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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Counting Down With Dance: Darci, Chris, and Black Swan

   Moving on to the dance community at large, it's difficult to pick just a handful of noteworthy headlines this year. Maybe I've just been paying a lot more attention due to the nature of my internship, but I know that no matter how I choose which items to write about someone will say "why not x?" or "you forgot y!" While choosing today's items I focused on the ballet world.

1. Darci Kistler's Retirement

     With Darci's final bow, New York City Ballet became completely Peter Martins-fied (*cue music in minor key*). Prior to her retirement in June of this year, Darci held fast as the last remaining dancer at City Ballet to be hired by George Balanchine himself. Her final performance last June marked the end of an incredibly long (by ballet standards) and illustrious career, but also a kind of end of an era. Although Martins has been at the helm of NYCB since 1983, I felt like some remnant of the Balanchine era still remained with the presence of dancers who had been trained by Mr. B. Although Balanchine's method of training continues at SAB (supposedly. . .) and his ballets continue to delight, intrigue, and confuse audiences around the world,  there's a growing disconnect between the master and the ballet's dancers now. With all the effort put into preserving his ballets and method, I can't help but feel like we're too caught up trying to "do" Balanchine, or cling to bygone era. Darci's farewell also held special significance to me because her book Ballerina inspired me to pursue ballet as a career. I went through a phase where I was obsessed with her and City Ballet and all things Balanchine. Even though I never ended up becoming a Balanchine ballerina like nine-year-old me always dreamed, that book and the Balanchine legacy shaped the trajectory of my training and career.

2. Christopher Wheeldon Leaves His Own Company

     Christopher Wheeldon formed Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company in 2006 only to resign as artistic director in February 2010. His departure caused quite a bit of drama, but as a complete outsider I don't feel I have any authority to comment on the situation other than that it didn't make Wheeldon or Morphoses' executive director Lourdes Lopez look very good. The company has since adapted a curatorial model which, to me, is code for "little artistic stability." Morphoses has kept on keeping on this season, but I'm interested to see how they fare without Wheeldon's name attached--not that they need it. The company has some of the best dancers in the industry and I've so enjoyed their performances in the past, I hope they continue to grow and bring new life to ballet.

3. Black Swan Makes Ballet Scary and a Little Perverse

     If you've mentioned ballet at a party any time in the last few weeks, someone probably brought up Black Swan, the new Darren Aronofsky psychological thriller. So many people asked me to comment on it "from a dancers' perspective" but honestly I don't feel like there's much to say. It was well done and a fairly accurate, albeit exaggerated, portrayal of the "subtle head-trips"  (as Wendy Whelan eloquently commented) dancers must often tackle on a daily basis. I found the relationship between Nina and other company members a little unbelievable--as competitive as the ballet world is, as my friend Ellen commented, your company becomes like your family. Often, only your fellow company members understand what you're going through and in my experience that creates a bond like no other. I also found the movie itself borderline pornographic and came very close to walking out of the theater. Even with its negative portrayal of the ballet world Black Swan seems to have made people take notice of ballet again. Hopefully we'll see an increase in ballet attendance next year and an economic boost for national and regional companies.
       I only wish we didn't need sex and blood to make ballet intriguing again.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Goodbye, NYC

Today I finished the last work of my collegiate career. Tomorrow I leave the city I've called home for nearly four years. I became an adult here. I learned to live outside of a dance studio here, and as a result developed more as an artist than I ever expected (at least I like to think so). At some point over the Christmas break I might do a more thorough reflective post about how NYC changed me as a dancer and a person, but for now this video sums up my feelings pretty well:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life Happens

   I'm saying "goodbye" to New York City in just a few short weeks. It's crazy how quickly life is changing: I finish college in 15 days, my husband begins college next month, and we'll be starting 2011 in a whole new town! Life in rural southwestern New York state will definitely be different, and exciting, but according to weather forecasts,  it will mostly just be very, very cold.
  One of the things I'll miss most after we move is In-Sight Dance Company. I've been so fortunate to perform and teach with them for the past six months. Keep an eye on this company because they're sure to continue growing, creating, and influencing the arts community in New York City and beyond. I feel like all I do on this blog is gush about how awesome In-Sight's artists and board members are, but it's all true and they deserve much gushing.
  As far as dancing is concerned, I plan to continue training upstate and hopefully teaching as well. Teaching is something I've really come to love in the last couple of years. I imagine I'll make it into the city fairly regularly for auditions, performances, and classes with my favorite teachers. Spring is a busy season in the dance world and I'll soon be busy sending out audition reels and cover letters to companies I admire!

. Of course, I'll keep updating Dancin' Words with news and thoughts about tutus, tights, the dance world and the arts.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In-Sightful Notes

As anticipated in my last post, life's been super crazy these past few weeks. A new Dancin' Words post is incubating, preparing for its little life on the internet, but in the meantime take a look at In-Sight Dance Company's new blog. You'll see a lot of posts from me over there, as well as thoughts from other lovely In-Sight dancers. 

Happy weekend!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Approaching Stress and Awesomeness

 The best times to update your blog are those times when you have approximately 47 other things to do n the next seven hours before your entire world implodes and gets sucked into a black hole of stress. This is one of those times. I'm not really stressed yet--it's still too early in the semester, and I've only just started my new internship, and An Extraordinary Echo is still a whopping ten days from opening. But I feel it. I sense the Stress and the Crazy waiting on the other side of the Wednesday bridge. Or maybe the Thursday wall. Either way, IT'S COMING.
  Today I started my internship at a dance magazine and while I haven't done much yet, I'm so looking forward to getting to work on a publication I've been reading for years, that I respect so much. School is wonderful and I actually enjoy every single one of my courses which is an incredible feeling. I particularly love my American History Through Literature class and feel like the biggest nerd when I'm the only one in the class who gets really, really enthusiastic about John Winthrop and Puritan court records.
   Every afternoon and evening I'm either working, rehearsing, or in dance class which means Graham and I barely see one another these days, except for the brief window between walking in the door night and falling asleep. Thankfully, I keep Sundays free for church, family time, and household chores, which keeps me sane. I hate having to miss Sunday rehearsals, but it's important to keep that day sacred, to me.
   Speaking of rehearsals, the show is coming together so beautifully but I still feel way overwhelmed by the fact that we open so soon. During the Summer I didn't have much to distract me from preparing for the performances physically and mentally, but now I'll be juggling school and two jobs during production week, something I haven't done since high school (minus the jobs). My mom is flying in to see the ballet as well, and I'm really looking forward to that, but also frustrated that I'll barely get to spend time with her while she's here. Still, she hasn't seen me dance in years, so this will be really special.

Just a quick, disorganized update. In case I don't blog again before the show, make sure you take advantage of the pre-sale discount and get ticket's for An Extraordinary Echo for just $10.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writer's Block: Real or Not?

    In my last post, I mentioned that I've had a hard time writing these last few weeks. I used to scoff at the term "writer's block" because it's kind of a pretentious self-important concept. Can't use a "block" as an excuse in many other professions, can you? There's no such thing as "editorial assistant's block" or "teacher's block" or even "ballerina's block". Actually, ballerina's block would probably be rampant if dancers ceased being told what to do. (We tend to like being told what to do, at least in the ballet world.)
  Often times, our seeming inability to write has more to do with distraction or lack of discipline than anything. Whenever I have a deadline approaching or a short story assignment due for school my creative juices flow incredibly well. It's only during my down-time, when I should be working on that project or proposal that the well of ideas dries up, and I can't remember any non "to be" verbs.
   These days I'm exercising a good amount of discipline, forcing myself to write even when it's lacking in quality and innovation. When I go back to revise I get completely discouraged and want to write even less and it's one messy spin cycle in the smelly laundromat of my brain. (See? There's one example of the kind of metaphors I'm creating lately.)

Do you think writer's block is a real psychological barrier or am I just making up excuses to make myself feel better? How do you overcome these mental roadblocks with no tangible incentive in the form of a deadline or a paycheck?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Looking Forward to October

    During academic semesters--no matter how hard I try--I tend to have time to either dance a lot or write a lot, but rarely both. I've finally begun to really work on some pieces for this year's round of journal and literary magazine submissions and finding it difficult to get back into the swing of creative writing after focusing more on journalism this summer. I keep worrying that my couple of creative pieces that have recently done well are complete flukes and that I'll never write anything good again, let alone actually improve as I hone my technique and style. Typical perfectionist.

    Aside from those impending submission deadlines, I'm quite looking forward to October, my favorite month of the year. The hay bales stacked with pumpkins have appeared in front of all the markets on the Upper West Side and I noticed a few eager leaves beginning to take on an orange hue during my walk across Central Park today. Aside from the wonderful autumn weather, a variety of exciting events fill my calendar in the approaching month. Some highlights: 

September 28 - October 9
This annual ten day festival at City Center features some of the world's most renowned dance companies and choreographers alongside up-and-coming artists. In addition to the five main stage programs, Fall for Dance includes panels on dance-related topics and free pre-performance dance classes! All seats are $10 which means they always sell out quickly. Thankfully I was able to wrangle a couple of tickets and I can't wait to see such a wide variety of styles--from ballet to Indian dance-- presented in the same program.

Ongoing from September - December
Although I'm an uptowner, I often take classes, rehearse, and see performances in lower Manhattan. Presented by the Lower Manhattan Arts League, this festival includes theater, dance, film, music, and visual arts. I'm particularly excited that Dance New Amsterdam, one of the studios I visit most frequently, is offering a day of discounted classes on September 21 as well as a day of free classes on October 9! I'm looking forward to getting in as many affordable shows and classes as possible this season. 

October 7-9 
I'm busy, busy, busy gearing up for the premiere of An Extraordinary Echo, In-Sight Dance Company's first full-length ballet! It's really starting to come together well and I'm at that point where I'm starting to become familiar enough with the choreography that I can really focus on exploring the movement artistically. It's been a long time since I've performed a story ballet and it's an incredibly rewarding experience. Have I mentioned that I absolutely adore the people I work with? They're incredible artists and people, truly. We're also launching a blog soon and when I get the green light, I'll be sure to share the link here. If you're in the NYC area, it would mean so much to me if you came to one of the performances!

Mystery Birthday Events
My lovely, creative friend Jennifer emailed me a few weeks ago demanding that I remain available the morning of October 2 for an early birthday surprise. That's less than a week before the show opens so I was hesitant, but Graham insisted that I should ask for the day off from rehearsals. I still have no idea what is is I'm in for and not knowing is driving me crazy! My real 21st birthday is on October 28th so I'll also celebrate with Graham later in the month with dinner and some kind of surprise. Last year he surprised me with a spotless apartment for my birthday which caused me to quite literally wept tears of joy and gratitude because it just looked so nice. The year before that he proposed on my birthday, so he's set a pretty high standard for himself. (No pressure or anything, honey.)

What about you? Any exciting upcoming events you're looking forward to? 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reduced-Fat Banana Oatmeal Cookies

   I heartily endorse year-round baking, but even the slightest hint of Autumn in the early September air sends me into a full-on flour frenzy. After a round of back-to-school shopping on Sunday evening, I whipped up a batch of these banana oatmeal cookies with some cardamom cinnamon tea to welcome my favorite season (and to entice a crisp Fall breeze).  It's still too early for pumpkin muffins, cinnamon rolls, and gingerbread men, but these oatmeal cookies provide just the right amount of spiciness to remind you to pull out your winter coat, along with enough sweetness to comfort you after you miss the school bus or the bully steals your lunch money. Bonus: they're not too bad for you. As far as cookies are concerned, they're practically a health food.
   Fellow blogger Katie requested the recipe after I mentioned them on Twitter so blame her if you hate them (kidding):

Reduced-Fat Banana Oatmeal Cookies

1 large or 2 small bananas, mashed
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbs. non-dairy milk
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour, or all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp. pie spice (see note)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries,  walnuts and/or chocolate chips (optional)

NOTE: If you do not have apple or pumpkin pie spice, combine 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. dried ginger and a pinch of ground cloves.

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. 

In a large bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, applesauce, and banana until well-combined. Add the molasses, vanilla, and non-dairy milk and mix. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add in batches to the banana/sugar mixture and combine, being careful not to over mix. Fold in the dried fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips, if using, and drop by generous tablespoons onto the cookie sheet. Bake 10-13 minutes until the bottoms are just beginning to brown. Let cool on the sheet for 2-3 minutes before removing the cookies to a cooling rack or flat plate to finish cooling. Or just eat them right away, like we did. 

These are much cakier than your typical oatmeal cookie and taste delicious with strong-brewed coffee or tea.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BEDA 31: Finale

This month. . . 

I published almost 12,000 words on this site.
We discussed the role that race and culture play in literature.
We baked bread and cookies.
I ate a lot of rice.
I battled a legion of flies
I revealed my guilty pleasures.
I read about a dozen books.
We discussed dreams and passion and the temporary state of success and failure.
We found out that a lot of us would probably make very good Quakers of some sort, thanks to the Belief-o-matic.
I got to know a lot of the great people with whom I blogged every day (sort of) this month even better.

If you read this month, thank you. Thanks for taking a few minutes to read my ramblings and comment and generally be awesome. Now that I'm in the habit of blogging every day, and I'm generally less afraid of it than I was 31 days ago, you'll be hearing from me a lot more. Not EVERY day, but AT LEAST every week. Even though my last-ever semester of college is starting soon, I hope I can keep writing a few hundred words a day both here and on other creative projects. Altogether this month I wrote about 20,000 words which isn't a whole lot but it's a lot more than I've ever written in an entire month before (not including academic writing) and I hope I can maintain those numbers as I finish my degree and move into the big, scary Real World of post-college life.
On a final note, this week is sort of "Social Media Week" for In-Sight Dance Company. Follow us on Twitter and "like" us on Facebook to receive a lot of exclusive news and content. (Yes, that's the right side of my body visible on the Twitter background.) Also let me know if you'd like to be on the email list and I'll see how to get you added. In-Sight is not just another New York City dance company, but firmly rooted in serving the community and creating art that inspires thought, action, and personal change. I've said it again and again, but it's a joy to dance and create with them.

See you in September!


Monday, August 30, 2010

BEDA 30: Belief-o-matic

    Ramadan began this month and Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching and EVERY day is a saint's day and I'm. . .uh. . . using those occasions to justify today's topic. Browsing the blogs and features on BeliefNet has become one of my favorite ways to procrastinate on work, and I recently took the "Belief-o-matic" test, a personality quiz about your religious and spiritual beliefs. It asks you a short number of questions and tells you which faiths traditions you're most "compatible" with. Kind of like a dating personality quiz for religious wafflers. Or curious procrastinators fascinated by theological divisions in Christianity. It's by no means an exhaustive test and I think some of the questions and answers are oddly phrased, but interesting nonetheless. My results are pretty accurate, I think. I am a conservative protestant, with some Seventh Day Adventist ethical leanings. I'm a little surprised no Mennonite sect showed up on the results, but it doesn't look like the Belief-o-matic includes too many anabaptist sects. I also find it funny that I scored higher in the categorie of Scientology, Neo-Paganism and Nontheism than Secular Humanism. And true. Few who know me will disagree. 
     Try the Belief-o-matic quiz here if you're interested. They also have some other interesting tests of general religious literacy and knowledge. If you're comfortable, share your results in the comments. Do you think the quiz is accurate? Can complex religious traditions and personal spiritual beliefs be reduced to a handful of yes/no questions? Is it weird that this is what I do for fun? 

My full results:

1. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (100%)
2. Seventh Day Adventist (97%)
3. Orthodox Quaker (92%)
4. Eastern Orthodox (89%)
5. Roman Catholic (89%)
6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (65%)
7. Islam (62%)
8. Orthodox Judaism (62%)
9. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (52%)
10. Hinduism (51%)
11. Liberal Quakers (45%)
12. Baha'i Faith (41%)
13. Jehovah's Witness (41%)
14. Sikhism (37%)
15. Reform Judaism (34%)
16. Jainism (33%)
17. Unitarian Universalism (32%)
18. Theravada Buddhism (27%)
19. Mahayana Buddhism (25%)
20. Nontheist (21%)
21. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (20%)
22. New Thought (16%)
23. Scientology (16%)
24. Taoism (14%)
25. Neo-Pagan (13%)
26. Secular Humanism (8%)