Diary of an Injury Part 5 - The Comeback


I awoke in a panic. The dream, although full of ridiculous events, had seemed so real. I dreamt it was my first show back from injury, and due to various crazy occurrences I was a half hour late for curtain up and not in the right costume or warmed up. It doesn't take a genius to analyze that one!  

It was coming down to the moment of truth. I had started back at rehearsal on October 29th,and was scheduled to perform on November 21st. This left me just over 3 weeks to be ready for stage, and it was not just any performance, but Alice in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland', a role that is particularly challenging for stamina. For those who have seen it, you will know that Alice hardly gets any breaks during the entire show. It is high energy and long with a lot of running and jumping. Also on my mind was that a week and a half after my final 'Alice' performance I was scheduled to dance the title role in 'Giselle' a role that is the epitome of romantic ballet. This is a ballet that is incredibly challenging both emotionally and physically, and is very well known. If it is not done well it really flops. Due to a short time frame and all of the rehearsals the company was dedicating to 'Alice', there was hardly any time to work on 'Giselle'. In addition, my partner Naoya Ebe was making his debut in both roles, and I had not danced 'Giselle' for a very long time. To be honest I had my doubts that this could happen. Cue anxiety dream!

As I started rehearsals I was hoping that all of the physical rehab and mental work that I had done was going to pay off. I was counting on this to decrease the time it would take to be performance ready. I was also scared. I couldn't go on stage looking good for someone who had dislocated a knee cap almost 4 months earlier. I had to look good period. I had fears that I wouldn't deliver, and I had to balance that with listening to what my body was able to do each day. I couldn't come that far and then risk everything at the end by pushing myself too fast. I had to take things a day at a time. 

(Cue 'Rocky' soundtrack)
Each day I spent extra time warming up, and often gave myself an extra ballet class in addition to the one provided by the company. I would then feel ready for rehearsal. With each rehearsal I had to banish my daemons. I had to suck up my pride and the urge to hide when I knew that I just didn't look good yet. I had to trust that it would come, and practice again and again. My body was sore and I was so tired every day. I also had an enormous amount of foot pain. For 3 weeks my toes were killing me. I had not done more than about a half hour in pointe shoes for months, and now I was in them for a few hours a day. While my muscles were sore, it was my toes that were the worst of it. Within a week both of my big toe nails had started to crack and a few weeks later I had resorted to super glue to slow the progression. (As of today I am taping my right one on.) Charming, I know.

In week 1 I began with 'Alice' with the choreography that had the least amount of jumping. With the help and encouragement of ballet master Lindsay Fisher I progressed in 'Alice' and each day built up to more and more dancing. With each day, I slowly started to feel like myself again, and after some solo rehearsals I was ready to tackle the pas de deux work with my partner Naoya. By that time I was very happy to have company as I had been working alone for months. 

By week 2 I was rehearsing 'Giselle' with Principal Ballet Mistress Magdalene Popa, who carved out as much time as possible for us  between 'Alice' rehearsals and all of her other commitments (she had 3 other couples to prepare and also the National Ballet's competitors for the EricBruhn Prize). I was glad to be in her hands and she was amazing and patient as she passed on her knowledge so effectively and efficiently. Not only was she helping me with all of the technically challenging work, but most importantly for this ballet she was helping me find myself in the character of 'Giselle', and she was guiding Naoya and I so that we could form a real connection in our roles. At this point however I was still (very) worried about the short time frame and my ability.

And then it was time.  Following a really terrible autumn in which I felt scared, and frustrated, but determined,  and in which I had suffered many disappointments, the orchestra began playing, and the curtain finally went up on a ballet that I love. I enjoyed every second on stage as 'Alice' that night. I'm not sure how to describe how happy I was to be on stage again. When the curtain fell and I gave in to exhaustion, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. After all of the doubts I knew that I had done it and it had gone well. That night I finally had a good night's sleep. A few days later I had my second 'Alice' performance which also went well. But then, my stress level went up again as I shifted my focus entirely  to 'Giselle'. I had a week and a half to go and at this point I didn't feel ready. Thankfully, with Magda's expertise and a lot of work, things somehow came together in time. Though she was also feeling the stress, Magda is truly a master coach and gave me a wonderful gift. Although on the day of performance I had more butterflies than I normally do, by the time Noaya and I stepped on stage together I felt at home. 

(After the curtain came down on 'Alice')

I can now say that my comeback is accomplished and for the last few days I have finally been relaxing. I haven't had any time to rest in the last 5 weeks and my body needs a break before The Nutcracker gets into full swing and then almost immediately we are back dancing 'Alice' again, this time in Washington. (I'm hoping Barack Obama comes to the show!) So with my performance of 'Giselle' now a fond memory, I took a long weekend.

A final note:

Although I am back on stage and things are going well I cannot let up on caring for my knee. It will probably be months before I can ease up. I still get treatment every day. I have to keep up my cross training exercises to maintain and continue to improve the strength in my injured leg, and I have continued my work with Dr Kate Hays to break down any lingering mental roadblocks. Everyday I ice my knee and will continue to do so for months. As ordered by orthopedic surgeon Dr Oglivie-Harris I have to have the knee taped as a precaution during any vigorous activity until 6 months post injury. I will continue periodic strength testing until my left leg is at 100% compared to my right, and I will continue to do work that supports both knees for the rest of my career. Although it is said everything happens for a reason, and I have learned so much about technique, mental strength, and artistry, I never want to have an experience like that again.


Hi, Ms. Vanstone, It must

Hi, Ms. Vanstone,

It must feel amazing to be back again on the shows, and they're all great. Alice! Giselle! I wish those Torontonians would post more on youtube ...

Please take considerable care in your recovery, warm up and stretch properly (I mean stretch after the shows, not when your muscles are cold), and gradually work on strengthening your knee. I know all about it, as I went under knife on one of my ankles because of a fall while skiing. Of course, I don't know too much about coming back and dancing after such an experience:-)

It's also heart-warming to me to see you were able to benefit during this time from the great wisdom of Ms. Magdalena Popa. She wrote some of the greatest pages in the history of the Romanian ballet, so you are in perfect hands on the artistic side.

Wishing you the best for a complete and durable recovery.

Out of Montreal:-)

P.S. The advice from the kind Doctor seems perfect.

One thing I can recommend from my experience: don't stay flatfooted when starting a turn, favor your standing more towards the toes. Glueing your body to the floor through your whole sole at such moments, creates amazing and dangerous torsional stress on your knees.

Thus, may I suggest your staying light footed, on your toes, even though I can imagine there are stretches in choreographies asking the dancers to be flat footed for effect.

Something else: during physical training, start with straight walking on the treadmill, or stationary biking, and do any turns, putting stress on the knees, only after well warmed up.

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