Tag Archives: Joffrey Ballet

Your Body: Magic Touch

Former Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Martha Chamberlain with Principal Dancer Zachary Hench in Who Cares?, choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.

Update:  Both Patrick  Simoniello and Martha Chamberlain have retired.  Chamberlain has continued her interest in costume design and also teaches.  My fascination with the power of touch is as strong as ever.  The wonders of both the strongest forms, like Rolfing and the lightest forms, like lymph and Feldenkrais’ Functional Integration,  hold the most interest.

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

During a rehearsal of a lightning-fast section in Gerald Arpino’s Birthday Variation, Joffrey dancer Patrick Simoniello pulled his adductor muscle in his left leg. After a neuromuscular massage, which uses trigger-point therapy to ease up seized muscles, Simoniello found he could dance that night. A short, specific massage immediately after the injury was just the thing he needed to get back on his feet. “I thought it was amazing stuff,” remembers Simoniello, who has since trained as a massage therapist.

Massage has been well documented as a healing agent, but getting the type and timing right makes all the difference. Short and vigorous types like the neuromuscular kind get you ready to move. Slower, deeper ones are ideal for down time, not for when you have to perform or learn new work, because the massage can create  changes in muscle length.

However, deep work can help the body recover in a range of ways. During his stint with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago from 2002–2006, Simoniello found a weekly massage essential in helping his body repair and prepare for the next week’s demands. “I was dancing work by Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, and Jirí Kylián while on tour,” says Simoniello. “That takes a toll. If I missed a week’s massage, it became much harder to get back on track.”

There are several types of massage that can be particularly helpful to dancers:

• Swedish/traditional uses light to medium pressure. It’s excellent for general restoration and stress-reduction.

• Sports massage is a deep-tissue form that is more vigorous than Swedish and works on muscle and fascia (the outer layer of muscles and organs). It’s not recommended prior to intense activity.

• Neuromuscular uses sustained static pressure on trigger points to relieve pain and increase range of motion. It can release muscle spasms.

 Lymph massage offers a light touch at skin level and helps flush the lymph system of waste products from injury. It aids with swelling and inflammation.

• Myofascial Release and Structural Integration each address both muscle and fascial tissue. Structural Integration involves 10 consecutive sessions, and is best performed when dancers are off since the body needs time to adjust.

Many companies’ massage schedules reflect performance and rehearsal schedules. At Pennsylvania Ballet, physical therapist Julie Green schedules the massage therapist for Fridays so dancers can let the massage settle in their bodies for a day or two before taking class or rehearsing. “I always ask a dancer what’s on their plate that day,” says Green. “When you make a muscle longer, it can temporarily weaken it and make it cramp. I want to know if dancers will be jumping a lot. If so, then I stay away from the power muscles.”

PAB principal Martha Chamberlain adjusts the timing of her appointments to her performances. “I never want my feet or calves worked on before a show,” she says. “Beside the fact the oil makes my feet slip in my shoes, if you get worked on and run into a rehearsal, it can throw things out of whack.”

Many dancers note that iliotibial (IT) bands are an exception. These connect the pelvis to the knee, so a tight IT band can actually pull the knee cap out of alignment. “My IT bands are a different story,” Chamberlain says. “You can pound on those anytime.” Many dancers use foam rollers to loosen up between classes or rehearsals. “IT are more like ligaments than muscle tissue,” says Green. “Because they don’t have the contractile properties of a muscle, it’s usually fine to massage them before dancing.”

There are times to be cautious about massage. If you suspect a fracture, or if you have an open wound, deep work can exacerbate it. “If you are injured, get a diagnosis first,” says Green. “If you have an infection, a massage could spread it.” Though lymph massage, Green notes, can flush the tissues and relieve swelling.

Massage can also help in ways that go beyond a dancer’s mobility. Simoniello noticed he had more confidence performing after he added massage to his health regime. “Dance is not solely an art of physicality,” he says. “Mind and spirit are involved as well.  Massage provides a non-judgmental place for treatment, allowing us not only to physically heal, but to take a breath and and care for ourselves.”

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New Buildings for Dance

Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity. Photo by Lisa Lipovac.

Reprinted from Culturemap.

Update:  The story may have posted a while back but my interest in new buildings for dance continues.  The Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity  in the renovated 1914 Power House building on the Union Station campus, opens on August 22, 2011. With seven studios, including the main studio floor of the Ginger and Michael Frost Studio Theatre, the Bolender Center will serve as the destination for dance for the company, the school and the community as well.  I had the good fortune to spend some time with Kansas City Ballet’s Music Director Ramona Pansegrau at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this summer, who told me about their new dance digs. The building opened on Aug. 22, 2011.  I finally did get to write a story on Ballet Austin’s downtown choice in Dance Teacher.  I am also happy to report that I have not gotten lost in Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance in at least a week. The building is breaking in nicely and I still get a thrill when I drive by.

“When I get my career off the ground, I’m going to perform in this alley,” I told my brother some three decades ago. The pathetic part is that I wasn’t kidding.

That alley was eventually officially named “Dance Alley,” even though the venue was forced into an even more marginal area. During my dancing life, I performed in all manner of hovels, ramshackle spaces and places that the fire marshal deemed not fit for the public (fine for dancers though).

So you can just imagine my joy when I returned from summer vacation two years ago to find Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance already on its way to becoming Houston’s temple of dance.

Artists Jordan Reed and Katlyn Addison rehearse in the new Houston Ballet Center for Dance. Photo by Amitava Sarkar

New buildings and arts organizations make a touchy subject. Putting money into bricks and mortar has bankrupted many a theater company in this nation. But I was the one getting defensive if anyone gave me grief about Houston Ballet’s new digs. I would ask, “Have you ever been in C.C. Conner’s office when the men are jumping? Houston Ballet needed a new building to match the level of their national stature. Let’s get on it with.” And they did.

As a card carrying-citizen of Planet Houston dance, I take pride in that shiny new structure. My name is scribbled on the last steel beam, along with those of the staff, the company and members of the entire Houston Ballet community. I walked into the building with the company for the first time, and watched their very first plie. Company class may have been business as usual, yet I imagine the day stirred many a dancer to wonder, “I work here?”

Here’s a question: How do you know how society values you based on the buildings you work in? I set off on a pilgrimage to find out.

New York

I nearly fell over crossing 55th Street, when I first laid eyes on the Joan A. Weill Center for Dance, home of Alvin Ailey American Dance TheaterAiley II and The Ailey School in New York City. It’s that impressive. Large windows allow you to gaze on all kinds of dancing. Light and airy, if buildings could breath, this one does.

The in-house theater has perfect sight lines for dance, too. I like to pop in every time I’m in New York and feel in a “dance is in the dumps” mood. I perk right up as I imagine the some 5,000 students do who train yearly in the 77,000-square-foot facility. It’s a dance monument, if I have ever seen one.

Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, New York Photo by Michael Hart

I ventured over to Center For Performance Research, Brooklyn’s first L.E.E.D. Certified green building of its kind. The award-winning lab offers affordable space for performance and rehearsal along with innovative programing. Developed by Jonah Bokaer and John Jasperse, the 4,000-square-foot space is a mixed-use residential and commercial condominium that also houses a non-profit community arts facility on the ground floor. It’s one smart way of having a place to develop your work.

Bokaer and Jasperse, two seminal American dance makers, built the studio’s floor themselves. I had to think about that for a minute. You should too.

Ballet Austin's Butler Dance Education Center in downtown Austin Photo by Andrew Yates

Austin

I promised I would drive by Ballet Austin for a brief chat with their artistic director Stephen Mills last year when Dominic Walsh was featured in the troupe’s New American Talent program Two hours later, I was still there, entranced by the tale of how executive director Cookie Ruiz  granted Mills’ wish of finding a downtown location.

Today, the Butler Dance Education Center houses two schools, Ballet Austin’s Academy, The Butler Community School, along with the professional company and Ballet Austin II, who just happen to be performing Thang Dao’s Quiet Imprint  in Houston on Saturday at the Hobby Center. The building is glamorous, a total looker, just teaming with motion and so welcoming.

If a building could say, “Hey, come on in,” this one does. No wonder I didn’t want to leave — that and everyone’s warm Texas hospitality.

James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center at Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State & Others

There are buildings I have written about but have yet to visit, like ODC’s The Dance Commons in San Francisco, Mark Morris Dance Group’s Brooklyn-based The Dance CenterJoffrey Ballet’s Joffrey Tower in Chicago and Booker T. Washington’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas’ sleek new arts district. I’d like to see Atlanta Ballet’s snazzy new place as well.

My most recent visit was to Sam Houston State University‘s new James & Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center, which opened this past fall. I was there to visit classes, catch up with the faculty and review their inaugural concert in The Dance Gallery, built especially for dance. The building is graceful, there is no other way to explain it. A dramatic James Surls sculpture fills the atrium of this spacious facility, which encourages students of various disciplines to mix and mingle.

Dana E. Nicolay, associate dean and professor of dance, treated me to an in-depth tour. As a key person in the planning process, Nicolay could explain the thought behind every decision in elaborate detail. The pride he exuded was palpable. We lingered for a long while, watching classes through the expansive windows.

The experience of a new space is considerably different for those who endured the difficulties of the dance department’s former quarters than for freshmen, who have only known this elegant place.

Even though I already knew the answer to my question, I couldn’t resist asking. “Do you think it affects dancers’ self esteem to learn in a building like this?” The look in Nicolay’s eyes told me everything I needed to know.

His comments made me think about the Summer Intensive students who will enter Houston Ballet’s building soon and never know anything different. This will be their first impression of Houston Ballet.

If buildings could talk, this one is whispering, “You are valued.”

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