Sunday December 13, 2009
It’s 4:30 pm Sunday December 13th. The Morrison Center is rolling up the carpet from Ballet Idaho’s successful run of Nutcrackers. The crew was busy packing, the volunteers were helping gather costumes, and the company was abuzz about post show parties and their plans for the holidays. What was I doing? Packing for an early flight that would take me to dance in yet another Nutcracker. “What am I thinking?” kept running through my head when I checked my plane fight time. The 6 am flight departure was glaring at me, but so was the destination. NYC here I come!
Many ballet schools around the country have their very own Nutcracker traditions. This holiday classic is where most dancers have their first stage experience that doesn’t include the word “Recital”. New Tampa Dance Theatre is one of these schools. The students carry most of the show themselves, which is a huge feet. The Sugar Plum and Cavalier are professional dancers that are hired just for the shows. That is where I come in. But before I could get to the sunshine state I had to take a detour to work with my partner in New York City.
Monday December 14, 2009
I arrived in New York in the early evening. I had a list a mile long of places to eat, people to see, and of course, stores to visit. Way more than I could ever accomplish. Of course I also had to put an entire Grand Pas de Deux together with my partner, Benjamin Lester, who danced with Ballet Idaho last season. This was going to be Ben’s last show before he retired and we wanted it to be as much fun as possible. We went to dinner to discuss our strategy of working, eating, and shopping. Once I was full of yummy New York goodness, we walked through Times Square and shopped in Soho before returning to Ben’s home for some serious youtubing of Grand Pas videos and then sleep.
Tuesday December 15, 2009
Tuesday morning arrived way to early for me, but I was excited to get to work. Ben and I took the subway to Steps on Broadway to take ballet class. I was hopeful to see some well-known dancers. I wasn’t disappointed. Along with several principals from American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, the recently retired Alexandria Ferri, who is my idol stood diagonally from me. It was pretty hard to concentrate on myself in class with dancers all around me that I usually only see in magazines. Just as entertaining for me were the other “regular” students in class. I am not sure if they even knew what the teacher was asking for half the time, but they were truly living in the moment. I am almost positive that the Saturday Night Live character who could “kick, stretch and was 50 years old” was based on one of the women standing by me.
After class Ben and I trekked to the Manhattan Movement Arts Center. It was a beautiful facility and I was able to watch the famous David Howard teach a class before we got to work. Surprisingly we got everything set and solid within 2 hours. Pretty satisfied with our effort Ben went off to oversee an event he was hosting and I was off to shop, eat, and visit with old friends. I was on my own in the Big Apple and loving every minute of it.
Wednesday December 16, 2009.
Wednesday brought much of the same as the day before. Ballet class with most of the same amazing dancers I had seen the day before, including Wendy Whalen. Then off to rehearsal, a lovely little meal at Bouchon in Columbus Circle, and some more much needed visits to old friends. Besides getting completely lost on the subway at midnight, I was already deeming this the best guesting job I ever had and I hadn’t even gotten to the real job yet. I stuffed my bags full of all my new NYC goodies that I found and was ready for some sun in Florida.
Thursday December 17, 2009
Once again I was dragging my luggage to an airport way to early to mention the time. On the way to our flight we drove by the old Yankee stadium. I was informed that they are selling it off bit by bit to pay for the new stadium. This was latter confirmed when I opened my Skky Mall magazine on the plane. Besides me leaving my wallet at the ticket counter, going through security before I realized it, going back through security to find it as someone with my wallet was headed the other way, not being able to get back through security to get my wallet because my ticket was (guess what, in my wallet), and a number of pages over the intercom of LaGuardia, we were in Tampa, Florida and it was 70 degrees outside. This was no sweater weather!
Now for those of you who don’t know Ben, he likes to do things a little different than the norm, which I am all for. As we are walking to the rental car counter he informed me that he asked for the “mystery car” package. Basically, he had no idea what we were going to get, but it was suppose to be one step above compact. I was seriously hoping for a Winnebago and worried that that 15-passenger van I just saw drive by was slated for us. Unfortunately, a mini van was the mysterious vehicle we were waiting for and Ben was not having it. As I guarded the luggage Ben secured something a little more stylish and only 10 more dollars a day. We loaded our luggage into a convertible, put the top down and drove to dress rehearsal.
The New Tampa Dance Theatre was performing at Southern Florida University. After an unintended driving tour through the campus, we finally found the theatre and Ben introduced me to everyone. Our dressing room was huge and a beautiful gift basket full of snacks and chocolate was waiting for our growling tummies. The kids were nice and little shy at first. Although they all knew Ben from him guesting with them before, I was a new addition and they were curious. When we got the crash course in our entrances in the opening and finale of Act II, little heads were peaking in the studio door to check out the new ballerina. It made me remember how I felt watching professionals when I was younger. I felt very inspired to do the best I could and show how much fun it could be. The dress rehearsal went well and we were off to the hotel with the top down and the heat on.
Friday December 18, 2009
It seems like when you go away is when everything back home goes crazy. This was happening for the both of us to a certain extent so we spent most of the day taking care of business, buying things we forgot for the theatre and resting before the show.
The audience for opening night was packed full of families excited to see their little ones perform. With big smiles on their faces, the dancers took the stage by storm. With every dance I got more and more excited to get on stage. Ben and I walked out on stage and everything just felt right. It was just plain fun. The audience gave all of us a standing ovation and there was cheering all around. Still on a high from the show, we went looking for food. We wound up at a little family run Sushi place that was strangely quiet for a Friday night and very, very delicious. With our round bellies that would hopefully deflate by the matinee, we waddled to our car and attempted the drive back to the hotel with me using Ben’s GPS on his iphone to guide us. Possibly, I should have gotten a crash course in reading this device, because we missed the exit and ended up on the causeway bridge into St. Petersburg. It was too bad it was midnight, because I am sure the drive would have been beautiful during the day. An hour later and after lesson in how to read maps, we were resting up for our two show day.
Saturday December 19, 2009.
Before the matinee we ventured to this little breakfast place Ben knew. When we sat at our table, we noticed that the restaurant was playing the Grand Pas from Nutcracker. This has always been a sore point with dancers who listen to Nutcracker 6 hours a day for months at a time. You try to get away from work and sure enough the store or building you venture into to is blaring Waltz of the Flowers, Russian, or Marzipan. We found it unusual that the Grand Pas was actually playing and had serious problems concentrating on the menu until it was done.
We then went looking for Christmas presents for our families. This is where my warning to all comes. If you pass by a huge building that says “International Flea Market”. It is not what it seems. Ben and I parked our car in front of a particular colorful one of these warehouses and were already hoping for handmade trinkets and eclectic finds. Upon entering our dreams were dashed as tattoo stands, spandex dresses, laminate furniture and replica designer bags were as far as the eye could see. It was then that Ben realized he left his tights at the hotel and they were probably still damp from the wash the night before. He dropped me off at the theater and drove back to retrieve them.
When he returned his tights were still damp and against my better judgment he laid them across the makeup lights in our dressing room. Well, when I went to warm up, he went to turn his tights over and sure enough they had round burn marks up and down both legs. Now, I knew this was bad, but I could not stop laughing at the whole situation. Luckily, another dancer had an extra pair of white tights that Ben could borrow. Unluckily, the other male dancer was about 5’7”. Ben is about 6’2” and all legs. He ended up having to wear his burned tights under the smaller one. Although it wasn’t noticeable from the audience, I could still see little brown spots and it made us both laugh for most of the day.
Sunday December 20, 2009
It was our last show together. More importantly, it was Ben’s last performance. His parents came to see him and we both got a little teary at the beginning of our pas. Once again Ben and I had a wonderful show and cheered all the other students on during their divertissements. When the show was over, I immediately gave my flowers to the student who danced Dew Drop. She had sprained her ankle in Saturday night’s show, and like a true ballerina in training, she bucked up and danced beautifully on Sunday. Ben gave his flowers to a girl who did her entire Spanish dance to either no music or the wrong music due to a music malfunction on opening night, but kept on dancing like a pro. Even at this young age, these dancers were proving the show must go on.
We were immediately asked back for next year, which prompted me to remind Ben, that dancers never truly retire. I was sad to say goodbye to everyone, but anxious to get home to Boise for the holidays. The cold snap was heading to Florida and even though everyone was starting to bundle up, Ben drove me to the airport with the top down, the heat on, and Opera blaring.
A dancer’s life is always changing. Most of us live our lives like modern day nomads. Moving from city to city, going anywhere where we can dance. The one true constant in our world seems to be the Nutcracker. Some dancers like it, some dancers could do without it. For me, it is like an old friend. There is always an adventure, an old and new story to tell, a lot of laughs, and a few tears. So last week when our pianist attempted to get away with playing “Waltz of the Flowers” for pirouettes and every dancer shouted “Noooooooo!!!” I secretly knew that when I heard that music in 10 months it would make me smile.
--Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti, Principal Dancer