Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guest Ballet/Photographer Speaker

Finally the time has come for me to write about my school's lecture last Thursday. Our guest speaker was Steven Caras, former NYCB dancer and photographer. He shared with us a brief history of his life story as well as his current projects.

He described his coming into the ballet world as a "Billy Elliot" beginning. Coming from a very strict and traditional Greek family in New Jersey, his training began with some Agnes de Mille choreography in a high school play. Inspired by this new experience (as well as a DANCE magazine cover with a Joffrey male dancer jumping in front of the White House), he began taking ballet classes at the age of fifteen.

His first audition was for the Joffrey School of Ballet. He was in an advanced class along with professional company members AND Ruddie and Margot!!! Of course after only four months of training, he was not accepted into the advanced level. This however did not stop him from auditioning for the beginning level, which he was accepted into. This resulted in a full scholarship, private lessons, and his father ignoring him for a long time. He admitted to having much emotional abuse.

Next he joined the School of American Ballet for three years, and upon his third was invited to join the NYCB as a corps de ballet member. Called the "Greek Boy" by Balanchine, Caras enjoyed a vast repertoire including his favorite, Donizetti Variations. After a few years, his father finally watched one of his shows.

At the age of 27, he bought a used camera to use as a "diversion, something else to think about."

Steven Caras' photography career began when 'Mr. B' asked for his film in which he chose several photographs that he "needed." He was soon hired by TIME, the New York Times, and Newsweek to commission his art. His work has also appeared in many books.

After his retirement from NYCB, Edward Villella invited Caras to be the ballet master for the newly-formed Miami City Ballet. Although this was a fear and challenge to him, he took a risk, and joined Villella as a master and photographer. Also in Palm Beach County, he worked with Ballet Florida as the artistic liaison and became MCB's fundraiser.

Currently Steven Caras still fund-raises for MCB, teaches at the Dreyfus School of the Arts, and the Kravis Center in Palm Beach County. He also is a Development Director for the Palm Beach Dramaworks.

Steven Caras was chosen to have a PBS documentary made about him. They chose him, out of hundreds of other dancers, because of his struggle to overcome a big social-barrier from a normal teenage boy to a professional dancer and photographer. Against all odds, he succeeded in his career and teaching himself photography without any previous training. After viewing this documentary, Caras wants people to embrace the art form of dance and to see the reality of dance (not just the finished product).

Emmy-Award-Winning Deborah Novak and John Witek will be directing the documentary named Steven Caras: See Them Dance. Filming will begin in May and continue throughout the summer. Caras feels he is "honored by being singled out as one of the many [other famous dancers]."

Students had the chance to ask him questions -- about anything.
Are there any of your photographs that you feel is most significant to you?
Steven Caras:
Suzanne Farrell in the wings. She was my favorite... looking at her face from the side. My world was backstage... I couldn't stop looking at her, and all of the company... the pictures I like are more of the behind-the-scenes ones.

What was it like working with Jerome Robbins?
Steven Caras:
He was really hard because there's only one thing worse than working with him, and that was not working with him - let me put it that way-- because he loved me when I joined because I was the new meat in the freezer... It was heaven. A lot of the stuff he did on us back then was forgettable. He was so insecure with himself that he took it out on all of us... It was often times very humiliating [for us]... But we loved being in his ballets, but the awkward compared to Balanchine's - I have to tell you- Balanchine's ballets felt like custom-clothing.

When you were growing up - rehearsing and training - who were your biggest role models?
Steven Caras:
When I was at the Joffrey School, I used to see Edward Villella and Jacques D'Amboise on the Ed Sullivan Show, and they were so divine as performers and masculine. And I thought they can do it, it can't be wrong for me. And then when I went to the School of American Ballet, Jacques and Suzanne actually taught us, and they were really young then... A teacher I loved very much in New York, David Howard, was a great teacher. he taught me more about how to relax certain muscles. Balanchine was a finishing school. If you want to know what a very difficult class was like he would do just, the piano would just do [Caras makes an introductory note and motions many jetes in one beat]... And then we'd get into the center. He'd do this - plie, entre-six to grand plie - for the men, first step. So we were all in his class, at least an hour before doing a whole class. But he was finishing school, and again when I talked about time and how essential it is to learn everything - he used to say do this in the mirror at home, do this because it's not this. Do this, and pick up the laundry when you're home [Caras motions elegantly picking up laundry]. And he was right... I have to say it was Balanchine at the end of the day. No one at the school, Stanley Williams didn't pay any attention to me unless Mr. Balanchine walked into the room and [he motions his teacher paying attention to him finally, and stops as Balanchine leaves]... I started too late, I wasn't of interest to him [Williams].

Did you take class with Danilova?
Steven Caras:
Danilova, yes. Madame Danilova, the famous ballerina...She was like this in arabasque - total drag: the scarf, the earrings, the pearls, the skirt, the yellow, yellow, pink, green, the little ballet slippers that were curled up this way. And she came up to me once and said [in Russian accent], 'When is your birthday?' And I said, 'October 25th.' And she said, 'You're a scorpio; we are bitches.' I was sixteen, so I went home to my parents and said, 'Mom and Dad, Danilova said we're bitches because we're scorpios.' Yeah, she said worse too, she was tough.

For me, the most memorable part of this lecture was the fact that during the 60's and 70's it was extremely hard for a boy to become a male dancer in a country where male dancers were discriminated. This lecture also ignited my own desire of becoming a ballet dancer and photographer. I particularly enjoyed viewing some of Mr. Caras' vast photography archive. We saw photos of NYCB, MCB, and other companies. We saw dancers such as Makarova, Baryshnikov, Nureyev, and Kirkland just to name a few. The most intriguing photograph to me was "Mr. Balanchine's Last Bow" in which Mr. Caras captured Mr. B's last bow as well as dancers hidden behind the curtain also applauding Mr. B. I feel that this picture showed how beautiful dance's art form is, and how everyone is one big family.

Interested in reading more? Check out Steven Caras' website: http://www.stevencaras.com/index.shtml

"If the day is going slowly for you, that means you're young. It doesn't go slowly for me, ever, I love every minute of my life." - Steven Caras

Thursday, April 22, 2010

guest speaker!!! very exciting

We had a guest speaker at our school today. I would like to write about what he talked about as soon as I have more time to compose my thoughts into clear sentences, rather than my normal babbling.

Hint: NYCB dancer and photographer =]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Russian Back

These past few months one of my goals has been to acquire that certain je ne sais quoi that Russian dancers have in their torso. People usually notice (myself included) that the Russians seem to look as if they are falling backwards with their upper spine. A few times in class, my excellent teacher, has helped me to feel this "russian back". I have noticed that it is easier for me to achieve this posture whenever I'm in releve. When I'm flat, I feel short and low to the ground.

My teacher stresses that we use the part of our backs that holds up our arms to also lengthen our spines. I do not know the specific name of this muscle in our backs, but it is the one that is behind your armpit. Whenever my posture is correct, I feel as if these two muscles (right and left) are pinching -- but in a good way. I told my teacher about the feeling of pinching, and she said that it makes sense, and is not wrong.

I have been working especially hard on bending my upper torso back when my working leg is in devant en l'air.

Today I stuffed myself with IB Profin. My back felt great, almost like I never hurt it. My foot was taped (in order to support my non-existant arches) and it still hurt. I had actually rolled in on it in rehearsal on Tuesday. But I think that the IB Profin really helped alot. It isn't hurting so much walking on it anymore.

I just found out that ROger Waters (Pink Floyd's bass player) is doing a The Wall tour next autumn!! I am very excited, and I hope I can get tickets =]

Dancing is wonderful training for girls, it's the first way you learn to guess what a man is going to do before he does it. ~Christopher Morley, Kitty Foyle

Monday, April 19, 2010


Through the use of this blog, I would like to publish my findings on anything about ballet. I already have a ballet journal which I've been writing in since Christmas.

I would really like to communicate with other students, teachers, and professionals.

I feel that I am quite credible in the ballet field (but still have much to learn of course), and I have one of the best teachers currently in America whom I have asked countless questions and confide in.

Here are some things I would like to talk about:
-how-to-do ballet movements
-performances - critiques

So, please, anyone out there in the world, READ MY BLOG PLEASE AND THANK YOU!

I am a very bad blogger =[ but I will try from now on =]

If the title of this blog doesn't make sense, let me elaborate; I need to start blogging more often.
Anyways it has long since been Christmas break. Infact, I have already traveled home for spring break, and now I am back at school.

Dance is going well, except I have been injured for the past month or so. The doctor says he thinks I strained my back and that I have insertional tendonitis where the achilles meets the plantar fascia (in the heel) as well as bursitis on the heel. He prescribed me with orthodics (for my flat feet), a night splint (so my foot does not move during my slumbers), and physical therapy three times a week. All of these things I cannot afford, but luckily the physical therapist here at school is included with my scholarship. =]

My physical therapist and I do not agree with the doctor's diagnostic. What I do know is that there is nothing wrong structurally with my foot/back due to x-rays and an MRI. It is also not plantar fascitis because otherwise I would be crying after taking my first step out of bed in the morning. It also cannot be bursitis because my foot failed the bursitis test.

In the meantime, I limit by battements derriere and jumps. I have also begun to tape my feet (instead of buying $400 orthodics which I cannot even trust will help).

So all of this babbling makes no sense because I am not any further than I was to begin with. At least I feel relieved now.

Anyways, jai ho!
And until next time I log on!