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 It was originally made on dancers at Julliard by Swedish choreographer, Alexander Ekman.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.