Return of the Masters: A Dancer’s Perspective

Guest Writer: Amy Fote, Principal Dancer

Wow!  It is amazing to think that summer is already over.  Or at least it is for our company, as we often measure time by our reps and of course, our breaks. The few weeks off seem to go by quickly, but your body invariably tells you otherwise.  I always teach back in Wisconsin, thinking it will keep me in shape, but without fail, I still manage to be quite sore and have bruised toenails upon returning to work.  Nonetheless, it is always great to be back with everyone creating and living our passions.

At Houston Ballet, our season is set up where we rehearse a ballet, get it ‘up and running’ and then go on to learn other ones; still finding  random hours here or there to keep the original one in our bodies and minds.  We bounce back and forth form one ballet to the next.  This season proves no different, as the company has already been rehearsing for the three ballets on our mixed rep evening, a full-length ballet, along with Stanton’s Indigo, the annual Woodlands performance, the company’s upcoming New York tour, The Nutcracker and the gala.  Every minute is precious and has been accounted for.  That being said, on our first day back we had two visiting guests, each setting a ballet.

One of them, that I am terrifically excited about, is the Jerome Robbins ballet, In the Night. I have enjoyed his works in the past seasons (The Concert, Afternoon of a Faun, Fancy Free) and am always intrigued by his varying styles.  This ballet is set to Chopin and captivates me every time I see it.  It is a ballet of three couples, each experiencing different stages in relationships.  The couple that I have been rehearsing is in the midst of an argument and it is up to us, as artists, to decide what that is about.  Anita Paciotti, the woman who set the ballet, gave us a lot of thoughts and suggestions, stating that this pas de deux should be different each time you dance it. That is not to say that any of the steps change, but rather that your inner dialogue and the intensity of how you portray the steps will vary.  In this relationship, the woman has a strong voice and is equal to the man.  It is important for her not to play the victim, which can sometimes be challenging, as so often in ballet we strive to be soft and light.

Amy Fote & Artists of Houston Ballet in The Concert
Amy Fote & Artists of Houston Ballet in another Jerome Robbins favorite, The Concert p.Amitava Sarkar

Also in these first two weeks back, we focused on the Sir Frederick Ashton ballet, Les Patineurs, the ice skaters; which was first choreographed in 1937 and is danced in one act.  It shows the playful interactions of a party of skaters one afternoon on an ice pond.  Hilary Cartwright was wonderful in staging this work on us.  She was very particular in capturing the details of the style,  as it would have the audience believe that we are in fact skating.  I also found her very insightful, as she shared her knowledge of how the body works, in our company classes that she taught and in her dancer-based yoga classes on Saturday evenings.  The yoga classes were very therapeutic for your body and mind as we massaged our faces and muscles and learned new techniques.  It was the perfect way to start our weekends, feeling refreshed and taller as we left the studio.

Once those ballets were set, Grant Coyle spent time working here with the company to stage the beautiful ballet, Song of the Earth.  In this work, Sir Kenneth MacMillan explores the human struggle to accept mortality.  It is very powerful when paired with the live performance of Mahler’s song cycle Das Lied von der Erde.   The lyrics are from a collection of eighth-century Chinese poems.  In this ballet, the women’s shapes are often curved, as if to mimic these calligraphic writings. In contrast, the men’s movements are more angular and weighty.

As rehearsals for Song of the Earth started my schedule began to change, as I am not involved in this piece.  During an off hour I find myself spending time in our body conditioning studio doing cardio, core strengthening exercises and stretching.  Each day/week is different, depending on which ballets we are focusing on.  Therefore, it is imperative to always have our bodies ready for anything.

As you can see, I am very excited for the beginning of our ’11-’12 season.  I would love for you to come to Wortham Theater Center and enjoy this wonderfully diverse program (Return of the Masters) of In the Night, Les Patineurs and  the very moving Song of the Earth.  And yes,  I know you might be asking, “How can we be doing an ice skating ballet with our record breaking 100+ degree weather?”  Well truly, that is what the magic of the theater is all about.  It takes you to a place where you forget about what is happening in your real life for a few moments,  and it brings you on a completely different journey and experience.  So maybe with this ballet, for even a brief second,  you just might feel a chill.  Enjoy it!  Because when you leave the theater, chances are great that it will be another balmy Houston night.

Hope to see you there!

Amy Fote & Simon Ball in Les Patineurs
Amy Fote & Simon Ball in Sir Frederick Ashton's Les Patineurs p. Amitava Sarkar
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