Friday, January 19, 2007

Days 10-11: South Bend and Beyond

Thanks to Dr. Carolynn Hine-Johnson, we had engagements at two universities in South Bend, Indiana. Both universities have small dance programs that they're trying to grow. It is always a pleasure to work in a college environment.

Another advantage of university engagements is that they happen during the day, leaving time for other classes in the evening. In order to slot Valery into existing classes, we were scheduled for engagements on two different days. Unfortunately, we weren't able to schedule other classes right in South Bend, so we had to go a bit farther afield.

Thus this particular part of our trip got to be a little bit travel-stressful. South Bend has an interesting system for marking major roads-- they don't mark them at all. Two of our major turns were missing street signs, and one road mysteriously ends in a parking lot, you have to drive around a block to stay on the road.

Unfortunately, these quirks of Indiana travel made us a little late for Indiana University. Many of the students had to leave for other classes, so Valery's class faded out as one student after another disappeared. By the time it was finished, there were only four students.

Hopefully, this was a boon for the students who were able to remain and who recieved almost one-to-one instruction. Now that we have learned to navigate South Bend, we should be on time if we're invited back.

Interestingly, the class the following day at Bethel College, also organized by Carolynn Hine-Johnson, was like the IU class in reverse. Students, who had other classes, arrived late. A class that began with four or five students, ended with a full compliment as one student after another joined in.

The Bethel College class was held in a theater rather than a studio. Seeing Valery leading class with dancers using folding chairs for a barre reminded me of our days touring together with his dance company.

We were on the road together for two months of one night engagements, 62 performances in all. It was my introduction to the world of road ballet. I was struck by how unremarkable dancers are as they file out of their travel coach and into the theater. When they slowly assemble on a dim stage, they look like the members of a freshman college class slouching off to an early morning lecture in sloppy sweat pants and slippers.

Before each performance was company class, led by the director-- Valery Lantratov. Valery prided himself in having a new class with new combinations every day. He would gague the energy level of the company, and adjust the class accordingly.

In the center of the stage were three ballet barres.There were not enough for a company of nearly 50, so the dancers balanced themselves on anything that protruded at approximately chest level--door handles, theater seats.

The sight of the dancers practicing plies on the venue steps framed by the door of an exit was new and odd to me. Yet there was such a matter-of-factness about it. This was their life, their routine; the uneventful start to another work day, as when I sat down with a cup of coffee and fired up the computer. Now it has become the mater-of-fact reality of my daily life as well.

Between the two university classes in South Bend, we scheduled a class in Monticello, Indiana-- about two hours away as the crow flies, or a bit more as we drive. There are very few landmarks between South Bend and Monticello, unless you are very good at distinguishing one farm (in winter) from another. We had a few mapquest woes on route to this class as well, but we did get there just on time, but without the time we'd like to have for relaxation. Apparently, though, Monticello offers "beautiful scenery on the lakes," which I'm sure we would have enjoyed in daylight hours.

Fortunately, we do enjoy the opportunity to teach classes in cities we've never visited before and to meet new people. Valery has said that although he has been in America many times before, he's never seen "real America," until these two recent visits to teach classes.

After the class had ended, one young student took the time to share her competition routine with Valery. We were very pleased to have had the opportunity to work with this class.