My students are less than a month away from performing excerpts from Swan Lake at our annual spring showcase. We began the rehearsal process for the corps de ballet sections way back in January (due to the limited amount of time I have with the dancers each week) and I was filled with a lot of doubts: Who was I to condense and re-stage such an important ballet for a cast of mostly recreational ballet students? How would I stay true to the story's original darker themes while being sensitive to the fact that the cast and audience would include young children?
Over the past several weeks I've discovered that I'm more capable than I thought. My students are also far smarter and more adept than I realized. Choreographing and staging any ballet--but especially a story ballet--requires the courage to be vulnerable. You're taking ideas and worlds and shapes you've formed inside your head and releasing them into the world. It's a lot like writing in that sense but with one significant difference: when you write stories you're not using real live people as your tools. As a choreographer your subjects are dancers, real people with thoughts and feelings and opinions In this way making dances is fundamentally collaborative--adjusting to the strengths and weaknesses of your subjects while striving to stay true to your original vision. Writing is more comfortable for me because I can work through my ideas in isolation. The backspace button never gets impatient when I have to rewrite a sentence over and over again the way a dancer might when I re-choreograph a phrase of music.
A few days ago I had the full Swan Lake cast together to work through the entire ballet for the first time. I dreaded the worst--total chaos in the corps and confusion during the pas de deux--but things actually went smoothly! It looked like a ballet--a ballet that needed lots of rehearsal time, but a real ballet that told a story. I'm always looking for things to polish and tweak in my choreography but during that rehearsal I made sure to take some time and just enjoy the fact that things were working. I wasn't as crazy and incompetent as I assumed!
I'm excited to see how everything shapes up in the next month as we put the finishing touches on choreography and costumes. I can't wait for my hard-working students to share this ballet with an audience!