Adventures in International Performances with Jennifer Muller/The Works

December 16, 2008

Here are a few things I learned during my first Beijing trip:

1. Even the translators are difficult to understand; however more people speak English than I expected, and most signs are in Chinese and English.

2. Indoor spitting is an accepted social behavior, including backstage at the theater.

3. Every task takes longer to get accomplished, but Chinese people are punctual to a tee. A 7:30 show means a 7:30 show (unlike NYC), and a 15 minute intermission often means 10 minutes!

4. Armed guards at every corner and theater doorway is normal, but don’t expect them to help you find a bathroom.

5. A Chinese audience will not clap forever, so the shorter the bow the better!

Saturday night was our first show titled “Human & Nature,” and we performed Island, Flowers, and Momentum. All three are big group pieces featuring the entire 12-member company. My day jump-started at 7:30, as I rolled out of the extremely hard (yet oddly comfortable) hotel bed and reminded myself once again to brush with bottled water, not tap. I packed my survival snacks—peanut butter, granola bar, and trail mix—and headed down for day three of free breakfast buffet. I have never eaten so many hard-boiled eggs in my life! But somehow noodles and ham sushi weren’t an appealing performance-day breakfast.

We arrived at the theater (I still had to pinch myself each time I saw it!) by ten, and started class at 10:30. The familiarity and togetherness of our class always helps calm my nerves, focus my mind, and prepares my body for the rest of the day. After class we worked on a few tricky lifts that we haven’t rehearsed since leaving New York. A quick lunch/coffee break, a brief photo shoot of the awesome lobby and our large-than-life size posters in the entryway, and we were ready for five hours of spacing and tech rehearsal.

I am always surprised and amazed at professional dancers’ spacing process. One of the newest company members asked me, How are we going to remember all these marks and notes if we only go over it once? I realized somehow your body just stores the information and you automatically hit the marks during the show, like magic (most of the time). We are used to rehearsing in a studio three marley panels deep, and this stage had five, so our use of space was much more expansive! And the wings were huge, so we had to start several counts earlier than usual to make it onstage in time.

By the time we finished spacing, it was 6:00 PM and we only had an hour and half to eat, get into makeup and costume, and warm-up again. Ahhhhhhh! I tried to stay relaxed, but the silence in the dressing room spoke of nerves and concentration. We hurried into our pre-show Muller circle ritual (it’s a secret) right as the bell rang and places were called. The next hour and a half are somewhat surreal to me now. We felt so together as a company, even more than any of our rehearsals leading up to the show. The technical aspects of the show went very smoothly, which is no small feat for an English-speaking stage manager and a Chinese-speaking crew! When we finished Momentum, the sold-out crowd cheered and continued clapping throughout. Even as a baby ballerina in the middle of Illinois, I always knew I wanted to be a dancer. But I had no idea I would come this far—halfway around the world to be exact—to share my lifelong love of dance.