Dancing in the North

Saturday, I sat in the studio at North Star Ballet and watched the Senior and Junior companies rehearse for their Spring Gala next weekend. The Junior Company is performing Carnival of the Animals and the Senior Company is taking on the “white ballet,” Les Sylphides.

Fifteen years ago, I performed in one of the first performances of my adult ballet career as a sylph, a member of a rag-tag corps de ballet that ranged in age from seven to forty-six. I was one of the older dancers in the performance, without the background of a young studio dancer in picking up choreography and in giving my movements over to the direction of a choreographer. I loved the lush music of Chopin, the romantic poses, the stillness of the corps, forming a gauzy backdrop to the lively movements of the prima sylphs in their solo roles. It was when I truly came to love ballet and understand its power over dancers and audiences.

The dancers at North Star are well disciplined in their technique by Norman Shelburne and Sue Perry and the Spring Gala performance is the time when the company shows off what the dancers know and offers a challenge to the senior dancers in their last company performance. The kids in the studio have all grown up together since their creative movement classes, and a few reach this time of year poised to go off and try their luck at a ballet career. This year Jarrin and Sophia, who have been partners for all these years each are in the process of auditioning and weighing their options–college or apprenticeship? The path in dance is fickle. Some, who are determined, genetically lucky, and accident-free can make a life of it. Some who might otherwise have been beautiful dancers for many years to come are derailed by injury, lack of confidence, unlucky choices, or other paths.

Watching the girls and Jarrin dance to Chopin’s romantic etudes–the sylphs floating across the floor in bourre or light frothy leaps, the “poet” leaping for joy at their beauty, beating his legs in mid air, I wanted to hold the moment. The corps was not yet perfect–they practiced staying still in their poses, the poet and his sylph missed a few steps. All were tired, but persistent. And this moment in the studio, just before the final corrections, the last stitch of the costume, when these are all still teenagers about to become for a brief time the epitome of all that’s possible for a human to be, at least in our imaginations, is the moment in dance that I love best.

Tomorrow night I’ll go to tech rehearsal and get a few comments from the seniors. Saturday I’ll go to the performance and watch them float in the lights and share the moment of joy that audience and dancers share sometimes. I’ll go back stage and hug the ones I know well and watch them wipe streaks of eyeliner from their cheeks where their tears fall. Then we’ll all go out into the night air. It will be April, finally, a hint of light lingering on the northern horizon already, a breath of the warmth to come.

If you’re in Fairbanks, the performance is at Hering Auditorium, Saturday, 2pm and 8pm and Sunday 2pm. Don’t miss it.

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