Friday, September 17, 2010


Thursday, September 16
Minsk, Belarus

Why is it that jet lag always has about a 24 hour delay? And why is it that said jet lag always shows up on the first critical day in a program? Tonight is Opening Night in Minsk at the Philharmonic Hall. Sold out show. Embassy sponsored event. Lot of fun. Lot of pressure. Excellent time to be narcoleptic.

"Good evening and welcome to our concert. I'm Paul......" (sound of gasping audience as the AD falls off the stage and into the audience sound asleep. Not the impression you necessarily want to make on the dignitaries in row one - lasting, but....)

So, class. Funny the endless connotations of that word. In this case its what it would suggest itself to be in a dance blog. The working part of the company's tour began as it should. 

In a studio. Well, almost a studio. More of a stage really. A really, really big, Gi-normous stage. A "are you kidding me?" Gi-normous stage. OK, a theater. With an audience. A big audience -- like 300 people size audience. A dance school audience that knew what it was looking at and looking for. At the lead ballet academy in the country. 

You know, that kind of normal. 

One thing about the road -- you learn in a big, big hurry that no matter what you plan, and what you think you know, its never what you'll encounter. Sometimes its harder than you anticipate. Most of the time its far, far more magical. 

This was one of those. 

Take all the stereotypes you can imagine for a Ballet Academy out of a former Soviet republic. The Director is uber-proper and very formal. She's point your feet NOW formal. The beginning is a welcome to her office and a bit of back-story about the Academy and the great artists to emerge from it (totally true, by the way). A sense that they have something to prove to us and for real a sense that we have something to prove to them. A "show me" moment just ahead and over the hill. 

You know that somethings not quite what you anticipate when the first process question is "when would you like to begin your performance?" 

"Did she say performance?"



Yes, sure enough. But we had been asked to prepare an excerpt for class. And Chris, in his way, found the magic and music inside the challenge. Alice and Maleek were there as planned, but so were William and Noelle and Kathryn, giving us the people we needed to make anything that had to happen happen. And you know, that's what it takes on the road. 

So after the formal welcome we went downstairs to the "Studio." Rounding the corner, past the images of the dancers who had gone before, and crossing the threshold past the ubiquitous grand piano (I've seen more concert grands here in four days than I think I've ever seen cumulatively in my life outside the Steinway store in NY), you heard noise -- conversational noise. A lot of it. And, sure enough, as you stepped into the light, you realized that noise was coming from the assembled Academy in their theater seats ready to watch the class. 


23 students were invited to the stage to take Chris's class. And the other zillion, including ALL their teachers, to watch it. Talk about pressure. Not just for us. Try being one of those kids. "Hello, thanks for volunteering to take class with everyone you study under and train with watching in a new discipline with people you've never met and who will show you movement you've never tried." Could have been Friday the 13th Part 40 for them.

But it wasn't. 

These kids were amazing. And not simply talented and well trained. Curious. Open. Risk-taking. Especially the girls. The boys, well, as Maleek put it, when you're a teenage boy the worst thing in the world is to appear incapable, and that can be inhibiting, which for most of them it was. But the girls -- wow. They just grabbed onto it. And Chris didn't pull any punches. He had them tied up in pretzel shapes in yoga, on the stairs for alignment and spinal training, doing mad things with their arms that, in less capable bodies, turns you into a Philly pretzel. 

And laughing. 

You want to talk about when you know its working. Try the laughter meter in your head and heart. They had fun. 

Amazing how he does that. Doesn't speak the language, is in a totally strange environment and you hear, halfway through class --- laughter. As in "this is fun and really cool laughter."

If the past year and half of road work has taught me anything its that there's a new generation coming up in the world that is not defined by its elders issues and the circumstances under which they grew to adulthood. The Cold War is gone. For these kids it never existed. And they're not bound by the formalities, by the stereotypes, by the fear, that their parents and especially their grandparents were. We're not staring across a divided Germany at each other anymore. Yes, there's endless tension between East and West in other ways, especially on a Governmental level between Belarus and the US. But not between us as artists. We all dance in that room. And the magic of seeing students learn, of seeing them thrive, broke every boundary and melted all the ice in a two-hour time of magic. Its the most profound reminder that there is so much more which unites us than divides us. I say it so often its a cliche. But one borne of truth. 

To stand in that room and see what unfolded reminded me that on a human level nothing really separates us. Person-to-person, artist-to-artist, spirit-to-spirit, its about what we share. 

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