I was supposed to begin my first season with the Joffrey Ballet in the fall of 2001, but after the towers collapsed on 9/11, my immigration paperwork was put on hold and I could not get into the country. For the several months while I waited, I worked for the Lido, the famous French cabaret located in the Champs Elysee in Paris. The leaders of the Lido at the time, Pierre Rambert and Stuart McGuee, knew my background as a dancer and wanted to feature me in the acrobatic pas de deux. When I look back, I attribute this experience as an incredibly important part of my life and my career. While some dancers are known for their agility, jumps, turns, etc, my strengths lie in my partnering skills. It was this experience of learning and performing the acrobatic pas de deux that built and solidified my strength, stamina, and knowledge in partnering.
In typical ballet, lifts consist of the basic overhead press, where the ballerina is positioned in standard arabesque and her partner simply lifts her overhead (see link for interesting article from Sid Smith at the Chicago Tribune) . With all of my ballet training from the Paris Opera School, and my time in the states before beginning the Joffrey, Pierre and Stuart recognized that I had the strength and technique needed to learn the acrobatic pas de deux. I was sent to work with trainer, Laurence Fanon, an ex ballet dancer who had previously performed the acrobatic pas. I learned how to manipulate the female dancer in new ways, with new grips and new presses, learned to take the stress out of my back and transfer it to my legs, and learned to manipulate and transfer weight. The biggest challenge was the "big dolphin", a lift that begins with the female dancer in standard arabesque, but is then pressed up, flipped upside down, and held with one arm in a crescent shape. It was incredibly difficult to master for many reasons, but primarily because the female dancer loses her sense of space and body as soon as she is upside down (making it hard to adjust) and you only have one hand supporting her low back near L5. It is her arch that locks her into position, but it takes a great deal of strength and trust on both our parts.
When I look back, this experience performing the acrobatic pas was a significant time in my life and gave me incredible knowledge in my career. I became fearless, and when I finally arrived at the Joffrey, typical ballet lifts seemed much easier than the tricks I had been performing. The actual pas was 5 minutes, which is a significant amount of time to be constantly manipulating and lifting a woman overhead. The lifts were complicated and intricate, and it was a great test of stamina and endurance. Other dancers don't typically use their left hand, but for this experience, I trained by tying my right hand behind my back so that I was forced to use my weaker side and build its strength. I learned tricks and manipulations like the spinning attitude turns (see video) that require a different focus and a different perspective on my previous training. Gaining this new insight only heightened the experience for me.
I started partnering when I was 13, but really mastered the art of partnering while at the Lido. Even today, I am constantly learning and mastering my technique, but I know it was this particular time in my life where I really accelerated my knowledge, skill, and confidence. And when I finally did arrive at the Joffrey in 2002, I knew I was properly prepared and more than ready for my life as a Joffrey dancer.