A Day in the Life…

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8:30am:  I’m up with a huge cup of hot green tea and a bowl of Raisin Bran, the breakfast of champions.  I like to give myself a good fifteen minutes of ‘quiet time’ in the morning before the chaos of the day starts, so today, I read several excerpts from different books by C.S. Lewis.

9:50 am:  I make it into the studio before 10 am class. While multitasking with stretching, putting my hair up, and gluing a new pair of pointe shoes, I commiserate with my fellow barre mates Sarah Van Patten and Dana Genshaft to see who is the most sore from McGregor’s Chroma. “Right thigh?” “YES! And right shoulder.”

10:00 am: Bruce Sansom begins class with his usual bright and sing-songy tendu combination. He looks at me and motions for me to pull my shoulders back.  I laugh and grimace simultaneously–in the early moments of the day, when the muscles aren’t warm yet, even the slightest movements are difficult.  He looks at me quizzically and asks, “What happened?” Our barre says in unison with a laugh, “Chroma happened!”

11:15 am: Now that class is over, I feel like a new person–my muscles are warm and I feel ready to start the rehearsal day.  I take fifteen minutes to grab a banana, change my pointe shoes, and don a flowy practice skirt for my first rehearsal.

11:30-1:30 pm: My first rehearsal is for the first movement of Helgi’s new premiere.  My partner is absolutely great.  He’ll always say, “Come on, let’s try that lift again.” “Really? You don’t mind throwing me over your head for the tenth time in a row?” The creative process is always a great time to hone your craft, because, unlike a piece that has been staged before, there is no right or wrong way to execute certain steps (yet), and the choreographer works with the dancers to make movement that looks and feels good for them.

1:30-2:30 pm: I switch gears and change shoes for the third time, while switching to a smaller studio for Giselle.  Today, a few of us are working with school director Lola de Avila on the short demi-solos in the second act.  Lola is a genius at classical coaching.  My training had more Balanchine influence than classical, so I benefit so much from her corrections.  She spends at least ten minutes just focusing on running gracefully from the wing to the center of the stage, and then another quarter of an hour talking about the path of the ports de bras duirng a glissade assemble jump. One of the things I love about Lola is that she is very hands on when she is coaching–she’ll physically move your arms and head into the position or path that she wants.  The hour goes by quickly.

2:30 pm: On my hour lunch break, I have a turkey sandwich and a yogurt and read for a bit (with my feet propped up!) to get my mind off of choreography. Since graduating from St. Mary’s College last May, my lunch hours are no longer filled up with homework. I want to keep my mind working, though, so I’ve been reading a bunch of classic literature–right now, I’m half way through Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  About fifteen minutes before my next rehearsal, I hop on the stationary bike for five minutes to get my blood flowing again and to break up the stiffness that so quickly settles in.

3:30-5:00 pm:  The corps women have rehearsal with Betsy Erickson for Forsythe’s Artifact Suite. I performed Artifact during both the ’06 and ’07 season, and so remembering the choreography is like coming back to an old friend–it’s absolutely amazing how muscle memory works.  Those of us ‘old-timers’ might not remember a single step of a certain section when we first start going over it, but the second we see the video or hear the music, we have it.  Sometimes, I even close my eyes to turn my mind off and let my body remember the steps for me!  Today, we piece together the finale, a stamina section with a lot of swinging arms and legs and very hard counts.  I take some of the newer girls into a corner and we count together while Betsy teaches a separate line. “12, 10, insert A, fast 8, 8, insert B, fast 4, fast 7, 6, one-and-a-two, 3, 4, one-and-a-two, 3, 4!”

5:00-6:30 pm: I’m relieved to take off my pointe shoes and slip on ballet slippers for Chroma rehearsal, though I know that other things besides my feet and toes will soon be pounded instead.  We work on what can only be described as a wacky, spastic solo, followed by an intense, very physical pas de deux.  To learn something with no specific vocabulary is a slow process, and requires trying tricky partnering over and over again, which is why we were all so sore.  I’m working with Quinn Wharton, who I must have stepped on a dozen times during the last couple of rehearsals–he’s a rock, and a very good sport. At first, it appears like the dancers on the video are flying faster than humanly possible through the movements, but once we get the steps, we discover that we have more time in the music than we think.  It’s 6:20 pm and Quinn and I finally get a chance to run through the whole pas de deux.  The White Stripes’ pulsating music is blaring, and for a moment I forget how long the day has been and try to let loose and enjoy the chance to ‘bust out’, as we say. I wasn’t prepared for how much fun it was going to be!  As I take ten minutes to stretch and cool down afterward, I can’t help but think about how many styles of dance I worked on in less than eight hours.  As hard as this job is every day, I can honestly say that I am rarely ever bored.

6:45 pm: My husband (Matthew Stewart) comes to pick me up. He was finished with his rehearsals earlier in the afternoon today, and he surprises me with a sparkling clean house to come home to.  We make dinner together and I get to tell him all about my day–even though we are both in the same building, I haven’t seen him all day!

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5 Comments

  1. avatar Andrea Sullivan
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Hello Courtney,
    Thank you for your posting! It is nice to hear about a day in the life of a corps member of a Ballet company. I love how you have a college education and are still keeping your mind working in a way other than in movement and dance terminology. What a busy and rewarding life you lead!
    Just wanted to thank you for writing and I hope to hear more soon!
    Andrea Sullivan =)
    Reno, NV

  2. avatar Linda
    Posted November 5, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I’m so happy to see it’s not just us old folks who get stiff after class! I applaud your commitment to keeping the brain engaged by reading the classics. I hope to one day see San Francisco Ballet. Thanks for sharing a part of your life with us.

  3. avatar Diane Hourany
    Posted November 7, 2010 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Enjoyed your blog, Courtney! You bring the day of a dancer to life and I love the behind-the-scenes description of your day. I’m a Bravo volunteer and look forward to the new season.

  4. avatar Valerie
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I would be so proud of you if I was your Mother!! My 7 year old daughter and I just read this together and are just smitten.

    Bless you lovely life : )

  5. avatar Open Studio 455
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to everyone for their comments; we’ll pass them along to Courtney!

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