A Gift to Hong Kong

March 5, 2011

We’ve been in Hong Kong for a few days now. So far it seems as though we’ve been welcomed with open arms and minds, which is always a great thing when traveling. The reviews have been kind, claiming that we have lived up to their expectations. My response to that is that they too have surpassed expectations. Even stevens I guess.

During the workdays on tour, we try to cram as many rehearsals in as possible. We will rehearse every cast for every ballet that goes in that night’s program, so say a ballet is 35 minutes long, it will get a two-hour stage rehearsal, thus making the pre-performance work day last from 11:30-6:30. It can get a little tiring trekking back and forth from the hotel to theater in between rehearsals, so I like to pop out to get a quick lunch and then go back to the theater and watch other rehearsals until my own.

Rehearsals can be a very intimate event. You may witness tears, joy, injuries or moments of sheer brilliance that might not even make it to the stage during performance. I always feel a little awkward watching others work on their craft, I don’t want them to feel judged, or that I’m imposing on their personal time. So I try to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Recently I have had the great pleasure of watching the most beautiful of dancers, Wendy Whelan, work on perfecting her role of the girl in green in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. Wendy will be debuting this role tomorrow night. I keep thinking how lucky the audience here is that they have the privilege to see one of the most exquisite dancers in the world make a debut in one of the greatest ballets choreographed in the 20th century.

Watching Wendy work is hard to describe. I can see her body thinking. Each cell in her body seems to have its own reaction to Chopin’s music and they together form this body of movement that is almost a religious experience. She may try a step one way and then try it another way, and I sit there thinking to myself, I wish that I was able to do that step half as well as she did it when she wasn’t even happy with it.

Her work mode is calm; to me it seems almost Zen-like. She doesn’t appear to waste any energy at all. I find it enthralling. Now I may be sounding like a crazed fan, but working in the company of Wendy Whelan has been one of the greater aspects of my career. At a certain point as a professional dancer, I think that it is healthy to finally take some of your focus off of yourself and to look around at what has been surrounding you. I mean, you can only learn so much from only looking at yourself in the mirror all day. Wendy is a great artist to learn from.

So what is my point to this post? This doesn’t have much to do with Hong Kong, other than the fact that I’m too lazy to walk back to the hotel during a lunch break, right? Wrong. My point is, that to most people, you picture a tour as a company just bringing along its greatest hits and giving you a safe performance. Yet in actuality, there are artists working in your local theater, pouring their hearts into their art, and in this case, one exceptional dancer, an American ballet legend, perfecting upon perfection for a debut for an audience that will undoubtedly love what they see, but could never understand what has gone into it. I wish that someone would put a disclaimer in the programs, or that I could speak to each audience member beforehand and tell them what I have seen.