of time in my other favourite place on earth: the theatre!), and the places that I visited, but you could read about London just about anywhere. No, my trip to London got be thinking about something else, something that struck me very hard after I saw my first of six shows I saw while in London. It was Les Miserables. Possibly the longest show I have ever seen in my life, but it was still great. What struck me wasn’t the actual show so much as what occurs after it; the bows, or “curtain call” if you will.
Now, I have had some experience in musical theatre and in opera before, but most of my experience is in the dance world, and I have to say, that we dancers really like to milk this “curtain call” event for all it’s worth. However, at the end of Les Mis, I really wanted to show my appreciation for what was one of the most spectacular and moving shows that I have seen in recent years, but they all bowed once…and that was it. I was expecting bow after bow after bow based on the audience’s response to the show. It never came, they waved goodbye to the audience and shut the curtain while the orchestra played on, but it did not raise again.
On my walk home, I started thinking about curtain calls in different theatrical disciplines, and more importantly: recognition of the artists involved in any given production.
It all begins when you first arrive at the theatre. You have to pay for a program. Now, that’s all fine and well if you want a big, glossy book with pictures from the show that you can take home as something to remember it by…and maybe this is just because I am a performing artist as well, but I don’t really care about the pictures, but I will buy a program anyway, because it’s the only way to know who is performing what roles, and to get a background on the artists you’re about to see on stage. But I look around and see that a lot of people do not spring the 7 to 10 pounds to know about the people and background of what they’re about to see. With me, by the time intermission is over, I know everything about these people: where they trained, what other shows they have done…just a little bit about their professional life and their accomplishments as artists. I feel like I appreciate the show more because of this; I feel like I know them, even just a little.
And after the show, the performers bow. This is actually not as many people think, the artists taking in the admiration of the public. In actual fact, we bow to thank the audience for coming to watch us; giving us several hours of their time so that we can make them laugh or cry, or just show them something that will make them go home and think that it was money well spent. It’s a thank you for letting us do what we love in front of you.
Which brings us to the fine, fine line of a curtain call: How much is too much?
There are people in most shows who seem like they can clap forever, and depending on the audience, sometimes these people will, which means that the stage manager (the one in charge of everything backstage, and also gets to gauge the audience’s reaction to tell whether or not the company should take another bow) will keep sending the curtain up, letting the bows go on and on. I have been on both sides of the curtain for these never-ending calls…on one hand, if you’re in the audience and you absolutely loved the show, and you’re giving it a standing ovation, you love being able to communicate that to those on stage and to see their smiles as they hear and see how much you enjoyed their performance. However, if it was alright, or not the greatest thing you have ever seen, you feel badly to watch the performers keep bowing and to not clap for them.
As a performer, it’s great to hear that an audience enjoyed themselves…but very often it’s late at night, you’re tired, you’re wearing tons of make-up, and you’re hot. You want to have a shower, take off your make-up, and go home.
The worst feeling is to be on stage and to see people in the audience leaving the theatre (which happens if it goes on for long enough), and it’s almost embarrassing to be up there, still bowing while you feel that half the audience doesn’t care. This happened often in Italy, where I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or maybe they really didn’t like the show, but some people left when we were doing the very first full company “call”. There is a line between being sensible and disrespectful though. Take one moment to appreciate what the performers have just put themselves through for you, is all I’m saying.
Now, I know that my two points of view don’t really agree, but these were the things that I was wondering on my way home from Les Mis. For those who care to comment, let me know how you feel about the issue.
Having said all that, I won’t be taking another curtain call for about a month…but it’s back into the studio tomorrow, to begin rehearsals once again (some of it for totally new material, which I’m very excited about!). My muscles have sat around for long enough, it’s time to whip them back into shape for the second half of the season ahead!
I recently experienced something that until about a month ago was a totally foreign concept to me: making a movie of a ballet. Now, I’m not just talking about having cameras present during a real performance, which I did several years ago for the National Ballet of Canada’s Nutcracker when it was filmed for a live broadcast in movie theatres across Canada. This was a totally new experience altogether!
I was actually an actor when I was a child before I was a dancer, so the process of filming was not foreign to me, but it feels totally different when you have to be warm and mobile and ready to dance at any moment for an entire day, as opposed to just delivering a few lines to the camera and maybe shedding a few tears.
For one, there is no audience, just the camera operators and some of the artistic staff from the company. Our director (of the company), who was also the choreographer of the ballet we filmed: Scheherazade wasn’t even in the building! He was in the production trailer in the parking lot so that he could see through the camera’s eyes on the monitors, and be close to the film director. For two days, he was just this voice of God heard over the speakers (that’s actually an expression that we use all the time when we’re in the theatre, and the choreographer gives notes during a stage rehearsal).
Secondly, just like a movie, nothing is filmed in the order in which it actually occurs during a real show. There was a lot of jumping from part to part, which makes it very hard to be prepared for certain passages of choreography that might be more difficult to execute, because you never know what shots they would like to do next. Although we did film it once through from beginning to end on the first day of filming (like a show) so that we could get the wide camera angle of the whole ballet.
Lastly, you can’t possibly stay warm all day. Boy, did we try though… Behind the stage was littered with sweatpants, zip-ups, leg warmers, and thick wool socks for the entire duration of the filming. Constantly being put on and removed at a moment’s notice throughout the day. For instance, during the second day of filming, they were working on the very end of the ballet with the soloists placed on a mini stage set over the seats in the audience section of the theatre (and we were in the Opera Garnier in Monte-Carlo, which is a gorgeous, golden theatre). Quite a bit of time was spent on this section, with several different cameras moving around them in that tragic moment when the two leading characters are murdered. We (the various other slaves from the harem) were sitting on the stage out of the camera’s view, just watching. When they were finished, we heard the “voice”:
“Ok, now I’d like to jump back to right after the girls leave, and the boys do their jumps across the stage.”
All I could think was that I hadn’t heard correctly. We had just been sitting for about forty minutes, and now we had to get up and do double assemblés? (which is a jump with two full rotations in the air before you land- sort of reminiscent of figure skating). There was a moment of silent understanding between all the men sitting there right before we all got up and started jumping up and down, swinging legs back and forth, doing anything we could to warm ourselves up as quickly as possible. Needless to say, I don’t think that was the best time I have ever done those assemblés…
It’s not just a matter about keeping warm either. Usually during a live show, you have time to slowly get into the mood or the role, and then you’re in it from the beginning to the end. However, doing short little sections for the camera, or repeating things; you’re constantly on and off, off and on throughout the whole day. And when the boss says “action” you have to be concentrated and in it, right then, you don’t have the whole opening section to put your game face on. If you’re supposed to be scared that the sultan is killing the golden slave at a moment’s notice, then you do, even if you were just a moment before sitting around laughing with your friends and colleagues, or talking about where you were going to go for dinner after the day was over.
It had been such a long time since I had been in front of a camera, I had forgotten what the experience was like. When applied to a dance film, it is definitely a unique and memorable experience; one that I really hope that I get to repeat sometime again the near future. However, I really understand now why I love live theatre so much, and why performing excites me as much as it does. There’s a spark, some intangible feeling of readiness that comes with a real show, with real people filling those seats out there that you just don’t capture in a film. But I do like the fact that I’ll be able to watch the DVD of Scherazade in thirty years and remember my second year at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo when I was twenty-one!
Really? September 24th is the date of my last entry? I can’t believe it has actually been that long, but when you’re a dancer with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo with a broken foot, and the rest of your friends and colleagues are away performing in China…There’s not really much to write about.
Three weeks in Monaco, totally by myself. It was like having another summer vacation without the friend or fun factor. After carting myself around (or not, as the case was) on crutches for a week, I was told that provided I wore the cast of the bottom of my foot all the time, and if I got a really good pair of shoes (110 Euros and three sizes too large…and did I mention the fact that they were ugly running shoes? Not exactly fitting in with the Monegasque ladies with their designer made bags, shoes, etc…) that I could walk again. At half the speed. And stride. Kind of resembling a man roughly seventy years older than myself. However, I wasn’t complaining, at least I could leave my house, sit by the beach, and go grocery shopping for myself again.
The only drawback about this three-week period, well besides the whole being injured and not performing factor, was that my friends and colleagues were all in China. Not really conducive to telephone or skype calls given the time difference. I did get several e-mails from some of my friends over the course of their tour, but there were many shows of two different full length ballets, and they were kept fairly busy. Like I told them when they all returned triumphantly from the east…I realize now how much I love them! Of course, it’s not like I was totally alone, I spoke with some of my friends at home in Canada, and of course to my family, but I didn’t actually have a real face to face conversation with anyone for almost a month. Although I did give my friends this warning : “If I’m socially awkward for a while after you return, I deeply apologize!”
There I was, back at the sports medicine clinic, after three weeks of doing absolutely nothing except a little apartment improvement (hanging those damn curtains…) and going to the gym almost every day (for upper body work only, of course) I did my x-ray for the third time, this time on a foot that you could finally see the veins on again, but still with a slightly yellow tinge. When the doctor read me the results, this is what transpired:
“That’s what I thought you said….really?”
“Yes, it looks completely normal.”
I could barely believe what I was hearing. After only a little more than a month off, the doctor was telling me my foot looked like a normal foot again.
Now, dancers are probably the worst medical patients on the face of the planet, because we always want nothing more than to be back in studio, jumping and turning again, as if nothing ever went wrong in the first place. I’ve seen many doctors and physiotherapists almost want to tear their hair out over these “stupid dancers”. Whenever I have envisioned myself having an injury in the past, I always thought to myself, I’ll never be like that. I’ll be smart about my body.
I swear when I started to do ballet class again, one of my friends literally had to come up to me, stand in front of my face and say:
“You’ve been dancing for two days and you’re doing relevés already…Stop it”
And there I was, one of those stupid dancers… I really had to pull myself back and be very careful about everything I did, but I really wanted more than anything to be able to dance again and not worry about the condition of my foot any longer.
Three weeks passed. There was pain, I won’t lie, but I was told by many of the dancers who had been through the same type of injury in the past that that’s the normal time period for the pain to subside. It wasn’t by any means debilitating, just something that had to be put up with while my foot and ankle regained its strength. I could barely stand on one leg with a flat foot without falling over when I first started back!
What’s the date today? November 11? As of today (earlier this week actually, but I’m writing this now) I am happy and proud to say that I am now back in the studio day after day dancing at full capacity, as if nothing ever happened. As a matter of fact, we just finished a two-day period making a film version of Scheherazade, in which I participated, jumps and all.
Injury is not an experience which I would care to repeat, but I do believe that it’s a very important step for every dancer to experience. You get an opportunity to spend more time with yourself, and to rediscover how much you love dance, and why you’ve dedicated your life to the art form, and when you return, you have more energy and enthusiasm than ever.
The day was Monday, the weather was beautiful, we had a fantastic guest teacher…in other words, we had started the week at a brisk and jubilant run!
The place was La Belle (Sleeping Beauty) Act I run through, the role was one of the three guards of the king and queen of La Belle, and the time was our second entrance:
5, run 6, and 7, jump 8.
Easy enough, right?
Which hole do I go through? Right, second…why are they backing up so fast? Better run faster to get through in time!
I don’t really have an explanation for what happened next, except that I was in mid air (and apparently quite high off the ground as I was later told, although perhaps that was just a diversionary tactic) and all of a sudden, the back of the couple in front of me (who can’t see me either) makes contact with my bottom leg, which was tucked underneath my body during the jump with the leading leg stretched (we call that an “italian pas de chat”…although I don’t really know why. Apparently some people think cats in Italy can’t bend both legs at the same time…) I get knocked backwards along with my right leg, when my foot lands on the floor at a grotesquely odd angle.
Have you ever seen the movie “Misery” with Kathy Bates? Look up the sledgehammer scene. It’s remarkably the same feeling I had when I hit the floor!
Nevertheless, as with most studio accidents, I was up faster than you could say “Stop!” and “Are you okay?”, which naturally followed my tremendous KERPLUNK.
“I’m fine! No worries!” I said as I walked away, getting ready to do the entrance again. In all honesty, I felt completely and totally normal, the side of my foot was a little sore, but I was walking without pain. I’ll just finish this and get some ice after rehearsal, just as a precaution. I thought…We didn’t have much more left to do anyway.
And so we ran on again. The same jump. Ow. Star jump. Oww. Chasse, step cabriole. Owww. Big jump with a back bend. OWWW! We finished the section though, and I went off before we had to come back on for the big waltz, and as I did I said to one of my friends and colleagues. “My foot is really starting to hurt!”
“Don’t worry, rehearsal is almost over!”
I had a little bit of time before my next entrance, so I took off my shoe to check for any physical signs of damage. There was a sharp inhale of surprise (or shock) from several people who were standing right by me.
There was what appeared to be a golf ball that had been inserted underneath my skin, protruding from the outside of my right foot. Naturally, the people immediately adjacent to the area heard the others and came over. My plan was to get out of the studio and go to the physiotherapist before I created too much of a scene…
Let it never be said that we don’t have a “herd” instinct. Soon, enough people had gathered around before I could get out of the studio that the ballet masters at the front of the room stopped the music and came over to see what the big fuss was about.
Now, I’m the kind of person who never wants to create any sort of scene, and at a times like that, the attention makes me very upset; even more than the fact that I had something you could have teed off with rapidly growing on my foot.
Pillows were laid out in the lounge, water and ice were retrieved, and our physiotherapist was called from her office upstairs. There was no longer a rehearsal going on at this point.
There is a tendency within a ballet company (especially this one) that when someone has an accident in rehearsal, everyone tries to do something to help. I eventually had four glasses of water beside me, pillows all around, and a crowd of people surrounding the couch. Our physio had to break through the crowd in order to reach the fallen.
The plan was clear: wait twenty minutes so we can see what colour it turns.
Slowest twenty minutes of my life.
The company was leaving on tour to Lyon the very next day, and here I was, now unable to walk. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
“I had something like that before! It’s probably just a vein or a burst blood vessel!”
“I knew someone with that, they were back up in no time!”
“Don’t worry, just breathe…in and out!”
“Shhhh….” (I was crying a little at the time!)
Our artistic secretary then came over to tell me he’d called the ambulance, so that I could go to the hospital and get a x-ray, just to make sure everything was okay. Which at that point, I kept telling myself was true.
And so the fallen left in the most dramatic of fashion: On a stretcher…his amazing and helpful comrades and friends waving as he was carted off by the firefighters, trying to uplift his spirits as he entered the ambulance!
To be continued…. (cue evil laugh!)