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Back to the Ballet

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SF Ballet has been back at work since July 5 and it's been non-stop!

Ballet Master Anita Paciotti and I have been assigned to work on Edwaard Liang's new work for the 2012 season and it's been fascinating to watch him work. He's a beautiful mover -- very fluid and elegant. As a dancer, he's also an extraordinary partner and while this has challenged the men in his rehearsals, they are learning a ton from him.

Last week was spent rehearsing for our local Stern Grove performance this past Sunday, which went extremely well. We were all so pleased to have such a large and receptive audience!

One of the works the Company presented was George Balanchine's Symphony in C--not an easy ballet to perform, especially following the time off, but it looked great. I'm extremely proud of how hard the dancers have been working and Bonnie Borne has been here lending her expertise in rehearsing the work with us, in addition to helping teach the SF Ballet School's summer session. It's always nice to have a familiar face back in the building. For me, watching Bonnie work with the Company from the perspective of being a member of the artistic staff instead of a dancer really brings back wonderful memories.

To record how a given work is created, each one of the ballet masters has their own way of notating a ballet. It's pretty much a "whatever works for you" kind of thing. The main idea is for us to know a ballet well enough that once the choreographer or the person setting a piece leaves, we can not only rehearse it, but teach it to new dancers, if need be. Thus, we each have our own approach. There are also "industry standard" methods of notation like Laban and Benesh which can be quite effective.

I'm finding that my approach depends on the choreographer. With Ed, I have focused primarily on the movement and on learning as much of the steps as I can. He works very much by ear which means that he doesn't counts a lot, so I've tried to hear the music with him as he creates -- just like the dancers do. When he tells the dancers to "take it from the big lift" or another moment in the ballet, I need to know exactly how far into the ballet it is, so I can immediately sync up the DVD and the monitor (in a rehearsal, we often work off of a video of a previous performance or rehearsal). Once the ballet becomes more finalized I'll break the music down as best I can, into something countable. There is more room for flexibility with a pas de deux or a solo because the dancers have more latitude in interpreting the music, but for an ensemble section it's much more important that everyone hear the music in the exact same way.

It's fascinating to see how differently people can hear and feel the same piece of music! Luckily I am working alongside Michael McGraw on Ed's piece (we have live piano accompaniment for all studio rehearsals). Michael is one of our company pianists and he has been invaluable in helping me hear the music as Ed does and in breaking it down into countable parts. Some scores are very easy to apply counts to and some are next to impossible. Luckily, this isn't one of them! Overall, I see my job as helping to lay structure over a work in progress. In this case, Ed shows the dancers the musicality of the work and I'm responsible for helping them replicate it. The work is basically done now and it'll be put away until the season when we'll resume rehearsals for it shortly before its premiere. I think it's looking great!