Achilles Heel

disturber of the peace

Today Clarence and I walked.  Again.  I have taken a break from running because the pain from a chronic Achilles injury has been too bad to push, and until today, the weather has not inspired me to run.  But we reached a soaring 87 degrees in my part of Vermont today–lots of grumbling from locals about heat and humidity, but I am loving every sweltering moment of it.  Hard to believe I was using my pellet stove last weekend, and now this.  Finally.  The couple in the photo–together with their Weimaraner, who was off leash initially–made the first bit of our walk unpleasant for this human, and also made me realize we could benefit from an obedience refresher course.

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This is theatre week for us at work; tomorrow we dig in and run dress rehearsals ’til we drop.  I am making hair ornaments for most of the girls in the Debussy piece, and also getting my music together for the sections where we will not dance to live accompaniment.  The director of the school has brought in her amazing ballet friend to help things go smoothly on Sunday; I really enjoyed meeting him today.  Plenty of nerves, lots of excitement.

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goslings 2

Meanwhile Clarence and I have been watching this young family come of age.  Reassuring; spring has arrived to usher out the remnants of Still Winter, and very soon it will be summer.  We will continue to monitor this bunch until we move to our new digs in about a month.

roof line

I will say goodbye to this lovely house on my street, whose roof line I find so appealing.  And then I will be excited all over again, this time at the prospect of a beautiful space on 180 wooded acres, and so much that is promising about the future.

But first, three ballets, two performances.  Merde to all my young dancers, and the school director and staff, and the entire cast.  I plan to enjoy every second of the culmination of a long year of work in the ballet classroom.  And after a week’s break, we go at it again. Because this is not how the story ends.

We know every part by heart…

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…almost.  A bit more refining, and we’re there.  Curtain at 2:30 and at 6:30 next Sunday at Thetford Academy’s Martha Jane Rich Theatre; three original works set to Debussy, Orff, and Brahms (one of  my esteemed colleagues in the Brahms rehearsal above).  Live music by the piano students of Victoria Dobrushina, many of whom are also ballet students at White River Ballet Academy.  Yesterday was our first rehearsal with the musicians–I have known for some time now of the talent in our ballet school, but I must say I am profoundly impressed by the same talent many of these children possess as young musicians. This is special and deserves celebration.  I am grateful as ever to be part of the palpable excitement in this creative process.  Moments from a long day of rehearsals yesterday:

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Exhaustion.

I sat down a little while ago to relax my mind and have some soup made last night from leftovers.  The past four days have tested me more than I care to be tested, by the highest authority in the land. The shroud of deception that defined my family life for years, that followed me a thousand miles from Tennessee to Vermont, continues to make this reboot very, very difficult.  I am tired.  I felt myself giving in to that tiredness just now, and decided I wanted to write about it.  Maybe there is some higher purpose to this test.  I don’t know and frankly don’t care.  I just want it to be over with.  Signing off tonight with a wish for peace–for myself, for all.

Got this?

milk 1

This bottle holds a bit of liquid Nirvana straight from a local cow who was milked very early last Thursday morning, delivered to me by Handsome Chef Boyfriend Thursday night (er, the milk–not the cow).  On this occasion HCB served as a courier for a friend who took note of my interest in this product not long ago and insisted I have it. HCB refers to this as a “milkshake” because of its rich flavor and high butterfat content <holding hands over ears, shouting la la la, la la la>.  The owner of the bakery where he works as a pastry chef likes this milk and keeps it there; HCB avoids consuming it himself if he can, along with the various other sugary, buttery treats he and his colleagues create day in and day out.  I admire his self-discipline.  I have a feeling I’d have my hands in it in that work environment.

So now this little bottle of fresh dairy insinuates itself into my life.

I am partial to steel cut oatmeal, which I eat many mornings for breakfast with fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, and Vermont maple syrup.  Today I used this milk instead of yogurt; it was a religious experience, friends, self-discipline be damned.  There is very little connection between the same food prepared with grocery store brand skim milk and this.  You may as well call it something else entirely, like, say, Warm Breakfast Butt Porridge, or You Can Never Run This Off with a side of banana.  Or perhaps Fresh Artery Plaque Compote.

I am not complaining.  This is food that has food in it: it nourishes–you can taste it going down.  Interesting that there is so little nutrition in many of the foods that contribute to American obesity.  When I visited the bakery I also learned a thing or two about small dairy farms and the rules that make it difficult for them to ply their trade.  Seems we continue to pay for the absence of common sense in our lives.  And also for our inability to practice moderation.

Allowing this beautiful milk to go to waste would be an overt violation of my ethic of frugality, which I continue to sharpen and hone.  No, I will use it all, joyously.  The challenge will be pacing myself, as I must work mainly naked in a room full of mirrors in my own trade; the absence of moderation makes itself known.  Thank you, HCB and friend, for this thoughtful gift which has also given me pause for reflection.  And thank you, madam cow.

Running With Scissors

Level 1 Saute
one of my little ones beautifully captured at the top of a jump during a rehearsal of my “mini” Debussy ballet, by the deft photographic hand of the school director

This time of year dance schools everywhere roll out the abomination known as the recital.  Some of my former ballet school parents back in Knoxville whose children landed at “recital” schools after I left have recently been heard moaning online about the exorbitant cost of sequined costumes, other recital-related expenses, limited stage exposure for their children, and recital headaches in general.

We did not do the recital at Knoxville Ballet School, in part because I had no help for this mammoth undertaking, but also because I was brought up and trained in an environment that eschewed such things.  My mom’s own small ballet school in Memphis–where I trained for several important years–instead presented a year-end demonstration on a small stage, with no costumes–just classroom attire; only the most “advanced” students danced a small, chamber-style piece during the second half of the programme, wearing the simplest imaginable costumes which my mom sewed by hand.  It was all very tasteful, if a bit Spartan.

I have been asked to produce actual choreography in my new work environment–another milestone in the current chapter of my life, which is a radical departure from the previous one.  The students in the school mount a spring performance each year–decidedly unrecital-ish, with works shown in the studio a few months before the big event in June. This is a brilliant plan on behalf of the director.  It gives the uninitiated kids a chance to figure out the scope of what they are doing, and their parents important data about young students of classical ballet and our expectations of them, and it gives the school vital exposure in the local community.  This works-in-progress studio performance has a decidedly casual and celebratory demeanor but still serves as a dress rehearsal for the real deal.

My role in this year’s spring performance is mercifully small when held up against the work load of my colleagues, and I am eternally grateful for being allowed to step into it swimming pool style, pinkie toe first. But a few weeks ago the school director threw me a curve ball when she asked me what I thought about including the teen beginner class in the June performance.  I balked at first.  This class had formed only in January, and although its enrollment was and remains healthy, the girls in the class were either complete novices, or had limited exposure to classical ballet instruction.  Inexperienced.  Limited dance vocabulary. Teenagers. And now this inexperienced choreographer was being asked to create something for them that would somehow look good on the stage.  To quote one of my amazing ballet mentors:  Oy.

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New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Momentum Pro Gesualdo;
photo, Paul Kolnik

I continue to surprise myself.  No sooner had the school director nudged me towards another beautiful Debussy piece for the piano, one of the collection from which we chose music for my other pieces, than I began to see movement on my teenage girls.  I can’t quite explain this.  Maybe it is because I like the music so much, and I have been teaching these girls since January, and I feel a burgeoning rapport with them.  Maybe I work well under pressure–I always did in an academic environment.  But whatever the reason, I found myself resisting help from the school director when she offered it to me.  No, I wanted this one.  It is short, it is challenging.  The kids are novices, but they are eager.  The director found gorgeous costumes for them that flatter their leggy, still untrained bodies and recall Mr. Balanchine’s leotard ballets–simple, sophisticated, elegant; exactly what you want when you are thirteen and taking your first tentative steps into adult shoes.  And what better tribute:  Mr. Balanchine himself fashioned a school and company from untrained novices when he landed on American soil.

This process feels good.  I find myself wanting more of it, more opportunities to create.  There is no guarantee that my girls and I will pull this off with just two short weeks of rehearsal time remaining, and a finale yet to do.  (Tomorrow!)  But I have a feeling we will all be just fine, my girls and I–even the one of us who is careful, and neat, and tidy, and organized, and on time.  Now I am learning to run with scissors, and I confess I like it.

I leave you with the music playing in an endless loop in my head.

Rite of Passage

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Yesterday I had a heartening message from the mother of a very talented former Knoxville Ballet School student.  The subject line was Homework on Pointe, and the jist of the message simply, I don’t even know if I can get them off her to sew the ribbons and elastics.  This from a ballerina mom not so unlike my own after her ballerina wannabe daughter’s first pointe shoe fitting.  This young student is one of a small handful of mine who attended Young Dancer Summer Workshop at American Ballet Theatre’s NYC flagship facility last year, and whom I was so looking forward to teaching for the 2012-2013 academic year before my life came unglued; she had been mine from the get-go, arriving as a Primary Level student at age six or so.  Ballet teachers can be proprietary when it comes to gifted students, and I am unabashedly so of this one and a few others.

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Today her mom sent me another photo showing very nice rotation on her standing leg (for the uninitiated:  this is important).  I spent a while reflecting on my own first clunky pair of Capezios, and remembered the three-way argument between my mom, my instructor, and myself, in the ancient hallways of Memphis Ballet School.  My Russian teacher–a School of American Ballet-trained dancer and a George Balanchine disciple through and through–insisted I was ready.  My mom, whose training was of a quieter Canadian brand influenced by the staid English, insisted emphatically that I was not.  The three of us stood there arguing after my technique class one afternoon when I was about nine; I positioned myself strategically behind my teacher with my arms folded in defiance, my mom standing opposite, and when everything was said and done, I emerged victorious.  I could sense my mom’s irritation, but the result of that argument felt worth every drop of consequences that might be awaiting me on the long car ride home.  My teacher–and my mom–went with me to my first shoe fitting, and the child in these photos may as well have been me.

Shortly after my arrival in Vermont my new employer handed me the task of fitting a crop of young dancers–about the same age as my student here–in their first pointe shoes.  I brought with me a relatively recent credential as a certified fitter for Gaynor Minden, and it was put to the test right away.  Again I witnessed that important young dancer milestone, but from the other side and with improved fitting techniques and modern materials.  I now share the teaching responsibilities for that particular group of girls with my colleagues, and sense a gathering attachment to them with each passing week.  It is exciting to be part of the process of forming a young ballerina.

Mom and I still argue like crazy, occasionally loudly.  We don’t see eye to eye on many things, including some of the finer points of classical ballet training.  But we do agree on many, many things, and I remain indebted to her for agreeing to take on some of my students who are serious about ballet and who have been left with limited training resources after Knoxville Ballet School’s premature demise.  Thanks, mom, again.  And thank you for pushing these girls across yet another important threshold.

Mom in yellow

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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I started collecting Pyrex in this vintage pattern many years ago when I stumbled across some dirt cheap refrigerator containers at a huge weekend flea market.  I recognized it instantly.  The year I moved into my first apartment as a young undergrad my mom had given me a bunch of cast-off kitchenware which included a single mixing bowl like the white ones in the picture, but without their  fancy pouring spouts.  So when I spotted an entire set of nesting bowls at an antique store a few years back I grabbed them up.  I was also thrilled to discover that my paternal grandmother evidently also loved it and when my dad was sifting through her stuff at the end of her life, he plucked out several more containers to add to my collection.

Thing is, there were initially four spouted mixing bowls in my set–I had another solid teal bowl in the second smallest size.  In January of 2012, however, when my ex and I were purportedly taking our first tenuous steps towards reconciliation, I discovered one horrible day he in fact had already begun to see someone else.  Again.  During a very bad moment I slammed shut the door on the dishwasher and the bowl became a casualty of my tantrum.

Today Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I had a delicious time exploring outdoors on a perfect Vermont spring day, and my heart skipped a beat for an instant when I spotted another large spouted mixing bowl in my pattern at an impromptu parking lot flea market.  To my dismay the bowls nested inside were of a different pattern.  I was thrilled for HCB, however, that he found three vintage salt and pepper shakers to add to his burgeoning collection for a grand total of a buck–for all three sets.

We finished outside time today with Clarence hiking part of a trail that is so gorgeous I can scarcely believe I live less than three miles from the trail head.  And at this moment HCB is in my kitchen creating something that smells rawther intoxicating.  I would not trade the fun we had today for a truckload of antique mixing bowls.  Not a thing in the world wrong with this picture.