Wednesday, April 29, 2015

DIY Barre on International Dance Day

In honor of International Dance Day 2015, I’m so proud to introduce the newest member of my dance family: my very own, custom-made Barre!

Meet my Barre! Isn't she beautiful?
In keeping with my health and wellness goals for 2015, I’ve been alternating between yoga and dance. I’m feeling really good – fit and strong! I’ve found some great ballet barre videos online that I’ve been following at home and I’ve noticed a definite  improvement in my balance and turnout when I’m in ballet class. I’ve used a few creative substitutes for a barre, such as a regular chair in our dining room or the railings in our loft-like bedroom, and they’ve all been fine. Our office, however, has mirrors built into the closet doors and a fair amount of space, so it was my natural choice for a mini dance studio. All that’s been missing is a barre. I looked into ordering something online, but then my husband suggested we build my own barre and it just felt right!

I’ve always enjoyed building and being in a workshop. I have so many happy memories of spending time in my Grandpa’s shop, chatting with him while he worked and ‘helping’ by brushing away the woodchips (at first with my hands and then later on, with a brush). I even had my own workshop in my parents’ basement, furnished with a custom/Grandpa-built workbench and my own tools for making houses and furniture for my dolls. I went on to take shop in junior high and I got the top mark for Grade 7 Industrial Arts. I was the only girl in my shop class when I was in my first year of high school.  That class also had a welding component and when it got out I was also a dancer, the Flashdance jokes starting flying. (I didn’t care though…that much...)

For my Barre, I did some research online and we came up with a design that would be simple enough to make ourselves. I thought finding the materials would be the hardest part but one stop at Bricorama, France’s Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond combined, was all it took to get everything we needed. Then, it was an afternoon of measuring, cutting and assembling and voila! My Barre had arrived!

As my gift to you on International Dance Day, I’m going to share how we made my Barre and give you some recommendations for barre exercise videos:

Curtain rods, their holders and a classic 2x4 beam.
For my Barre, we used the following:

-2 wooden curtain rods (3.5 cm diameter, 6ft long each)
-2 curtain rod holders (the part that attaches to the wall and holds the rod in place, if you were actually putting up curtains; screws should be included)
-1 basic 2x4 piece of wood for the base (8ft long)

-a drill, saw, clamps, router and a large chisel
-heavy-duty wood glue
-eye protection – because safety is important!
-drill bit for drilling a 3.5 cm hole in the base for the support beams

Mike cutting the support beams.

1-We measured the halfway mark (3ft) of one of the 
curtain rods – 
measured twice, to double check – and cut it in half for the support beams.
2-I secured the curtain holders onto the ends of the two beams.
3-We measured (twice!) and I cut the baseboards into 4 pieces, 2 ft/60 cm long each.
4-We measured (twice!) the center of two of the baseboards and Mike drilled a 3.5 cm hole in the centre for the support beams.
5-To brace the baseboards, we measured (twice, again!) ¼ of the length of the baseboards and made two shallow cuts as wide as the other baseboard. (See photo for clarification)
Cutting the baseboards. It was great to build again!
6-Mike used a router and a chisel to gauge out two notches in the baseboards, so they fit together in a cross.
7-We glued and clamped the baseboards together and let them set for a few hours.
8-I assembled the barre by placing the support beams in the baseboards and inserting the long curtain rod between the holders and put in two screws to hold it in place.
9-Then, I danced with my new Barre! 

I’ve been following the YouTube channel of Kathryn Morgan, a former soloist with the New York City Ballet, and I can’t recommend it enough! Her channel has multiple barre exercise videos to strengthen your technique, as well as other videos for improving your turnout, your flexibility, your turns and feet – just to name a few. Plus, she somehow found the time while dancing for one of the top ballet companies in the world to also become an accomplished pianist and plays all the beautiful music for her videos.

I love her Classic Ballet Barre video because it builds on itself so well: plies and tendus flow into degages, fondus, rond de jambes, a (killer!) frappe exercise and ends with joyful grand battements set to a lovely Downton Abbey medley. She gives ample explanations prior to each exercise, which are simple to follow yet really get me warm and essentially kick my ass, just like a great barre should! 

I also enjoy her Stretching and Flexibility video and the Easy Ballet Barre video is great for when I’m feeling sore but still want a strong, technical workout. If you want to get back to ballet basics, or want to challenge yourself further, check out Kathryn Morgan on YouTube.

As with anything dance and fitness related, be mindful, listen to your body and be kind to yourself. I hope you take the time today, International Dance Day 2015, to dance somewhere – in your kitchen, in the car, or at a kick-ass class, because as the old Japanese proverb says, “we’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.”  

Happy Dancing to You!

Barre Selfie!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Paris Opéra Ballet: Swan Lake on World Theatre Day

When people ask me what my favorite ballet is, I really struggle to come up with my answer. I love so many different ballets for different reasons and it’s incredibly hard for me to name just one as my all-time favorite!

But I have no trouble declaring my favorite performance of the Paris Opéra Ballet this season has been Swan Lake. Hands down – it was an absolutely compelling production from start to finish, presented in the beautiful and modern Opéra Bastille.

Paris Opéra Ballet: Swan Lake
Cameras were flashing all over during the curtain call, so we snapped one too!

Flowing black fabric contrasted with the beating of white-caped wings and some brilliant technical magic transported us into a world where the evil sorcerer Rothbart captured the innocent princess Odette and transformed her into a swan. The image of both birds ascending from the stage was the perfect ending to the dark prologue and set us up for more magic in the following three hours.

Meanwhile, Prince Siegfried (Josua Hoffalt), took a page from Romeo’s book and moped listlessly at his palace home, too consumed with dreams of an ideal love to partake in the joyful frolicking of the courtiers. The soloists’ work in these scenes was exceptionally strong and each section seemed to raise the barre for the next, through the banter of playful, effortless solo and small group variations:

“You just did some perfect petit-allegro? That’s fine. I’m going to do a whole series of tour-jetés around the stage, because I feel like it AND because I can.”  
“If it’s okay with you, I’m going to partner not one, but TWO ballerinas in this little trio section.” And so on.

But Siegfried had almost none of it. He did eventually join in, but his heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t until his Tutor put a golden crossbow in his hands and urged him to go hunting that he snapped out of his funk – just in time to see a beautiful swan appear in the distance…

And with the filing onstage of the Swan Corps, the energy of the show shifted. This is because the large ensemble scenes of the first section, though an excellent showcase of the company’s technique, simply aren’t meant to be in the same universe as the Swans.

It’s their show, after all. And they did not disappoint.

Ethereal, otherworldly and pristine, they moved as though they were one entity. Each dancer fluttered identically alongside her swan sisters. Watching them was a study in the precision of details and absolute control. The shifting port de bras and the placement of the head were subtle, yet utterly precise. We truly were witnessing a flock of beautiful birds gliding peacefully across a crystal lake.

A beautiful swan gliding on the crystal waters of the pond near my house...

The famous Pas-de-Quatre was impeccably executed footwork and unified head movements. Those four dancers were amazing but it was Héloïse Bourdon’s Odette, with her undulating arms and soulful miming, conveying her plight to Siegfried, that we all fell in love with instantly. Together, Prince and Swan took flight with promises of love and eternal devotion.

Which we all know, can’t last. But just like how we know that Romeo and Juliet are doomed, we greeted Act 2 with anticipation because the fall from grace is just as compelling as the ascension.

My tribute to the amazing Swan Corps.
Act 2 kicked off with a celebration back at the palace and some interesting folk-dance variations to break up the ballet corps scenes. While these were colourful and bright, the dancing just didn’t have quite enough liveliness and spirit to match the ballet. The choreography was entertaining and but the dancers felt too restrained – they needed to let loose and give it more attack so it could rise above being the divertissements, the dance for dance’s sake.

But Odile, Rothbart’s evil creation and Odette’s doppelgänger, shook up the party with her fiery arrival. Bourdon’s technique and characterization were unparalleled.  Anyone who’s seen Black Swan knows it’s no simple feat to find the duality in the Odette/Odile role but this ballerina made it look easy: her Odette was all softness and curved lines; Odile was dynamic and each turn of her head and sweep of her arms had a sharp, seductive edge.

Her breathless execution of 28 (!) fouetté turns furthered Rothbart’s plan to ensnare the Prince to forget Odette, which the cunning sorcerer celebrated with a triumphant solo. It was exciting to watch Rothbart (Florimond Lorieux) dance opposite the orchestra's conductor, as both were powerful men weaving enthralling spells over the audience. Upon realizing his inadvertent betrayal of his true love Odette, Siegfried’s despair was palpable and it made his final pas de deux with the dying swan all the more heartbreaking.

When the orchestra drew out the final notes of Tchaikovsky’s epic score and the curtain fell on the devastated Prince, I let out a deep exhale and wiped away a few tears. I couldn’t help it - I was completely moved and so grateful for the experience of that performance! To the ballet company, the orchestra and the crew, I extend my deepest thanks and congratulations!

It was a dream come true for me to see the Paris Opéra Ballet perform Swan Lake and I can’t think of a better way to have spent March 27 - World Theatre Day 2015 - than watching music, dance and unforgettable characters fused together in a masterpiece of storytelling.

At Opera Bastille
Happy World Theatre Day 2015!
For other posts related to Ballet in Paris, check out:

Paris Opéra Ballet: Le Chant de la Terre from March 2015

The Swedish Royal Ballet: Juilette et Roméo from January 2015

Paris Opéra Ballet: Lander/Forsythe from September 2014

Danse Classique in Paris from September 2014