Stage and Studio: My Drunken Debut

My first production with Joffrey was Ronald Hynd's The Merry Widow. I was one of two trainees selected for participation and I was thrilled. I took technique class upstairs with the company and desperately tried to stay out of everyones' way. I observed longingly as the company members had their cool conversations and made their cool jokes and professionally danced their cool dances. They regarded me with pleasant indifference except for one time when one of the dancers chided me for snacking on edamame beans in the studio. Lucas, to this day I'm not sure whether or not you were legitimately upset with me...

Life was good for seventeen year old me. I loved The Merry Widow and The Merry Widow loved me back. I got to wear warm-ups during barre and get partnered by company men. I mean what more could a post-boarding-school-bun-head ask for?

And then, as if things could get even better, I was singled out for a featured role. Mr. Hynd pointed at me and said, “Ok I need you to be the drunk guest at the party, you know just a little tipsy…”

I froze. You see I had never been drunk in my life. I’d never even tasted alcohol. I was not merely underage, I was the straightest laced girl at the party. I was the girl who went to the party for puppy chow, and left as soon as things got “fun". I was also not particularly accustomed to being publicly funny. 

But I was up for the challenge. 

I went home and got pretend drunk in front of the mirror. I took mental notes when those around me appeared “a little tipsy”. I practiced holding a bottle and falling out of chairs. I did my homework and showed up to rehearsal warm, rehearsed, and ready to drink. 

Looking back now, I may have overdone it. I bumped into dancers and flirted shamelessly with other “guests”. I poured myself glass after glass after imaginary glass. For how much alcohol my character consumed it would have been more accurate to have made her throw up and black out somewhere in the wings. But I didn't know any better.

As silly as it sounds, I consider this drunken debut the first success of my career. The next year when I joined the company and received my first invitation to "go out", everyone was astounded to learn that I never drank. Apparently my performance made the best bad first impression I could have hoped for. 

Margot Fonteyn and artists of The Australian Ballet performing The Merry Widow in New York, 1976. Photo by Martha Swope.

Margot Fonteyn and artists of The Australian Ballet performing The Merry Widow in New York, 1976. Photo by Martha Swope.

My Chicago: Dirty Windows

Hadrian and I fell in love with our current apartment because of its many large windows. On the day we viewed the unit, snow was falling softly outside creating the illusion of being inside a snow globe. The windows, like all surfaces in the apartment, were covered in a fine layer of grime but we were assured that the whole place would be spick and span before we moved in. 

Six months have passed and no matter how much we scrub, "spick and span" eludes us. The groves in the radiator attract perpetual nests of dust; the paint on the bathroom windowsill becomes a bit more peel-y every time we shower; and those windows, our glorious windows cannot be cleaned from the outside. 

The vertically sliding panes make reaching out to scrub futile. I've considered buying a giant magnet, googled how to disassemble old-windows, and daydreamed about climbing out onto the foot-wide outer sill of our fourth-floor apartment. I've finally given up and begun the process of acceptance.

Our dirty windows possess a kind of twenties-in-the-big-city charm I suppose. (The windows in Friends are probably sooty.) Their south-east positioning lets light in all day long. The thin, old glass allows enough summer breeze to flow through to make our air-conditioner-less space bearable, and enough winter cold in to keep us engaged with nature. Through our dirty windows we can see the trees change with the seasons and hear the bus arrive every five minutes. We've become accustomed to bright lights at night and the frequent blast of music from passing cars. Our windows make me feel a part of this loud, mucky, wonderful city.

Sometimes living with dirty windows, and my consequent grumbling, puts the world into perspective. Considering the wide scope of hardships that come with life, I feel fortunate to have this one.

Stage and Studio: An Ode to Live Music

fingerprints on ivory.

sound so used to the dancer's ear that it blends into

silence,

until caught in a swell on the arm, at the curve of the spine, in the hushed vacuum between heartbeats.

until her muscles float,

hugged by twisting veins, sustained by an oxygen tide, buoyed by notes floating through air

and whatever it is between those notes that she

cannot see but feel.

silence,

until her heart wakes up and sees its reflection in melody,

hears its voice in movement,

feels a vibration that extends from toe to eyelash,

that shakes her cup of tears so that they spill over and

fall

shivering

to settle in her throat.

sound turned to steam and sweat

hums from her skin.

Have you seen Chodakowska's fountain sculptures? They are stunning.

Plate It

Plate it. A suggestion. A nod to mindfulness and wellbeing and maybe even style.

It is so easy to slap some food on a fork and into your mouth, but it's almost as easy and far more satisfying to "plate it".

I've resolved to make (most of) the food that I eat not only healthful, not only home cooked, but also beautiful. It takes only a few more seconds to add a sprig of green or find the right-sized bowl. It takes only a moment of extra thought to place napkins and a candle on the table. Paying attention to these details turn what would be merely an act of feeding into a ritual. I find that sitting down to a beautiful plate of food completely changes my experience of it. I naturally fall silent before I eat, filled with pride and gratitude for the meal I've made. I eat more slowly and savor the taste. I finish satisfied and energized and a bit more ready for whatever comes next. 

My Chicago: Lurie Garden

At the southern end of Millennium Park, hidden behind giant hedges, lies Lurie Garden. This urban oasis offers fields of wildflowers, alcoves for sitting or napping, and even a small pool for dipping tired feet and making a wish. If you're lucky, you might stumble upon this place by accident. You might stroll through the people-saturated park lost in thought until you spy a gap in the hedges. As you enter, the bustle of the city becomes quiet. And as you walk through the meadow of purple and gold, you might feel as if this secret garden was erected just for you.

Stage and Studio: Episode in the Streets

I want to start a series in appreciation of this sweet ballet thing I get to do. There are moments in this profession that are so extraordinary, so completely full of life, that they make my heart swell with emotion. And there are moments when I remember how lucky I am to have a job in the arts at all, let alone a steady paycheck and health insurance and workers' rights. 

I think it's appropriate to start this series by revisiting a memory, the best day of work ever.

Episode 31 has been in Joffrey's repertoire for three years now. It was originally made on dancers at Julliard by Swedish choreographer, Alexander Ekman. Alex and his assistant, Zach, came to work with us at the beginning of my third season with the Joffrey. Fresh from summer layoff and outstandingly sore, we spent full days learning how to shake wildly on the floor, fly through the air without pointing our feet, and shout from our diaphragm. Alex and Zach were so physically invested, so dynamic and encouraging in the studio, that we couldn't complain about the challenge. We actually couldn't resist it. I think it's safe to say that most of us were in heaven, even as we dragged our knees and quads through hell. Slowly, the choreography began to imprint on our muscles. The complicated rhythms and unfamiliar movements began to feel right. I'm pretty certain if you blasted Ane Brun and asked me to remember the steps fifty years from now, I'd be able to. 

A week into the rehearsal process Alex announced that we'd be taking excerpts of his ballet to the street, flash mob style. He planned out an itinerary for our performance and gave us instructions for each location. We gathered in the lobby of Joffrey's studios and exchanged excited glances. We suppressed giggles and focused on togetherness...I can't believe we're about to... "GO!" We left in a pack. Thirty dancers, arms up, heads bobbing, running down East Randolph street. Pedestrians paused to watch as we performed another excerpt underneath the train tracks complete with shouting and clapping. Our adrenaline surged as we made our way up the steps to the elevated platform and onto a train. As discreetly as possible we positioned ourselves among the passengers, and on a dancer's cue, began to...well "thrust" is the best word. We restrained our laughter at the reactions of the passengers. We felt shocking and compelling, we were bringing fun and creativity and movement and art into the world. It felt incredibly silly but also important. We danced across the Wabash Avenue Bridge and on the giant steps at the Riverwalk. We performed while lying down around the mirrored statue most of us still call "The Bean". At one point we picked up a pack of cheerleaders that followed us around for a while shouting out a cheer they made up for us. Finally we ended up on our knees in a huge, shallow fountain. We splashed through our choreography, shivering and grinning and giving everything we had left. We finished the day thoroughly soaked and exhausted, exhilarated and grateful. Thanks for that Alex. For me, that day and this ballet will always be special.

Photos curtesy of the Joffrey Ballet.

Endless Opportunity

I've been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Kindness in action. The habit of smiling at strangers, including a newcomer, giving the benefit out the doubt... I often forget that we all have access to a great resource: endless opportunity to express love. The chance to be kind, to encourage, to listen, to laugh exists within our partnerships, our families, at the grocery store and beyond. To lift someone else's heart while simultaneously lifting one's own. These opportunities are everywhere and they never run out. I am trying to remember, and to give a little more kindness with each passing day. 

My Chicago: River Forest

Lately, instead of boarding the North-bound bus after work I've been taking the Green Line train, West from downtown, all the way to the end at Harlem. Hadrian and I are house-sitting for some friends in the beautiful suburban village of River Forest. He picks me up from the train stop each evening and we drive home to greet their labradoodle, Sally. After dinner we take her on a walk. Thrilled at the abundance of sights and smells, Sally jerks us about along the pristine, peaceful streets of their neighborhood. We breathe in the outdoors, happy to be together. As the sun sets, turning the sky pink and the trees black, we admire the old, ivy-dressed mansions and pick out our favorites. 

Some photos taken on a weekend afternoon. It's lovely here with gray skies too.

The Best Breakfast

Sometimes the best breakfast is a plate of caramelized grits and maple venison gravy; paired with micro greens, pickled plum, and a sage-infused, virgin-brushed, coffee-poached egg... And sometimes the best breakfast is a humble bowl of oats done right. In the off-chance that you have yet to try this delicious combination, here's how I like to do it:

raw oats + mixed nuts + plain yogurt + fresh berries + chopped dates + coconut chips + maple syrup + milk

Stand back. Appreciate and photograph unapologetically. Enjoy.