With the last days of sunshine about to fade away, I am reflecting on the summer. It all seemed to pass so quickly! From the end of June until the beginning of August this past summer was one of my busiest. I attended 3 of my closest friends' weddings, I moved, parents and siblings from both my husband Ryan’s and my family visited, and the ballet went on tour.
Usually during the hot days of summer the National Ballet does not perform. The audience is away at the cottage or simply outside enjoying the short period of warm weather in Toronto before all the patios pack up again, and we throw on our scarves while wondering where the time went. No one is thinking about going to the theatre. Well, maybe not in Toronto but Saratoga Springs is all about it. This past July, when normally our vacation would take place, The National Ballet of Canada made its debut at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).
The history of dance in Saratoga Springs dates back to 1966 when the New York City Ballet performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Since that time SPAC has been the official summer home of New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra. We were honoured to perform at this beautiful outdoor amphitheatre as this was the first time that companies other than NYCB were invited. We spent a week and performed one night of a mixed bill of James Kudelka’s “The Four Seasons” and Crystal Pyte’s “Emergence”, and 3 performances of “Giselle.” I was especially thrilled that I had the opportunity to dance “Giselle” again.
(Exploring Saratoga Springs with my friend and colleague Jon Renna)
The SPAC theatre being an outdoor venue did present some interesting challenges. The weather in Saratoga was scorching hot. The locals kept commenting that it was unusually so. During “Emergence” because the men spend a section of the ballet lying on the floor without shirts on, by the end of the ballet the women were slipping in puddles of sweat in our pointe shoes. Before the Winter movement of “The Four Seasons” Guillaume Cote plunged his hands into a bucket of ice. This wasn’t a form of method acting. The men were by that point in layers of hot clothes and trench coats dancing in a heat wave, and he had to get his temperature down.
I danced the matinee performance of “Giselle” and I spent a good deal of the morning worried my show that I had worked so hard for would be canceled. Our union rules stipulate that when the temperature is either above or below certain markers at the half hour call we cannot perform. My show was during the hottest time of day, but at the half hour call I was relieved to hear that the show would go on. We made it by ½ a degree! So we all donned our polyester, corduroy and velvet (these are some old non-breathable costumes!) and the orchestra began the overture. Rebekah Rimsay as my mother got a good chuckle from the audience as at the beginning of the ballet some of her mime involves feeling chilly in the morning air.
During this performance I sweat like I never have before. My makeup and sweat ran into my eyes stinging them as I watched the “peasant pas de quatre” in the first act, and at one point I was trying to look lovingly at my Albrecht Naoya Ebe as tears ran down my face from the stinging. I imagine it took some effort to gaze lovingly back at me with me while looking like that! I prepared extra pointe shoes anticipating the heat, and sure enough my shoes melted. I was glad that I wear them a little softer for “Giselle” especially for the second act.
Aside from the heat, another challenge was that, it being an outdoor matinee, I could see the audience very clearly which felt very odd when I am used to being aware of the audience but not able to see the whites of their eyes. As someone who is very sensitive to my surroundings I was worried in advance that the bright light of day would make the mood difficult to convey especially in the second act. I was happy to discover my fears were unwarranted. Because the theatre lighting is well equipped I was able to feel like I was in the world of “Giselle” and felt quite at home. Actually, in the end, despite the conditions I had one of the best performances of my life. Perhaps it was because of the heat that things worked out for me that day. My muscles could not have been any warmer so I guess they were happy to oblige. I enjoyed performing in the SPAC theatre immensely, and hope that we will be back soon.
(Above - Warming up for Giselle Act 1
-Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic)
(Right - Giselle Act 2 - Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic)
Following our return home the dancers were given 3 weeks of holiday. We were all looking forward to a break after a strenuous year. Although three weeks on paper looks like a lot of time, and is more than I know many people in Canada are allotted, for a dancer 3 weeks is actually quite a different experience than for most. My experience is that it takes me about a week to decompress. The first 3 days I still have some adrenaline, but then I crash for the rest of the week. Normally I would like a few more days after the first week to regain my drive but the last 2 weeks of a break have to be quite structured for me. I spend the second to last week cross training with Pilates, Gyrotonics, and training, and then I spend the last week back in ballet class so that I am somewhat ready for the hours of rehearsal that will await on the first day back. In reality I really only had a week of “true” vacation. Now each dancer has their own way of preparing for the beginning of the rehearsal season and some are lucky enough to have won the genetic lottery when it comes to hip structure. Those dancers (I like to call them jerks ;)) manage to rest a little longer than me I think. My body learns quickly but also forgets quickly so I have to really keep up with my conditioning and flexibility.
Having said that I of course had afternoons free and was able to spend time with friends and family, celebrate the above mentioned weddings of 3 of my best friends, and hit the occasional patio. I settled into a new home, enjoyed the local farmers markets, tested out a new barbeque and made time for a few rainy days on the couch watching movies.
(Weddings Galore! from L to R - Laura Bolton and Josh Reichmann, Tiffany Mosher (who married Daniel Galucci), Jonathan Renna and Kate Kernaghan)
The National Ballet is now back in the studios in preparation for our November performances. Although I didn’t take a long rest it still takes a lot of work to get back in the top form I want to be in. It is incredibly frustrating to feel in top shape after working like a dog to get there only to have it seem to melt away in just a few weeks. Despite my off season efforts there really is nothing I can do that imitates 4-6 hours of rehearsal a day. There is especially not anything that imitates that much time in pointe shoes! Tylenol is my friend the first weeks back.
But each day is getting better. My muscles are less sore, my toes look messed up again and I have gotten off the Tylenol. It’s a start!