Italy Tour Travel Journal Days 5-6 (Thursday/Friday)

We’re so sorry that this took us so long to post–Thursday and Friday of show week were absolutely FULL with final show preparations, and after leaving San Benedetto first thing Saturday morning, we had very little internet. What an incredible, formative experience this was!

Here’s how Thursday and Friday shook out:

THURSDAY

We start the day with our new favorite: cappuccino makes my job of re-editing the soundtrack, typing up cues, and burning new CDs MUCH more enjoyable. Antoinella and the amazing hotel staff at Hotel Paneta spoil us rotten, as has become their norm. Alberto’s brother, Antonio, is a total sweetheart and drives to the hotel just to help Donna and me load up our suitcases of sets and backdrops (brought all the way from the US, of course). The car is too small to hold both the suitcases AND us, so we we walk the sunny sidewalks to the Palariviera, a walk to which we’re becoming well-accustomed. Leanne comes along so that we can space the wedding scene from Act II with the students from the Prima Musa Scuola Professionale di Danza. The students, six girls age 9-12, are beautiful and wide-eyed. We do our best to set them at ease as we coordinate the scene we’ve each been working on for the past few weeks, albeit an ocean apart. Meanwhile, the other BFan dancers explore the city a bit and Adam enchants the little Italian kids at the hotel with his cat marionette on the patio (we’ll try to get our hands on his video to share–it’s absolutely adorable and a testament to the fact that art transcends spoken language).

After the wedding spacing rehearsal, Donna and Hannah set to work programming the lights. The LED system is very different from working with gels, which is what we typically use at most theaters in the States. On one hand, they’re faster, because everything is programmable digitally and requires very little manual maneuvering. BUT the colors are all super-saturated and “hard,” either RED-red, YELLOW-yellow, BLUE-blue (Smurf Blue, as Justin says), or GREEN-green…and of course we are doing a classical ballet, not a rock concert. Again, we’ve got the language barrier to deal with as well–so we do our best to set looks that will set the show off. We don’t want the dancers to have to stand around while we program looks, so my job is to keep jumping on stage to show what the lights look like on skin, then down to discuss. (At least I’m burning off the delicious pasta that keeps appearing at every meal–happy sigh…)

The rest of the BFan dancers arrive to take photos with the Academy students and then start to warm  up. We proceed with what was intended to be a cue-by-cue. But as is always the case in the performing arts world, things never go as planned. Chiefly: 1) The lights we had hoped we’d designed to look gorgeous on the dancers don’t look so hot. 2) The tech crew doesn’t know the show and they don’t speak our language, so cues are tricky. 3) We have dancers, but no stage manager, so no one can call the cues to help the tech guys know what’s supposed to happen when.

Solution time. Alberto is a gem and translates like crazy. Justin, who has a degree in theater production, steps in and helps to re-program lights to Donna’s satisfaction. And BFan’s dancers step up to the plate as we divvy up the show: Justin will call cues 1-3, Hannah 2-4, Alberto 5-8, Caitlin 12, Hannah again on 13-14, Krislyn on 15, Hannah on 16-17, Caitlin on 18, and so on. We can do this! We proceed to dress rehearsal like the honorary Italians we’re becoming–about 3 hours behind schedule. Act I runs pretty darn smoothly with our new game plan, but it’s all we can do to make it through this much of the show before we’re to be at the official sponsored dinner at the Excelsior. And we’re sweaty as all get-out. We run the six blocks back to the hotel, take the fastest showers possible, and try to look presentable. The dinner is delicious (of course) and we try to stay awake for all five courses…it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.

FRIDAY

There’s stress in the air—we really, really want to do our best and we’ve not yet had a chance to run the whole show. We head to the theater, warm up (it doesn’t take long in this heat), and leap into our dress rehearsal. The show runs quite well, but again takes longer than planned. Two hours til showtime! And it’s a 4-5 shower day. We race back to the hotel—getting good at this trek—to shower again, refresh hair and makeup, and put on our eyelashes. Then back to the theater. We discover that it’s getting dark and that the lights don’t work in one of the dressing rooms, so we all gather in one at the end of the hallway. The students who will open the show with their “Welcome, America!” suite are already there, in costume and ADORABLE. We’re floored that they’ve visited the Ballet Fantastique website, printed our photos and bios, and are begging for autographs and photos with us. I give the pep talk to the dancers that I’ve been prepping, and we’re ready and excited.

But we have to wait–Alberto explains that in Italy, shows say that they start at 8:30, but that really means 9:00.

The gorgeous red curtains finally open at 9:15 to thunderous applause as the students begin their opening pieces. Backstage, things are a little crazy because there’s a connection problem with the projector, which makes us nervous about our silent film presentation (which opens the show and features Italian subtitles to help our audience understand Shakespeare’s twisty plot). Frederico is dictating button-pressing like mad while he holds the cords together manually and we all cross our fingers and toes. Relief: the film miraculously plays without a hitch. Scene 1 begins with already shouts of “bravo” from our warm audience (what else could we expect from this breathtakingly hospitable city?), and before we know it, Act I is already over. We’re pouring sweat and dash up the flights of stairs to change for Act II. Preston finds me a bazillion ibuprofen (you should see the silly pantomime he does to help the Italian student understand what he’s asking to borrow) because the raked stage sure hurts your joints every time the adrenaline wears off. And…Act II is suddenly here and gone, too. We’re so sticky that the rose petals that conclude the show are plastered to everyone! We take our curtain calls and sign more autographs, then get to the work of packing up our myriad set and backdrop pieces. Justin watches over the folding of the backdrops with our Italian volunteers and I traverse the theater for left-behind programs so that I can bring them home for our wonderful donors and sponsors (these programs are GORGEOUS–Alberto and Adrianna have done an incredible job). It’s 11 pm by the time we limp back to the hotel, exhausted and SO happy.

And the hotel has a midnight “snack” (read: feast) for us.

We love Italy.

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Backstage with Hannah: Casanova is coming…

Well, we’re in the throes of Casanova (T minus 8 days to opening night).  And ohmygoodness, this is FUN.

As a dancer and co-choreographer/producer, I’m feeling beautifully steeped in this decadent era (18th-century Venice).  It’s just so full.  

Casanova

The words: In the process of creating this new ballet, Donna and I have been reading biographies of Giacomo Casanova—as well as his own writings, of course.  (Aside: Cad, yes—as mum says, “sometimes I feel like I need to take a shower after I read this stuff!”—but the man was a charming and intelligent writer.  In fact, some of his lines were just so good that they inspired us to add a bit of narration in the “voice of Casanova” to the ballet, threading through his misadventures.)  We’ve been reading about Venetian customs and Carnival, and dear friend and history buff Genna Speer also insisted that I read a slim little novel by Georgette Heyer, Powder and Patchto pick up on some playful period details (highly recommended to our more serious audience members).

The music: We’ve been listening to endless concerti, both from composers we already knew and loved (e.g., the prolific Venetian Vivaldi is of course key to our ballet), and from those we were less familiar with, like Jean-Philippe Rameau.  Underpinning every decision was to choose music that would sound familiar, that would resonate, but that wouldn’t sound too familiar.  THERE IS NO RITZ CARLTON ELEVATOR MUSIC IN THIS BALLET.  A bit of my favorite discoveries: We stumbled in a You Tube search across this AWESOME version of his “Rondeau des Indes Galantes” by the Louvre Symphony Orchestra with authentic period instruments (WATCH—it rocks).  And some darn beautiful stuff that won’t make it into this ballet (e.g., the piano duo Anderson and Roe’s haunting arrangement of Vivaldi’s “Sento in seno ch’in pioggia di lagrime”/”A rain of tears“—if you haven’t listened to it yet, do), but that we’re filing away for a later project.  Even now, with our ballet score long-chosen, I’m listening to baroque music incessantly (e.g., literally right now), since I’m a snob about having perfect intermission music.  In short, the music from this era and from our Casanova score alike are so gorgeous that I can’t stop listening.  You just can’t get sick of it.  The downside is that this is our one ballet this season without live music, but the upside is that it would be a little hard to get the Louvre Orchestra or four harpsichords on stage at the Soreng; the experience we’re building is a total immersion in how stunningly lovely—and genius—music was during this time.

See the rounded shape of Alanna's arm in this shot from Giovanni Bruni's pas de deux with Paulina (Casanova has just swooped in and is plotting his next move.)

See the rounded shape of Alanna’s arm in this shot from Giovanni Bruni’s pas de deux with Paulina (Casanova has just swooped in and is plotting his next move.)  Photo: Steph Urso Photography

The movement: We’ve been studying baroque dance steps and watching authentic re-stagings of early ballet movement (recommended: Le Roi Danse).  We’ve enlisted the help of a number of experienced fencers for our dance-duel scenes with single rapier.  (Yes, I have BRUISES—this stuff is hard.)  Donna and I are fiercely committed to challenging the company to have exquisitely nuanced musicality and especially arms and hands, and she’s making explicit decisions about some of the aesthetics, for example, there is very little traditional elongee in Casanova (where the dancer extends his/her arm, palm down); instead, she’s having us invert all of these shapes with palms up in a more traditional baroque style.  There are cabrioles up the wazoo (this step was a big deal back then), and we don’t use as much epaulement with our feet, though there’s lots with our upper body.  The movement has twist and is all about arms, so as a dancer, my body is LOVING it.

Ok, so we probably can't get this kind of height, bu the idea is what we're going for...

Ok, so we probably can’t get this kind of height, bu the idea is what we’re going for…

The costumes/set: Then, there’s the costumes…we’ve been studying fashion of the time (see our Casanova Pinterest page to peruse the designers’ inspiration board).  The costumes are maybe the most gorgeous we’ve ever created (see a sneak peek on our Facebook page)—they are  a contemporary spin on “baroque.”  So, for example, we have these drop-dead cascading lace sleeves that fall from the elbow, but instead of connecting at the shoulder, they’re independent pieces that start at the women’s biceps so that we have more free movement.  Then the skirts are built on a basic tutu from our professional costumer in LA, Primadonna, which we decided to do in ivory as if it’s a petticoat.  Onto these tutu bases, demi-“bustles” are being overlaid, each woman’s slightly different, to get the dramatic curve out at the waist but without a floor-length skirt to get in the way of our dancing.  We’ve been on the hunt in Springfield antique stores for the perfect jewels for Casanova’s women, making our Casanova (Elijah Labay) practice in his wig to make sure that his new ponytail doesn’t get taken off in any of our lifts, and using our hair extensions that were the beehives for Cinderella to build the ladies’ hair higher in a style evocative of baroque, but again, still danceable.  All I can say is bless Allison Ditson, Rita Perini Vance, Katie Liane, and Beth Scott for their incredible, incredible artistry.

In sum, we’ve got gold paint on our hands (furniture that had to get taken up a notch), baroque music in our ears, and Casanova on our mind…

See you next weekend!

CASANOVA TICKETS/INFO

Different Takes on a Classic Fairy Tale

This is an exciting summer at Ballet Fantastique. We have multiple performances, camps, classes and more! One of our most anticipated events is our up and coming tour of Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet. We are touring to Florence and Portland (click for tickets) this August for a weekend of performances and entertainment! To get in the mood for the resurfacing of our show, let’s take a look at the history of Cinderella and different ways it has been adapted on the stage.

First off, there are the origins of the story itself. Diverse renditions of Cinderella exist. Records of a story resembling Cinderella have surfaced all the way back to the 9th Century A.D. in China, but the most well-known version comes from author Charles Perrault in the 17th Century. Perrault’s story was then adapted by the Brothers Grimm, leading up to the popular Disney film version.

The classical ballet version of Cinderella was originally performed in Vienna, Italy in 1813 (along with multiple other productions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries). One of these is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, originally performed as a film in 1957 starring Julie Andrews (photo above), which was then later adapted for the stage. Other modern Cinderella ballets include British choreographer Matthew Bourne’s, taking place in London during the Second World War, and Rudolf Nureyev’s rendition, set in the 1930’s Hollywood scene. Christian Louboutin’s even jumped on the Cinderella bandwagon with his recent creation of high-class Cinderella slippers.

Versions of the fairy tale are enjoyed by audiences who love unique and entertaining content, but also the familiarity of a childhood favorite.  Ballet Fantastique’s rendition is quite exceptional in that it uses live on-stage music and all-original choreography. This 1960’s rock opera version includes all your favorite hits (performed live), beautiful ballerinas, and character developments you’ll have to see to believe. A recent review on the show featured in The Register Guard states “Ballet Fantastique not only danced outside the box, it threw the box away.” If you’re in the Florence or Portland area, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to experience this great performance!

It’s Beatrix Potter time!

Here's how you do "mouse hands"

Well, folks, I’m writing at the studio. Wednesdays are our late-night rehearsals, and Ashley and Amelia are working away on what Artistic Director Donna calls “Puddle-Duck,” so I have a brief respite. It gets pretty hilarious sometimes when we step back and think about the fact that we’re scampering and holding tails and paws, and getting corrections like “scamper better into that line,” etc. We’re, like, creating a whole new vocabulary here! (i.e., “scamper” was NOT part of Incendio choreography!) Jemima Puddle Duck and the Foxy-Whiskered Fox is one of my personal favorites in the show; it’s actually so funny that I wish sometimes that the girls didn’t wear masks, since their faces are so hilarious.

Coming this December 2 and 4, Beatrix Potter: Tales for the Holidays is what we’re calling a “bonus concert” this season. This means that it’s not part of our regular concert season of three shows at the Hult Center–it’s an extra on top of these. As a chamber company, BFan doesn’t try to do a Nutcracker (plus Eugene Ballet already does a beautiful one of those here in our city)…but this is sort of our answer to the Nutcracker–a fun, holiday family ballet that may well become standard December fare for us BFanners + fans. Moreover, we’re excited to be producing the first-ever BFan shows at the stunningly-gorgeous and intimate Wildish in Springfield (the last time we were there was our guest appearance with the Oregon Mozart Players in 2008) and the lovely Florence Events theater in Florence later the same weekend. It’s our first-ever tour to Florence, and we’re stoked!

For those who don’t think they know Beatrix Potter, she was a much-beloved writer of children’s stories in the early part of the 20th century. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (danced by yours truly with great abandon and tan pointe shoes) was published in 1902, and after that came all sorts of cute characters that we’re bringing to life on stage.

Yours truly as Peter Rabbit

For a little more behind-the-scenes insight on what’s fun about this ballet, it’s honestly been a bit of a respite from the intensity of generating all-new choreography and a chance to just have fun and relax a bit. Of course, there are challenges (see list below), but it’s nice to recharge a little. We still get the excitement of the performance coming up (and the KIDS ARE SO EXCITED), but with a chance to recharge the choreographic engines. As a choreographer and not just a dancer, I needed this.

But as a dancer, it’s not all a piece of cake. Here are some of my favorite challenges:
–Keeping a straight face whilst rehearsing some silly stuff with our very community-visible windowfront here at City Center for Dance. Specifically: Wiggling my buns with squirrel paws (YES, they are different from mouse paws, believe it or not) as a Squirrel Cousin in the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin as people walk by. Don’t get me wrong–we LOVE our gorgeous new studio, but it does put us on display, and I have a feeling that some of our neighbors are very confused as they walk to the elevator… For example, one gentleman saw fit to wiggle back at us with his own paws the other day, and I have to divulge that rehearsal might have descended into giggles for a bit. We know that we must look pretty nuts. (Bad squirrel pun, sorry!)
–Acting without your face. It’s actually quite a challenge as a dancer–one we don’t often think about–to act with a mask on. So often as a dancer, you (I!) rely on your facial expressions to communicate drama or humor. In fact, I personally think it’s actually harder to pull off humor even than pathos or romance without your face showing. And, because we’re animals and wearing these awesome felted masks (which have a lot of personality, but aren’t dynamic and mobile, of course), we don’t get to use our faces to tell our stories. Add to this the fact that we’re telling a story and expecting a decent percentage of kiddos in attendance–we want them to “get it,” to be charmed, to be utterly Beatrix Pottered.
–Knowing that next week, it’s nose back to the grindstone. Like many of our professional colleagues in larger and more established companies across the US, for the first time, Ballet Fantastique company dancers will be challenged to work on two very different ballets simultaneously. Starting next week, we’ll be working on our all-original Arabian Nights while we also keep Beatrix up to par. As you might expect, Nights is gonna be very different than Beatrix, but simultaneously work/choreograph we must. Let’s just hope that Scheherazade doesn’t accidentally pop out of the wings with a fox tail.
–Logistics. Sigh: as always, my double-hatting gets a lot harder around performance time. And this time, I want to do a good job with things I don’t usually have to think about, including that we’re our own box office for the Wildish performance and being sure that the Florence community knows about our concert there. (Respectively, our norm is that the Hult Box Office manages things beautifully, and our team of interns and volunteers have publicity here in Eugene down to a science–but we’ve never done Florence before.) Let’s just say, I’m already waking up at 3am with random realizations and new ideas.

And so, to wrap it all up…has Hannah pulled it all together and is there a place to get these tickets, you might ask? YES! Here’s what you need to know.

TICKETS FOR WILDISH SHOW: $16 general admission or $10 youth (18 & under)
Three easy ways to order:
–Call 541-342-4622
–Order online
–Visit our local ticket outlets, Bambini or Kidstuff, during normal business hours to purchase your tickets through them (be sure to thank them for their support of Ballet Fantastique!)

TICKETS FOR THE FLORENCE SHOW: $16 adults and $12 youth (18 & under)
Available from the Florence Events Center, 541-997-1994. Tickets sold at the window from noon–4:30 pm daily or by phone with credit card.

Ok, now it’s back to my to do list!

Signing off,
Hannah

Dyeing a tutu in a swimming pool…

…And other adventures in Incendio costume-making!

Well, we’re about five weeks out from our Incendio performance (October 22-23 at the Hult), and in behind-the-scenes preparations, this means lots: press releases are going out, choreography is moving from the living-room-iPod-stage to the fully-fleshed out studio version, we’re fielding phone calls asking when single tickets go on sale (psst: you can get them now here!), and those of us in the company are bracing ourselves for the process of sewing a new pair of pointe shoes every week (we start going through them really fast with the number of hours we’re rehearsing right now).  Since BFan is known for our costumes, we know it won’t surprise our audience that costume preparations are also under way.  BUT we just tried something new in costume prep that was a little wild, even for us, so we decided to share this behind-the-scenes detail.

The costumes start out as a set of scribbled notes, magazine clippings, post-it notes, and fabric snippets. We organize a clear sheet for each dance, filled with these goodies!

Project 1: Magie Noire tutu for Leanne

Starring: BFan Artistic Director and lead costume designer Donna Marisa Bontrager and Costume Mistress Eryn MacNamara on a hot sunny day this September.

Supplies:

  • RIT dye of your favorite color (we chose this gorgeous tangerine color; see slideshow above)
  • Laundry detergent
  • Salt
  • Plastic swimming pool (we got ours on end-of-summer sale at Rite Aid for just $12!)
  • Large kettles, for boiling water
  • Stirring aid (we used an old wooden spoon, but note that you’re not going to ever be able to use it to cook again)
  • Old spaghetti sauce jar, for batching dye (again, something you don’t plan to use again for food)
  • Recommended: Bathtub, for washing tutu before dyeing process, and then rinsing it afterward.  Clothes you don’t mind turning new colors are also a good idea!
  • Also recommended: A large plastic reusable shopping bag for transporting the wet, dyed tutu back to the bathtub.  TJ Maxx sells them for just $.99.
Procedure:
  1. Wash the tutu you plan to dye.  (Ours is a beautiful professionally-made 10-layer tutu by Primadonna, and it’s been used on stage before.) We found a clean bathtub to be a great way to wash the tutu.  The tutu needs to be wet in order to be dyed, so don’t worry about giving it time to dry.
  2. Meanwhile, start heating your hot water using those bit kettles on the stove. Gradually add them into your swimming pool (we got ours for $12 on end-of-summer sale at Rite Aid–it’s a kiddie pool just the perfect size for a tutu, and very lightweight; but it does look a little funny being stored in our costume room!). When the pool is full, add some detergent to it.  Even though it’s a bit counter-intuitive, this helps the dye absorb smoothly.  Tip: We placed our pool out on the patio on a hot summer day to keep the sitting water warm while we were heating more on the stove.
  3. Meanwhile, mix your dye in the jar with a bit of hot water and the salt (this will help all of the dye to dissolve more manageably before you place it in the swimming pool).  Add the hot dyed water from your jar slowly into the hot water in your pool.
  4. Slowly lower the wet tutu into the pool, upside-down.  Weight it down with one of your pots (can be filled with stones, if desired).  We found the best time for our tulle tutu was approximately 40 minutes; the tutu absorbed the dye beautifully!
  5. Carefully fold the tutu insides together, and transport it to the bathtub (this is where that reusable shopping bag came in very handy!).
  6. Rinse the tutu with progressively cooler water in the tub.
  7. Hang tutu dry over bathtub with a skirt hanger.  Tip: It’s almost always best to hang your tutu upside down to preserve its perky shape.

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Bonus: A few other behind-the-scenes looks at works in progress after long labors this weekend…

Where the magic happens…

Ballet Fantastique’s studios are alive! Again the City Center for Dance and the Annex are filled with tutu-ed ballerinas chattering and running around, clutching onto yoga mats… at least, before they step back onto the dance floor and pick up where they left off when summer break started.

Still a work in progress, the richly-colored City Center for Dance is the indeed the center of all the action–we hold events and classes, as well as conduct business, here all while people on the street walk by and stare in through our huge windows. It opened about a year ago in the former Tiffany’s Gold Cross Drug Store, a historic storefront location at 960 Oak, after we outgrew our old studio down the street (now known as the Annex).

Creative director Donna Marisa Bontrager had this to say about the project: “Together we will restore a piece of the city’s past in a way that contributes to its future. The Ballet Fantastique City Center for Dance will play an important role in the redevelopment of downtown Eugene. It is a participating symbol of the resurgence of the area and the culture that thrives here.”

Valentine’s Day Secret Admirer

So we had an unvalentine’s day party with all the company girls, since all of us either don’t have a significant other or they are doing the long distance thing for a time. Kinda funny that out of this whole group of beautiful girls no one had any boy around for Valentine’s Day. So it was the perfect party, except for the fact that Ash decided to make it a facebook group that was open to the public and put her address where the party was to help held.

So we were enjoying the night with delicious lasagna and valentine’s treats when we heard a loud bang on the front door. Of course I jump up to get the door and everyone freaks out and won’t let me open it without pepper spray in hand. Just in case the person on the other side of the door isn’t a little old lady. By the time we realize who this person is it will probably be too late no matter if it is a little old lady or a huge man. We would have already sprayed the pepper spray. Yes everyone was THAT scared of being attacked by the person on the other side of the door.
So me being the “man” of the group, always have to come to the rescue swings the door wide open not to a person at all but instead to four cards placed perfectly on the porch soaking wet from the rain because it took us so long to decide whether or not we should open the door.

Ballet Fantastique Ladies has a secret admirer!!! Whomever you are, thank you so much for thinking of us and making this night even more special. 🙂