The entire ‘Everyday Ballerina’

Your easy one-stop shop for links to and excerpts from Gavin Larsen's twelve-part series about the dancing life, plus a gallery of photos

On Sunday, August 14, ArtsWatch published The Curtain Speech, the first of twelve daily episodes of Everyday Ballerina, former Oregon Ballet Theatre principal dancer Gavin Larsen’s vignettes about living the dancing life, from early childhood through her career at OBT, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Alberta Ballet, and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and forward to her post-performance life as a writer and teacher. On Friday, August 25, we published the final episode. Now you can read them all at once. The twelve chapters are part of a larger manuscript in progress. For most of those episodes ArtsWatch was fortunate to have images by the master dance photographer Blaine Truitt Covert; you can see a selection of his work in the slide show below. Below that you’ll find links to, and brief excerpts from, each episode of Everyday Ballerina, gathered in one handy place. Happy reading!

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Everyday Ballerina 1: The Curtain Speech. “It seems that most performances begin, these days, with a speech. Before you— the audience— are allowed to slip away from your life outside the theater and into a world of music and dance, you must be spoken to. Welcomed, thanked for coming, briefed on what you’re about to see, and encouraged to thank those people or entities that have given more than you have in order to make this show possible. Sometimes these speeches are funny, mercifully brief, and successful in making you feel more personally connected, if not to the artists onstage, at least to the visionary who’s presenting them. So here, I will try to be all three of those things. Hello, and welcome.”

Everyday Ballerina 2: The 8-Year-Old. “The noise and rushing current of Broadway are muted instantly as the old wooden door thuds shut, its glass window rattling once. Inside, everything is gray-scale, muted, dusty, and chilly. A wide wooden staircase leads straight up, enormously high and steep. At the top, far above real life and through a door to the right: a hallway, long wooden benches, and, on the bare floor, a big fluffy white dog acting as foot rest and greeter. The air is hazy and musty, carrying a cold, sweaty, stale smell, possibly left over from the generations of dancers before. Every room is a cavern. … Young children, talking excitedly, bring life to this museum that is the space itself. Their purple leotards are the only color in this movie.”

Everyday Ballerina 3: The 8-Year-Old, Part 2. “Now that she knew which studio to go into, the 8-year-old did return the following week, and the one after, and even more after that. As these weeks passed, she began to slowly gain, if not real confidence, a familiarity with how things worked. She followed along. She watched, and copied, but just when she started to think she knew everything she and the other students would be told to do during class, the teacher called for a step or movement that was foreign.”

Everyday Ballerina 4: Cracking the Door. “The next year, the girl, now 10, was moved up into the next level of ballet classes. She’d faked it well enough, copied well enough, worked harder than regular 8- or 9-year olds would, and, unsurprisingly, come to seriously love going to class. The ritual was fun now. Her family, a foursome, escorted her downtown quite early on Saturday mornings, where they all encamped at a table inside Burger King, half a block away from the rattly wooden front doors of the ballet school. They’d get cheese danishes wrapped in airtight plastic bags, or Styrofoam plates of scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes and maple syrup, and her parents would drink coffee. When it was time, she was sent off to walk by herself the half-block to the ballet school, open those front doors, and leave Broadway behind to climb the mountainous flight of stairs.”

Everyday Ballerina 5: Summer of 1992. “I thought I had been duped. I was naive, even for a 17-year-old. But as it became clear that I had failed to notice a huge, crucial, completely obvious basic fact about being a dancer, I was rocked absolutely to the core. I’d been oblivious to something everyone else got but didn’t bother to tell me about, because it was so commonly understood. I was terrified. And I feared I just might have made a terrible mistake. It was as if, after desperately wanting and hoping to be granted membership into a special club, one whose members I idolized and that was my ticket to my dreamed-of life of a dancer, I had finally been allowed to join— but once I was inside, the expectations and assumptions and responsibilities were completely unlike anything I had envisioned.”

Everyday Ballerina 6: Into the Night. “By the time I get home tonight after the show, it will be late, my legs will be tired, and I will need protein and sleep as quickly as possible. Waiting for dinner to cook will only make me grumpy, so at 4 in the afternoon, I preheat the oven to 400 and pop in a frozen ricotta-spinach stuffed chicken breast from Trader Joe’s. I’ll cook it now and reheat it later, or just eat it cold. It smells good … savory and cheesy. I’m pre-chopping some vegetables, too, since who wants to come down from a performance high by slicing carrots?”

Everyday Ballerina 7: Orange. “I am clad entirely in orange. From my neck to my ankles and out to my wrists, I am orange. On my feet are little white anklet socks with sticky non-slip pads on the bottoms. I am about to go onstage to perform in a ballet by the great choreographer William Forsythe, and I am mortified.”

Everyday Ballerina 8: The Human Monolith. “Some people sweat a lot more than others, and even those who are not heavy sweaters begin to pour and drip as soon as extreme exertion is finished and they are slowly, stealthily, creeping and crawling and oozing their way across the stage to become part of a huge, undulating, slimy mass of dancers twister-ing themselves into the towering pile of limbs we called the Human Monolith. This is The Rite of Spring, and the moment of the Human Monolith is perhaps the apex of the ballet in more than a literal sense.”

Everyday Ballerina 9: Places. “’Places please, places for the top of Sleeping Beauty! Places, we’re at places!’ Everything around me was a fuzz. I was completely engrossed in my head and my body. I was fine-tuning, re-checking, and re-fine-tuning, every single detail: repeating carefully each step I was about to take. I had to feel each step perfectly in my body before the curtain went up, even though I’d already spent dozens upon dozens of hours rehearsing them in the studio, and had known that sense of perfect execution. I needed to feel it NOW, at the moment of truth, prove to my doubting mind that I could do it right this moment.”

Everyday Ballerina 10: The Drive Home. “The drive home every night is short, for which I am grateful. I’m tired, tired, tired, and hungry. It’s late, and my body, wrung out like a washcloth from exertion, needs good sleep to recover for tomorrow. I have to put ice on my hip, soak my feet in a bucket of cold water, massage the knots out of my legs, and stretch my back so it won’t spasm in the middle of the night. But at the same time, I wish the drive were longer, just a little bit. Arriving home means food, blessed rest, and sagging into my forgiving, fuzzy sweatpants, but it also means a return to real life. The time that I spend en route between the theater and home is all my own.”

Everyday Ballerina 11: Quivering. “From the audience she looks rock-solid, balancing on pointe in arabesque after a series of precariously difficult one-armed promenades with her partner. But from the wings, just a few feet away, we see the edges of her tutu quivering. The effect of vulnerability is both true and misleading, since her strength is real, but the intensity of her effort is too.”

Everyday Ballerina 12: The Time I Taught Someone Something. “I have just spent an hour and a half leading thirteen women and two men in a classical ballet class, working them through a series of dance exercises that have been practiced all over the world for centuries. As “elitist” as the art of ballet may be considered, this particular class (which I teach bright and early every Monday) is what’s called a ‘drop-in’, which means that anyone on earth who has the urge to dance and $15 can walk in off the street and take a place at the barre. It’s billed as ‘Ballet 1,’ but all that means is you’re on your own if you don’t know the five basic positions and some other fundamentals, but also that I won’t be asking anyone to do triple fouettes.”

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