Thursday, August 30, 2007

Familiar Faces on You Tube and Crystal Lake Continued

Yesterday, while relaxing in our hotel room, we made an interesting discovery on You Tube. Someone has uploaded a documentary called "A Year at the Bolshoi." For anyone who has wondered about the process of training at the famed Moscow Academy, it is a great introduction. Only one problem-- it's in French. So if you don't speak French (or the Russian the French is dubbed over) then you'll have to just enjoy it for the pictures.

What was most interesting was that when I went to show the film to Valery he immediately lit up. One of the thumbnails showed his son, Vladislav Lantratov, who is now a dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet. At the time this film was made, he was a student at the academy. He appears in a few places in segment 10 of the video (which has 11 parts) and may be in more-- we didn't have time to watch them all.

Meanwhile we continue our work in Crystal Lake. Valery had many compliments for Judith Svalander and for the technical level of the students here. He continues to work on technique, point and variations. We work with a pianist for the technique class and recorded music for the rest. "It is good for children to work with a piano," Valery said, "for organic music."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Crystal Lake, IL

A lot of preparation went into our final week of classes at the Judith Svalander School of Ballet in Crystal Lake, IL. It is one of Valery's favorite studios for it's serious, pre-professional students. The week will feature an intense three classes a day with the same group of students. A late (5PM) start gives us a lot of time to sleep and prepare before we start. Interestingly, after spending quite a bit of time going over the music for the various combinations in the pointe class, we arrived to find a piano and accompanist. As it happens, he did not stay for the pointe class, so the preparation was not moot.

Now that we've completed the first day, a little wistfulness is starting to set in as we realize there are only three days left before we're done with the tour all together. The beginning on July 4 weekend seems like it was years ago, and it's hard to imagine it is really drawing to a close.

Incidentally, Valery always enjoys seeing pictures from classes and students. If you took any pictures and can e-mail them to us at, I can share them with him before he returns to Russia.

Looking ahead, after the Labor Day weekend Valery returns to Russia to work on a world premire production of The Snow Maiden set to debut in October with all new choreography and an original score. I'll try to keep you updated about that project as much as possible.

Meanwhile, we're going to start working on our plans for classes in January and next summer. We want to book as many of the intensives for summer as possible before the winter holidays. This will allow schools to advertise their programs in Dance Magazine's summer master class edition if they so desire. We're not sure what our route will be, but we'll most likely base it around the first schools that sign up for dates, so if you think you'll want to see Valery next summer, please send me an e-mail.

In January, Valery returns to the U.S. for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference. From there we plan to head south, so if you have a school in Virginia, North Carolina or on the East Coast and you want Valery to return this winter, please let us know.

In the meantime, we're resting up for another evening at the Judith Svalander school. Nine more classes to go...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Almost Heaven Part II (Charleston, WV)

Thank you again to Michelle, Donna, Julie and Jim for making us feel so welcome in Charleston. The family hosted us for a week and took us to see the Clay Center for the Arts and helped Valery find a new pair of dance shoes. We finished a wonderful week with a sushi dinner and great company.

In between all these activities we had three classes a day with students of three different levels at the River City Youth Ballet. This year it was named the "Official Youth Ballet" of West Virginia by the state legislature and it's easy to see why. The students have great preparation. It is a pleasure to work with young people who are focused and who learn quickly.

Before we left the great state of West Virginia, we talked about plans for future projects. We hope to have more news to announce here soon.

I hope you enjoy these little video clips from our classes. If the dancers all look a little short and stout it is because my conversion software truncated them when I switched from .mov to mpg format to be compatible with this blog.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Beckley, WV

I've been trying to teach Valery the song "Country Roads Take Me Home." He knows it now as that West Virginia song, but he hasn't quite caught onto the words, so as we wind through the mountains he sings, "... West Virginia... river... mountain... .... .... West Virginia... papa, mama..."
It passes the time.

We headed to a studio officially known as Beckley Dance Theater. We call it "Jerry Rose" for its director. (The link is to a picture in the Beckley Register-Herald). The studio is busy with three back-to-back classes of different levels each day. What is most interesting is that with all the comings and goings of kids, Jerry Rose's studio lacks much of the chaos you normally see in these situations. It has a calm, laid back feeling. At least it did when we were there for early morning classes.

We are also fond of Beckley with its mountain scenery and-- for the shoppers among us-- low prices. I finally bought myself a laptop computer with a WiFi connection, allowing me rather belatedly to update this blog.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Salem, VA

What stands out about the Post School of Ballet in Salem, Virginia is its size both in terms of square footage and number of students. Part of our perception of its size could be from visiting it after the intimate Center for Dance in Blacksburg. The Post School dance floor could probably hold two and a half Centers for Dance.

Valery was impressed by this studio in terms of the comfort of the floor and the space for performing combinations. He also liked the student's preparation with their hair up and proper classical ballet attire.

Unlike last visit, we didn't get lost among the various business routes downtown. A successful class and another great studio.

Blacksburg, VA

Thank you to Carol Crawford Smith for inviting us back to the Center of Dance. Last time we came through Virginia we had to rush off after class for another class in Salem that evening. I described it in this blog as "drive by teaching." Fortunately, this time around this was the only class in our schedule for the day. Valery was able to run the class a little bit long and to stay afterwards and speak with Carol, a former soloist with Dance Theater of Harlem.

While we were there, Carol spoke about her studio's renovation. I didn't realize until just now when I looked up the Center's web page that they were featured on the TV show "Extreme Makeover" in 2005.

When we visited Blacksburg in winter I described it as a pleasant college town with bookshops, restaurants and a small farmer's market. Between our two visits, Virginia Tech has unfortunately become internationally known as the scene of a tragedy, the largest campus shooting in U.S. history.

So I can't really mention Blacksburg without touching on this recent history. As we came into town, I tried to imagine what it must have been like in those days following the shooting when the streets would have swelled with media vans. It was the same pleasant college town we remembered, with parents and students arriving in advance of the first days of classes the following week.

Although we saw the occasional sign featuring Nikki Giovanni's defiant words "We are the Hokies, we will prevail," there were few reminders of what had happened. Our hotel lobby featured a stack of fliers with advice to students and parents on how to deal with distress in the aftermath of the shootings. The fliers by the American Psychological Society were the only true reminders we saw of how recent this crime really had been.

It was a warm but not brutally hot day, students relaxed reading on campus lawns and there was great emotion at the Center for Dance. We remembered the familiar faces and had another warm and pleasant afternoon in Blacksburg.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Carolina On My Mind

Here we are squinting in the sun at The Well, the University of North Carolina's famous landmark. Temperatures soared during our four day stay in the "research triangle" area. (The children don't belong to us, they are my niece and nephew, Sophia and Emerson.)

We scheduled a stay of several days thinking we'd likely return to many of the studios we visited in winter. For most of them it just didn't work out for August. Maybe Carolina folk hide and soak up air conditioning when it's 104 out. I probably would.

We had two classes on August 13 at the Greensboro Day School in Greensboro. Afterwards we had a pleasant visit with the owners and made plans for our next trip to the state. I didn't take any photos in this class because I saw other cameras flashing. If I get copies, I'll try to post them later.

For the rest of our stay we enjoyed what Carolina has to offer. My new favorite dish is "shrimp and grits," a Chapel Hill specialty. We sampled the local fare at the Carolina brewery and took a tour of campus before heading off for our marathon of 26 classes in two weeks, then a weekend of travel and another full week before the end.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Charlottesville, Virginia

The Wilson School of Dance is memorable for a number of reasons. First because it is located in an old church building on a wooded lot. Light shines through the arched windows and lends a warm glow to the wooden fixtures including a few left over pews. Second, our host was the extremely welcoming Juanita Wilson. She had a spread of food for us, and would probably have spoken to Valery for hours if we didn't have the long drive to North Carolina ahead of us.

Finally we remember this city for the weather. It was the hottest spot on our tour, a muggy 104 F or so. Pshew! The Virginian students said things like "it's a little hot." For a Muscovite like Valery it was HOT!

Thank you to Juanita Wilson for inviting us to this lovely studio. We hope to return.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Columbia, Maryland

August 9th was a stormy day in Columbia, Marlyand, but we had the good fortune of arriving at the studio just before the rain started to pound down and we finished our second class just as the sky started to clear.

Arabesque is a busy studio located in a business complex. It offers a full range of dance classes from tap to jazz to classical ballet. We had two classes, one for younger students and one for the older ones. Both were large classes.

Our travel route required us to backtrack through Leesburg as we headed on to the Wilson School of Dance in Charlottesville.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Leesburg, Virginia

Leesburg, Virginia is located in Northern Virginia not far from Washington D.C. It has a beautiful colonial downtown and, more interesting for Valery, a large outlet mall with bargain prices. Many years ago I lived in Leesburg and worked at a small local radio station called WAGE AM. At the time it played country music and local news including radio obituaries and lost pet reports.

I worked in radio as automation was becoming popular, but the kinks hadn't entirely been worked out yet. Although I loved the town of Leesburg, I never really experienced much of it. Most of my memories of my time there involve being woken up at night by the "Gentner" computer system, which would call my home if it's computer program had a glitch or the banks of pre-programmed CD players stopped in their tracks.

At the time WAGE was an odd combination of down-home local programming and impersonal computerization. We ran folksy segments like "Good News with Frank Rafflo," commentary by a prominent local man who was in his 70s. Each day the program began "And now the Good News for Loudoun County." It was followed by the radio obituaries, in which the announcer read names and biographies in serious tones. "Edna J. Smith passed away..." (We never said anyone "died.") After another commercial we ran a lost pet report. (My fondest lost pet memory involved a woman who woke up to find several cows grazing in her lawn).

In the mornings these segments were read live, but for other parts of the day they were recorded into a new Audio Vault computer system. (To give you an idea of when this was, we used to get updates for the music on 5 1/4 floppy discs.) Of course, we always had problems here and there with pieces not being updated or properly encoded in the system. Whenever that happened you'd have a pause and then the computer would move onto the next programming element. One day someone had neglected to load Frank Rafflo's "Good News" into the system, so after the introduction there was a pause and the computer rolled on. Listeners heard the following. "And now the good news for Loudoun County... Mrs. Edna J. Smith passed away..." Needless to say, our telephones lit up for hours.

Our first order of business when we arrived in Leesburg, therefore, was to take a nostalgic tour of the station where I spent so many sleepless nights and very early mornings. Like many stations, WAGE has eliminated the contradiction between technology and local programming by getting rid of the costly local programming. In the new economics of radio, most small stations simply can't compete with Clear Channel and the like. Most of the radio stations where I worked in my past life are now like this one, buildings devoid of people but humming with machinery that pipe out satellite feeds. There was some evidence of my past with a newspaper article on the wall featuring my photo, and after that walk down memory lane, we went back to our hotel and prepared the next day's class.

We very much enjoyed our class at the Loudoun School of Ballet. The studios are big and the students learn quickly. Thank you to Jan Malone for inviting us. We hope to return again.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Dance Free Weekend

After our class in Utica, we had a rare vacation. We drove on to the Boston area for a weekend relaxing with Valery's friends and family. Our next class after Boston was in New Cumberland, PA. This created our longest drive of the entire tour and our personal record for the most states crossed in a single day- six. From Massachusetts we drove through Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and finally Pennsylvania.

We had an early class in the spacious New Cumberland School of Ballet in New Cumberland, PA before getting back on the road for a drive to Virginia.

My memory is a bit vague on the topic, but it may have been at this studio where we overheard a young student asking, "Is Moscow in Canada?" There may be a Moscow in Canada for all we know, there are several in the U.S. including one we visited in Michigan and on the drive from Pennsylvania to Virginia we passed the town of East Berlin. The continued existence of East Berlin in America amused Valery quite a bit and we talked about getting out and taking a picture by the road sign but, alas, did not do it.

Incidentally, I lived in Pennsylvania for a while and I remember its slogan as "you have a friend in Pennsylvania." It has apparently been changed to "state of independence." Sounds as if the state had a falling out with Ohio and Virginia and is now taking some time to be on its own.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Utica, New York and Hotel Stories

Before I talk about our class at Munson Williams in Utica, I would like to talk a bit about hotels. On the road we tend to stay in chain hotels-- not because we have anything against local businesses, but because it tends to be easier to book a chain hotel in advance and to be confident that we will have a room and that we'll have an idea of what to expect.

We've had some good experiences with mom and pop hotels, like the one in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

On the other hand, we've had experiences like one with a hotel I will not identify. On this occasion we arrived ready to check in. When I got to the desk, I couldn't find anyone to help me. There was a bell to ring, and I rang, and rang... and rang. Finally I called the hotel number on my cell phone and someone arrived in the lobby to pick it up. I told the woman we were here to check in and that we had a reservation. The hotel had given me a rate of $53 a night over the phone, but when we arrived, we were told that the rate was now $100 a night.

"There's a concert in town," the helpful woman explained.

After some lengthy negotiation, I was able to get the price down to only $15 more than we'd been quoted. That done, the woman revealed a piece of information that might have been useful earlier-- they didn't actually have any rooms available.

'What do you mean you have no rooms available? I have a reservation for two nights."

"We don't take reservations."

We ended up at a different motel where the clerk gave you your key through a sliding panel in bullet proof glass. The rooms were surprisingly clean and presentable with lovely white bed spreads of which they were clearly quite protective. There were signs posted everywhere about not staining the bed spreads. Besides not having any hot water, it was a decent place to stay.

So this is why we tend to be leery of the local motels. In Utica, however, we stayed in the type of motel that swtill advertises RCA Color TV as an amenity and we had an overall positive experience.

We had a free day in Utica before our class (and time for shopping at the Big Lots). Our hotel was in a tiny rural area, and it gave us the impression that Utica was a sleepy village.
Come class day, however, we only turned one corner and discovered an entirely different and more urban Utica.

Munson Williams is a serious arts school with a dance studio in a separate building to the side. It's most distinctive feature is the presence of large ballerina statues in the lobby. We taught a special long class here. The floors were some of the best we've encountered. The students were of a mixed level, but followed well and learned quickly. We hope to come back again.

P.S. An open letter to the hotel industry: Thank you for the coffee, and we appreciate the effort but leftover donuts are not "breakfast."