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Journaling For Dancers: Why You Need It & How It Helps

March 28, 2016 in 4dancers

Photo courtesy of Grier Cooper

by Grier Cooper

You work hard during ballet class because you know your hard work will pay off. But how do you know what’s working and what isn’t? Aside from occasional comments or critiques from your teachers, you don’t. But you can change that! By implementing this simple journaling process, you can track your progress so you have a clear idea.

You’ll be doing some writing so you’ll need a small sketchbook or journal (choose a pretty one!) and a pen. Be sure to give yourself a few minutes before and after class to read through the questions and write down your thoughts. This process is just for you, so keep it light, simple and fun.

Before class begins, do the following:

Set an intention

Take a few moments to set an intention. An intention is a purpose, or a desired action or result. Close your eyes and ask yourself what your intention is for this particular class. The answer may come as a thought, feeling or vision. Write down whatever comes to mind, even if it’s just one word. An example might be wanting to feel centered and grounded throughout class. Setting an intention can be quite powerful because it helps us focus on what’s most important.

Photo courtesy of Grier Cooper

Choose your goals

Next, write down 2-3 goals. Keep them simple and achievable. You may be struggling with en dedans pirouettes, for example. While you can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to pull off a triple turn by the end of class, your goal could be to ask your teacher or a friend to watch your turns and help you determine what’s off.

After class is finished, set aside a few moments to jot down responses to the following questions. Since this is a self-assessment, be honest (and fair… dancers are often their own worst critics) when you answer.

  • What did I do well?
  • Where do I need to improve?

List at least three answers to each question and make sure it’s a balanced list with the same number of things for each category. Remember: it’s just as important to acknowledge what you did well, perhaps even more so, since this area is often overlooked–most dancers are too busy being hard on ourselves.

Taking a few minutes every day to work with this journaling process is a powerful tool will help you stay focused and give you a clear picture of your performance in class. Work with it regularly and you’ll never leave class again wondering how you did. Over time you’ll be able to track your results and achievements.

Write on!


 

 Grier Cooper left home at fourteen to study at the School of American Ballet and has performed San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and others, totaling more than thirty years of experience as a dancer, teacher and performer. She blogs about dance and has interviewed and photographed a diverse collection dancers and performers including Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman, Glen Allen Sims and Jessica Sutta. She is the author of the Indigo Ballet Series ballet novels for young adults. Visit Grier at www.griercooper.com

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Choreography: The Messy Juxtaposition Of Aesthetics

March 26, 2016 in 4dancers, Making Dances

                        Sophia Lee in In Tandem, Photograph by Bruce Monk.

I’ve known Peter Quanz since our ballet training years at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Professional Division. I have always admired Peter for his courage as a choreographer in taking on supreme artistic challenges and creating inventive, thought-provoking art. It has been a joy to see Peter succeed in what is an incredibly demanding and difficult career path.

I was thrilled that Peter agreed to share with 4dancers readers a bit about his life-changing adventures; his passion and drive for creating cutting edge choreography; and of course, his lovely humanity in connecting with artists across vastly different disciplines and languages. We spoke for about an hour over Skype while he was on a break from rehearsals.   – Karen Musey


Dancers of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Photograph by John Hall.

KM You have had an illustrious career and have explored many different avenues of work as a choreographer. What has prompted you to branch out?

PQ I’m very excited that I’ve been working as a choreographer now for over 20 years. And that has given me an incredible life, with experiences that I’d never expected I would encounter. I’m looking forward to more.

I’ve really tried to choose projects that scare me. If I don’t face a project in sheer terror with the feeling of “I’m not skilled enough for this”, then there’s an excitement that’s going to be missing.

KM You make bold choices and continually seek out opportunities to collaborate – how have these different experiences informed your perspective as a choreographer?

PQ I am currently collaborating with Montréal Danse for the creation of a new piece. To spark the creative genesis of the piece, Artistic Director, Kathy Casey proposed a question to me – “How would you make a dance if you didn’t consider the audience?”. That flummoxed me, because for me, one of my hang ups is trying to gauge what an audience is going to relate to. But if you always try to make something an audience will like, soon you will end up only sitting in the audience with them.

We started out with an initial two week rehearsal period. We spent the better part of it figuring out different ways of connecting as a group of people, when I suddenly realized that what was most interesting about this collaboration was the bond that we had as a team. The idea became how to find a way to create a social connection with the audience: essentially, a “social experiment”.

                                  Photograph by Jean-Matthieu Barraud.

We are now building a durational production where the whole audience is animated the whole time through technology. They will be using their phone and their signals will be turned on. We are playing with people’s connection to their phones. We are seeing the phone as an extension of their bodies, as an extension of themselves. We are playing with the idea of how we can be drawn together through this immediate technology while not getting so disconnected from ourselves physically that it ceases to be dance.

KM An interesting paradox.

PQ Oh it’s been fantastic! We are finding ways of using the phones to show us our bodies and our movement in ways you can’t see in a normal performance. We are using video that is taken live, utilizing different perspectives to see parts of an image; using the settings on the phone to both create light or diminish what you see in an image. This is how we build “community” in this performance; and we risk in being brought close together with an audience in an artistic relationship, which is very exciting.

No one on our team has ever done a project like this. We are learning how to define what is happening without over defining things, because this choreography is not about steps. One of our dancers coined the phrase “aesthetic of the situation”.

I’m interested in revealing how artists think in spontaneous ways, how they make choices based on their knowledge of movement and performance; I’m curious about dancers themselves being the vulnerable material from which our experience emerges.”

The work with dancers I have in Montréal requires a sensitivity to an ever shifting relational dynamic – between the artist, their relationships to technology and the structure we have all defined as a group. In contrast with that process, I’ve gone off to work with very classical ballet companies setting choreography that is highly determinate of the music and relates closely to architectural structures in movement, which of course has to be very precise.

KM What are you currently creating with your company, Q Dance?

Read more →

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Hidden Gems: Ballet’s Mixed Rep Programs

March 18, 2016 in Editorial

Atlanta Ballet dancers backstage at a performance of Yuri Possokhov’s Classical Symphony. Photo courtesy of Alessa Rogers.

by Alessa Rogers

Mixed repertory programs can be a tough sell for ballet companies. Audiences are more willing to shell out money and time to see something familiar; like the story ballets Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, of which they already know what to expect and are thus more comfortable. Marquis productions are what bring in the money with their splashy titles, character-driven works, happy or not so happy endings. But there is a younger sibling to the more traditional full-length narrative ballet that deserves just as much audience respect–the mixed repertory program.

Mixed rep defined

A mixed rep show is a stylistically diverse program of multiple shorter works–generally 3 or 4 pieces, each around 15-30 minutes in length, and usually all by different choreographers. Some follow a narrative arc where others are movement for movement’s sake. Unless an artistic director has chosen a unifying theme for the program the pieces stand-alone and are unrelated which leads to a surprising, fresh and exciting program.

Bite-sized dance

In this day and age of instant gratification, a mixed rep show may just be what an entry-level balletomane needs. A 20 minute piece followed by a break to check in to the theater on Facebook and send a few selfies in your theatre-going finery followed by another 15 minute burst of culture a couple more times? Yes this is what 21st century audiences can do at a mixed rep show! No need to buckle your seatbelt for a 3 and a half hour show of the same tortured heroine (though that is perfect for some people). The commitment is less but the pay off is still great. It’s like being served 3 of the most exquisite appetizers and not even needing to order an entrée because you are so satisfied from that.

But besides the practical logistics of maintaining your social life while gaining some culture cred, mixed reps offer something really special. I did a little bit of market research while writing this post, i.e., I asked my boyfriend what he thinks about mixed reps. He is a typical young American male engineer who likes watching basketball, playing chess and not going to ballets (until he met me that is–now he is horrified that he might have missed out on all those Nutcrackers!) Turns out, mixed rep programs are his favorite shows to go to. “They are good for people with short attention spans and there is more of a chance to see something you really like because there are three distinct pieces. Sometimes a piece might be weird and polarizing but in the end that makes it more exciting. And you are exposing yourself to the most density of dance experience in a short amount of time.” (Did I mention he has a Ph.D.? He is very smart and should be trusted.)

21st Century ballet

Mixed rep programs are fun because you never know quite what to expect. This is not stereotypical ballet. In a single show you might see classical ballet, neoclassical, contemporary, a blurring of all of these, or something completely different. There was one mixed rep at Atlanta Ballet that had not one single pointe shoe the entire evening. There were cowboy boots and jazz shoes and bare feet but nary a pointe shoe in sight. This is ballet? Yes, this is ballet in the 21st century and it is glorious. Mixed reps are where ballet evolves and grows up and changes with the times. This is where performers and audiences stretch themselves to the limits, breathing new life into an old art form.

Atlanta Ballet dancers dressed for Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 on

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