So here we are, on the evening of August 22nd, waiting for the dawn, and the start of the new 2011/2012 season at Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. It was a fantastic vacation, but I feel now that the time has come to try to remember what real life and responsibilities are like again.
During my vacation, I was asked to return to my old ballet school in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and speak about my experiences both in training, and as a professional dancer. Several people had asked me afterwards if I might be able to put the speech on my blog or publish it in some way. So without further ado, here is the speech that I gave at 6pm on August 11 at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
I remember the first day that I walked into the Conservatory…Yes, there were the cracked floor tiles, broken ceilings, odd odours, and a ceiling that would reverberate with the sound of a thousand galloping horses in the main office when people would be jumping in the recital hall above…but I hoped that I had found a new home of sorts. I also hoped hat Barb…or should I say Ms. Dearborn would be able to take my awkward and…marginally flexible 9-year-old self, and turn him into a boy who could dance.
Yes, there were the usual hurdles to overcome being a young man just entering into the world of ballet: Being the only boy in classes, to struggling to lift your legs, to uncomfortable conversations about the necessity of buying a first dance belt! It was an important year for me, when I learned that ballet was not just something that I did to improve my work in theatre (I was a child actor, but that is a story for another afternoon), but something much more. It was a CAREER.
When I was 11, I left Halifax, my home, and my family to attend Canada’s National Ballet School. I was a naturally very, very homesick child, so the choice to go shocked many people, but it was something that I wanted to do. I thought that I wanted to be a ballet dancer.
As it turned out, it was just that. I did only THINK that I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I didn’t yet KNOW it; and it was apparent. I was not re-accepted for the following year, but with the proviso that I would leave for a year or two to find my focus, and if I did indeed wish to return, that they would be happy to see me.
So I returned to the Conservatory and became the very first member of the new “professional program” and back into…Ms. Dearborn’s care. I think that I should take this time to discuss just how much she deserves the title of “Miracle Worker”, because that is exactly what happened with me. Yes, I was a musical child, but the things that I had going for me pretty much ended there. I had no grasp of fundamental technique, and couldn’t even touch my toes. I remember day after day of morning coaching sessions (I was attending King’s View Academy upstairs at the time, so I had the freedom to come down to dance for a couple of hours in the mornings) with Barbara just holding my leg on her shoulder, slowly inching it closer to my head. Goodness did we work that year, so much so that I did two RAD exams in one year…and passed both with flying colours. Having an ego at all is something that most professional ballet dancers find extraordinarily hard, but that year, I freely admit that I had just a little one. I was transforming, and I could see it right before my eyes.
I did indeed return to the National Ballet School the following year, having discovered that ballet was indeed something that I not only KNEW I wanted to do, but something that I KNEW I COULD do.
While at NBS, for two years I had the most typically Russian teacher I think that I have ever met in my entire life. He was extraordinarily tough on me and my technique. Positive reinforcement seemed like a foreign concept to him. I remember one class in particular when we were doing adagio in the centre or something like that. I made an incredible mistake, totally lost where I was in the combination and had to walk off and start again. He only said one word while the music was stopped: “Congratulations.” and then looked at the pianist to get her to start again. Luckily, I did not have him forever. I thought that he was putting far too much value on technique and nothing else, but it was what I needed at the time.
Despite the difficulties that I occasionally found in ballet class itself, coming to the stage was something I always looked forward to with unabashed joy. I was incredibly lucky to be able to perform some of the things that I did when I was in school. Including an adaptation of the Lord of the Flies, George Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony, The peasant pas de deux from Act I of Giselle, and a duet called Four Proverbs…a piece that former National Ballet of Canada Artistic Director James Kudelka choreographed on us. It was my very first creation by a known choreographer that I was ever in, and still my most vivid stage memory. My stomach still flips when I picture that blue curtain at the Betty Oliphant Theatre going up in front of me and hear those opening clarinet notes….slowly turning around to face the audience for the first time.
I was about seventeen when I got on a streetcar on a cold and snowy morning in January to head to the Walter Carsen Centre; home of the National Ballet of Canada, to audition for the company. It was my very first professional audition, and I. Was…. Petrified! I was most certainly not a stranger to the competitive world of auditioning, but by that point it had been a very long time since I had to don a number to stand in lines and be judged by several severe looking people sitting behind a table. I have a particularly clear memory of standing at barre doing rond de jambes or some such, and Karen Kain herself was walking around the studio of roughly 90 people, all who were vying for the 8 apprentice positions that the company had that year. She would walk around with her paper and clip board, and standing no more than almost an arm’s length away, and watch you. The temptation to look and lose focus on what I was doing was almost more than I could bear.
Whatever it was that she saw that day, she must have thought would fit well with her company, because about a month later, I was offered one of the places as an apprentice with the National Ballet. Never did the phrase “It is my pleasure to inform you that…” have so much impact on me…or make me jump up and down, screaming with delight.
It was an odd thing for me; to get up, shower and eat food that I had made myself, get on the subway and go to WORK. No uniforms, no school, just dancing. It was fantastic, I couldn’t believe that I was getting paid to do the thing that I loved the most, all day, every day. However, the transition from student to professional also had its challenges. The largest being the “fall down the ladder”. When I was in grade 12 at the Ballet School, I was the top of the top, the oldest and most experienced (and besides only a few of my classmates, one who had been at the school the longest). When I joined the company, it was like the very first time I threw on my NBS uniform and walked into class at the age of 11. The absolute lowest of the low. There is a strong hierarchy in most classical ballet companies that cannot be explained or even fixed. It’s just something that has to be accepted.
Luckily, there is a separate ballet class in the mornings for the apprentices most of the time. And for the first few weeks, the only time that we ever saw anyone from the company was in rehearsals, but after a while, mostly due to scheduling conflicts, it was time for us to start taking our morning class with the rest of the company.
I think that watching dancers stream into the studio in the half an hour before class is almost more interesting than watching the class itself. You learn a lot about the dancers just by watching their pre-class ritual. You see who arrives a half hour or more before to warm up, and the people who arrive two minutes before (or in some cases, even during plies!), the ones who carry on lively conversations, and the ones who don’t remove their headphones until they see everyone getting up to stand at the barre, the ones who help to move the freestanding barres to the centre of the room, and the ones who just lay there sleeping. But there is one thing that is never different…. everyone always stands in the same place at the barre; every morning, without fail. Let me just say that coming into class on that first day and not knowing where all 60 members of the National Ballet of Canada stand to do their morning barre…is not a pleasant experience. If you’re lucky, one of the younger dancers might indicate to you that the place you have chosen is in fact occupied by a principal dancer. If you’re not so lucky however…my condolences!
For me, all these practical considerations were not very important. I was there for one reason: to get on stage. Unfortunately, being an apprentice, there are times when even this becomes rather difficult to achieve. Every dancer in the National Ballet of Canada is also required to become a member of the Canadian Actor’s Equity Association, both for our protection and the protection of the company. There is a rule in our contract with the union that states that all roles must first be filled by full company members before the apprentices are allowed to compensate for any lack of dancers. This means that more often than not, you either end up being in the “second cast” (which they try to have on stage an equal number of times as the first cast…but never happens) or an understudy; which means that you have to sit around and pray that someone drops from an illness or injury. Often in this case, you’re given more than one place to learn, which means the workload is far more than a member of the corps de ballet, and more often than not you will never get a chance to dance that role onstage.
Early on in my first season with the National Ballet, I thought that I was the luckiest person in the company. We were doing Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story Suite, and it just so happened that one of the “Jets” whose place I happened to know the best of all of them had badly sprained his ankle…Gosh, I was so excited! And his recovery period would not have him ready to dance again in time for the performances. His place was now mine, and I was in the ballet. I rehearsed that ballet every day for a month, and at that point, I was the only apprentice in the ballet at all. However, there was trouble on the horizon.
Due to some scheduling problem, one of the new members of the corps de ballet that year, was unable to join us in Toronto until late October, which meant that he was not to appear in West Side Story Suite since he had missed most, if not all, of the rehearsals. There was a dancer in the company whose name I will not mention who was also our union representative. He told the ballet masters that it was a violation of union rules to have this apprentice dance in the ballet when there was a “perfectly capable” member of the corps de ballet member who was not involved at all, even if he did have to learn the whole ballet in a few days. I was finally removed from the ballet two days before the premiere, and I cannot remember the last time that I was that angry and upset. Needless to say, my first few months with the National Ballet had gotten off to a rocky start.
That was the lowest point of my first year, and the whole debacle really soured my view of the company…until The Nutcracker came along. Now, when I was a young student at the school, I had been involved in the production for several years dancing as one of the children (who have a very large role in the ballet compared to other versions that I have seen), and I remembered every day on that stage, looking at all those company members who seemed so experienced and so great, and I would have done anything to be like them…and now I was standing on the same stage with those same sets, but this time, I was one of them. Mind you, I did have to do some of the thankless jobs, including what we called “magic” which entailed sitting in a sled forever on stage, and handing toys out through a little “magical” hole while Uncle Nikolaj was passing toys out to the children, and dancing the role of the rear end of the dancing horse…both of which I don’t think I will be including on my CV any time soon. I also got to be one of the four crazy, cartwheeling waiters in the second act, which I have to admit was great fun, even if at the end of my two years I spent in the company, I had done over 40 shows of the same role!
Pretty soon, it came time for Karen Kain to tell us apprentices whether or not she wanted to hire us for the following season as a member of the corps de ballet. When I walked into her office, she told me that she felt that I was not yet ready to join the corps de ballets, but that she could really see me fitting into the company, and that she would like me to do another year as an apprentice. I heard most of the same words that I had heard every year that I was a student at the school: “I think that you are a great expressive dancer, but we really need to talk about some work that you can do in other technical areas. You are quite turned in, especially during jumps, and your grand allegro really needs work. I’d like you to take some extra studio time to work on these things.”
Can I let you in on a little secret? I dislike jumping. I really do. I know that I’m a man and men in ballet jump, but it was always my least favorite thing to do. Double tours, grand jetes, and saut de basques were the bane of my existence as a dancer. So doing extra work on them was not something that I was particularly keen on. But I thought to myself that if I really could buckle down and focus on these things, that the next year I would get into the corps, and maybe even a soloist several years after that. Then, who knew what I would able to do!!
That’s what I thought anyway. And so I went into another year as an apprentice. The director of the apprentice program was a man with whom I really did not see eye to eye. His approach to teaching irritated me, and I think my stubbornness irritated him. It was also in my second year that I discovered that every time we would rehearse a classical “white tights” ballet so to speak, I wanted to be anywhere but in that studio, struggling with my TURNOUT and my GRAND ALLEGRO. I still enjoyed the grace and beauty of ballet, but I wanted to MOVE!
And so it was in November, right before my first show as one of Arkadina’s admirers in John Neumeier’s “The Seagull”, that I walked into Karen Kain’s office and told her that I no longer thought that I was a good fit for the company. With incredible synchronicity, she told me that she thought I was a very talented and expressive dancer, that she would put me in contemporary works in a heartbeat, but every time one of those “classical, white tights” ballets came around, she would not be able to give me anything in it. She could see that I had really tried to improve in my problem areas, but that it was simply not where my body wanted to go. We both sat there for a moment, trying to process what the other had said. I think both of us had prepared ourselves for that meeting ready to fight, almost certain that the other would say the exact opposite, but for the first time, we were in agreement. It was a mutual separation under the best of circumstances.
The performance that I gave that night after the meeting with Karen was the best performance I ever gave in two years. I knew I would not stay there, and for the first time, I wasn’t trying to impress anybody with my dancing. I was just there, having fun, doing what I loved. It was a huge exhalation moment for me.
Of course, then came the question: “What the hell am I going to do next year?” I needed to move to a new company, but I had positively no idea where to begin. From January to April of 2009, I took Europe by storm, doing auditions. The search started off with a judicious selection of companies that I thought my mindset and style of dancing would be a good fit for (at least from what I had seen of them…the internet is a wonderful tool, isn’t it?), but as time wore on, and there were no jobs to be had anywhere, my net widened until I was heading to any company that would respond to my CV. I went to 10 different cities in three months that year and auditioned for 11 different companies. Everywhere from the super classical English National Ballet in London to the ultra modern Danish Dance Theatre in Copenhagen. Everywhere I went, I got the same lines. In the classical companies, it was “You’re classical technique is just not up to snuff for this company”, and in the modern ones, it was “You really look like a great classical dancer, and you have great technique, why are you not in a classical company?”
My patience was wearing thin, and I was getting ready to throw in the towel. I had had enough of the ballet world and its ups and downs. I felt that perhaps the universe was trying to tell me something, to move on and go back to my first love of theatre. There was one particular emotionally wrought phone call home that I remember having while I was staying at a friend’s house in Copenhagen, with a new rejection from the Royal Danish Ballet to add to my ever-growing list. It lasted well over an hour, but at the end, my mother told me to “stop rowing against the current”…and that’s what I decided to do. Stop getting caught up with everything, and let the wind take me where I was supposed to go. I had one audition left, for Jean Christophe Maillot’s Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in the principality of Monaco. A company that I had seen a year prior when they were on tour in Ottawa. I had taken class that weekend in Ottawa with the company in the hopes that they might consider giving me a job. At the time, they had told me that I was too young for the company, since the dancers are mostly over 25, but that there was a quality of mine Jean Christophe liked. They asked me to return in a few years time.
At that point, only a year had passed since I had first shown up in front of him in Ottawa, and I really didn’t think that I had a shot in hell. But, it was my last scheduled stop, and it was Monaco. If nothing else, I would get a few nice days in a warm city. A mini-vacation as it were. I had already pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was going to stop dancing, and was making preparations to stay in Toronto and pursue acting and theatre instead.
So, I journeyed to Monte-Carlo, to the land of the rich and famous, which did fulfil its promise; it was very warm and sunny the whole time I was there! When I stepped into class on my first of two days, I was struck by how much of a difference there was compared to other companies that I had been to. Yes, it was routine morning class, but there was something about the atmosphere. It felt light, the people were all so nice and happy looking. People even started singing along when the pianist played a popular song at barre. It didn’t feel like a ballet company, it felt like a family. I was back in the game. It felt right, and I so wanted to be able to become part of this great family that I had discovered.
After the morning class, I was one of the few dancers auditioning that day (I think there were about 8 or so) who was asked to stay to learn a short piece from the company’s repertoire. The music was uncountable Stravinsky, and the movement style was totally foreign to me. I struggled to learn the steps of a short 45 second excerpt when I had the reputation back in Canada of being a very fast learner. I left feeling quite frustrated and downtrodden. I called home that night to report in about the events of the day. I said how awful I felt in the repertoire, so much so that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go back the next day. “I’ve lost it” I thought. Whatever it was that I had that made me want to be a dancer, I was sure it was gone. Once again, the ever-wise voices of my parents told me to “stop paddling against the current…” so I took a deep breath, slept on it, and went back the next day.
I’m not sure I have the words to fully explain what happened. I walked into the repertoire rehearsal on that last day like a new person. The day before, I could barely remember four steps in a row, and now the steps were just falling out of my body like I had been doing them for years. We were then to have a short half and hour in the studio with Jean-Christophe to show him what we had learned. I was fully prepared to walk into the studio, show him the 45 second bit once, and then be done with it. I did it once, and then he got out of his chair and started talking about it with me, giving corrections. Do this more like this, sharper here, and it would be better if you phrased this differently. He was working WITH me; not just sitting and judging my dancing in a way that I was starting to get used to. He was everything that I had hoped Karen Kain would have been. When I left the building, the woman in charge of auditions asked me rather cryptically if I would have the means to fax them parts of my passport, which I said I did, while desperately trying to hide my grin.
On the morning of April 23rd, 2009. I opened my email in the morning as I do every day. There it was again, that phrase: “It is my pleasure to inform you…” At that moment, I think that whoever lived in the apartments around me must have thought someone was being murdered. I jumped up and down and screamed like there was no tomorrow. Jean-Christophe Maillot, director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo had offered me a job. I couldn’t believe it. Against all odds, and my own brain, I had managed it. Joined the company where I KNEW I would fit. No “white tights and tutus”, but still with ballets that you can call ballets. It was a surreal day for me. I remember that I even had an apprentice school show that afternoon, and for the first time in a long time, I enjoyed it again. My friends were all thrilled. I remember walking up to one of my best friends, who was in the corps de ballets at the National Ballet at the time at the beginning of a Giselle rehearsal, and saying, very quietly: “Now, I don’t want you to scream or make a scene, but I got a job at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo” Naturally, she didn’t listen, but I think her scream and that moment totally summed up my feelings on the matter: sheer joy!
And so, in July of 2009, I left Toronto, and Canada to move to Beausoleil, France, the city where I now live, just up the hill from Monaco, overlooking the Mediterranean Ocean. I’ve discovered that the company really is like a family. We work together, and live together quite often when we tour, which is extensively. Since joining the company, I have been to many cities in France, Spain, China, Italy, Switzerland, Romania, and Syria. And this coming year alone that list will expand to include Lebanon, the United States, Japan, Germany, and Turkey.
And with my new family, I’ve had the pleasure of dancing many exciting ballets. Everything from contemporary versions of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, and Scheherazade, to George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son and Maurice Bejart’s Rite of Spring. But the memory that I treasure most of all however was dancing Jiri Kylian’s Les Noces. I have admired him since I first discovered his work at the age of 14, and finally getting to dance something of his was a dream come true for me, but not only that. Jiri Kylian himself actually came to rehearse us for several weeks before the premiere. I have never stood in a studio full of dancers who are so quiet and awestruck. He is truly a legend, and I thought that I would have to wait years to finally be able to dance something of his, let alone meet and work with him.
Looking back on all the things I have done and all the experiences I have had, I consider myself very, very lucky for a 22-year-old. The thought of things to come, makes me giddy with excitement. Yes, there were some moments that were not very proud; my focus faltered, or I let the good old dancer’s “inferiority complex” get the best of me, but it takes time to find your niche. We never think we’re good enough. Or legs aren’t high enough, our feet don’t point, we don’t have enough turn out, or we need to work on our acting skills (which are just as important as all the technique in the world!) But the truth of the matter is, THEY WON’T BELIEVE UNLESS YOU BELIEVE. Once you do, you’ll find your spot, whether it be in life, or just standing at the barre at 10:30 in the morning, and it will be sunny and bright, maybe even with a breeze flowing through the open window. And when you find it, you’ll know that it’s a place to stay.
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 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!
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.
I believe when we last left off, I was being wheeled into an ambulance on a stretcher, and feeling ever-so-over-dramatic…
They say that “good things come to those who wait”…Clearly, whomever first coined that expression has clearly never sat in a hospital still wearing their relatively sweaty dance clothes, and not really being able to communicate with any of the people around them; my French is passable for certain circumstances, but sure does not fly in any kind of medical setting (considering there was no wine ordering to be done at the hospital!).
In defense of the French healthcare system, I do have to say that I’m certain such an ordeal as I went through at the hospital would have taken several times longer had I been in a North American hospital. However, when you’re waiting to find out what’s wrong with your foot when you were supposed to leave on tour for Lyon the following day, and then to China a week and a half later, even a little bit of time seems to take a lifetime (most of it spent repeating the same unhelpful phrase to yourself over and over again: “why me? why now?”)
I knew that after my initial examination that things must not be looking up when they took me to get an x-ray…in a wheel chair…Now, I know it’s more for precautionary steps, but still not a comforting thought at the time.
While I was waiting for the doctor to come and tell me the results of my x-ray (while watching some horrible medical documentary on the French TV that was playing in the waiting room), I made my very best attempt to make my peace with the fates for whatever they had in store for me, and at this point I had no idea. You tend to dream up all sorts of nightmare scenarios, none of which are remotely helpful to the overall mental well-being of a dancer who is the victim of any kind of injury.
“Votre metatarse est cassé”
“I’m sorry?” (although I do know exactly what that means…)
Then comes the moment when the little voice in your head launches into a huge dramatic speech, which in actuality only takes a second, but time is moving so slowly for you at this point that it seems much, much longer. In fact, you’re quite surprised to still see the doctor standing there when you finally look up again.
“How long would you say I might be off for?”
BAM…there go the tours to Lyon and China.
“And I have some crutches for you”
There goes my last morsel of freedom
“…and also we need to give you an injection in your stomach to prevent…” (Lord knows what he said, but something bad that might happen to my leg if there was no weight on it)
I hate needles, really…and let me tell you that one they gave me itched and eventually bruised my stomach for a week. So, needless to say the results did nothing for my feelings towards them.
What else was there to do at that point but go home (in a taxi), and think “Why on earth did this happen to me?” yet again.
Now, I don’t do well staying at home all day. I don’t even do it on a rainy Sunday; I always have to leave my apartment and go do something, even if it’s just to sit and have a coffee somewhere. I could have very easily fell into a depression hole: no dancing, all my friends are away on tour, can’t leave the house…but my lord if my friends didn’t step up their game for the last twenty four hours they were in Monaco before going on tour to Lyon:
I finished late at the hospital, right before the pharmacies closed, and I had to get my pain medications that the doctor had prescribed. Someone came to get the prescription slips from me while two other friends HELD OPEN THE PHARMACY near the ballet’s studios so I could get my drugs!
Four friends came over to keep me company and make me dinner, there were flowers!
Two of my colleagues who live upstairs in my building invited us all up for an impromptu dinner gathering!
Two more went grocery shopping for me the following morning so I would have food to eat during the week they were away, and then took me to see a specialist at the Sports Med clinic.
Then, they left. There I was. Alone.
And for an entire week, I didn’t open the door to my apartment, not once.
But I did watch a hell of a lot of The West Wing.
As you know, we spend most of the time that we perform during the year on tour in various places around the world. Since I joined the company (keeping in mind I just started my second year) I’ve been to Bucharest, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Athens, Chateauvallon, Geneva, Murcia, Valencia, Pamplona, Bilbao, and San Sebastian (I hope I’m not forgetting any!) This Tuesday, we’re off to Lyon for a week, and then Beijing, Canton, and Shanghai later this month.
When I was at home this summer, I had a lot of people ask me what exactly it is that we do when we’re on tour? Do we get a chance to see the city at all? Etcetera Etcetera…I thought that this time, I might try to provide you a window into the touring lives of the dancers at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo:…
HOTEL BREAKFAST- DAY
Good Morning! (double kiss everyone at the breakfast table) Where’s (insert name here)? I thought we said 9:30?
Hey, sorry I’m late. I was up late listening to these (insert nationality here) talking and talking until 2! (double kiss)
What time is the bus?
Two I think.
(Someone else enters- more double kissing ensues)
Is there space?
We can make some…that table is empty bring it over!
(over the next hour the dancers sit at breakfast long after it has closed, there have been about eight to ten people seated at the table)
(Several stragglers are still left at around 11:30, still drinking coffee)
I wonder if I can get another one?
You’ve had four! You’re officially cut off from coffee for the rest of the day!
So guys, what’s up now?
We’ve still got about four hours until class…We could take a walk into the centre and go right to the theatre from there.
Ok, I still have to pack my bag and shower…
(They move to the lobby)
Twenty minutes we meet down then?
(Lots of photo taking going on)
Oooh, guys, we should go up that hill tomorrow, I read that the old centre is up there!
Will you take a picture of me?
Look, there’s a Zara!
We always go in every city…
(inevitably they go anyway)
Anyone else hungry? I’m starving!
This place looks good.
It’s really expensive though.
What about here?
It looks “dodgy”
(The ensuing lunch scene really depends on where we are…In France, it’s a piece of cake! Romania they spoke English. Spain is easy since three of my friends speak it fluently…China is a bit hard…lots of pointing to pictures on the menu and hoping you end up with what you thought you ordered)
Where’s our dressing room?
Where are the black bags? (these are the bags that all the dancers have that the company transports for us with the sets and costumes- you put all your “theatre things” in it: Dance clothes, shoes, make-up, etc…)
Where’s the stage?
(If the stage is kind of small): Well, (insert name of ballet) will be fun…
(Ballet class follows, usually accompanied by a little more laughter than is typical in a class when we’re at home…around my area it’s usually about me never knowing an exercise…I won’t tell you some of the other jokes…)
(During class, the ballet masters go around giving individual dancers corrections from the night before if there was already a show)
Ian, there’s something strange about the way you’re coming out of your double assembles in the “block”
The actual jump?
No, it’s more the direction you’re facing…It’s just not the same…
(I’ll go and check with someone else what they do)
Ummmm…(does the step) I do it profile.
(Another person chimes in) I thought it was on a diagonal!
(Ballet Master again- after class is finished) Ok, could I have all the boys for the “block” I want to check something about the way you’re all facing
(There are invariably several versions) Let’s just decide to everyone finish on a diagonal facing upstage!
Ok! I’d like all the girls for the beginning of second act during the first circle please!
OUTSIDE THE THEATRE-DAY
You want to eat something before the show?
Yeah, but just something small, otherwise I think I might throw up onstage!
Sandwich or something?
(They search continues for food…Eventually they find some, and quickly eat…If the hotel is close by, sometimes I personally will take a half hour nap before a show)
It’s 6:30, I think I want to head back so I can do my barre!
(About 45 minutes before the show- knock on the dressing room door- the dancers are doing their make-up)
Hey! Everyone here? Where’s (insert name)?
I was just onstage- he’s warming up
(Stage manager makes the “half hour call”…in French)
Crap, I’m running late!
(I go off and do my quick barre onstage after I have my makeup on)
(Stage manager makes “fifteen minute call”- I go back and put my costume on… I don’t really do much more talking anymore at this point… I’m in my “zone”)
(Five minute call)
Derniere appel. Tout le monde en place, tout le monde en place
(Everyone is onstage, trying things out, sometimes Jean-Christophe is there giving a few pointers to people as he sees them try a few steps. Many people are repeating their “trouble spots” several times in order to feel confident they’ll make that turn or jump the way they want it to go onstage)
(Stage manager pops her head onstage)
On y va!
(Someone is waving at her)
Wait a second, my zip came undone!
(Our fantastic wardrobe girls run over and quickly sew it up in record time)
Ok! We’re good!
(Everyone places themselves onstage for when the curtain opens- The stage lights go out, someone makes some mumbled joke in the dark and someone else laughs a little nervously)
(The all familiar “whir” of the curtain going up)
STAGE AFTER THE SHOW-NIGHT
(Curtain comes down, the dancers wait for the stage managers cue to know if they’re doing another bow or not)
Good everyone! There were a few moments there at the beginning, but generally very good! Class at 4 tomorrow!
(Everyone walks back to their dressing rooms, pulling off hats, wigs, unzipping and unhooking backs of costumes as they walk)
(I am naturally the last person to leave my dressing room…I’m very slow after a show)
OUTSIDE THEATRE- NIGHT
You want to come for dinner?
We were thinking of going to that place that we were at two nights ago again.
(They start walking)
It’s this way!!
I thought it was past the square on the right!
No, It’s this way!
(The maitre’ d is none too thrilled about seating people at 10:30 pm, but they still do it anyway)
(They eat, and try not to talk too much about ballet!)
Ok, it’s past 12! We should head….How many cabs?
I think we should be fine in three!
OUTSIDE HOTEL-LATE NIGHT
(Some are smoking while others are just hanging out…All are talking way too loudly for the hour and laughing far too much!)
I’m beat guys, I think I’m going to head up!
(More double kissing, Deja Vu anyone?)
A little insight into what it’s like when we’re on tour! We’re getting ready to do it all over again when we leave for Lyon on Tuesday. We’re heading by bus, so I should have lots of time to write another entry on the bus and then post it when we get there (seven hours later!)