Juggling Nine Ballets At Once

The new year has begun, and the marathon of "Nutcracker" performances, which is grueling for dancers everywhere, is over.  It's always well worth it, though, to see the smiling faces of kids and adults alike watch the shows.  I danced several roles in The Joffrey Ballet's production in Cleveland and Chicago, and performed the Cavalier lead with Carla Korbes www.facebook.com/VailDancefrom Pacific Northwest Ballet in several shows with Festival Ballet Theatre in southern California.  Both are big, beautiful productions.

On January 2nd, all the dancers and artistic staff returned to the Joffrey studios to begin rehearsals of nine ballets all at once for our Winter tour and upcoming program in Chicago called "American Legends" www.joffrey.org/legends.

I thought I'd try something different his time with my blog.  A good friend of mine, who knows a lot about dance, asked me a few questions and I'm sharing my answers with you.  If you have any questions about the life of a dance, please send them to me.

 Q.  The Company is rehearsing nine ballets simultaneously for the upcoming tour to Naples (FL), Dallas, Las Vegas, Berkeley, San Diego and Los Angeles, and for your run in Chicago from February 13 to 24.  How do the 45 dancers and the artistic staff pull that off?

A.  With a lot of intensity, coordination, and running all over Joffrey Tower from studio to studio every day!  I don't know how companies managed complicated rehearsal schedules and multiple castings before computers existed.  I guess they used a blackboard and a lot of erasers. (Laughs).

The castings and rehearsal schedules are posted on line a few weeks before we perform the programs.  So everyone knows what they need to concentrate on.  First we learn and rehearse our individual roles and duets, and after a few days or weeks, we all come together to do the ensemble dancing and run the entire ballet.

Q. How do you keep so many dances and roles in your head and not get them confused.

A.  Dancers have to be quick learners these days because audiences demand to see multiple dances and various styles.  Long gone are the days when a company rehearsed Swan Lake for three months and then performed it for a month straight.

We have multiple rehearsals in our studios and then we go over the steps on our own with music and/or video--sometimes on our Smart phones--in the studios or at home, to make sure the choreography is ingrained in our heads.

The Joffrey founders created the Company in the mold of many styles and a variety of dances as a way of challenging audiences to see all kinds of new work and revivals, and to keep them coming back.  This is explained in depth in the fascinating documentary "Mavericks of Dance" about Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino (link).  I recommend it to everyone; it's now on DVD and Netflix.

 Q.  What remembers each role for you...your mind or you muscles?  I can't remember five steps in a row so this has always intrigued me.

A.  It's a combination of both.  The mind is memorizing the steps as you go along initially and then the muscles are getting used to them, and then at some point mind and body come together, and you know where you are at all times when you hear the music.  Of course, some pieces are choreographed to no music, so this is really a challenge, but as long as you remain focused and rehearse a lot, you can get through the entire piece without a hitch.

Q.  How do you become the character you are dancing?

 A.  This is where being an artistry comes in.  The part of becoming the character comes when you have mastered all the technical and logistical elements.  For instance, I'll be dancing "Othello" www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywvnhfRXwY0  again this Spring and I did a great deal of  research into him as Shakespeare wrote him and also watched videos of others who danced the role as I was learning the choreography of this full-length piece.  I then developed my own interpretation and used my own life experiences to create a mood during each section.  He goes through all the emotions of life:  love, deceit, betrayal, murder.  I've lived them--except the last one of course--and I bring those experiences to the stage.  My greatest pleasure is hearing audience members say that they felt exactly what the character was going through.

 Q.  Thank you, Fabrice.  Good luck on the tour and we'll look forward to seeing you in Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre in February.

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