Friday, July 13, 2012

Getting Into the Swing of Things: My First Week as a D2 Member

Monday, July 9th began the newest chapter of my life. As you probably know, I received a contract to be a part of Philadanco's second company, D2. The contract lasts one year and begins with the six week summer intensive. The summer intensive includes an evening class Monday-Friday, followed by rehearsal Monday-Thursday for D2 members. This week's classes were Graham technique taught by Mary Barnett, a graduate of the Juilliard school and a master of this technique.

Since we only have Ms. Barnett for five days and it is an intensive setting, we got a broad overview of the basic Graham technique. This is not to say that she rushed through the exercises to get everything accomplished. On the contrary, she took her time teaching us the foundational concepts and combinations so we truly knew them and felt them in our bodies. Her class structure was about starting with the basics and building upon that to gain a better understanding of the technique, because as she always says, "Learning is accumulative."

Ms. Barnett treated the technique class like academic-type class. On the second day she brought in a huge notepad, tore off a piece of paper, taped it to the mirror, and wrote down all of the basic concepts and exercises that we learned on the first day. Each day we reviewed the list and added to it. As the week went on, we were expected to remember every exercise and do it in sequence so we could move through the class at a faster pace. Each combination was like a pop quiz; She asked us if this was a test, would you pass? These teaching techniques truly benefited me because when we reviewed the concepts everyday, I learned the combinations faster, and the added pressure of being expected to know the sequence always helps me "get on my game". Not only did I memorize the combinations well, but I truly understand what it's supposed to look like and how it's supposed to feel. There were always some members of the professional company who would demonstrate for Ms. Barnett, so she would break it down and show us how every little detail should be.

The Graham technique is based on contractions, which is where you hollow out your middle and let your chest and head relax. It's like making a C shape with your torso, and you have to keep your shoulders over your hips. The opposite of the contraction is when you straighten up and stretch the sides of your body, then you look up to the ceiling and open your chest and throat. The exercises involve both closing and opening the torso, so they counterbalance each other. This technique is especially about alignment, so you always have to be aware of where your body is in space. The first part of the class is done sitting, and most people like to sit with their torso forward from their hips; It's just more comfortable that way. But you have to push back so you're sitting directly on your sits bones and your back is straight, or as Ms. Barnett would say, "Get on your legs!"

Another element of Graham is spirals through the body. There are spirals of the shoulders and head, which is just a partial spiral, but there is also full spirals, which start with the pelvis, then middle, then shoulders, then the head is last. It's like you're a human barber shop pole! With all of these elements to think about, you also have to remember to breathe. You would think that comes naturally, but when you're working so hard, sometimes it can be forgotten. The breath is what moves the body. For example, you start a contraction by breathing in, and when you release the breath, that's what makes the abdomen contract. Even though we spent a lot of time on the floor and the movement seems simple, it was very challenging and requires a lot of strength and focus. The muscles should always be engaged no matter what you're doing. That's why I was extremely sore the next day even though we barely went across the floor! One of my favorite things that Ms. Barnett said was to surrender to the movement. She told us that if you surrender to the movement and also practice surrendering in daily life, everything will become easier. There is no point in fighting what is. Embrace it no matter what, and you will find life to be effortless and free. I could not agree more :)

As I said before, the second part of our evening is rehearsal. I don't really know how to describe the rehearsal process other than crazy, challenging, demanding, exhausting, and possibly the hardest thing I've ever done. They don't mess around here at Philadanco! Within the first night, the "newbies" (There are five new members including myself) were learning multiple sections to a piece called "Concerto". This piece is danced to music by Vivaldi, and it is contemporary ballet with a modern flair. The piece has three sections and is probably over 5 minutes long, but I can't say for sure because I've only actually seen bits and pieces. What I can say is that it's A LOT of choreography to learn in such a short amount of time. I learned the entire piece in 3 rehearsals. Not to mention that I was assigned as a swing, which means that I have to learn everyone's part for every dance. We learn either by watching a tape or asking one of the senior members who already know it. Freaked out, overwhelmed, frazzled, and confused does not even describe how I felt in the middle of the week. At one point the newbies had to show Donald (our company director) what we knew from the piece, and after we were done I was still shaking from nerves.

I think this week was so challenging because the majority of the company has already been there for at least a year, so they know some of the choreography like the back of their hand, and they don't slow down just because some of us are new. We had to get caught up immediately and get on their level. Despite this challenge of working our way into the already established group, I had a breakthrough yesterday. The day before I was a mess because I literally had no clue what I was doing and I have never felt like that before. But yesterday I worked my butt off to get caught up by taking initiative and asking everyone I could for help. For almost the entire 3 hours, I was reviewing everything that we have learned. I did it over and over and over again in order to remember it the best I could. We also wrote down the order of the sections because remembering the sequence was probably the hardest part. So, things are finally coming along and we're definitely making progress.

It has only been 4 days and I already feel like I'm transforming into a better and smarter dancer. Company work is unlike anything I have ever experienced, and I'm so grateful that I get this opportunity to challenge myself. Someone once told me that when you feel uncomfortable like a fish out of water, that's when the growing is taking place. I found that to be true this week. On Wednesday I felt like giving up during rehearsal, but instead, I did my homework and tried even harder the next day, and I came out of it stronger. I can feel my technique and body being enhanced, as well as my mind being more focused on the task at hand. Conquering the hurdle of the first week has inspired and motivated me to keep growing and overcoming those obstacles.

No comments: