New York Diary (Entry the Fifth, in which Deb fulfills her mission and also brings bad karma on her classmates)
I went to New York to learn, plain and simple.
I was not sure where I would fall along the continuum of teachers attending the National Training Curriculum intensives at ABT, although I feared it would be dangerously close to zero. In fact, I think I barely squeaked past the admissions committee because of my training credentials, which are respectable at least. Some of my classmates, though, had danced as principals and soloists with top-five companies. Yet each of us stood to gain something from the training, not least of all the official stamp of approval ABT would grant us on successful completion of the examinations at the end of our week-long session. Even the celebrities among us were chewing their nails in anticipation of exam day. Certification notwithstanding, my primary mission was to soak up as much wisdom as I could from the sterling faculty during my brief tenure there.
I told you last time about Raymond Lukens, our main instructor (at left). Joining him were Harriet Clark, Kate Lydon, and Julie Daugherty, who is ABT’s physical therapist. On most days we sat in rows of metal folding chairs in ABT’s Studio 9 while Raymond explained the curriculum, his lectures seasoned by his trademark humor, a tiny mic (or as he called it, the Voice of God) fastened to his shirt collar and copious notes laid out on a music stand in front of him. He often stood to demonstrate for us, and on occasion implored us to stand and try something along with him. Sometimes Harriet and Kate also demonstrated and helped answer the questions that were lobbed at the front of the room relentlessly.
After a couple of hours of lecture we had the opportunity to take ballet class in the very level we had just learned, so that we could get some of the technique into our muscles. Some trainees particpated actively, others observed and took notes. Harriet and Kate variously taught these classes. We were also divided into much smaller groups and assigned classes to observe. This was a useful exercise, as we could watch others who had completed the training actively teach the curriculum to the lucky children who had been accepted into the ABT summer intensives. Each summer intensives teacher delivered the material with a distinct style; I began to comprehend the built-in flexibility in ABT’s guidelines. In short, I saw myself standing at the front of my own classroom, teaching ABT’s National Training Curriculum to Knoxville’s young students.
Our final session of the day was typically a review of what had transpired, a question and answer session, or a lecture on the progression from one level to the next. The progressions lectures proved indispensible, as the material therein was to figure prominently on our examinations. More importantly, it was in the progressions that we began to see how a particular movement evolved in the life of a young student—how something that felt more like a game in Primary Level, for example, was in reality helping to establish important lines in the upper body and arms that would be necessary later.
So I considered my mission accomplished within a very short while. It was fun and enriching to meet others of my ilk, and a real treat to hear Raymond’s hilarious anecdotal stories day in and day out, but mainly I learned.
We were about halfway through our training when it was announced that we would be invited to observe an unscheduled demonstration class for Level 5 students enrolled in ABT’s prestigious Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. This class was prepared especially for a visitor to the school, none other than Nigel Lythgoe—the executive producer and judge for the popular television show, “So You Think You Can Dance.” This news was met by equal parts enthusiasm and silence.
I have blogged about Nigel and SYTYCD in the past. And if you happen to follow the link, you will see that what I had to say about him and his show was unflattering, bordering on unkind. Now the cheeky Englishman had resurfaced in the flesh at American Ballet Theatre to observe a class arranged especially for him, and then to speak to the rest of us after class ended. I will say that the class itself was amazing, pure and simple. I wanted it to go on and on; the JKO children have obviously learned from the finest, and have impeccable technique underlying burgeoning artistry; what a treat to watch them dance.
But Nigel’s presentation (a thinly-veiled pitch for his new Dizzy Feet Foundation) overran the time allotted; I began looking at my watch nervously, as the minutes ticked on well into our Level 3 technique class scheduled for that afternoon. Edginess grew to irritation as I listened to Nigel tell us—the hundred or so ballet teachers gathered there to listen to his spiel—that we in the ballet world were elitist, and if we did not change, our art form was in danger of dying. He went so far, in fact, as to poke fun at the way dancers walk, by way of a ridiculous pantomime: he stood up with his spine stick-straight, and proceeded to waddle across the floor, his feet splayed open 180 degrees. Thanks, Nigel, for that pointless (so to speak) demonstration. Interesting approach to fundraising, too: gather 100 ballet teachers in a room, insult them, and then ask for money. Good luck with that.
With my mom’s voice ringing in my ears (If you can’t say anything nice…), I figured it was my fault that we were being subjected to an afternoon dose of Nigel Lythgoe. I would dismiss it all as pure silliness, but I can’t escape the notion that he is not actually helping the dance world. He may, in fact, be hurting it.
I recently came across a Times article about a dance film that has been in production for the last couple of years, documenting and resurrecting Jerome Robbins’ Opus Jazz; it is being shot at various locations in NYC, and features dancers from New York City Ballet. The film’s producers hope to bring high-quality ballet to a broader audience; the key phrase here is high-quality. City Ballet soloist Adam Hendrickson, who appears in the film, thinks it might serve as “a more sophisticated alternative to television shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’” He goes on to say, “All of those TV shows glorify bad dance and bad choreography: it’s artless, but that’s the pinnacle of dance now, and it bothers me as a stage performer who has worked on a craft.”
Nicely put, Mr. Hendrickson.
Until next time, I remain yours truly,
Princess (Go-To-Your-Room) Deb