Updated: Mar 30, 2020
So last you read about the chaos that is show week... now you get to read about the incredible and emotional ride we go through in the theater.
Starting last Thursday, we made our way to the Kennedy Center at 11am. We had company class in rehearsal room 7, a studio I danced in when I partook in the Kennedy Center Master Class series back in high school. I was young, wide eyed, and honestly, I was terrified and always anxious going into the classes, feeling inadequate... which in reflection, wasn't a fair assessment. I not only earned my spot there, but I wasn't even close to the least technical student there. Nonetheless, I walked through the back halls of the Kennedy Center, back stage of the opera house, up to the fourth floor, down the hall to the stairs and up to the next floor and to the end of that hall to the studio that has narrow windows lining one wall looking out to the front drive/entrance to the Kennedy Center. As I walked in for class, memories flooding back into my mind, classes with Suzanne Farrell, Bolshoi artists, and SO many more. I smiled, finding a very strange comfort being back in this particular studio. We took space and I set up the timelapse on my GoPro Hero4 and away we went! Just a few weeks ago, I took over the responsibility of the company's instagram and I've been trying to find more and more ways to draw our audience in, to keep posts, creative, engaging, but also true to who we are as a company. Seeing the dancers' response to it alone, made me super excited.
Shortly after class, we made our way back to the Terrace Theater dressing rooms, got ourselves ready and took the stage for spacing, lighting, cueing, and all adjustments with Nickolai our accompaniest for Lucy's world premiere. We got right to work. We then jumped to late Eric Hampton's "Unravel". I'll admit, I was so worried. That piece didn't get more than a single run through. We hadn't run it in 4 days, it was the piece I felt least consistent in, the one that I ran through in my head each night. One I felt deeply emotionally connected with, one that felt like my early modern dance training blended with my ballet training. I felt I hadn't gotten to a level of doing it justice. Feeling frustrated that I only had one shot with it on stage before dress rehearsal, left me totally in my head. Union contracts had us kicked off the stage for an hour at 6pm, leaving us time to run to Campono (I got a free soda! Which immediately put me in a good mood). Knowing we had three hours left of dancing to go, we kept our bodies warm and were ready in hopes of getting out early, but knowing it was going to be our very FIRST run of Cafe Carambole with the musicians. What could very possibly turn out to be a rough rehearsal, was actually quite good. It took a couple runs to fix timing things and get the musician who had never met together timing wise and mic'ed but by the third run we were feeling more confident. As dancers, nothing is quite as special as when you get to collaborate with more artists! It does take time to figure out tempos, which sounds are exact and which shift.
My one regret is not being able to stop and watch each other before we dive right into rehearsing. I've always had the softest spot in my heart for music, I listen to it in bed, I dance to it, I sing to it in the shower, I live by it and to witness music live - my heart feels full. Its like I get strangely emotional, happy, sad. Every feeling, I get it. It is as if I feel the music on a cellular level. Each cell in my body, fiber that touches me, every heartbeat accentuated. It is what I imagine LIFE feels like. Maybe thats part of why I can't resist what I do. The cellular level of bodily shift manifests in a much more technical form when I'm on stage. Show time - is all the feels. All the stress, all the emotion, all the joy and energy (or lack there of) all the choreography - it is everything... and YET IM JUMPING AHEAD OF MY OWN ORDER OF THOUGHTS....
So after a couple of tries, we did manage to find a happy medium of working through tempos, transitions etc. I finally knew I had a costume I felt better in that I would be testing the next day at dress, but it helped the approach of character. We marked most big lifts in attempts at saving our bodies for the next two days. We got out an hour early Thursday by some miracle. Went home, put my legs up on my wall, watched the beginning of my favorite movie (Moana) found that emotional stubborn drive in me while I drained the lactic acid in my legs and eventually made my way to sleep.
FRIDAY, FRI-YAY. Day 2, beginning again at 11am, started with company class, jumped immediately into dress rehearsal, full make up, full costume, the works. This was all done before opening night's show just hours later. Dress rehearsal was good, worked out more kinks post run through. Tried to find the balance between pushing hard and knowing it was more important to give that energy to that night's show. The details from there about the day are not so important. So I'll skip forward until just before show.
With just an hour to top of show, I made my way to the green room studio to rewarm up after dinner break. Mind you during that run, we were also being photographed, so if you go to my insta, facebook or the BMDCoDance insta - you'll see some new images of the company!! *Go, now, go check it out... and like it* hahah semi-kidding... but anyway back to the story
I looked around me, seeing beautiful artists of all passions prepping, warming up mentally and physically, getting ready to share their talent, passion, and heart. It was a moment, I stopped and just took it in. It was beautiful. I get to dance with such beautiful people. Share my passion, my soul, my life with other people who do the exact same thing.
HOW FRICKING COOL!!!! (right... RIGHT!)
So here we are, now with thirty minutes to go until the curtain, house is open. Knowing my superstar roommates Colleen, Greg, Abby and Cyrus have come to support me as well as my mother and some of her friends... not thinking about them to keep the nerves from building... I got in costume for "UnRavel" and hopped around stage, running through the sections quickly in a last ditch effort to make sure I had it (which I always do, but for whatever reason decide to work myself up... but don't judge, it works for me...). *Dancers to places* Lucy takes the stage to introduce the show, and away we go. "UnRavel" the most fitting to open the show in my person opinion begins with a lively, happy, upbeat, and energetic blast of movement. I forget the steps, I let my heart take over and before I know it, movement one is over, movement two, three, and four. Sharing this beautiful work with Eve, Alicia, and Sydney was an honor and a treat. I'm actually going to directly quote Eve, (unoriginal, maybe but she so eloquently put exactly how I think we all felt doing this work.)
@eveholmes "I didn't realize the significance of Eric Hampton's work when we began the rehearsal process but it became very clear very quickly that his choreography, his legacy, and his memory hold so much meaning for the dancers and students he left behind after his untimely death in 2001 (Mr. Hampton passed away at 54 after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease years earlier). What a privilege it was to dance UnRavel, to celebrate the joy of movement, and to honor the talent of its creator who battled a paralyzing illness that took movement away from him. The significance of this piece is not lost on me now and I will remember this weekend of performances surrounded by my family, colleagues, great choreography, and great music forever. It was wonderful."
She put into words what I was struggling to share. It was profound. Special. The word that comes to mind is FULL. I don't know if I can speak for the other three, but I would guess that felt that word sums it up quite nicely. It felt good too. I went in feeling I could've use more time, but it was true, after dress rehearsal and before going on for opening night, we got to talk to Harriet, former dancer with Mr. Hampton and contact for his trust... said he was in the space. With a sparkle in her eye, emotional and proud, we all felt it. All nearly in tears before we began and some don't believe in feeling presences of ones who have gone before... I do. Even if it is felt through other living beings, I think we connected to it. With five minutes to strip, change costumes and hair. off stage we went getting ready in blue for Lucy's newest work.
Lucy's new work set to Lizst's beautiful music, performed live by Nickolai and the full company - we opened with a striking image of a lit piano and Dustin in a strong lunge. Slow, powerful, calculated - commanding the audiences' attention in a whole new way. Lucy took her audience (and dancers) on a whole different kind of journey, paying tribute to Eric Hampton, former mentor/ teacher/director of hers. Through the five movements of this new work, dancers moved slow, fast, high and low. We swept, we flew (or "bombed" as we called it). We soared, we jumped, we "scattered" crawled, and rolled. We moved big and small but full to the music. And though she was nervous about how the new work would be received and would look, on stage the piece really came to life. It is hard to see with a clear mind and eye when you drill and work a piece until a show without taking a step back. I hope she is happy because it felt good and the audience loved it. You could tell. Finishing on a dramatic note, the lights cut out except the center spot on the company's final pose then to dark. The audience seemed totally involved and invested. Totally removed from their lives, in the moment, there with us. Curtain down, intermission before the final work of the night.
Act 2, also known as Cafe Carambole, begins with the lights on the musicians, all of them in the pit. Curtain goes up, music begins, and again, AWAY WE GO. Bringing all the characters to life, becoming the person we had developed and created. Feeling epically more confident than I did in October when we performed this the first time for many reasons, being more comfortable in the choreography, the character, but big for me, was finding a top that made me feel sexy and sassy as my character is. Yes looking at some of the photos even now, I'm still cringing by the skin that isn't 200% toned and without excess... but slowly I'll get to loving how I look even there. I know, fucked up maybe, but just the honest truth. BUT I was supported up top, no pain, open back and feeling a newer strange confidence going into this piece than before... I could play up, "ham" it up more and found new places with the new tempos to take it even further. We as a cast, listening to the music more intently, watching and interacting more specifically made for comedy that seemed to be well received. With the audience laughing, clapping and reacting... we fed off that energy we got back from them. It is one of the biggest perks of LIVE art. It will never be the same in any show, it will never be the same tempo, audience, humor etc. It shifts, it is fresh and new every single time just for the audience. New challenges each time. It's exciting. It's fun. It's the beauty of a show.
At the end of the show, we take our final bow. And for the first time for me, I actually look past the dark "wall" I create to keep me from seeing specific faces in the audience. And the audience was great, we all felt the love. I for the first time, received and heard the overwhelming sound of your support in the audience. I try not to pay attention to that until my job is "done" not allowing the ego to play into my performance. Pretending each movement of each piece is like your first time seeing me, giving the same love, energy, passion, focus to each and every bit of the show. I personally tune out your applause volume, I know its there and I appreciate it. I vividly remember the girls and Lucy mentioning my fans after "Unravel" and the shouts I got, trying not to think about it during the show, I finally realized exactly what they were talking about. I'm so honored and blessed for your support. With shouts, hollers expected from my biggest fan and best friend, my Mommy, I realized, there were many other shouts and love coming through. **Shout outs to come**
Before getting to call it a night, I was the female dancer who was part of the Q&A with the audience. I had an opportunity to talk about my experience learning Eric Hampton's work. Starting with talking about watching the original two casts via video, then to working with Allison and using her notes and person experience and detailed information, we strung the steps together. Next step was bringing in the imagery, the sensations, and the delivery and not until we hit dress rehearsal did we feel really... close. I also got to talk about how I felt about doing such drastically different work. It might be jarring in a rehearsal, but in show, its natural. It is also one of my favorite parts of being a dancer (like I mentioned in my "show week" blog) we become different people from piece to piece, movement to movement. A challenge at times, but a thrill. Honestly, we don't just take you on the journey, we go on it too. It's a treat, a joy, and one I'm so grateful to be able to have such varied repertory with Lucy and in my career thus far because I LOVE new things, new challenges, just new.
Getting to express in words the process, made it even more special. A profound moment and opportunity for a dancer honestly. I recently read an article about the way dancers (in history) are expected to show up, shut up and do. But that time is long over, in a world with the arts slowly (not so slowly) "fading" importance (esp in this country) - we must educate, use our voice, and speak about what it is we are doing, saying, and why it matters. Yes we love it, but we must take them verbally through the journey as well to make the world understand.
As dancers, we often speak with our bodies, but when we finally get to articulating those expressions to words, it is less of a performance and more of a statement. A testament. So listen to me when I say this... whether you watch dance or not... it is important. Whether you doodle while on the phone, paint on wine night, or go to the gallery - ART MATTERS. Whether you sing in the shower, listen to your favorite band in the car or live... ART WILL ALWAYS PREVAIL. When you ask me, but why art, why dance... look around and tell me the things you enjoy and I'll show you how art is crucial, imperative to the existence of the enjoyment of what you love. You like a beautiful home... architects... AKA artists. Fashion... video games, graphic design, movies, successful ads for your business... it is ART, Ok.... getting off topic... I'll get back to this in another blog though...
Both Friday and Saturday night's show, while only feeling better after each run and piece... were special. I'm not going to go through the whole day of Saturday, but I will say this. Every single piece felt better than Friday and Friday felt good. Then taking a final bow with a standing ovation will continue to make me smile for months to come. An almost full house of happy audience members is what we dream of. I don't think it is unfair to say we accomplished that. It felt good, we as dancers walked off stage really happy. We then had the opportunity to meet with VIP guests at the auction after the show, and hearing their feedback and reviews and hopes was such a treat.
This weekend I performed at the Kennedy Center for the third time in my life. With the honor and absolute pleasure of being in all the works performed, I was really excited about this weekend. I normally don't try to bombard people with advertising but I was genuinely hoping everyone who could would be there. I was really excited to share this weekend with whoever could make it. This show also came at such a vital part of my career as a dancer... it was a weekend that meant a lot to me. It was a weekend I "slaved" and trained and cross trained for. I devoted my "free" time to being better. Not only did I get to dance with beautiful people who inspire me and collaborate with musicians, I got to share our life, joy and passion with all with you.
For those of you who took the time out of your our life, your busy schedules to put my career as a priority for one (or both nights) - thank you. Thank you really doesn't cut it. It is easy to say you'll be there, to intend to, but for those of you who made it happen... you not only touched my heart because I got to share with you, but because you allowed me to see what I mean to you. You directly influence each dancer's career by being there. This weekend, I had people from all different points of my life there to support me.
My amazing mother who attended both shows (like always) for not only just loving on me but also wanting to witness more than once so we could talk about it more in depth later. I love her dedication to my life and my career. She's the best.
My younger brother Jess, who I don't think has seen me dance live since I was in high school was there, and he seemed pretty shocked with what I've been up to.
My Dad who ended his vacation of snowy bliss early to support me like he always has and made sure he could be back in the midst of a blizzard means the world, especially sleep deprived.
(Dylan though still out west, sending his love just before I went on stage)
My Laura (the sister I'm so glad to have) not just my brothers partner but being someone who treats me not just as a friend but as a sister I always dreamed of... obviously the favorite girl.
Your dedication to my career, my passion and dealing with my artist/dancer ways - you all are superheroes and I'm so beyond blessed to have you. You all are my rock. I love you. Thank you will never cut it.
My extended family:
Aunt Sweetie, who I think has only ever missed one dance performance in my entire dancing life... (which she still shames herself for so unnecessarily). My Aunt Leslie, who came back from Greece just in time to see this show. My cousin Zoe, the other artist girl, who I look forward to one day being a dynamic duo with (lighting design/set master or whatever she decides to be and dancer duo). Shae for always being in the audience making sure those around you know who I am. My cousin Evan who came down from New York in the midst of his very intense training to see the show. My uncle Dale and uncle Pat who made the voyage from Ocean City. My uncle Nip and Lucy for being there, even sick.
My O'Connell Family Clan:
Lisa, Mary, Pam, Timmy, and honorary family for the weekend and friend of Lisa: Nadine. Coming from New York, Tennessee, and Texas. You all making extreme voyages to see me perform was such a treat for me (and the whole family) to see you. Aside from Timmy, it was the first time I've had the honor of your presence in the audience and your O'Connell energy and volume was heard and felt. Thank you thank you thank you. You guys are rockstars.
My Howard students:
To the beautiful girls who are in the work "Samudaay" that I just set at Howard University, it was such a treat finding out you were in the audience. I cannot wait to see how the work grows, and your texts of flattery, have not only been saved for future reminders for myself but still make me giggle quite a bit, you guys are sweethearts.
Jane Bittner was in the audience, was the first to stand in the ovation and who cried as we embraced. Thank you for being instrumental in the foundation of my dance career and training in 1996. Nancy Wiltz - though I didn't get to thank you in person, your hand written note brought me to tears backstage just before I went on. I swear, it reminds me of the days before our show as a kid, you'd have written encouragement/good lucky/thank you notes for you students. It meant the world that both you and Alcine were there. You too were instrumental in my training and technical and artist development as a dancer. Love you all immensely. Thank you.
Colleen, Greg, Abby, Cyrus - the best roommates a girl could ask for. I seriously love you guys. Between our over comfortable conversations to life talks to you all being there in the audience, it means the world.
Mr. & Mrs. Schaffeur, Mr. & Mrs. Anson, Joan Berghane, and other Manor CC attendees - love you all - I know it means a lot to me, but also to my parents that you support my career and passion.
Jennifer Carlson- you are one of the most genuine lovely women I've met. Thank you for always being an avid dancer and supporter of dance on the water and on land. Having you there, was such a special treat and surprise.
Pat - so blessed to have you the audience, never realized you hadn't seen me dance before but so glad you got to see this show as your first. Thank you for the flowers too, they smell great and are absolutely beautiful.
If I missed anyone, I'm so sorry but my gratitude for you is beyond real. Love you all. and again,
Lastly I want to say thank you to Lucy, my colleagues, the musicians, the crew and the Kennedy Center - congratulations everyone! Great show!! Get some rest, take care of your bodies, next show is March 21st at 6pm at the Kennedy Center on the Millennium Stage! It's free too!! Hope to see you there!