Azzurra is a professional dancer currently working with Phoenix Dance Theatre in Leeds. This blog is reposted from Azzurra's personal blog located at http://azzurra.posterous.com/.
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It's been a long winter, this year more than any other before. It felt like I went into some sort of hibernation, maybe because I'm getting older and time seems to find my weak points, my Achilles heel or because my 'to do list' has become so long sometimes that all of a sudden I realise it's all been about work and not much about enjoying a nice glass of Pinot Noir with good friends.
I'm pretty sure we've all been there at some point in our lives... Work absorption. Like magic, one day you notice the sun seems to be back in the sky, the trees are proudly showing some flowers, the days are longer and spring is back. Time to open the eyes and start looking around once again.
Last October I decided to embark on a new challenge: A Masters of Arts in Contemporary Dance. I hold this mainly responsible for my hibernation. I know that many people write a Masters thesis all the time whilst being committed to a full-time job and those people who haven't found that combination stressful have all my heart-felt respect, a big hat off to them.
Unfortunately for me, I wasn't one of those people. In fact it turned out to be quite an uphill journey, hence the massive gap between my last blog and this one. The MA consisted of a practical part, which involved being assessed on a performance as well as a written dissertation. Now, the former was the easier aspect whereas the latter proved to take me out of my comfort zone.
The last time I had to write academically was several years ago and I must admit that I initially found myself a bit lost. I love writing and working with imagination, but you know, producing a thesis for a Masters is not quite the same. In the very back of mind I could recall a vague memory of referencing, bibliographies and quotes, but it all seemed so long ago and the more I thought about how to tackle this task, the harder it seemed. None the less, feeling like Noah before he started building the Ark, I began my quest. The stereotypical saying is true: the hardest part is starting and once I'd jumped that hurdle it all got going.
My paper was based on the concept of versatility and was related to works I have performed with Phoenix Dance Theatre. It brought me to analyse and investigate aspects of my job in a different way from my usual manner. As I attempted to be an artistic scientist I began dissecting elements that are sometimes generally known without really acknowledging the little sub-components that define such points, like versatility or embodiment.
What for me became really interesting and at times frustrating, was trying to explain everything as specifically and as clearly as I possibly could. I had to learn how not to take anything for granted. Those details that I consider obvious because it's what I do every day, might not be obvious to someone outside this unusual business. Hence my view on some elements of my work started being fuller, more precise and, here I dare say, more towards owning a tangible knowledge.
I discovered that although I had several personal observations that seemed to be extremely clear and fully formed in my head, they initially sounded pretty vague once put down on paper. Somehow I seemed to have this gap between my brain and my word document, where my ideas and reflections regressed into being a newly born baby rather than a grown-up person.
Dance, as any other art form, is quite a challenge to put into words. It is not a science that a formula or theorem can explain; it delves into a personal and individual interpretation of concepts, emotional content and discoveries that are highly peculiar to each person. Therefore the process of wording such observations in a proper academic manner was for me, quite difficult. I might not have been very successful at this, but by having to phrase aspects that are usually physicalised, it informed further clarity in my head of what it is I try to achieve with my art, both in performance and my daily practice.
I handed in my paper a few of weeks ago. An act that was carried an immediate sense of relief together with a constant questioning of what I could have done better. I'm sure many people can sympathise with this feeling!
I still don't know, and won't know for a while, the outcome of it all. I can only hope that my personal odyssey will have a happy ending, otherwise my innate Italian drama might explode! I sincerely thank this experience for the brainwork and introspection it pushed me to discover. I did not just write a dissertation, I studied and honestly reflected on aspects of my art in a new way, feeding them until they became fully and richly formed. The elements written in my paper are my dear companions on a daily practice and although I had an appreciation of them already, I feel I've now developed a more complete and sophisticated understanding of them. After all isn't this the point of education?
Thank you for reading.
"Ladies and gentlemen of Phoenix Dance Theatre, this is your beginners call, please make your way to the stage." One of my favourite sentences to hear, it brings up so many different feelings, from excitement to nervousness, and it marks the fact that in one minutes time I will be on display in front of judging eyes to earn my salary and put bread on the table!
Holidays started and finished, much too quickly as it always feels to everyone, preparation for the shows done and tour time approached once again.
When your life revolves around going from theatre to theatre there is something rather nice and comforting about the little constants which happen no matter what the destination is. Like our sweet mini-bus and Barry the driver, who smokes like a chimney and has a voice which would make Barry White jealous... maybe it's something that comes automatically with the name?
Or Tracy, our rehearsal director, playing Angry Birds (and getting angry herself!) on her iphone during travelling time, Josh sleeping any time possible, and the freshly washed, perfectly folded towels waiting for each one of us in the changing rooms.
I'm now in Cambridge, just a bit less than a year has gone by since we were here last. It was when the big snow covered the whole of England and when students were protesting against the new University fees.
There is no snow now but a timid sun trying to give some light to the day, students are still walking around but with no banners this time... At least not carried out in the open, I am pretty sure they still have them on clear display in their homes.
The hotel is the same one: good old, 'full of character' Travelodge and its unique £8 breakfasts. Bowling will be once again our destination after tonight's show and I will astound every single person there with my unbeatable skills...not!
It's the little things that so often make a difference in your life... I can already see Josh sleeping in the changing room with his head resting on the perfectly folded towel.
After my indispensible morning coffee (I'm still Italian after all) I made my way to 'the black cage'.
The Junction is the theatre where we will perform; it's a nice, intimate space, one of those where you can shake hands with the first row, and my favourite kind of venue as it feels like the audience becomes part of the show. I have always enjoyed being able to clearly see people's faces and expressions whilst I'm on stage.
It gives a very human approach to the performance and it breaks the usual barrier between dancers and audience. What is displayed on stage becomes a shared experience amongst everybody who is present in the space and it makes the whole night a very unique and precious event to be part of, especially as a performer (although I must say that I do feel sorry for those people who are so close to us that they receive some of our sweat drops on them...
They certainly get more than what they paid for! But hey that's life performance there and then, with all its poetry and hardcore reality!)
It's now late night: another venue ticked, another performance under my belt, and the towels are now resting in the washing basket waiting to be washed and perfectly folded once again.
It's road trip back home tomorrow, Angry Birds is already waiting for Tracy and my little comforts are just a few hours away. As much as I love traveling, and moving around, there is nothing better than coming back home and finding all that is close to your heart.
We all strive for extraordinary and life defining moments, but what really warms your most inner being are the little things, the ones we forget about until they're not there anymore.
The ones which transform something from being 'nice' to being 'great'... boy I did miss my pillow!
Thanks for reading, see you next month
We all love Summer. It is the time for barbecues, Pimms, muddy festivals, long lasting daylight, the good old Wimbledon and if we are lucky it can be warm enough to wear flip-flops a couple of times.
During these months your whole purpose in life (ideally and very much so unfortunately) is to disappear to a hot country, lay on the beach and get rid of that greenish skin colour, which the English weather is responsible for. For the majority of us the idea of the beach remains just a dream and the sea is replaced by a pond or a lake, if you are lucky, in a park in the centre of town.
My holidays are on their way and I can hardly believe it. Until now my Summer time has not had a very easy rhythm...
Having put our Reflected Tour to rest for a while and finished the choreographic workshop with Northern Ballet, there was no time for our heroes to sit back and relax as we had to start working on new pieces.
The first visitor we had was Henri Oguike who came up North to revise an old work he made on Phoenix years ago. I had already worked with Henri and I must confess that it was slightly odd seeing him again after almost two years in a different context and surroundings. There was only one week available to restructure the choreography and for Henri to make changes. With such limited time we had to be efficient and, to my surprise, he did deliver efficiently every day.
It was an extremely physical week... my hips and thighs got reminded about an old sense of weariness they used to regularly feel (which I did not miss) and my head got filled with counts and rhythmic patterns.
At the end of the last run of the piece we all collapsed to the floor, relishing the idea of the weekend waiting ahead of us, relishing a rest and secretly wishing that our holiday was starting then....but it was not the time yet....ball of fire Ana Sanchez was on her way to start her new creation on the company. We were not aware of what intense and amazing three weeks were about to start...
Above: The dancers in rehearsal for Catch by Ana Luján Sánchez. Photo: Brian Slater.
When Ana walked in the studio the first day, she found herself in front of a slightly broken and pretty burned out bunch of people...definitely not the perfect picture for a choreographer...but nothing she could not handle, the contrary in fact.
With her Spanish fire, amazing vitality and passion for her work she infused fresh energy to each one of us and guided the group into a vortex of movements and intentions. Now that I have met and worked with Ana I can say that I really know what working fast paced means: she finished the first draft of a twenty minute piece in five days; saying that our brains were fried is an understatement, lobotomised probably suits better.
There was a great group feeling amongst us which was invigorated by the will of being fully committed to the ideas proposed but creating a structured and grammatically correct sentence after 17:30 was a merely impossible mission for our brain faculties...
I am pretty sure that in those evenings I only had one very lonely neuron floating around!
Ana guided us through a journey from ontology to individuality in order to find integrity; peeling off the social lines which make us all feel one of many to try and find yourself and consequently your true self.
I am aware of the fact that it all sounds very deep and philosophical but isn't art, or at least one purpose of it, meant to be challenging intellectually by trying to expose something we all share? Maybe not everyone would agree with this statement of mine and it's fine because the beauty of art is that it is open to all interpretations and personal tastes... ontology, individuality, integrity.
Right now my interpretation of both art and life lays on wanting a holiday... I can hear it knocking at my door.
My real Summer time is just a few days away and the rhythm is finally going to be easy!
Thanks for reading!
David Bowie once sang "Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes...I said that time may change. But I can't trace time".
We all know that changes are inevitable and depending on how you are as a person you can either struggle with them or relish such diversion of trajectory. I must admit I belong to the first category and I realise this portrays me as a bit of a boring character but I am willing to put my bruised ego on the side and accept it proudly. As the flamboyant, different coloured eyes man said "you can't trace time" and as we wake up every morning to start a new day, time guides waiting to unleash changes to keep you on your toes.
On the 20th of May we had our last show of this season. We went through our own little routines for one last time, costumes got packed and we had our last post-show drinks, although based on our track record I can safely say that we will find other reasons to have celebratory toasts.
A subtle sigh of relief mixed with a little sense of melancholy, the latter given by many reasons but above all by the fact that for three people it was the last performance with the company. Amanda, Joe and Talitha reached the end of their experience with the company.
Big change for them, big change for us but before we could all really open the door to such change a good, old, fat dinner was looming. A pretty impressive amount of food was consumed, fuelled by a substantial intake of happy liquids.
Safe to say that it probably did not follow the healthy diet sports people are known to have but then again who does not like a little splurge, even more who could resist it...Certainly not this bunch!
It was a very good night which made the acceptance of that change a lot more digestible and was embellished by numerous, shared memories.
They say that when one door closes, another one opens. When we got back to base and closed the door to the touring life, a "choreographic" portal opened. Phoenix and Northern Ballet freed up their busy schedules to give their dancers an opportunity to create new works. I saw this as a great chance, rarely given by companies, to explore something new and for my mind to shift from the familiar sense of being the product to being the craftsman.
Philip and I embarked on our new roles with trepidation, driven by the fact that we had dancers from Northern Ballet joining us in the studio. A huge change of style for them which, I was glad to see, they all accepted with open hands and got stuck in.
If I cannot speak about the piece, as it is still in rehearsal time, I can confidently say that it has been an enriching experience. Trying to gell Ballet and Contemporary to enhance each other without jeopardising the integrity and concept of the choreography itself. Sharing skills, knowledge and abilities to change our usual patterns and habits.
The final product is a waiting critique but the process behind it has certainly been worth storing in my head and has deserved a place in my draw of important memories.
Bowie sang it, we all know it. Changes are a constant regardless of what you might want, but as I am squeezing my brain analysing recent facts, I tap into my recollections realising that memory preserves events, rendering them resilient in the face of change. Diversions, which can alter your job, style, nature, life and, more importantly, the people in it.
Every day we go through an entwined sea of individuals, some take the first exit and few will stay until the curtains come down.
I am sitting down writing about another finished month, looking back to the changes that have occurred, the people I said bye to and the ones who just entered the scene...
Because of how my life has unfolded I have had to leave behind quite a crew but some individuals have been resilient, continuing to enrich my life.
With such security blanket changes become just very exciting events, even for a creature of habit like me. Who would not cherish that blanket?
Thanks for reading
As human beings we spend our lives trying to understand who we are, how our characteristics and peculiarities define us as individuals, searching for the best way to relate to others and dealing with varied social circumstances but still trying to be true to ourselves.
Because of how our lives evolve, I'm sure, we all feel that we constantly have to juggle various sides of ourselves, wearing different hats depending on what we are about to face. We all have more than just one side and we roll from one 'character' to another to fulfil every role we have to play in life.
Being part of a repertoire company means that versatility is a fundamental skill you should possess, or at least try to find, as we work with numerous choreographers of diverse nature. Hence finding different characters within is an intrinsic part of my job.
In the last couple of months, while touring our last programme, I have journeyed from being a white clothed, sophisticated performer swinging from a couple of ropes, to a sharp, vigorous mover, passing through portraying a feisty but tender Eve.
Although the process of finding all these shades of myself never stops, I can also say that it's never boring... And who could argue this?...
The company has been on the road for quite some time now and we have explored the whole country from North to South, East to West and even diagonally... I can honestly say that I feel I know England more than my own country... I'm not sure how happy my parents would be about this knowledge of mine considering the Italian pride (Berlusconi aside of course!).
We have visited many theatres, some were great, others a bit less fancy. Regularly the make-up was on, and with it came the different characters. I believe this is one of the most exciting sides of this job: the constant curiosity and will to dig deeper and deeper into facets of yourself which can sometimes be hidden but relish the opportunity of showing themselves.
I believe that everybody would like to escape from their own realities every once in a while because we all love working with imagination and that is sometimes a lot more interesting than a daily routine. Although I do live a daily routine I also have to try and find different 'Azzurra's' every time the lights come on.
I can't even count how many different 'me's' I have tried to bring onto the surface during my career, sometimes it was a success and some other times an utter disaster! I remember I used to find this 'faliure' such a disappointment but looking back now it seems rather entertaining.
As a performer you want to believe you can do everything, whether naturally or through hard work it doesn't matter, and it's extremely frustrating when you simply cannot reach the goal you had set.
Thinking that you're not good enough and blaming yourself is sort of an automatic reaction, which is great on one hand because it pushes you to achieve better but it can also be deceiving to your integrity, both as an artist and as a person.
Not many people like to accept that you simply cannot achieve something but is that a real failure, or does the realisation and acceptance of that make you grow even more, shaping another more vulnerable, real and honest side of you?
As I have grown older and consciously started shaping myself as an individual I have found more and more compelling the process of negotiating between the real, everyday me and all the shapes and characters my job has presented. I wish I could say that I've reached the end of this exploration but I think I'll never be able to make such a statement as it is a learning curve that evolves perpetually.
What I do know is the importance of giving a performance that people can relate to and sympathise with, by still being me just lit under different colours. Portraying characters filtered through a reality and a humanity that everybody, hopefully, can read and connect with.
We spend our existence juggling varied roles, sometimes wearing masks with a danger of losing sight of who we really are. But as I sit here, pondering and staring out of the window with my eyebrows frowned, it becomes clearer that what matters is being true to yourself because that is what you're stuck with. It is that which is going to guide you and keep you company till the end... and it better be damn good company if you ask me!
Thanks for reading