Monday, February 28, 2011

UpClose with Jimmy Orrante and Gabriel Smith

BalletMet UpClose will feature two of the company’s own dancers. Jimmy Orrante and Gabriel Gaffney Smith will unleash a world premiere, inspired by a simple drop of water.

I had the privilege to interview the two in somewhere they are quite familiar, the dance studio.

It all began when Jimmy approached Gabe, “I want to make a dance around a drop of water,” he said. He explored from there, using the flow of water, the paths, the shapes, the feel.

Gabe found the perfect drop online and began editing, adding layers of music and sounds. Taking away and adding, and then taking away again. “Sometimes it happened by accident,” he said. He was so passionate talking about his process, about music in general.

And his music inspirations? Or the “most played” on his iPod as I liked to call it: Phillip Glass and Sigur Rós.

Phillip Glass: Known for his simple and repeating sounds, a sort of minimalist approach to music. Wrote Operas, symphonies, and compositions.

Sigur Rós: Icelandic, post-rock band with melodic, classical, and minimalist elements. Know for the ethereal sounds they produce. Just released the album Jonsi.

This will be Gabe's first commissioned composition. He has contributed to other BalletMet works including Jimmy's piece Coming Into View last season and former company dancer, Adam Hundt's dwell in 2009.

What’s amazing is that Gabe taught himself to play all different kinds of instruments. He has played the saxophone since third grade and was in choir too, he said. Everything else, he had to teach himself, including piano and guitar.

The title of the piece is Watercolor, with four different parts:

Part one is inspired by a drop of water. Jimmy liked how it was chaotic. How the drop falls and splashes, exploding in all directions.

Part two is inspired by a stream of water. How it starts off small, and grows bigger, cascading down.

Underwater is the inspiration for part three, like two beams of light that intertwine with each other beneath the surface. This is the pas de deux; a very fluid and sensual duet.

“That is my favorite part,” Gabe said. “The music is exciting.”

And part four? “I haven’t gotten that far,” Jimmy said as he laughed. “You thought I was on a roll didn’t you?”

He thinks the final section will be inspired by evaporation; how you know the process is there but you just can’t see it.

Both Jimmy and Gabe are very inspired by music. That is one of the reasons they worked so well together, Gabe said.
My last question was for both of them: “If you had to choose between dancing and composing, or dancing and choreography for the rest of your life, which would you choose?”

“It’s kind of crazy. I’m torn,” Gabe said. “There is something so euphoric about dancing; I just get so into the music.”

Jimmy laughed, “Let’s just say one hurts a lot less.”

About the choreographer and composer:

Jimmy Orrante
was a recipient of a 2005 Princess Grace Choreography Award. Now in his 16th season with BalletMet, the Los Angeles native has choreographed several works including Emergence in 2007, his first full-length ballet in 2009, The Great Gatsby, and Coming Into View last season. He attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Performing Arts and North Carolina School of the Arts. He attended the International Summer Workshop in Hungary; danced with Memphis Ballet, Nevada Dance Theatre and Los Angeles Chamber Ballet, and is on faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan. A recipient of the Violetta Boft Award, he has performed with L.A.'s Dance Kaleidoscope, England's Northern Ballet Theatre and Dance St. Louis. He and his wife, former dancer Sonia Welker, have a son, Isaac, and daughters Aiyana and Imara.

Jimmy will perform in James Kudelka’s The Man in Black and David Parson’s piece.

Gabriel Gaffney Smith, from Saugerties, New York, began dancing at the Saugerties Ballet Center. After studying in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Graduate Program, he joined the company in 2005 as a corps de ballet member. Mr. Smith has also performed with River North Jazz Company in Chicago and Hisatomi Yoshiko Ballet in Japan. This is his third season with BalletMet.

Gabe will perform in Watercolor and The Man in Black.

Friday, February 11, 2011

If the Shoe Fits

Costumes are what we usually notice when dancers leap, spin, and float across the stage. But, what about what's on the dancers' feet?!
A lot of work goes into deciding which pointe shoe is right for you. It is different for every dancer too! And let me tell you, pointe shoes are not the most comfortable things in the world, so it’s important that they fit just right.
Here, we talk with shoe manager and BalletMet dance class teacher, Darielle Eberhard, all about pointe shoes! And, you can definitely tell she loves what she does!

Me: Do you work with each dancer to fit her when she needs new pointe shoes?
Darielle: Yes, Exactly! Most Shoe Managers are order takers: the dancer hands them her information and he or she orders and hands out. I am different in that I have a certain amount of experience in the industry so I can actually help a dancer figure out which brand, style and specifications she needs.

And wow, what experience she has! Darielle comes from one dance-loving family. Her parents are Daryl and Jack Kamer, two of the founders of BalletMet in 1974! She spent her childhood exploring the Ohio Theatre and has all sorts of fun secrets about the place (including secret passageways). She saw her first ballet, The Nutcracker, when she was five years old. It was here that she decided she would one day play Clara.
After enrolling in ballet classes, Darielle auditioned for The Nutcracker at age 9 and got a part. She continued to play other roles, until 1976, when she made her debut as Clara! She trained in classical ballet under Tatjana Akinfieva-Smith and Vitale Fokine.
After her Nutcracker days, Darielle went on to become a ballroom champion, taking the title of Canadian-American Professional Rhythm Ballroom Champion two years in a row! It was around this time she worked part time in a dancewear shop where she worked fitting dancers for pointe shoes. She even fit Sonia Orrante in her first pair!

Sonia Orrante was a student in the Academy, danced in the BalletMet company and is also on faculty.

Me: How often do dancers have to replace their pointe shoes?
Darielle: The average life of a pair of pointe shoes is about 8 hours. Dancers rotate 10 pairs of pointe shoes at a time. So they may have one pair that they use for class every morning; other pairs designated for rehearsals, and special pairs that feel really good reserved for one performance. They are also responsible for re-stiffening their shoes with special glue once the shoes are broken in, but they must also wait until the pair is completely dry and sweat-free in order to do so. Pointe shoes can be high-maintenance!

Me: How many shoes does a dancer go through for a show?
Darielle: Since we have the dancers taking care of their shoes so specifically, they average about one pair per week, one pair per performance, except for [dancers in title roles in classical ballets], who can exhaust one pair per act. The lights and adrenaline really do a number on pointe shoes!

Me: How many dancers wear pointe shoes in Cinderella?
Darielle: All of the roles require pointe shoes so all of the female dancers will be on pointe shoes during the show. I anticipate a huge pile when all is said and done!

With about 16 dancers on pointe and 10 performances, that’s about 160 pairs of pointe shoes! And, that’s not counting principal dancers who require more than one pair per performance and accounting for mishaps. Wow!

Me: Since the Evil Stepmother is played by a man, does he wear pointe shoes too?
Darielle: Haha! No, not in the production though men en pointe is not that rare anymore. I just went to see the Trocks and they’re brilliant!

The Trocks (Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo) is a professional company of all male dancers founded in 1974 who perform classical works of ballet en pointe and in tutus! They have become a major dance phenomenon and have toured all around the world.

Me: How do you know which brand/fit/style is right for each dancer?
Darielle: When fitting a student, the first thing I look at is toe configuration. I also check their depth (profile), toe length, arch height, and any other structural issues like bunions or curled toes. Toe configuration tells me which block shape will likely work for them; toe length tells me how long a block they need; arch height tells me how hard their insole must be; bunions and other bone issues factor into vamp shape and stiffness of block and wings, and how I might suggest a dancer pad her toes.
With professional dancers, I factor in their likes and dislikes, and aesthetic needs, and refine special orders from there. Very few professional dancers wear stock shoes, meaning their shoes are specially make with their individual needs in mind. You can’t just buy them off of the shelf, so-to-speak. A good portion of what I do is stay up on current abilities of each point shoe company.

Capezio, Chacott, Danshuz, Freed, Grishko, and Sansha are just a few pointe shoe companies, so keeping up with the latest trends in pointe shoes can be quite tedious!

Me: What kind of pads can a dancer use to keep her toes cushioned?
Darielle: There are so many things on the market, but the most typical padding you’ll see around here is lambs wool toe pads, lambs wool, handiwipes, paper towels, and the tip of a sweat sock. Dancers usually tape each toe as well.

Me: What are the parts of a point shoe?
Darielle: You cut the fabric layers off of a pattern depending on the size/girth of the shoes you’re making, and slather plaster on each layer as you place it atop another layer over a last (shaped like a foot). When it gets to the right state you use a hammer to shape the block (the part that encases the toes). Once it is shaped, you cut the vamp area (the vamp is the amount of fabric that comes up over the toes. Then, the drawstring casings are added and then the outsole, shank, and insole are added. They are generally pasted together as well as tacked together. I have an anvil in my office that I use for replacing tacks!

Me: How do you break in pointe shoes?
Darielle: Hopefully I’ve done my job as well as possible, so not too much is required other than flattening the block, sewing, pressing into demi-pointe a few times, and going into over-stretched pointe. Some dancers might need to steam a spot inside the block, or use my bunion buster, which right now, is somewhere in the women’s dressing room.

Demi-pointe: This is where the dancer goes up on the ball of her foot, but does not roll up all the way onto the box of her pointe shoe.

Over-stretched pointe: This is exactly what it sounds like. The dancer rolls up on the box of her pointe shoe and pushes even further so the front of her shoe is closer to the floor.

Sewing: A dancer must sew the ribbons of her pointe shoes by hand and sometimes will add elastic around the ankle to keep her pointe shoes secure.

Pointe shoes may be pretty, but they sure are a lot of work! A shoe manager’s work is never done. Pointe shoes are high maintenance, but they are so very important! Without pointe shoes, the show could not go on. And that is how the shoe fits!