Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Something new.

I am pleased to announce that as of today, my check has cleared, and I am a member of the Actors Equity Association. I am now part of two unions. (AEA and AGMA.) I feel that while there are naturally some down sides to only being able to do union shows, the benefits (health insurance, better wages, better contracts over all) in the long run will well out way the negatives. As I have said, I feel fulfilled artistically having been on stage for almost ten full seasons, that if it takes me a little while to get back up there, I will be ok.

To me, it is important to be able to walk into the union audition calls without having to wait to be seen. I also feel that while yes, my resume isn't yet as extensive in the theatre department as it will be, it is good enough to back me up in this decision. I have worked consistently in a union theatre for the past four years. I've worked consistently in a reputable ballet company for ten. I've weighed the pros and cons a million and two times, and I feel confident in my decision.

Most importantly, I'm excited!! I feel like I'm ready to have that label (AEA) attached to me. Now it's time to prove to the casting directors that I can indeed back it up! Once again, here goes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Here I am in the wonderful world that we dancers call "Layoff." To some, that may seem like a scary or strange word just as "Retiring" is, and I suppose for the rest of the world we could call it "Break," but there's not really anything glamorous about it. It's a reality of the profession. We do however look forward to it. It's nice to have time off, especially after a long run.

Most dancers collect unemployment for a couple of weeks, travel to see family, take guesting gigs, or in my case (and for the first time,) stay in town and try and save money! I realized that I needed to use these couple of weeks to begin to clear my head and get a bit more organized. To be honest, I believe more of that will happen during the second week! This first week, I am allowing myself to have a vacation. I'm going to check some things off of my Kansas City "Bucket List" such as visiting the National World War One museum and anything else that I can think of. As an artist, I am fully aware of the importance of taking a real break from what I do.

Simply breathing and giving myself the chance to do things unrelated to dance will help me refocus and build up steam to propel me into 2010 as well as the rest of the season. So often, the craziness of my daily schedule drowns out the sights and sounds of the beautiful opportunities that are around me. Many times in my life, I have found the most clarity and the ability to identify open doors that I had no idea were there when I have simply been quiet. Those who know me well know that my definition of "quiet" is anything but quiet for the rest of humanity! Still, I am anxious to see what doors may appear over these next two weeks. Perhaps I will only end up cleaning my apartment and doing laundry, (unlikely) but at least I will be able to sleep in a couple more days than usual.

My Last Nutcracker Performance as Drosselmeyer.

I wasn't ready to speak about my last experience on stage as Dross yesterday directly after the performance, but I am ready now. I will start by saying how thankful I am that I was given such an opportunity to play the role of my childhood dreams. I had the chance to thank my Ballet Master to whom I had first expressed interest in the role after the show for giving me the part, and I felt that it brought closure to the whole deal. He after all, is the caretaker of Todd Bolender's production of "The Nutcracker." He was the closest to the creator himself.

Even before I stepped on stage as Drosselmeyer yesterday, there was something special in the air. I put on my makeup while looking at the picture that I use as a guide (of myself) from my first Dross. In the picture I look so excited yet calm, and that is how I felt until the last moment. My dressing room mates and other dancers were kind to ask me how I was doing from time to time. It hadn't completely hit me yet.

Every detail of my preparation for Dross was special. Preparing my magic tricks, presetting my props, making sure my pyro-technics were loaded and ready to fire-it all was slow and meticulously handled with the most care ever. My first entrance felt calm and wonderful. During the party scene, I made sure that I was aware of every movement I made. I still acted from the heart and made sure things were naturally played, but I remember every second of that party. From scolding Fritz for breaking the Nutcracker all the way to pretending to straighten the photographs on the back-drop (something the majority of the audience would probably never know I did,) I made sure that I took every detail in.

The first time I began to tear up was during the scene where Drosselmeyer quietly takes the Nutcracker from a sleeping Clara's arms and repairs it. When I looked down at Clara, I was overtaken with the emotion of how much joy it brought me to live as that character and guard over that little girl. I've probably had about 16 people play that role with me over the years, but this time it meant even more than usual. I felt what I can only imagine it would feel to really take care of a child of ones own.

The transformation/tree growing scene felt powerful and elaborate. When it came time for me to make my final entrance is when I really lost it. In this production, Dross masks the "Prince" with his cape as he makes his way behind the bed to become the Nutcracker. In that moment, I realized it would be the last time that I would be seen on stage in Kansas City as that role. Through my tears, I made myself see as much as I could of the scene and beyond. I registered the exit lights in the audience. I took as much in as I could. It was the last time I would hold that power.

In our production, Dross doesn't get a curtain call. However, this time, they allowed me to take a solo bow. I did it in true Matthew fashion-with fire flashing from my hand and everything!

When the curtain finally fell, I was overwhelmed by the support of my coworkers as they gathered around me to hug me and say "Congratulations." They were so kind and amazing to me.

I know that it is time to move on, but I still haven't completely registered that Dross is over. It seems like yesterday that I was twelve pretending to be the character. Now it's gone! I know that I leave the part in capable hands who I'm happy to say enjoyed the role. Now, as I enter into the rest of my season, I plan to do exactly as I did with this last show. I want to see everything around me. I don't want to miss a thing. Drosselmeyer may be finished in my book, but I have all the memories I need to last me the rest of my life. I am completely thankful for the experience.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nutcracker is closed.

Today, I had my last two performances with Kansas City Ballet of "The Nutcracker." I was pleased with both performances, but I am not ready to go into great details right now.

I "remained vertical" which is always a plus during Trepak, and Drosselmeyer went off as well as I could have hoped for it to. I had a wonderful time.

I plan to elaborate tomorrow on my final experience, but for now, I'm quite drained. I am thankful and humbled by the support that my friends showed for me today. They took excellent care, and I am forever indebted to them.

To be continued...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Mouse Tale.

From time to time, we performers are given what I like to call "gifts." In tonight's performance of "The Nutcracker," I was given such a gift.

Today seemed to go by as if it was some sort of hazy dream. My next-to-last Dross was great, but there was something different that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It was almost as if my subconscious was trying to stop time and make everything go by as slowly as it could. Needless to say, I didn't succeed.

In the second performance, I portrayed my last "Mouse King." As tradition commands, I tormented the Soldiers, Bunny and Nutcracker backstage before the "battle." The children had no way of knowing that this show was any different from any other. To me, this marked the death of a tradition.

Zoom forward to my last battle. Here is where I was given the "gift." A "gift" is something that I define as an opportunity which happens during live theatre that isn't planned, thereby giving the artist the chance to use their creativity. The amount of creativity the artist is able to employ quickly during such an event defines a part of their artistic maturity in my book. Note, it is nearly impossible to accept and use such a gift if one takes themselve too seriously.

During Todd Bolender's battle scene, while the Mouse King is attacking the Nutcracker, the Bunny pulls the King's tail in order to distract him. The King, surprised by the pull sweeps his sword and accidentally swipes his own tail. His pain causes him to jump which also startles the Bunny, thereby causing her to jump.

Tonight, once the tail-swipe and jump were accomplished, I looked to see my tail laying on the floor. The Bunny didn't know her own strength evidently, and pulled my tail clean off.

I did what any agonizing soldier would do in this scenario, I picked up my tail with hopes that the doctor would be able to re-attach it. In the meantime, I beat the Nutcracker senseless-both with my sword (as choreographed) and the tail-much to the delight of the audience.

I must say, this was the most fun I have ever had as the Mouse King. Naturally, I had already decided my motivational theme for the evening before entering the stage, but once this happened, all characterization shifted. I now had something real to play off of. Moments like these are what I absolutely live for in theatre.

I cannot think of a more monumental way to say good-bye to such a fun role. With tonight's fiasco, I was given the chance to have a closing performance that I will never forget. I can't think of a time when I have ever received so much applause for this character. It was as if I had a true farewell and curtain call of sorts. What a rush.

Sleepless in Kansas City-again.

After some time trying to get my body to settle down and get some rest tonight, I've finally identified the anxiety that is keeping me awake. I only have two more days and four shows of "The Nutcracker." Tomorrow-well, today-I'll perform my last of two Drosselmeyers, my last Mouse King and my last Buffoon. It's funny to be mourning parts that I have taken for granted for so long such as the latter two of the three roles I just mentioned.

I suppose that in having a day off for the Christmas holiday, and my family being here, I was distracted and didn't have much time to do my usual brooding over the significance of these last upcoming days. They've just snuck up on me. I'm happy that I've had the fun of family and friends this week, but now reality is quietly raising it's hand as if to say, "Remember me?"

Well, "reality," I do indeed remember you, and I'm ready-and not ready-and ready. I'll just have to see what it's like in a few hours when I take to the stage.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Time!

As luck would have it, my last Christmas in Kansas City has turned out to be a "White Christmas." Most of my immediate family made it to town to see my last Nutcracker and be with me for the Holiday. The shows have been going well over the last couple of days, and for that I am thankful.

I may be one of the only dancers who feels this way (I'm sure I'm not,) but I really hope we don't get snowed out of any performances. I want every last chance on that stage. I can't imagine why anyone would rather not be up there. I don't care how tired and sore I am, being on stage is the place to be. All to soon, it will be over. When we're younger, we don't really have a true grasp on this concept. We all feel so artistically immortal in the early years. (note: I don't have to do Snow and Waltz of the Flowers, which I understand to be grueling time after time.)

I received a Christmas card from a dear teacher of mine from NCSA. He had an encouraging way to state and look at retirement. He said that when he finished dancing with the American Ballet Theatre, he stated that he was "Graduating" from dance. I thought that was genuinely a unique and not-so-solemn way to express it as "Retiring."

I'm considering adopting this phrase-at least on the days when I'm not feeling super dramatic. (a.k.a. when I'm not feeling like myself.) Other than that, I think I'll continue going for the surprised and somewhat shocked look when I tell people I'm retiring. After all, it is fun to say.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Here I come to save the day.....

Call me crazy, but I love getting "thrown on" for a role that I wasn't scheduled to perform. I love it when I see a performance and there is an announcement that an understudy or different cast will be performing. To me, that is the time to see true professionalism come forth.

Today, when I arrived at the theatre, my friend came up to me and said, "Just so you know, Jim called out today because he has a fever." "What's Peter doing?" I asked. "Lead Spanish." he said. I quickly did the math and realized that I was the only one available to do the role. I would probably be going on for Trepak. When the Ballet Master came towards the dressing room door I asked, "Why do I have a suspicious feeling in my gut?!?" He said "Yup, you're on-thanks guy!"

And so, on I went for Trepak, and I think it was my best one so far this year. I was happy to get to do it again because my family is here, and I had a chance to outdo the performance they saw yesterday (which I think I succeeded in so doing.) I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with it again.

Here's my philosophy about being thrown on for other people, and I know it may sound silly. I calm myself by thinking, "Hey, I wasn't supposed to do this part today. I'm saving the show! There's no pressure. I'm just going to enjoy this one. So, I do just that! I enjoy it. I pretend to be a kind of hero. In reality, it falls under my job description, but I still like to think I'm saving the show.

I know this may sound ludicrous, but this is honestly how I prepare myself in these situations. Actually, I'm beginning to apply this to my daily performance routine in order that someday, I may find a way to not be nervous at all-regardless of the situation.

It's always a bummer when a coworker is sick, but I'm happy to take opportunities to perform as they arise (especially this year,) and this one went pretty well over all. I'll take all the stage time I can get at this point.

-the names of the dancers that I referenced were changed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Get a grip.

Most everyone who knows me knows that I am a bit dramatic (I've confessed to this many times.) I have to be honest and say that my stupid fall during my performance last week has affected my mentality a bit. I psych myself out before I get onstage, and I actually have to remind myself that things will be okay. I've done the role a million times before.

I think the thing that may be bothering me the most is the fact that I watched the video of the mishap directly after it happened. Sometimes, ignorance is indeed bliss. I was not happy with the way I looked on the video (after the fall, of course.) Mind you, I give myself quite a bit of grace for being shaky having just eaten floor in front of everyone, but my ego is a little bruised by the way I felt I looked.

We are most definitely our harshest critics, and this will be so until the end of time. I have to say that I've always felt that I dance better on stage because I can't see what I look like without the mirror. I feel more free to simply dance and enjoy being myself. If there's one thing that I would encourage dancers to do, it would be to wait at least a little while before watching a performance of themselves. More often than not, it will never look as good as you remember it feeling, but with time, fortunately it won't look as bad either!

Never fear, there is so much more to my life than whether my toe-touches looked like glorified jumping jacks or not, so no one needs to worry about my mental health. Still, while I'm struggling with the normal issues of wondering if I still can cut it as a ballet dancer, watching the video did bug me. Tonight's performance was much better than the one I had after "the fall," so with my next two shows of this role, I hope to regain my confidence even more. Any way it goes, they're my last, so I'd better make them count! (no pressure...)

Monday, December 21, 2009


I've spoken about it before, but I was reminded tonight once more of how lucky I am to have had such a diverse community of artists to connect with here in Kansas City. I love being able to go to parties such and events and see artists who I have worked with or crossed paths with over the years.

I know that I am really going to miss this. There is a small town feel to this city that commands a high quality and level of excellence without seeming too arrogant. It's amazing to me to see these things coexist. I feel that in a larger city, the rat-race could breed such nasty and competitive energies if one isn't careful.

One of my goals when I move to New York will be to take the graciousness I have learned by watching the actors in Kansas City and attempt to hold onto that positive energy. It really carries a power that is unlike any I have ever seen.

By pushing myself into the community of artists beyond the ballet company during my time here, I have had the chance to learn about good and bad energies as I've built my own character by watching those around me. I wish I had time to learn even more, but hopefully, from what I have observed, I will be set up for a good start.

More Media.

The Kansas City Star did a two page spread on me in the Star Magazine section of the Sunday paper. Here's the link to the interview:

Happy Holidays.

Last night I put one of my most beloved Kansas City traditions to rest. It was my sixth annual "Hark the Herald Dancers Sing" Christmas Caroling party. Every year the party has had it's own flavor-sometimes singing occurs, sometimes not so much, but I always have looked forward to this night. I felt so grateful to have such a great group of people in my place helping to "make the season bright." This year was unique in that one of the dancers (and the one who got me this job) had her baby with her. It was a truly special evening all around.

I will miss the ability to host that many people in my place. It definitely has been a good place for that over the years. I'm doubtful that I will find an apartment in the city that I can fit forty people into! That's not how many were there last night, but I've seen that happen before.

Thank you to all of my lovely friends who were at the party, and those who couldn't make it for being so wonderful and caring over the years. I've loved hosting you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The right path.

Yesterday, I attended the audition that I made mention of in the entry prior to this one. Simply stated, I had a blast. I found myself enjoying the process of it, and I really felt full of an energy that seemed to say, "You're definitely making the correct decision for yourself." Let me be clear, I was definitely nervous, but even in the more challenging section of the audition for me, I was able to keep my head on straight, stay focused, and enjoy myself. I made it through both of the cuts and was one of five who was asked to sing out of around twenty or thirty-something male dancers who auditioned.

This was just one of many auditions that I will attend. Whether or not I book the gig at this point isn't what matters the most to me. The small success of loving what I was doing was huge for my confidence level. I can't wait until I am able to say, "I love auditioning!" That is the goal I have decided to set for myself.

I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. I had two performances after I had the audition, so I'm practically delirious as I write this! In the evening show I danced Trepak once again, and I'm happy to report that I didn't fall this time. I was a bit less comfortable with it than usual, but my confidence will return, and I'll enjoy it once again! In the meantime, I'm getting some rest.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holy Smokes!

Today after my short interview aired on NPR, there were more hits than ever in one day on this humble blog! Thank you to all who checked it out.

Some random thoughts tonight. I was touched by an audience member who was moved to tears by the Nutcracker. It was a wonderful experience. Remember, I'm not one who forgets that this art form is first and foremost a performing art-for the audience, but I was almost shocked to realize how meaningful what I do can be to people. That is worth more than a million curtain calls. It is such an honor to think that I am indeed making a difference in at least one person's life. It's nice to have the reminder that what I do is indeed important.

Tomorrow, I have an audition for a large and reputable professional outdoor theatre here in town. I am excited to get a taste of what I will be soon doing a lot of. I'm going to make it a point to enjoy myself. I'm going to allow myself to be whatever I happen to be in the moment-excited, nervous, you name it. I'm simply going to be. There is always something to be learned from auditioning. In a few hours, I'll find out what this lesson has in store.

-Oh, on a totally different subject. My dear Mother is good at catching spelling errors that I make that my spell check may not have. If anyone ever is offended by a misspelled word or simply wants to help save my reputation as the fourth grade county spelling bee champ, please, feel free to comment. Don't worry, I'll make sure that I have a good editor when I begin turning these many thoughts into a book.....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

There's a first...

"The Nutcracker." The colorful party scene, watching the Mouse King battle the wooden man, the graceful snow flakes, the colorful Land of Suites with all of their beautiful divertisments-all this and more, that's what Christmas means to me, my love! (as the song says.)

Now, picture me sleeplessly trying to get a nap in before going to the theatre, the steps I've executed countless times racing through my head-Pirouette-one, two, three, plie-double tour up!-Repeat. Picture me excited as I giddily take company class, doubtlessly annoying the other dancers with my enthusiasm. I make it through the party scene, I warm up backstage, I complete the introduction to the second act, I wait anxiously-Spanish, Arabian, Chinese-finally, Trepak time! (Russian) I spring onto stage and complete my first diagonal, I rush around to the upstage right side and begin the repeat of the first diagonal to the second side. I complete it-land, and then suddenly, the floor moves out from under me! Before I know it, I hit the deck in a swirl of orange and blue with a dull thud. All that comes to mind as I roll upstage is break dancing. I acknowledge the audience with a proud and generous gesture, and I spring to my feet to complete the dance-laughing all the way, HO, HO, HO!

Wow. What a rush! In ten years of dancing with the ballet, I haven't taken a spill like that. I've seen others do it, but never have I! It was exhilarating! However, I'd be okay with that being the only time that ever happens.

In that moment, I have to say, I laughed! What else could I do?!? Directly afterward, I watched the video, and no, the rest of the variation definitely wasn't the crowning performance of my Trepak career, but hey, I had just fallen! If there was ever any doubt in my mind, I now know that I can indeed take a spill on stage!

I laugh and almost boast about the experience, but it was humbling for me. I'm thankful that I didn't hurt myself. It was a bad enough fall that my executive director came backstage from the audience to check on me (which meant a lot.) Even though I display a cocky and boisterous response to the event, it still shook me up. I have to make the decision not to let it freak me out too much. I have to brush it off. I am glad that I was able to see the humor in it. I think it signifies that I've grown as an artist-it's not the end of the world. I love what I do. I love that I was out there and able to enjoy and laugh at the worst technical performance of my career. I'm really not exaggerating.

To any of you dancers who have yet to fall on stage, fear not. As long as you don't hurt yourself and as long as you don't take life too seriously, you may find that falling is just the thing you need to make you realize how much you love what you do. Drink it all in-every moment. It goes fast.

On the radio and web.

For any who may be interested, tomorrow, Dec. 18th, KCUR our local NPR affiliate will be airing an interview I did about my blogging about my retirement. After it airs, it will be posted online and one can listen to it there. There are also several pictures on their website posted now. the link is:


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Never forget.

My first Drosselmeyer went well this morning I'm happy to report. What I'm interested in writing about now is a bit of eavesdropping I did while getting prepared in my dressing room.

The young boys in the production and their mothers have the dressing room directly next to mine. The boys range from ages six to fourteen. This morning, the air was buzzing with their excitement. Not only were they talking about the upcoming performance, but they talked about funny or cool things company members had said or done in the recent days. They talked about video games. They spoke about their families. Most interesting though, was hearing them compare how they got started in dance.

Hearing these tidbits made me analyze the importance of remembering how we come to the places we are now as adults. For all of us, there are dreams from our childhood that jump started our minds and helped us to think about "what we wanted to be when we grew up." Although sometimes we deviate from those dreams in adulthood, they still exist somewhere in our memory, and the ability to tap back into the energy of them can make a huge difference in our careers and our lives. In the times when we find ourselves stuck or without inspiration, if we can look back and tap into those memories, I believe we can do much more than simply "pull through" the difficulty. It may even help us to refocus and perhaps do something scary and/or risky that could put our lives back on a track that may be closer to that of our initial dreams.

I have always enjoyed hearing the simple wisdom that comes out of the voices of children. Yes, sometimes their energy can be jarring, but during Nutcracker, I am going to try to listen to their innocent voices and see what other lessons they may spark in my mind.

Opening Night/Day.

I'm up much earlier than I need to be this morning. I don't know that it is completely out of excitement or completely out of anxiety and nerves. I wish that I could pin my inability to sleep of late on one thing or another.

This morning we open with a school show of Nutcracker. The house will be completely packed with kids from local schools. This is traditionally the most enthusiastic crowd we will have the whole run. I get the ball rolling with Drosselmeyer. As it turns out, I open and close the run with the same part! Perhaps I'll never know if they planned it this way or if I simply got "lucky." I'm happy it turned out this way.

This evening will be our official public opening of the show. I always get a thrill from an opening night. Regardless of the show or role, I love knowing that there are finally people who have paid, sitting in the audience expecting a good show. What a privilege and a duty to serve them. Who cares about nerves, who cares about sore muscles at that point? I have to muster all of my energy and give it my all as if it's my last one.

Of course, that last statement rings a bit more true for me this year as each one really is my last Nutcracker opening. I feel as if I'm trying to inhale the whole experience and hold my breath for fear that if I exhale, it will all be gone.

How did my career go by so quickly? Around every corner backstage I run into some ghostlike memory from Nutcrackers past. Stories pop into my brain that I had forgotten. In the eyes of the little soldiers, angels, party and Mother Ginger children, there is no way of knowing that behind the mask of this goofy Mouse King who is playfully harassing them or the Drosselmeyer who they ask to do magic tricks for them (even offstage,) is a man who is sad and feels that a part of him is dying.

Even in my sadness, I feel that I am ready for this. I am excited, and by golly, I will-I repeat WILL find a way to live for every moment my feet step onto that stage.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I am a bit behind this year, but I will make it. You see, I have made a holiday ornament for each of my colleagues for every season that I have been a member of the Kansas City Ballet. It began as something fun just to say "Happy Holidays," but for me, it turned out to be something that I really enjoyed. I love a challenge, and to come up with a different idea every year and sometimes even learn a new skill through the process of it all has been a wonderful experience for me. I'm not finished with them yet.

I put a lot of pressure on myself this year thinking I had to go out with a bang. My moment of clarity came when I found myself looking at a glass ball ornament and I realized that in order to do what I had envisioned, I was going to have to practically take a "ship in a bottle" approach and come up with a way to collapse and erect a sculpture inside the orb. I was driving myself insane over ornaments! That was ridiculous! I took the balls back to the store and came up with something different. Suddenly, the stress lifted (a bit) and the joy was back in the process.

This made me think about how often in life I allow small things that should bring me happiness get out of hand and find control over my emotions. If I want to maintain the ability to call myself a "control freak," this simply can't be so! I have to be bigger than the ornament! Seriously though, taking a breath and remembering that things will naturally fall into place if I don't try too hard to force them to will save me a lot of head and heartaches in the future. The small fiasco with the ornament was a reminder of that.

It also helped me to realize that no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to top the personalized "bobble head" ornaments I made of everyone in the company back in 2003. I mean, come on-what could?!?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm human.

Okay, so I take myself and what I do WAY too seriously sometimes. It's an easy thing for dramatic people to do. As I've talked about before, it stems from a lot of things. As an artist, I care so much about what I do that sometimes I lose perspective, and thereby I lose my cool. Today I had one of those moments.

By this point, I don't need to go into another long entry explaining how much I love the dramatic role of Drosselmeyer. Today, I had my first full costume rehearsal, and overall, it went well. Many times when I have gotten upset during my career, it has been about small things that seem big at the time. I'm sure most humans can identify. Since I've been doing this role for so long, I like not having to think about anything new. Well, the new guys that are doing the part are quite a bit taller than I am, and so the cape that Dross wears had to be extended. Even though it was tacked up, as I exited the stage, my foot got caught in it, and I heard it rip. I was extremely upset.

I lost my temper as I exited the stage, and I headed straight to the wardrobe area to give the cape to the costumer. I plopped it on the chair and angrily expressed something to the effect that I had severely damaged the costume piece. Suddenly, as I was ranting, I realized what a jerk I sounded like, and whether it was too late or not for me to pedal backwards, I tried to flip the situation around by saying, "But the good news is that I saved money by switching to Geico, and I lowered my cholesterol...."

I think I back tracked well enough, but I still felt like a jerk. To say that I don't always roll with the punches easily would be an understatement. I was upset that things hadn't gone perfectly and I had damaged my favorite costume. It has become a security blanket of sorts to me over the years. I was even more upset for not handling the situation in the best way.

Fortunately, I work with patient, understanding and forgiving people, but I hate it when I do things like that. I scared myself today because I realized that I am going to be pretty darned careful over these next two performance weeks because I think my emotions are riding a bit higher than I was aware. I'll figure it out, but I may have to find a better way to control my temper than simply quoting television commercials.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nutcracker Memories.

I thought of a story tonight as I was watching the little angels rehearse their part at the beginning of Act II. In Todd Bolender's version of "The Nutcracker," as I've said before, there are Italian commedia clown-like characters called "Buffoons" in the "Mother Ginger" scene. The costuming is diamond-checkered unitards and a mask....

During my first season, I was casually walking backstage wearing the Buffoon costume. All of a sudden our ballet mistress grabbed me by the hand, handed me a towel and pointed to the upstage left portion of the floor. There, I saw a puddle. Who knows if it is true or not, but we could only assume it was angel piddle. So, as all of the dancers exited stage after bowing to the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, on came a random clown who cartwheeled, from stage left and began feverishly spinning around the floor mopping up the mysterious liquid. After that, I cartwheeled back off, and the show continued without missing a beat.

There have been several instances such as this throughout my career, and I look back on them and grin and chuckle out loud. I love live theatre. A "perfect" performance is naturally the goal, but for me, it's the mistakes that lead to the best memories. I always loved hearing my teachers tell stories from their dancing days that seemed so outlandish and fable-like. Now, all of a sudden I realize that I too have some wonderful stories that I can share. I love it. Angel pee is hilarious-I don't care who you are! That's good material!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Here I go again.

Today I go into the theatre to begin tech rehearsals for my last "Nutcracker" with the Kansas City Ballet. Woah! It's already time?!? I am extremely excited to get back on stage again. I hope that the performances go well for everyone and that we all stay safe and healthy. We are cramming almost the same number of performances that we usually do in four weeks into two. It should be interesting. I look at it as preparation for what I'm hoping to do next! Eight shows a week with one day off is the life I want, right?

This is going to be strange for me because as I've said before, I really enjoy Nutcracker, and in two weeks it will be over. I'm going to continue to savor every second-even the potentially tense and frustrating stage rehearsals. Oh! Due to some cast shifting, I'm going to have one second act entirely off. I was only going to be playing a minor role in it, (so I'm not bummed) and now I'll get to watch the company dance from the audience if I get dressed fast enough after act one! I'm thrilled about that. I've only gotten to see our production from the front once in my whole time here! I love seeing how beautiful my coworkers are.

Time to crack some nuts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


One of the perks (if you will) of being a senior dancer is getting to observe. I have been observing a few of the newbies. I am encouraged by their drive and dedication to the art. Their eagerness is not yet jaded, and I hope it will continue to stay as such. Sometimes when entering the company life, young dancers can be swayed by the negative energy of some of the senior dancers. I have been around long enough that I can identify "negative energy" as insecurity being manifested through words and actions.

With every generation there is a chance to create new and positive perspectives on the field of dance. (or negative) It is my goal that by presenting an honest and realistic view of the field, I may be able to encourage the younger generation to focus on the positive aspects of what we do. Negatives can be so easily found! After all, we're dramatic people! All I can hope to do is talk to the younger dancers and let them know how much joy can be found by simply enjoying their careers. Don't worry! It will be over soon enough!

I am by no means an expert, but it is nice to feel that I can have some influence on those who will come behind me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Slow down month! Where is the time going? I'm running out of it by the second! Perhaps it seems to be going so quickly because usually by this time we would have already begun performing Nutcracker? I don't know. Regardless, it's going fast. I have so much to do!

Tomorrow, I have what will be my final seasonal meeting with my Artistic Director. In the past, these have been cause for a bit of anxiety as this would be the time where one finds out if they are planning to reengage you for the next season. I have quite a different feeling this time as I prepare to go in for my meeting. I anticipate it will be a time to further discuss my goals and plans as the second half of the year approaches. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

I have way to much on my plate than to dread tomorrow's meeting. In many ways I continue to feel that I am behind, but I believe my next productive spurt is just around the corner. Any day now-let's get on with it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


We've now had our first snow of the season here in Kansas City. Hopefully, it won't get too bad-I guess I'll know once I wake up in the morning. Driving in the snow is something I definitely won't miss. I always have such anxiety over it.

Over the last several days I have been having some panic attacks and overall feelings of being overwhelmed with my upcoming adventure. Tonight, I don't have a lot to write about on that subject suffice to say, I hate this feeling. That's where I am today.

I guess it's in keeping with the weather patterns outside that I feel as if I'm caught in a snowball that is getting faster and faster as it speeds down a hill. Hopefully, I won't splat at the bottom into a huge tree. Any way it goes, there's no getting off of this ride.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Drosselmeyer Part IV

Oh, it just keeps getting better! In my most recent Dross/Mouse King rehearsal, I was waiting to go on as the Mouse King while one of the other Drosselmeyers was doing the scene prior to battle where the tree grows and he brings all the mice on, etc. I looked around and was fortunate enough to see the most wonderful thing. There sitting quietly was one of the school boys acting out Drosselmeyer. I was so tickled! He caught me looking and smiled sheepishly. There's no way I was going to embarrass him in that moment! I asked him how old he was, and he said he was twelve. I told him how that was about the age that I began practicing the role. He responded with "It's a really cool part!" I couldn't agree more. I encouraged him to keep working on it.

A little later in the rehearsal, when it was my turn, I walked up to him with cape in hand and asked if he'd like to go this time instead of me. He looked excited as if perhaps he could actually have a go, and then a concerned look came on his face as he explained that he didn't know everything. I told him not to worry about it for that run, but to pay attention and learn it all if he wanted to. I told him that I wouldn't mind if he practiced it in the back as I rehearsed it. Sure enough, he was on his feet learning it behind me to the music.

Moments like this are defining my career these days. I loved seeing that kid get excited about that role. I hope that no one ever stomps that drive out of him, and I hope that I was able to encourage him enough in those brief moments to keep dreaming about the future. It really took me back about sixteen years to when I had a cape wrapped around me as I scurried around the floor trying to be just like the guy who was lucky enough to have that role. It's nice to finally be "that guy" and see someone else in my old place. To this young man, I am happy to pass the torch.


I am not surprised by the fact that I have touched peoples lives around me in my time here. I don't mean for that to sound cocky, but how could their lives not be touched if mine has been by them? Interaction with one another is the most basic human instinct I can think of. We impact those around us one many levels daily-positively and negatively. Fortunately I have a positive story tonight.

Tonight and last night as I had spoken that I would, I had the great pleasure of watching my ballet be performed by my students. Oh my. I really couldn't be more proud of them. They more than rose to the occasion. The best part for me was that they looked like they were enjoying themselves.

After tonight's performance, the kids presented the teachers with flowers. Then, the director gave me the mic in order that I may say some words to my dancers and the audience. I held it together! I didn't break down and blubber like a baby. I saved the tears until one of my students fell apart and could barely breathe she was crying so hard. It's hard for me to believe that I am that valuable to anyone. It really goes to show that two nights a week can really make an impact on someones life. What a huge responsibility.

As I was leaving the theatre, I was even more humbled as several parents thanked me for the work I had done with their children. They had such kind things to say to me, and I wasn't quite sure how to accept their praise. What an honor it is to have people put so much faith in me. They trust me with the education and safety of their children. They believe that I am good enough to assist with their development. I've never really thought of it this way until now. Thereby, this is quite a lot to digest.

Tomorrow it's back into the studio for ballet class-we'll see who shows up after the weekend of performances! Whether it's a small class or a large one, I will do my best to guide them and to soak up all the time I have with them before it's the new year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Clara's Dream.

My students just had their dress rehearsal for my ballet "Clara's Dream." (Nutcracker) This will be the fifth year it's being performed and the first year that I will get to see both casts perform. Usually, I'm performing at the same time, but due to a later Nutcracker opening for KC Ballet, I will be able to attend two of my school's shows.

I love the buzz and the excitement the students have as they get prepared to open tomorrow afternoon. There's nervousness, giddiness, frustrations-all the good stuff that goes with performing. They really have done a lovely job this year, and I can't wait to see how it evolves even further in front of the audience.

I'm also interested to see how I will be emotionally. I prefer to expect the dramatic end of the spectrum for myself, and then I can be pleasantly surprised if I remain calm and tear-free.

Here comes yet another chapter closing. What a theme. I am so thankful that I have had so many years with such a wonderful and supportive school. The staff and teachers have truly saved me on numerous occasions with their love and generosity. They've smacked me around when I've needed it, and they've been there for me when I was hurting. I won't even begin to go into how much I will miss the students. We have truly had some amazing times together.

I wish all the dancers "Merde" for this weekend.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


A story from my youth popped into my mind the other day, and I thought I would share it.

Earlier I spoke of my dear teacher Duncan Noble and how he came to mean so much to me. Well, there is another teacher of note who I was always respectful to, but I may have misbehaved a bit for. It's time fess up.

Melissa Hayden was a famous ballerina with the New York City Ballet, and she taught for years at the North Carolina School of the Arts. She was known for her tough and often ruthless approach to training. She was to many of the girls the teacher that Mr. Noble was to the boys. That said, she wasn't always the boys' favorite.

I had her in the tenth grade at 8:30am nearly every day. Oh what a way to wake up. "Honey, you can't dance! Go home, drive a truck, and make babies!" This was one of her motivational speeches. You couldn't help but be horrified, but at the same time, she was immensely entertaining. Well, perhaps now more than it was then.

During that time in my growth as a young man, my back would spasm. Conveniently and (coincidentally of course,) my buddy's back would do the same thing. Somehow, this would magically occur at least once a week at exactly 8:30am. I don't understand it to this day. It was a true phenomenon nature.

We would wait in the locker room until we were sure class had begun, and then we would sneak through the hall-our mission, make it to Student Health Services to see the Physio Therapist without getting caught by Ms. Hayden. Often we would have to take turns being the lookout to make sure her back was to us as we ran past the studio door and outside to our freedom. "GO!" we would whisper/shout, and then we would laugh all the way to P.T.

Once inside, we were in our sanctuary. We took our therapy extremely seriously. We loved to attach the electric stimulation pads to our backs while we iced them and see how high we could turn the voltage up when the therapist wasn't looking. We cranked it up all the way on most occasions, but were usually forced to stop once the P.T. saw our backs twitching. We thought it was great fun.

Afterwards, with our excused absence slips in hand, we would cockily limp back to school content with the knowledge that we had received good training for the day that was sure to enrich our development. Sometimes we would go back to class, but more often than not, we would go have a soda.

If the truth be told, what seemed like a weekly occurrence probably happened less often than I remember, and both my friend and I went on to have great careers. It's still fun to think back to those days. I was quite a serious student as I remember, but my time at NCSA was full of such fun memories. Many of my friends and teachers from there I still stay in touch with.

I suppose I will end this by honoring the memory of my teacher Melissa Hayden with this: Ms. Hayden, were it not for you, I wouldn't be the dancer I am today, but I definitely would not be the prankster I am today. Because of you I learned to set a clock forward on April Fools Day, bring a buffet of treats to have a party instead of class, but most importantly, my back feels great! Thank you!

Please note: memories like these help me as a teacher now because SOMETIMES I have a little more mercy when my own students try to pull one over on me. However, I'm pretty sure I would get arrested if I said some of the things to them that she used to say to us!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Seeing is believing

I have already spoken about how proud I am of my students as they feverishly rehearse for my Nutcracker this weekend. Today, when I walked into the office before rehearsal, my boss directed my attention to a coffee table book that was sitting on his desk. Our photographer had made a book from her pictures of my ballet from last year. They were so beautiful. She had picked the loveliest shots-every one completely flattering.

I felt tears come to my eyes-yeah, yeah-surprise, surprise. To see such a colorful and vivid book of something I had created was one of the most moving experiences of my teaching career. Of course I was proud of the dancers, but I have to allow myself to toot my own horn (and the horns of the countless members of the village who make the show possible.) I was blown away to see such a concrete representation of something that I pulled out of my own imagination.

I have always loved pictures. I love them even more when you can see movement in a still shot. That to me is the sign of a good dance photographer. I am so thankful for this lady and her gift of photographic sight! Seeing this book completely lifted my spirits. It gave me comfort by making me aware that I am indeed leaving something behind-a good something.