“Every Second Onstage is a Gift”

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It’s hard to believe that this is the end of my eleventh season at SFB. In some respects, it feels like I have been here in San Francisco all my life.  Warming up at the heaters backstage at the Opera house, stretching in Christensen studio, reading the rehearsal schedule for the hundredth time in the company lounge–I can’t describe how familiar, even comforting, these routines are to me.

I’ve been thinking back through all of the ballets, all of the rehearsals in which I’ve taken part…you know you’ve been somewhere a long time when you can’t remember which ballet was in what season! I wish I could tell my younger self some of the little tricks I’ve learned over the years: that Coban is the all-purpose duct tape of the ballet world (ring coverer, toe tape, ribbon saver, you name it); coconut water is an infinitely tastier electrolyte replacement than Pedialyte; acupuncture works wonders for pesky bursitis; and riding hard on the bike for fifteen minutes really helps you prep for a ballet with lots of jumping.

 

 

In other ways, though, it all seems like the most ephemeral moment in time–a vapor. The moments onstage in particular have that quality. This season, I realized how truly fleeting live performance is. The only thing that you can take with you as a dancer is the way that one performance made you feel.  What I feel is what I will remember.

Sure, I will never forget when my dressed nearly ripped off in The Little Mermaid or the show of Nutcracker that the company performed during a city-wide power outage.  But overwhelmingly, when I recall a particularly wonderful opening night or personal premiere, I can’t remember whether that tricky pirouette went well, or if I bobbled or slipped here or there. No… I remember the fresh air in Paris, swirling to smooth Dave Brubeck tunes with my soon-to-be husband; I remember feeling my blood pumping and the raw power of dancing with the entire corps de ballet in perfect unison at the end of Artifact Suite; I relive the sheer fun of singing “America” in West Side Story, running off breathless and nearly laughing at how much fun it was;  I recollect being moved to tears while dancing Serenade, the movement fit the music so perfectly; I remember how amazed I was the first time we did a curtain call for Onegin and saw the audience rise to their feet en masse. What a feeling. And those are just a few moments–I could go on about every ballet.  I just remember that ineffable high of moving to gorgeous live music, feeling really connected and in tune with the people I’m dancing with, and relishing the ability to feel so alive and in the moment.

 

Courtney Elizabeth rests during rehearsal in New York. (© Erik Tomasson)

 

This week will be my final week with San Francisco Ballet. It has been such a rewarding and fulfilling dream of a career, and I could not have asked for more. I’m so grateful for how much I’ve danced (as many as 55 out of 60 performances some seasons!), for where I’ve danced (it’s hard to compete with our Opera House, Kennedy and Lincoln Centers, and places like Tivoli and Odeon Herodes Atticus), and what I’ve danced–I’ve gotten to perform timeless classics, work one-on-one with living legends like Mark Morris and Paul Taylor, and collaborate on new works with some of the most influential, gifted choreographers of our time.

More than anything, though, I also feel incredibly blessed to have worked alongside such ridiculously talented artists–you are all an inspiration, both onstage and off. If I could say just one parting thing to my fellow dancers, it would be this: enjoy every moment.  Every second onstage is a gift, and though that moment in time will pass, you can choose to remember the incredible way it made you feel, and no one can ever take that away.

 

Courtney Elizabeth in Balanchine's Scotch Symphony (Choreography by George Balanchine, copyright The Balanchine Trust); (photo copyright Erik Tomasson)

 

Courtney’s last performance will be in Cinderella on May 12.

 

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5 Comments

  1. avatar Peggy
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Is she retiring? Or leaving for another company?

  2. avatar Chris Schweickert
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Courtney, you brought so much joy to the stage and into our lives for 11 years. I’m thankful to have enjoyed your delightful albeit final SFB performance today. It’s a heartbreak to lose you but let’s dwell on the gift of those wonderful 11 years past and the promise that lies in this next season.
    “The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change…” -C.S. Lewis

  3. avatar Susan Peterson
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    My 9-year-old daugher and I were 3rd row center yesterday for an incredible Mother’s Day performance. We have been subscribers for several years, and I have always LOVED watching you. I had no idea you were leaving the company and we will miss you terribly. You have always been such a joy to watch, and yesterday’s performance was no exception. You were Camille’s favorite! You can always go into comedy for your next career!

  4. avatar Jodi
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Courtney, I saw you give wonderful performances this year in Scotch Symphony and Ibsen’s House, but my favorite was your endearing and delightful Clementine in Cinderella on Friday, May 10. It was a performance to cherish and never forget. You were so lovable! Thank you for the joy you brought to the audience when you were on stage. We will miss you.

  5. avatar Stephen Whitney
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Courtney, I will miss seeing you dance. You always exuded such joy, always seemed to have such a radiant, sincere smile as you danced. I guess you didn’t smile during Artifact Suite but you and all the dancers were awesome in that. The more typical memory of you is of really great dancing and that wonderful smile. Thank you for your artistry and joie de vivre.

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