Thursday, January 31, 2008

South of the Border

US 15/501 between Aberdeen, NC and South Carolina is a pine-lined rural route dotted with wooden produce stands (closed for the season) and hand-pained signs offering "collards".

Unique names along the route are the Little Pee Dee and Great Pee Dee Rivers. Personally, I prefer my river names not to have "pee" in them, but that's my own bias.

Turns out that we might all have been able to sing about the Pee Dee if Stephen Foster had stuck with his original plan. The first draft of his famous song went "Way down upon the Pee Dee River." By the way, the official name of that song is "Old Folks at Home," not "Way down upon the Swanee River." I think he made the right choice. (Foster never saw the river in Georgia/Florida that his song commemoriates, which may be why he spelled it Swanee and not by its real name Suwanee.)

We also passed Scotland and Florence, continuing the ever entertaining tour of European place names.

But the most notable roadside sight was "Pedro's South of the Border," a destination advertised by billboards for miles, burma shave fashion.

It harkens back to the days when people went "motoring" and when Standard Oil created heritage trails to encourage people to burn up gasoline driving from one Abraham Lincoln historical marker to another.

It's a quirky and very American spot with souvenir shops, camping, amusement rides and miniature golf. We know all this simply from driving by-- the way we experience most of America. It was impossible not to look in its general direction when confronted with a 200-foot tall sombrero.

Apparently the sombrero ride was featured in the movie "Forces of Nature" with Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck. I learned this fact on line and have never seen the film, so please don't send me hate mail if this is untrue.

The border that Pedro is just south of is the one between the two Carolinas. [I recommend renaming every state relative to Carolina. Georgia would become West Carolina, Florida would be Southernmost Carolina and Alaska- Outer Carolina]

We are making out first visit to Columbia, South Carolina for a 6:30 PM class at Dance Theater of Columbia.

When Valery heard the name of the studio director-- Carrie Kirkland-- he said, "I know Kirkland who danced with Baryshnikov," referring to Gelsey Kirkland of New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater.

This Kirkland teaches tap and ballet at a large and busy studio with a focus on musical theater and Broadway. Along the turquoise walls were posters from Guys and Dolls, The Lion King and other productions.

The studio itself was twice as large or more as many of the spaces we visit. Before he began, each of the girls shook his hand and introduced themselves to him. It was a warm and cordial atmosphere and the students focused all their attention.

Today we drive to Georgetown, SC, which was included in a book on the "100 Places to Visit Before You Die." Our schedule will, unfortunately, be too tight to do much in the way of sight seeing. We drive three hours to the studio, have two classes, and then drive another three hours to our next destination as we head towards Georgia. With any luck it will not be pouring rain all the way. Fingers crossed.

Carolina on My Mind

You can click here for the musical background for this entry.

In Chapel Hill yesterday we drove past the John Edwards campaign headquarters. Vans from all the networks were out front. We speculated that perhaps Edwards was giving up his presidential bid. It was only later in the hotel room, flipping through channels, we saw that this was correct.

Yesterday was our last morning in one of our favorite cities, Chapel Hill, NC. After this it is on to new territory and schools we'll encounter for the first time as we go south, south, south in search of the sun.

First stop: Southern Pines, NC.

The name "Southern Pines" to me suggests a restaurant or the sign on the entrance to a suburban subdivision. The subdivision of course would have not a pine in sight. Suburban neighborhoods are usually named for what was plowed down to make way for the split level dwellings.

The city Southern Pines, by contrast, is aptly named. The drive is pine-lined and in January the mild temperatures give it a summer camp feel. (We haven't seen it in August. Ask us about the weather then, we may have a different impression)

The route to Southern Pines took us along Jefferson Davis Parkway, named in honor of the president of the Confederacy. Had the South succeeded in seceding, he would be the George Washington of a different nation, and John Edwards might have been campaigning to be president of the Confederate States. Without competition from Hillary Clinton and Brack Obama, we might never have seen vans outside his campaign headquarters.

It got me to thinking about the whole question of leaving the United States to form your own nation. One story that came to mind was that of the sovereign state of Winneconne.

In 1967 Wisconsin map makers failed to notice the entire town of Winneconne—with a then population of 1,200. The residents were miffed at the oversight so they decided to secede from the state of Wisconsin. They declared war on July 22, 1967. The issued a declaration of independence and designed a flag. The flag featured the new state’s motto: “We like it—Where?” Surrounded by the village’s official flower, fish, bird and animal—poison ivy, sheepshead, dodo and skunk.

To raise revenue for the sovereign state of Winneconne they set up a toll bridge over the Wolf River. They unveiled all of this at a festive ceremony. At the end of the day, they had collected about seven dollars in tolls. They agreed to return to the state if certain demands were met including erection of a sign at the junction of U.S. 41 and Wisconsin 110 pointing the way to Winnecone and inclusion of the village in the 1968 official state road map. As an alternative, leaders said they would consider annexation by another state, preferably one with better weather.

Negotiations began immediately and by noon the next day Winneconne was once again part of the state. Wisconsin now has a law making it illegal to declare war against the state. That didn’t stop Winneconne from taking a stand against Canada in 1976. After being left out of the 1976 Rand McNally Road Atlas Winneconne sent a letter to the Canadian prime minister seeking political asylum because “Nobody wants us.” When the leader failed to respond the members of the “How Dare They Do This To Us Again Committee of the Sovereign State of Winneconne” announced a ban on all Canadian imports and seized a cart load of beer from the local grocery store. According to the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern the committee conceded that it is possible their letter seeking asylum was mailed to the wrong person.

In any case, we are pleased that North Carolina is part of the United States and that we did not need special visas to visit the Carolina Performance Arts Center.

The studio has a special relationship with Infinity Ballet, one of our old friends. which we visited the day before. The British-born Sue Peterson is the director at Carolina Performance Arts Center and the students are instructed in Royal Academy of Dance Style.

Most of the students in Southern Pines were wearing green leotards, I wondered if this had something to do with the whole pine theme. Before class, Sue Peterson, standing in front of a torturous looking pilates machine, introduced Valery by reading his credits from a bio sheet. She asked him some questions and he occasionally turned to me for clairafication. English to English translation is one of my special jobs.

The students had all been given name tags which refused to stick to the fabric of their leotards so by the end of the class the floor was plastered with stickers reading "Mary" and "Alexa" and so on. In all, it was a lovely area and a welcoming class and we hope to go back.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An Infinite Apex

Infinity is defined as time without end, and the Apex is the highest point, so some inspiring words make up the name of Infinity Ballet in Apex, North Carolina.

(There are of course the secondary definitions: "a part of a geometric magnitude that lies beyond any part whose distance from a given reference position is finite" and "the point on the celestial sphere toward which the sun and solar system appear to be moving relative to the fixed stars.")

Let's just say that the level is high, and the reach is great at Infinity Ballet. This was our second visit to Infinity. Our previous visit was one year before and Valery was impressed with the growth of the students, both physically and in their level of ability.

Infinity Ballet is one of Valery's favorite studios to visit. The studio is spacious and the students learn Russian technique and turnout. We also have a mutual friend, Alexei Borovik, who is also a frequent guest at Infinity.

Until he moved to America, Borovik was a principal dancer with the Perm Ballet Theatre. From 1992 until his retirement in 2006, Borovik was a Principal Dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet. As I recall he and Valery participated in the same International Ballet Competition some years back and last spring Borovik directed a ballet gala concert for us. The ballet world is a small world indeed.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Artistic Motion

Congratulations to Debbie Isom-Chodyniecki of the Artistic Motion School of Dance on recently being named Dance Educator of the Year in North Carolina.

This would be much more notable if I remembered by whom. Let's just assume this is a good thing.

The Artistic Motion School of Dance is located on the campus of the Greensboro Day School in Greensboro, NC.

"At Artistic Motion Dance," their web site says, "we believe in the educational benefits provided by a positive and professional dance experience. We offer dance classes for ages three through adult. Whether you are seeking to discover the art of dance, a career in dance, a fun way to exercise, or an opportunity to socialize, we invite you..."

Greensboro, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, is located at the junction of I-40 and I-85. As you will no doubt discover if you read this blog, we are very familiar with the "Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways" also known as "the interstates."

I have read that the system is more extensive than the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. It comprises only 1 percent of the roads in America but carries 23 percent of the traffic. It carries one trillion "person miles" a year. This is like 37 million people traveling around the globe.

We've seen a lot of those miles-- our mileage on this tour alone would stretch from Los Angeles to Moscow if we went in a straight line (and could drive across the ocean). So lets just say we know a bit about the highways and I can tell you that the stretch of I-40 between Chapel Hill and Greensboro, NC has just about the strangest system for numbering its exits that we have seen anywhere. Now that I got that off my chest...

We originally came the Artistic Motion School of Dance after another studio canceled at the last minute. They were able to host us on short notice. That was three visits ago!

We have made good friends of Debbie and Natalya Igitkhanyan Davison at this school. Valery always looks forward to his visits, to speaking Russian with Natalya as I speak English with Debbie, and of course to working with the students who he calls "smart." They are now one of our best dance studio friends and we look forward to our next visit.

An IOU for Valery Lantratov's Travel Tales

We woke up this morning in Charlottesville, VA, had an afternoon class in Blacksburg and went to bed in Chapel Hill, NC.

It is easier to maintain this kind of pace when you don’t spend extra time trying to document it as you go, but I’ll do my best to recount our time at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference, our classes in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia and everything that has happened retroactively. As time permits you will see new entries appear for past dates.

We were marveling today that Valery has been in the U.S. for only two weeks and yet we have done so much. When you are on the road, as we are, you measure time in terms of events. This is probably not unique to traveling. But the perception of time is different.

When you are stationary, and living fairly consistent days, the time in front of you seems to go slowly. “It’s only 4PM?” The time behind you seems to have whizzed right by.

When you’re traveling to new cities each day, and having so many new experiences, the time in front seems to come at you with lightning speed while the time behind is stretched out so that two weeks seems two months long. Could the Arts Presenters Conference in New York really have been only a week and a half ago? Indeed it was.

So the good news is that I may not have as much to recap as I think I have. The bad news is that I may not get to it right away.

In the meantime, I’ll just give an overall recap of a Valery Lantratov master class and get into the details later. (Or earlier, as it will appear here)

Having watched so many of Valery’s classes, I feel as though I would be safe walking on a tightrope. I’ve assimilated a great deal of information on how to keep my axis. I should be able to keep balanced anywhere.

Chin up.
Stomach in.
Keep your square.
Shoulders back.
Keep your elbows.

There. You’ve just had a mini class for free.

By the way, if you had a class with Valery and enjoyed it– might we suggest a souvenir?

Remember there are only 333 shopping days until Christmas.

Follow the menu on the right for information on how you can own your very own “Keep Your Axis” t-shirt or a copy of our book, A Child’s Introduction to Ballet.

This is really our book. Valery Lantratov helped with the musical selections and technical advice and I (Laura Lee) wrote it. We’re quite pleased with it and hope you like it too.

The sale of t-shirts and our children's book helps us to keep the costs of our master classes down so more students can enjoy them.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Back in Black...sburg

When I was doing research for my book Blame it on the Rain, which recounts how weather impacted the course of history, I came across many studies linking weather with human emotion. When it is sunny, pleasant and springlike we just feel better. If it is uncomfortably hot we get irritable, and grey, overcast skies and a constant lack of sunshine can make us sluggish and depressed.

We began to test this hypothesis as we arrived in Blacksburg, Virginia for a master class at the Center of Dance. This was our third trip to the little studio with great energy. Its sunflower mural on the wall captures how we feel about the place because when we travel in winter, it is here in Blacksburg that the heavy coats start to come off, and the road salt on the car starts to look unusual.

We arrived in Blacksburg via a route we've never taken before. Basically we go wherever Mapquest tells us. This time it routed us through Ironto, a village hidden away on the side of a mountain. I have noticed that most of the time we seem to reserve our scenic routes for nighttime, when they're obscured in darkness. The little stretch of road to Blacksburg was a notable exception. The long and winding road that led to Carol Crawford Smith's door had us at our full attention as we snaked around tiny houses, exposed rocks and meandering rivers.

Valery enjoys returning to favorite studios where he sees familiar faces and can continue his instruction with friends.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Partnering Class at the Wilson School

With a male instructor, we get a lot of requests for partnering classes. Our first question is always, "Do you have boys?" The answer invariably is, "Well, we have one..."

How to teach partnering without, well, partners is a challenge. You may remember a year ago we had our first adventures in partnering at the Rhythm Pointe Dance Academy in Michigan. For that class, the girls invited male friends to support them. It worked up to a (rhythm) point, but it was not the ideal solution.

When our friend Juanita Wilson at the Wilson School of Ballet in Charlottesville asked if we could come up with a way to giver her students a taste of partnering, Valery decided the only thing to do would be to partner every single girl himself. That is what he did.

"Who next?" he'd say, and then the next girl would run up. It was quite the work out for his arms.

This was the first time the girls had experienced partnering and when they saw him turn and lift their teacher they gasped and giggled. They were nervous at first being held at the waist as they performed turns. One girl even batted at his hands like she was trying to shoo a fly.

"This is serious partnering class," he said, and the students quickly got over their initial inhibitions.

The idea behind the class was simply to show the students how it felt to be supported by a partner, so the combinations were not overly complex. The biggest challenge, though, was to convince the girls that they would not be dropped. The sensation of standing en pointe, or leaning, with the added support of a partner was unfamiliar and few of the girls were quite ready to trust this support.

"It's ok," he said. "I keep you."

A couple of the students, however, were able to trust this new sensation from the beginning. One student in particular seemed so natural that Valery asked if she had done partnering before. In all, it was an exciting class because it was unique and different and hopefully it was successful in giving a first taste of partnering to the Wilson School students.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hagerstown, Maryland

We drove South from New Cumberland, PA to Hagerstown, MD via 81 S. This highway winds through the Appalachian mountains following the route of an old Native Americans trail known as the Indian Warriors' Path or Shenandoah Hunting Path. We followed this Interstate across the Mason Dixon line.

Here's what I wrote about the Mason-Dixon line in my book The Name's Familiar:

The Mason-Dixon line, which crosses Maryland, was not originally designed to divide the North from the South, or to mark the free and slave states. The line was drawn back in colonial times when two families had a dispute over their land grants. The divided families were not the Masons and Dixons, but the Penns of Pennsylvania and the Calverts of Maryland. In 1760, the feuding families called in a pair of surveyors to settle the dispute. The surveyors were Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Not only did Mason and Dixon chart the territory, they physically marked it with milestones. By 1767 they had marked 244 miles.

Funny, I remember the entry being more exciting...

I just came across an article which explains that many of the original stones have gone missing and a pair of history buffs are trying to find them. From National Geographic:

"Todd Babcock and Dilwyn Knott, armed with a passion for American history and a Global Positioning System (GPS) are locating and documenting each and every stone laid by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon more than 200 years ago."

Mason and Dixon "used the stars to calculate this path through the wilderness and mark out the 233-mile-long boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the 83 miles long north-south boundary between Maryland and Delaware; the effort took five years. The stones—huge blocks of limestone between 3.5 and 5 feet long and weighing between 300 and 600 pounds—were quarried in Southern Great Britain and shipped to America. Carried by wagon to their final resting place on the line, the stones were placed at one-mile intervals. Mile markers were decorated with vertical fluting and a P on the north face and M on the southern face; every fifth mile along the line the stones were engraved with the Penn coat of arms on the Pennsylvania side and the Calvert coat of arms on the other."

Those are the kind of details I should have ferreted out back when I wrote The Name's Familiar.

The nice thing about this part of the commute is that the weather is getting warmer and milder, the travel arrangements are better, and we've left the Northeastern toll road region behind. The North Eastern states love their toll roads.

It makes sense in NJ as I assume they have meetings to figure out how to make traffic more confusing there. They're incredibly creative in their use of traffic circles and jug handles as well as toll roads and one way streets.

In his book Lapping America, which recounts his travels on the Interstate system, Claude Clayton Smith notes: "Designed to alleviate congestion, toll roads actually create their own congestion when cars and trucks stack up at the tollgates... With at least one serious consequence. More babies are being born on the Interstates these days than ever before as traffic jams prevent women from getting to the hospital on time."

It also seems as though we're always driving the scenic parts in the dark and the dull parts in the light. We drove through the Newark area by day and the Pocono area by night.

But that is New Jersey.

Let's talk about a new studio for us, Ballet and All That Jazz in Hagerstown, MD led by Ranelle Flurie. Although this was our first time at this studio with this project, our history with Ranelle Flurie goes back quite a ways. A number of years ago Valery Lantratov and I worked for an American theatrical producer who brought Valery's company to the U.S. as one of two touring companies of a large ballet attraction. I worked as the public relations director and we were on the road together in 2003.

The company performed the Nutcracker ballet and worked with local studios around the country to provide a children's cast. Hagerstown stands out in my mind because another former employer from my days in radio, Chuck Thornton, had bought the show and lined up the sponsors for it. It's a very small world.

One of the things I remember most about Chuck is how successful he was at connecting to people in our local community of Leesburg, Virginia and again with the Hagerstown community when we re-encountered each other through the ballet. We share a similar philosophy, that the secret to success is in the relationships you build.

This year it looked as though we would be coming through Maryland, and by yet another coincidence we reconnected with Ranelle Flurie. She remembered Valery's performance as Drosselmeier.

They, too, had gone on to bigger and better things after a few years working with the large touring ballet company and were pleased to work with a Russian instructor again.

Ballet and All That Jazz is a spacious and busy studio with many students. We were impressed with Ranelle's enthusiasm for dance and for providing opportunities to her students and we hope we won't lose touch again!

I apologize that my photographs of this class were too blurred and unremarkable to be worthy of posting, but thank you very much to all the students who came out to the class and who worked so hard.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Adventures in Penn's Woods

A real conversation with the front desk clerk in a Pennsylvania hotel:

Me: I am wondering how to get to Bridge Street from here. My directions say to turn NE on [name of street] and I'm wondering which way to turn out of the parking lot.

Clerk: Where are you coming from?

Me: I'm in the hotel.

Clerk: What hotel?

Me: This hotel. The Days Inn.

Clerk: You're a guest in the hotel?

Me: Yes. And I'm just wondering...

Clerk: You're going downtown?

Me: I guess so. I'm going to Bridge St.

Clerk: You just cross the street. You cross the street and take 83 W.

Me: Why am I taking 83 W?

Clerk: You're going to Harrisburg?

Me: No, I'm just going to Bridge St.

Clerk: Where are you going exactly?

Me: To a dance studio on Bridge St.

Clerk: A dance studio?

Me: I have mapquest directions and it says to go Northeast on [name of street]. I just want to know which way to turn out of the parking lot.

Clerk: You turn left.

Me: Thank you.

On January 22 we returned to the New Cumberland School of Dance in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. "Pennsylvania" means "Penn's Woods" named for two men named William Penn. The younger Penn was a Quaker who established a sanctuary to protect freedom of conscience in America. Penn's father was an Admiral also named William Penn, and he had some pull with King Charles II.The King gave a 48,000 square mile tract of land in the colonies to Senior as repayment for a sizable loan.

It must have been quite a loan, because the tract of land started in the east at the Delaware River and ran from the Maryland line up to Lake Erie. Penn just wanted to name the region Sylvania or "woods".

The younger Penn, being a humble Quaker, was not pleased with the idea. He even tried to bribe the official secretaries into changing the name on the papers. But the King was the King, and if he wanted the land to be called Pennsylvania, it would be called Pennsylvania.

"With its rocky gorges and woodland scenery" Pennsylvania reminded Oscar Wilde of Switzerland.

I have lived in Pennsylvania twice, and I love its mountainous geography, the icy waterfalls suspended in time on a craggy cliff created when a hill was blasted away to make room for a highway.

Everywhere there are signs reading "prepare for falling rock." I've never known exactly what I was meant to do to prepare. The winding roads, tunnels and coal mines of Pennsylvania have always held a special fascination for me.

Pennsylvania, incidentally, is the abandoned mine capital of the U.S. With an estimated 180,000 unmarked shafts and pits, it is the state where you're most likely to fall into a hole in the ground.

That said, New Cumberland is in a relatively flat part of the state near the capital, Harrisburg. It's biggest brush with fame may be when they shot scenes for the 1984 film "Reckless" (Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah) there.

The dance studio, located on Bridge Street not 83 West, is quiet and well lit with ballet-slipper-pink walls. We were pleased to be invited back for a second class. Memorable in this class was an enthusiastic new student who was a native Russian speaker. He used the opportunity to have her interpret for him on a few occasions. She presented him with a gift of a cookie after class and they chatted a bit about her aspirations before we got back in the car to head to Hagerstown, Maryland.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

Port Jervis, New York stands at the intersection of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The mountainous town lies on the bank of the Delware River. Since 1966 it has been the last stop on the Metro North Railroad's Port Jervis Line to New York City.

One of its big claims to fame is that a poor Depression-era songwriter, E. Y. Harburg, frequented the New Bauer Inn in Port Jervis, playing for beer and food. While there he saw Erie Railroad workers trying to sell pencils and apples for five cents, and he was inspired to write the song “Brother, can you spare a Dime?”

It is also the home of one of our good friends, musician Will Hoppey. My (Laura Lee) first experience arranging tours, as a matter of fact, was working with Will Hoppey's Bag O Cats Music. I helped him book small tours of coffee houses in Michigan and Illinois. He is a singer-songwriter with thought-provoking lyrics and a wonderful voice and I don't mind putting in a little plug for him. You can hear his CDs on and many other places on the Internet.

But Will and his wife and business partner Lynda Pringle have the good sense to work in the Florida Keys in January and February, so even though we were in their back yard, we missed visiting them. Hopefully we will catch them somewhere on the road.

It was strikingly cold in Port Jervis on January 21. One of the issues you face when touring is that hotels require you to check out at 11. In winter, classes are usually in the evening after school. So you have to find somewhere to go for several hours. We spent quite some time observing Port Jervis from the frosted interior of our Ford Escort.

Valery was surprised to see so many people filing into the Dance Center. To see so much interest in arts in such a small city was a pleasure. It's a big studio with a lot of students, and they put on a full length ballet each year. Most recently they have been working on Paquita.

What stands out most about the class is that Valery had prepared for an hour technique class followed by a short pointe class. When he arrived the teacher mentioned that they had a lot of boys (about five) and if Valery wanted to, he could do a partnering class. So he had a short, impromptu partnering class instead of pointe.

They encourage male students by giving them a class for free if they take ballet, but making them pay if they do not. So it was the first partnering class we've had an opportunity to do that actually had boys. Unfortunately the partnering class was unavoidably short. Hopefully we'll have an opportunity to return for a more in depth partnering class.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New York, New York

After our first class we had a real treat, an adventure in New York City with Michelle Raider and the people from the River City Youth Ballet, West Virginia's Official Youth Ballet. The River City Youth Ballet is one of the most vibrant and active schools we visit and once a year they take a special trip to give their students special opportunities to see live productions and work with professional dancers. The folks at the River City Youth Ballet are probably the best friends we've made on the road so far, and that is out of a very crowded field of wonderful friends.

As it happened, their trip to New York City corresponded fairly well with our travel plans, so even though we weren't going to be coming through West Virginia on this journey, we would have the opportunity to work with Michelle's students in a special private class in Chelsea.

We were even more fortunate in that we were invited to attend the New York City Ballet with the River City gang. It was Valery's first time seeing the New York City Ballet on stage. The program was Traditions, a mixed repratory featuring George Balanchine's "Square Dance" and "Prodigal Son" and Jerome Robbin's "Four Seasons."

The picture on the right is Damian Woetzel in Prodigal Son. This performance was, we were told, the final performance by the ballet star after 23 years with the company although I believe this was not entirely accurate and that he is actually set to retire when the season wraps up in spring.

Woetzel proved to be a great actor in top form hitting all the right emotional notes. "Why is he retiring?" Valery wanted to know. "He still has great technique."

Woetzel's answer to the New York Times was that it was fitting to leave as the company commemorates the 10th anniversary of the death of Jerome Robbins by featuring his choreography.

“His presence was the reason I joined” the company, Mr. Woetzel said. He said he will focus his energy “beyond the limited space of performing” in “areas where I hope to make an impact in the second part of my life.”

Valery was especially impressed by the sinuey Siren danced by the long-limbed Maria Kowroski and, in The Four Seasons, the crowd-pleasing Fawn danced by Daniel Ulbricht.

"That is Russian style," said Valery. And Ulbricht is from St. Petersburg... Florida.

Incidentally, if you want a behind the scenes look at the New York City Ballet, they have their own YouTube Channel with lots of great videos.

The evening of Balanchine was a calm oasis in an otherwise hectic day of travel snafus with the generally easy to navigate New York public transportation system that didn't stop until the next day when we arrived breathlessly at our scheduled class at Chelsea Studios.

After a late night at the ballet, in our desire for extra sleep, we had cut the time a bit close for the 10AM class. We took the hotel shuttle to the Newark Airport, got on a clean and pleasant airtrain to the NJ transit station, and had to wait 20 minutes. We looked out over an area where plastic bags trapped on a barbed wire fence flapped like banners in the wind and birds flocked overhead, "mmmm, garbage."

"Ah, the Garden State."

We got on the train, dashed through the subway to the E, took it to the studio location I'd found on the Internet and tried to get in, but no one was there. There are apparently two Chelsea Studios. I called Michelle on the cell phone. Fortunately she, and the class, were only a block over.

We got there only a few minutes late, Valery changed quickly, unpacked his gifts-- "I'm Santa Claus!" and did a nice class. Afterwards we had a nice lunch with Michelle and friends, and Michelle discussed her idea to bring her students to Moscow for a ballet educational trip. We hope it happens!

See you in summer Michelle!

Friday, January 18, 2008


Our educational tour began in Newington, Connecticut at the Backstage Academy of Dance.

This was not only the first class of our tour, but our first class ever in the "Constitution State."

Newington is a perfect half way stop between the Boston and New York City areas and it is a good place to have friends.

From the web page of the Town of Newington:

Early names for the area were "Pipestave Swamp," then "Cow Plain," and later, "West Farms." These reflected its use first as a source of staves for making "pipes" (large sized barrels) used in colonial trade, then a pasture for cattle, and eventually, the new farms taken up by descendants of early Wethersfield settlers who had been given grants on the western frontier of their riverside town. By 1721 there were enough new farmers on these grants to request that the General Assembly of the Colony of Connnecticut give them the name "Newington." This name means new town in the meadow...

Personally, I would have gone with Pipestave Swamp. There are Newingtons in CT, VA, GA and NH but where else is there a Pipestave Swamp?

Thank you to Kimberly for hosting us and getting our educational tour off to a great start.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Want to be a Part of it.-- Newark, Newark

Start spreading the news... I'm leaving today...

We arrived from various directions for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference in New York. Our goal was to meet representatives of theaters from around the country and around the world in order to tell them about the work of the Natalya Sats Theater of Moscow, its brand new production The Snow Maiden created with the participation of Valery Lantratov's Russian National Ballet Foundation and some of our other productions, which we will tell you more about later.

In order to get an affordable suite for three people, Valery Lantratov, our translator Yulia Coe and I, we decided to stay in Newark, New Jersey. And the distance created yet another opportunity for unintended travel adventures.

Irvin S. Cobb once called New Jersey the "semi-colon of the Eastern seabord." I know that New Jersey has long suffered from an undeserved negative comparison to its shining neighbor "The Empire State," but I can't really improve upon its reputation with my description of Newark. On this trip, my welcome to the city came in the form of a giant rat that ran out of a chicken restaurant where I'd stopped for directions. We kept looking for The Garden State's gardens, but had little luck.

The advertisements put out by Newark hotels boast of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and other attractions, but Newark is really just a crossroads from Liberty International Airport to Penn Station Newark and on to Penn Station New York.

I would actually be curious to know how such a thing came to pass that a New York and Newark Penn Station could be so close to each other on the same line. Valery can't hear the difference between the names on the announcements, and he can't be the only one.

Did they run out of ideas for names around there-- New York and Newark... Penn Station and... Penn Station?! You would think the "city that never sleeps" could be a bit more creative with naming things.

The route from Newark to JFK by car takes you through Manhattan through the Lincoln and Midtown tunnels. I am one of those people who has come to rely entirely on plastic debit cards. I rarely use cash any more, so I only had $12 on me as I headed towards the airport. After paying the $6 Lincoln Tunnel toll, I spent most my commute dodging taxis and tourists in a panic that I would not have enough money to get to the airport and that I would end up like the poor guy in the MTA song by the Kingston Trio:

"Did he ever return? No, he never returned and his fate is still unlearned/ He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston. He's the man who never returned."

So far I had not managed to find much stress-free time to enjoy the anticipation of seeing Valery again, or to think about the wonderful opportunity we had to promote a brand new ballet or the adventure of the tour itself.

Waiting for a passenger on an international flight is always interminable. It takes about an hour for an international flight to de-plane and clear customs. (De-plane is one of those odd airline terms. You never hear a person say they got to the parking lot and "de-carred." You also rarely use the word "stow" outside the cabin of a ship or a plane. As in: "I stowed my bag in the back seat before I de-carred at my final destination, the parking lot at Wal-Mart." And how do you "pre-board?" Aren't you, in fact, pre-boarding from the moment you get up in the morning?)

I spent part of the time sitting on the airport floor-- no seats for people picking up international passengers at JFK--doing edits on my next book and the rest of the time playing the "guess the origin of the flight" game where you try to figure out where your passengers flight is in the customs line by observing the ethnic makeup of the people coming out of the gate. "Chinese people-- that must be the Beijing flight." "Those look like Mexicans-- probably the Mexico City flight."

By the time Valery actually emerged from the gate I had started to zone. He spotted me before I saw him. I was gazing right through him.

Let the tour begin...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Coming Soon to a Theater or Studio Near You

Well, we're off. Wednesday morning the travel begins. We'll start with a week in New York talking about the exciting new Snow Maiden production and then we'll be seeing students from Connecticut to Florida. Hope we'll see you on the road.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Fantasy Like Fireworks

Reviews of the brand new Snow Maiden production by the Natalya Sats Musical Theater with the Russian National Ballet Foundation, are coming in. If you can read Russian, you will enjoy the entire reviews, which you can read by following the links below.

On the off chance that you do not, here are excerpts from the reviews in Kultura and Zaftra, two Russian arts publications. Translations courtesy Yulia Coe.

From Kultura:

"Fadeyev's fantasy is like fireworks. There are no traditional pas-des-deux or variations in the production, no static scenes - everything is in line with the dramatic development of the storyline. Everyone, from the soloist to the corps dancer, gets an individual identity and an emotional choreographic text..."

"...Fadeyev demonstrates his abilities to create comedy, not a common gift for choreographers in general and for the Russian ones in particular. He avoids pure classics in his productions. His choreography is the product of listening to the 'music of the body,' especially since the folkloric musical theme [of Snow Maiden] provides ample room for imagination. Fadeyev utilizes and masters it both in comical parts and in the dramatic text of the main characters."

From Zaftra:

"The ballet 'Snow Maiden' is one of those rare productions, where all the elements – music, stage design, costumes, dance monologues and dialogues, ensembles and mass scenes are in harmony, creating a beautifully wholesomeimage of a real-life, fairytale world based on the beliefs and rites of the ancient Slavs... it offers something for both adults and children, making it attractive as a family production that feeds minds and souls of audiences of all ages."

On the Road Again

In other news, Valery Lantratov will soon be embarking on another educational tour. I enjoyed seeing this graphic depiction of our route on Google Earth. I hope you will as well.