Returning to my Roots in Providence

Festival Ballet of Providence

At the moment, I am dancing in Providence, Rhode Island with the Festival Ballet of Providence. We have finished all of our studio rehearsals and will be entering the theatre this coming week to perform Swan Lake. When I became a freelance dancer, I swore that I would never dance in the corps of a story ballet again. I also swore off the old style Russian training that helped build my foundation as a dancer. Little did I realize how valuable an experience returning to my roots would be.

The number one question I've gotten since I arrived in Providence was, "How did you end up here?" Well, my life partner is secretly (or not so secretly) a genealogy nerd and just happens to be related to the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams. As a Chanukkah gift, I bought us tickets to visit Providence over the holidays. While walking around the city looking for all things "Roger Williams," I was thinking to myself, "What am I going to do for this week's work search?" I remembered reading about the Festival Ballet of Providence in Dance Magazine a while back. I thought to myself, "I could work here." When I got back to our hotel room, I did some research and sent my info to the company. I think it is funny because even though I sent my information, I never expected to work in Providence, let alone 4 months later. But here I am in my third week dancing with the company.

Springtime in Providence, Rhode Island
Providence is a beautiful place during the springtime. It has a colonial city center with more suburban neighborhoods closeby.  I am staying on the eastside of the city, where it is more suburban. There are grand houses and amazing, flowery streets with trees in full blossom. It's ironic to be here during this season, as I feel like I am in my own spring awakening. When I was approached by Festival (as the dancers call the company), I was in the final stage of recovery from a back injury. I knew I wasn't strong enough to perform a leading role. I needed a place that would ease me back into shape. Festival's dancer assistant contacted me and offered for me to join the company for their production of Swan Lake to dance in the corps of the first act and a divertissement in the third act. Although my goal as a freelance dancer is to expand my repertoire and experience, this opportunity is just what I needed.

The style that Festival trains in is heavily influenced by the Vaganova syllabus. Most American ballet companies are influenced by this Imperial Russian technique, but have grown in different directions. I trained at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. and am very familiar with this technique, though, I haven't been versed in this style for nearly ten years. Vaganova classes can feel very rigid and are often extremely hard, focusing on pure technique and building strength around their ideal, regal port de bras. I tend to prefer classes that have more movement and flow. After ten years away from this style, I was reluctant to return to it. But I have been surprised to watch my strength grow over the last few weeks. My jumps are bigger, my balance is better, and I even did two clean triple tours in class the other day (something that I haven't even attempted in years). Although, I sometimes modify certain combinations to remain true to the dancer that I want to be, I try to push myself out of my comfort zone to expand my reach as a dancer.

Another aspect of my career that I didn't expect to revisit was dancing in the corps of a full length ballet. In these ballets, dancers tend to dance less while standing and gesturing more. A minimal amount of partnering and moderate level of dancing was a great crutch to ease myself back into shape after recovering from my injury. It allowed me to build strength, so that I can be fully prepared for future work. Not only that. I was given a great reminder of how enjoyable it can be to dance with a larger group of dancers. There is much more interaction in the corps and you feel like you are accomplishing something as a team, which can be harder than dancing a solo or duet. This experience has reminded me that dancing in a corps can be fulfilling and therapeutic.

All in all this experience has been greatly valuable. Not only has it given me the benefit of time and built my strength, but it has given me perspective on where I came from and where I am going. I now value my time in the corps a bit more since I am no longer dancing in it full-time. As a corps member, I felt like I was wasting my career when I should have been dancing more challenging roles. But looking back, I now remember a synergy onstage with my fellow corps members and a feeling of complete team effort. That team effort was not only a part of the job, but it was something that each of us wanted to contribute for each other. And in the end, perhaps, I will seek out those grueling Vaganova classes that I avoided for way too long. I look forward to using this experience as I pursue more challenging roles with a healthy body, new-found strength, and greater respect for my history.

Want to know more about Festival Ballet of Providence? Check out the company here: Festival Ballet of Providence

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