The beautiful ballet school where I teach and work most days each week will soon mount an informal works-in-progress performance in its new digs. This will serve also as a celebration of the move and will include the public as part of First Friday in White River Junction’s historic village. With a skosh of remaining construction, a little bit of grit, and a few nuts and bolts still to be sorted, we are pretty pushed this week to make sure things go smoothly on Friday night. My sense is that they will, no matter what. The kids and a few adult ballet students—numbering sixty-something altogether—looked strong and danced well in rehearsal last Saturday. Our music is gorgeous (three ballet teacher-choreographers, three composers: Orff, Brahms, and Debussy), we’ve still got time for a tech rehearsal and a couple of run-throughs, and in general we are ready. (Note to the universe: this is not meant to be interpreted as over-confidence, okey doke?)
If you follow my blog even casually, it should be pretty clear that I took a proverbial grand jêté of faith to leave Tennessee after thirty years there and move to Vermont; this little ballet school—which is not so little anymore—is what got me here, thanks to its director’s sharp eye when I made it known to the ballet firmament that I was casting about looking for work. And in the gigantic plot twist my life has taken lie a couple of significant sub-plots, not least of which that Princess Deb must adjust to no longer being a princess, but instead being a team player, a worker bee, a clock-puncher, if you will. In all fairness, I should add that there is not much metaphorical clock-punching that goes on at work. I am lucky to have my hand in the ballet world still, and to actually earn my keep doing it. The best part of my work has always been and continues to be forming little people into young dancers. There is a huge creative component to what I do, and I have been relieved of many of the administrative headaches that I now observe my employer wrangling almost daily; I really do feel her pain. But it is so nice to have colleagues; that was missing at my small school in Knoxville, and there is an energy that comes from a team you just can’t harvest when you are working in a vacuum as I have done for the past six years.
The other sub-plot, significantly, is that I have never had the opportunity to create a choreographed work for anybody. Really. Of course, you can argue with some credibility that making classes every week is making choreography—you create exercises from dance movement vocabulary and you set it to music, and you lead your students through ninety minutes of it, pretty much every day of every week. But it is not the same as creating a piece for the stage. I mentioned during my interview week last August that I had never created original choreography for anybody, ever, to which my young employer-to-be quipped, Well you will now.
And so I have. I do not know why this has always seemed so daunting to me; people do it all the time. Not only that, people do it badly all the time—and still get paid for it. My own ballerina mom has created countless chamber ballets (beautiful ones) and waves me off when I am wringing my hands about doing it myself. Mercifully, I was handed a very light load and given the freedom to choose my own music; I grabbed Claude Debussy with little hesitation. Now that most of my choreography is complete and we are simply polishing and refining, I will say that the biggest challenge for me has been setting a dance on tiny people, within the parameters of the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum which we use at the school. I adore these little people; they are cute, and silly, and clever, and some of them are gifted. But they are wiggly—almost without exception. And I’ve had the additional challenge of choreographing one piece in particular on two sections of tiny people, who rehearse on different days of the week. Because this group of little ones is not quite ready for our in-house performance, they will instead be given an opportunity to demonstrate improvised dances that are part of the ABT/NTC, and will have their moment on the big stage in June when we mount a more formal production of the same three ballets we will roll out for the first time on Friday.
Another moving part in this huge journey, another new chapter. If you are anywhere near Vermont’s Upper Valley this Friday evening, come see us.