Make ‘Em Laugh

Raffaele Morra

Lariska Dumbchenko, aka Raffaele Morra;

Important lesson:  take your work seriously, but not yourself.  Prima ballerina assoluta Dame Margot Fonteyn is quoted as having said this, as are scores of others.  I heard it again earlier today during a conversation with Raffaele Morra, who was visiting the ballet school where I teach this morning ahead of a pair of weekend performances with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.  They are a sixteen-member all-male comedic ballet troupe who dress in drag (yes, they wear pointe shoes and dance in them like nobody’s business) and perform ridiculous and satirical versions of ballets, most of them long established in the classical canon.  The Trocks, as they are commonly known, are also beautifully trained men; their brand of performing reaches beyond mere onstage hamming around—which they do to a fault—to include impeccable classical technique.


I saw it this morning in Raffaele’s master class.  But beyond technique he urged the sweaty roomful of dancers whose attention he held for an hour and a half to add something to their classroom work, to enjoy what they are doing, for the sake of the audience.  As part of this mandate he taught them a variation from the French classic Paquita, which the company will perform tonight and tomorrow night on the stage at Dartmouth’s HOP Center for the Arts.  Then, he showed them how the Trocks do it.  I am not sure I have seen so many smiles during a master class, nor heard so much giggling, ever.


Smile, I often tell my students in class.  If you are not having fun, why bother at all?  Raffaele took this a step further today and said, teach your students to act.  And do it while they are young, before they develop adult inhibitions.  It is good advice, and as the school director said today, the timing feels perfect.  I could not agree more.


I leave you with a montage of Paquita, à la Trock:

Cage Rattling II


I do not know what it is about these creatures.  This one was on my porch today when I arrived home after some time away.  I am unsettled, not especially calm or happy at the moment.  I have been wrestling with inexplicable sadness for the last day or so and wish it–and the moth–would go away.  (Sorry, dear luna moth:  this has nothing to do with you.)

Why I Run





Among other reasons.  Second day in a row of five-milers in Handsome Chef Boyfriend’s corner of Vermont.  Stunning.  And Clarence and I always run harder when we find ourselves in his company; pretty perfect day.

Home Alone


It has been raining here in Vermont for about five weeks in a row now with no signs of letting up.  Well okay, more like five days.  I am about halfway through a week-long reprieve from ballet school before summer term starts next week with a bang; this distinguished guest instructor from American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School will help us launch our busy eight-week program.  Then I am off to serve as guest faculty myself at this school in beautiful upstate New York; Clarence will have an entire week with his favorite sitter, who is a shepherd girl through and through and spoils him rotten in my absence.

Meanwhile I am treating myself to a luxurious few days visiting Handsome Chef Boyfriend, who alas is not enjoying any kind of break at the moment.  No worries, I assured him.  I have plenty to keep me occupied while you are away at work baking delicious things.  Oh, and by the way: do you have any objections to a blog post about your teeming collection of salt and pepper shakers?  He was giggling a little when he agreed to this.  (I did not mention that I also planned later to set them up militia-style on the edge of the laundry chute and pick them off one at a time with a bb gun.)


I admire anybody who is a serious collector of things; I have only dabbled in collections, and really lack the persistence and fortitude it takes to do it.  Handsome Chef Boyfriend has a dizzying array of salt and pepper shakers and is always adding more.  I have had occasion to be along with him during some of his acquisitions, and have learned a couple of things.  For example, you can very nearly always find salt and pepper shakers whether you are in a high-brow antique place or a smelly flea market.  And some of the most hideous shakers have the highest value. You can tell something about the age of a piece depending whether it has a cork or plastic stopper in its bottom, but beware of an opening that is too perfectly round and has a cork jammed into it:  it is probably an impostor.




HCB has his own criteria when it comes to the decision to purchase.  For example, his price limit is three bucks (although I have seen him equivocate over shakers that are a little pricier but really nifty).  I was with him the day he found these, sold out of the back of an elderly woman’s truck at an impromptu flea market for 25 cents:


I like the clean lines and simple design of them.  Not so much with these, but what self-respecting salt and pepper shaker collection is without at least one hen and rooster combo?


But seriously.  I give you the Eggplant Specimen:


And from the sublime to the ridiculous:


But wait, there’s more:


And still more:


Here we have variations on a theme:


These will be the subject of the next Stephen King novel:


And this is a nice vintage pair.  Get it?  Vintage?


I amuse myself.  HCB is still a little while off from returning home and so I have some time to find more trouble.  Maybe I will go mismatch all his socks.  Har har.

Eat your heart out, Kevin McAllister.

Cage Rattling


This beauty arrived at my cottage early last week and hung out with me a few days, taking flight just before Handsome Chef Boyfriend’s happy arrival Thursday.  Lately I have felt unsettled, a little jittery, like I’ve had too much coffee,  but all the time.  My first academic year on the teaching staff at White River Ballet Academy ended well after last weekend’s performances, concluding with a final Primary Level class yesterday:  the (mainly) five-year-old kindergartners who last fall had their first exposure to the American Ballet Theatre curriculum we use at the school are changed little people, preparing for first grade and looking less toddler-like, more like kids.  I have witnessed this transition for a while now and enjoy it.  These little ones have come a long way as very young dancers, too; I am proud of them.  I frankly expected my students–in all  the levels I teach–to be worn out, sluggish, or likely even absent from their final week of classes.  On the contrary, most of them were not only there, but focused, confident after last weekend’s performances, and danced beautifully.  I think it is important for all of us on the teaching staff to pause and admire how far we have nurtured along our students since September–and then to reflect on this moment again in the fall when we look at them in their first week of classes and wonder how in the world we will prepare them for auditions and for the stage in the spring, which in my decade’s teaching experience always happens.  And still somehow, they are very nearly always ready when they need to be.  Now, a restorative and deserved week off before summer sessions begin.

Again there are big changes on the horizon for me, about which I will write as they unfold.  Writing has been my salvation, as has the ballet classroom, and I am ever thankful to have them at my disposal.  I have already alluded to the reality that I must give up my lakeside cottage; that transition will begin in a couple of weeks.  My new home on 180 wooded acres excites me (just wait, Clarence), and I think I have made a good choice.  It was a home I considered just before my arrival in Vermont, but with no data then about New England winters I was a little gun-shy.  I am definitely not what you would call a “seasoned” Vermonter, but I am still standing after snow and ice and wind and power outages, and I will be fine there, I think.

The other reality is that I must find more work.  I hope to rely on my academic laurels for that, and will begin to search in earnest this week. I will not leave the ballet world; I belong there and made a promise to myself about a decade ago that I would never again leave it.  I hope like crazy I can keep that promise to myself.  What I’ve called my year of transition–which I predicted would be over by now–I instead should have called my year of upheaval.  I remain in transition, but hope the coming year sees the emergence of a new tap root I intend to put down right here in Vermont.


Upheaval notwithstanding, Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I ventured into Windsor on Friday because I wanted to show him this groovy little shop I had discovered earlier on my own; we sampled several beautiful cheeses and ultimately bought a small piece of locally made Madison Bleu.  Food shopping with HCB entertains me not only because of the lifetime supply of bad puns apparently occupying a huge piece of real estate in his silly noggin, but also because I can usually see the chef wheels turning while he is fingering and tasting and smelling things.  The cheese we bought accompanied this lovely cooked-to-perfection London Broil dinner he made us later with crunchy little snap peas and roasted potatoes; we drank a really inexpensive but very nice Shiraz with it. Dessert out of a plastic bag:  cast-off pieces of peanut butter bars from the bakery where HCB works as a pastry chef.

Also in Windsor we played an impromptu game of badminton in the rain (pretty dang bad) on a court set up just outside the store, visited this brewery, and also toured this beautiful new vodka distillery, where we enjoyed a teeny sample of the delicious, smooth Vodka they make there.

Before Windsor we had taken the scenic route to King Arthur Flour (which is not far from my home), where we had lunch, and also this wicked little crisp-on-the-outside-gooey-on-the-inside creation called an amaretti bianchi.  So very wicked in fact that we left with a couple more of them; they were long gone by the time we arrived home later.  HCB tracked down a very similar recipe (because King Arthur of course can’t reveal its trade secrets) and plans to make some of them; I believe it is likely that there are almond cloud cookies in my future, perhaps around my middle and also on my rear end.


We had been itching also to go to the Farmer’s Market in Norwich and managed to find a dry window of time for that after ballet class yesterday, during an otherwise soggy pair of days.  My only real standard for comparison is this farmer’s market which I frequented in Knoxville; it is bigger and a bit more diverse to be sure, but what I loved about the Norwich market was the consistently high quality of the produce there and the absence of prolific tchotchke vendors–just the right amount of them, and the stuff was by and large also high quality.


This jam session was going on smack in the middle of the market and was big fun.  Ultimately we left with a loaf of crusty country bread and a large bunch of these beautiful mixed lettuces:


which morphed into this beautiful salad:


which I made for myself after HCB and I returned from our afternoon run; Clarence and I joined him for the second five of his ten-miler.  A multitude of Times crosswords (you can never have too many), a silly rented movie, gentle foot rubs:  nice time with HCB, and always over with far too soon.

‘Til next time.  The story is just beginning.

Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

See No Evil curtain call

Three composers, three teacher-choreographers, a single amazing piano instructor-performer, scores of students and their parents, enrichment from talented guest artists, and tireless volunteers.  The culmination of an academic year that saw big transitions, much joy, a few tears, and amazing progress, played out on the stage yesterday.  I am still overwhelmed and impressed by the children and adults in whose company I now find myself.  I am also indebted to Julia, who made available some of the photos seen here.  And I am so very lucky.

Backstage Golliwog
Backstage Golliwog
Golliwog co-conspirators
Debussy makeup check
Debussy makeup check
Golliwog's Cakewalk I
Golliwog’s Cakewalk I
Golliwog's Cakewalk II
Golliwog’s Cakewalk II
Dancing with Mr. Debussy cast finale
Dancing with Mr. Debussy cast finale
See No Evil I
See No Evil moment
See No Evil finale
See No Evil finale
Backstage friends
backstage friends
and a little bit of backstage chaos
and a little bit of backstage chaos
Gorgeous Brahms, amazing Victoria and one of several students who also danced in the performances
gorgeous Brahms, amazing Victoria Dobrushina, and one of several students who also danced in the performances
Beautifully choreographed Brahms finale
beautifully choreographed Brahms finale
Brahms curtain call
Brahms curtain call
I address my little golliwogs
 addressing my littles
We are tired.  We are sweaty.  We are hungry.  We are happy.
We are tired. We are sweaty. We are hungry. We are happy.