Technique My Way: Meredith Webster

The Alonzo King LINES Ballet star listens to her body.

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Meredith Webster with David Harvey in King’s Meyer; Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy LINES

 

Blessed with musicality, fluid grace and a limber 5’ 10” frame, Meredith Webster seems born to dance with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Whether she’s performing a hypnotic solo in King’s reinterpretation of Scheherazade or is merged into the ensemble of Azimuth, Webster stands out for her technical command and captivating presence. The company’s 44-week contract entails two home seasons as well as extensive international touring, a blistering schedule that demands exceptional stamina. The 32-year-old Webster has learned to tune into what her body needs in order to stay injury-free.

Warming Up to the Day

After a full night’s rest (“I try to sleep as much as possible,” she confesses), Webster lets her body dictate the pace of the morning. Tea, hot oatmeal and fruit, and a quick scan of the news get her going before heading downtown to the LINES studios. She loosens up gently before the 11 a.m. company class. “It’s mostly simple stretches: spinal twists, downward dog, maybe some lunges,” she says. “I massage my IT bands and roll out my feet. I also roll my shoulders around, trying to find spots of tension so I can let them go.”

Getting Through Rehearsal

Nearly every LINES piece uses all 11 company members, so Webster dances frequently during the daily five-hour rehearsal. While the long days help build the stamina King’s choreography requires, Webster finds it essential to pace herself while also staying warm. “After sitting down, for even a little while, I can’t just jump up and be ready to go,” she says. “I am constantly maintaining little things—abdominal exercises, rolling out my feet, stretching—depending what we’re working on.” She’s become a devotee of Gyrotonic, practicing with Jenna Wozer at San Francisco Gyrotonic, conveniently located in the LINES building. “Gyrotonic helps me find a really internal generation for movement, really from a deep place,” she says. “Alonzo’s work requires a lot of complexity: An arm is going one way and a leg is going the other way, and then you are supposed to be on pointe, turning around and jumping at the same time. The more connected you can be, the better.”

Exploring Outside the Studio

As fiercely athletic as it is, King’s choreography calls on each dancer’s personality and artistry. “I have to stay strong enough to pull off the steps that he is asking for, but also stay sensitive enough to be exploring in the process,” she says. Webster, who has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, makes a point to spend time in nature, listen to music and take in all kinds of art, from sculpture to performance installations. She scored a trifecta last summer when she saw Philip Glass perform in a redwood grove at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California, about three hours south of San Francisco. “I was 10 feet from him. It was amazing.”

Farm-Fresh Menu

Webster fuels her body with small meals throughout the day. “Our longest break is 20 minutes, so I can’t eat a plate of pasta,” she says. Instead, she nibbles on easy-to-digest fare like fruit, nuts and whole grains; her favorites are farro and brown rice. She loves to cook and favors organic, seasonal produce from the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, held just a few blocks from the studio. “I feel like my body functions in more efficient ways when I eat better foods,” she says. On performance days she has a light snack three hours before curtain, then cooks a healthy dinner afterward. Well, most of the time: “Sometimes I come home and just eat Pop-Tarts!”

On the Road (Again)

This season’s tour started in November and runs until mid-May, stopping in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Marseille and Paris, Des Moines and Dallas along the way. Even for an adventurous person like Webster, time changes and disrupted routines take their toll. “The hardest thing is finding food,” she says. Whenever she comes across go-to snacks like raw cashews, she buys them in large quantities. And when fruits and vegetables are in short supply, she gets her greens from Vitamineral Green powder mixed with juice.

Sometimes, though, “you feel exhausted, your body hurts, and you just want to go home.” At those moments, she refocuses on the big picture. “I think, Hold on a second. Look at these amazing places you get to go to. I really appreciate all the good parts of it.”

 

Claudia Bauer is a Bay Area dance writer.

 

Meredith’s Carrot Cilantro Soup

This simple soup has the tangy sweetness of cilantro, plus loads of vitamin A, C and K, which can help muscles recover after a long rehearsal day.

3 tbs. olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

6–8 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Salt and pepper

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Sauté onion until soft. Add carrots and a couple pinches of salt; stir to combine. Cover, and turn down the heat a little for five minutes. Add the broth and most of the cilantro, simmer until the carrots soften. Remove from heat. In a blender, puree the soup to your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with more cilantro and a swirl of olive oil.