Dancing in the North

Last night, the tech rehearsal at Hering Auditorium. It had been a lovely day–the air above freezing, warmer in the sun, snow glistening in the brilliant way it gets right before it truly starts to melt. Redpolls and chickadees flit through the woods, flocking in a feeding frenzy before their mating season. Sam is shedding so much that ravens swoop down to the corral to lift clumps of white hair for nests–or for play.

So, it was hard to drive to town to spend the last hours of the afternoon sitting in a dark theater watching the rehearsal, but I’m glad I did.

A tech rehearsal can be boring for anyone not rehearsing, but I love the loose quality of it. It’s the first time the backstage folks interact with the dancers and everything is fine-tuned. For Les Sylphides, there is a drop–a large canvas backdrop painted to look like a Gothic scene–in the 19th-Century sense. Two large bare trees frame a scene of a lake or tarn lined with bogs with wisps of mist rising in the moonlight. In the background, dark hills and a ruined castle or cathedral–the epitome of “the picturesque” combination of nature and antiquities, which the Romantics were so fond of. The moon, a circle of white, dominates the drop.

As I sat there, I watched the business of the rehearsal take place. Kids in leotards and sweaters sat in the theater doing homework or chatting with friends. Men, former parents who run the stage crew every year, shuffled around the stage, pointing at lights at the drop, at the floor, mulling how to light the dark scene hanging there. First a blue wash–a chilly night–then a bit of yellow, some red to warm it, and finally white along the bottom of the drop, which brought out the filmy quality of the mists–the ethereal sylphs themselves.

Finally, the dancers came on stage, still in rehearsal dress–black leotards and pink tights–and took their places. Since Saturday, they have refined their precision, and, with the backdrop, the dreamy quality of the dance has evolved. Only the principals wore full costumes, and it was lovely to see how the tulle of the dress floated with the movements and lifts of the pas de deux. I can’t wait to see the whole company filling the stage with long white tutus, transforming these kids to a Romantic ideal–and in a ballet that is pure dance, using the choreography of Fokine.

After the rehearsal–the Flower Festival pas de deux, and a lively dance to Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony choreographed by Norman Shelburne just for the company–I went back stage to talk to the graduating seniors for an article for the Fairbanks Daily News Miner’s Latitudes page. (It should be out Friday.) As one might expect, they had a wide range of feelings. For some, this will be their last dance performance, as far as they know, and they are sad to leave the home they have made for each other in the studio, but eager to go on to new challenges. One girl, planning a career in medicine like her father, said that dance had taught her to strive for perfection, even if she wasn’t perfect.

Nick Read in his blog Mindbody writes of the drive of the performer, concluding that those so driven eventually need to step away and learn to focus on the human things–family, friends, ordinary life–for their mental health. Yet some dancers, like one I talked to last night, feel they are born to dance. The boy I spoke to told me that when he first saw dance, he knew that was all he wanted to do. He flies through the air and has the entrechat six and temps de fleche or cabriole of a polished dancer. Watching him move with his long-time partner and on his own was to watch him fill the theater with joy of movement.

If you see me Saturday night after the performance, I’ll be wiping away tears. I’m long past the stage of pretending dance–and all it means to these young people and to those who watch, teach, and encourage them–doesn’t move me. These kids, and Norman and Sue who have given them the context and training to do so, are reaching for the perfection of dance. They make us believe–at least for a moment as brief as a balance en pointe–that it’s possible to come close to our dreams.

Performances are Saturday 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm-for those of you in Fairbanks.

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One Response to “Dancing in the North”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    This was terrific–I loved the visual descriptions in this piece. Glad to find you!

    Elizabeth

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