Last month I announced that I would be beginning a new series entitled “Questions With Bart.” These questions were sent to me by a great lover of ballet who often comes to Miami City Ballet performances. He has a wonderful appreciation for what we do, and has a great understanding of the ballets we perform. Here is his second question:
What is the hardest single ballet (or section of a ballet) you or your colleagues has ever had to dance?
That answer is easy: Balanchine’s Square Dance. I can’t speak for everyone, but I am 90% certain that everyone who has danced this ballet would say it is one of the hardest things they have ever done. The other 10% have a very strong petite allegro (small, quick, jumps) and the choreography thus comes much easier to them. I am jealous!
For the Corps, Square Dance is known as one of the most difficult ballets ever created. It is a solid 20 minutes of nothing but pure technique. Square Dance combines classical ballet with 17th-century court dance, with a hint of American country dancing. When the ballet premiered, there was a square dance caller on stage calling out the steps. Balanchine once wrote about Square Dance saying, “Ballet and other forms of dance of course can be traced back to folk dance…The spirit and nerve required for superb dancing are close to what we always want in ballet performances, which is one way perhaps of explaining why so many American dancers are so gifted. The invention, its superb preparation for risks, and its high spirits are some of the things I was trying to show in this ballet.”
To the audience, this ballet looks so easy. In 2008, the first time I saw this ballet danced in Miami, I sat in the audience, and I heard someone whisper, “Well that was nice.” Hmmm… if only they knew how difficult that was! I wish people could see it for the tremendous effort that is put into it. But then again, if the audience cannot tell how difficult it is and how tired it makes the dancers, we did our jobs.
I often wonder how this ballet appears to an audience member who is not familiar with ballet technique. The cast is not very big and there are no tremendously exciting group steps. I wonder if the audience may see it as bland. For us, knowing the choreography intimately, we know it is yet another Balanchine work of genius. I wish the audience could know all that we know.
When I performed Square Dance in 2008, I was only an apprentice and ended up dancing for an injured second cast dancer. The ballet gave me extreme anxiety; I had never done anything so challenging. Every time I did it I just hoped that I would be able to make it through, never mind doing it well. Looking back I understand that I was too young and too new to company life to really take advantage of the opportunity given to me. This is an exceptional ballet that I should have felt so honored to be trusted with, but instead I dreaded it and never enjoyed dancing it on stage.
This ballet will appear next season in Program I and this time around, I feel as if I have matured as a dancer; physically and mentally. I now know how to approach the ballet in a smart way. I know how to work on the steps to improve the elements that challenge me. I know how to pace myself so that I will still have energy for the last movement. I know how to fuel my body so that I will get the most out of my muscles. I have high hopes for Square Dance and cannot wait to approach it from this new point of view. This time, I will enjoy myself!
Questions With Bart I