Tours en l'air organizes ballet-themed escorted holidays to see the best companies perform great ballets in beautiful places. You can join a trip from anywhere. A highly knowledgeable balletomane who has enjoyed 100s of performances in over 20 cities around the world,I speak English, French, and German, and am a Travel Industry Council of Ontario certified Travel Counsellor. I also teach ballet appreciation courses. Twitter: @thewordlady Facebook:
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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tours en l'air group meets SFB's Damian Smith and former Smuin dancer Darren Anderson

Our Tours en l'air trip to San Francisco got off to a great start with a "Meet the Artist" talk featuring San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Damian Smith, who will be retiring from dancing this coming Sunday.

SFB has fabulous pre-performance talks, which are free and open to the public even without a ticket to the performance, but unfortunately the company buries information about them deep in their website where you can't find them without already knowing they exist, and even then it involves massive much non-intuitive clicking to get there. Here's the shortcut:
Meet the Artist interviews and Pointes of View lectures are the pre-performance talks. They are recorded and then posted on the website as podcasts (listed on the same page).

Damian, an engaging speaker, had some great stories to tell.

He talked about the many times he has danced Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain with his frequent partner Yuan Yuan Tan. "The piece is an invitation to the audience to observe the dancers' relationship, rather than the dancers showing off to you; it's all about emotion, feelings, and trust, which parallels my partnership with Yuan Yuan." Apparently every time they have danced it in galas, Wheeldon has been inundated with requests from other dancers for the rights to perform it.
Here they are in this exquisite pas de deux in a stunning setting:

He recounted how his mother in Australia has never seen him perform this live, and it was her hope to come to San Francisco to see his final performance this Sunday, but has been deterred by hip surgery. They have a long history of never being quite able to arrange it so that she and he can be in the same time at the same place. "I think Mum is now expecting Yuan Yuan and me to come to Australia and dance it for her on the front lawn!" he said, to much laughter.

Of Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces, he said that the last movement was so rousing that "if it had words, it's the sort of thing you'd be singing on the way home".

He was asked how dancers managed to keep motivated to do endless Nutcrackers during their career (30 a year in San Francisco). He acknowledged that dancers do have "peaks and valleys" with Nutcracker, and it drives them crazy particularly to hear the music when they are out in shopping malls.  But he said he was inspired by another dancer who pointed out that they shouldn't think about themselves but about the magic they were creating each time for the audience, for many of whom it is their first time seeing ballet. He drew the analogy with dancers who are unhappy that they are not cast for opening night, getting perhaps a matinee performance instead, seen as less prestigious. "For the audience, EVERY performance is opening night".

He had an entertaining story about West Side Story Suite and the fact that not only did he have to sing and talk, but in an American (twangy Brooklyn) accent rather than his native Australian. He practised for hours on this, and took some comfort in the fact that his accent passed muster whereas fellow dancer Pierre Vilanoba, who is French, could only manage "Tek your 'ands off mah sisteurrr" and was asked to keep quiet! [I've always thought that one of ballet's greatest assets is its wordlessness!]

Of Frederick Ashton's Symphonic Variations, Damian said that his eye started twitching just looking at a photo of himself, because he passed so many sleepless nights learning the ballet. Asked to expand on why this was the case, he said that the ballet requires such pure classicism, perfect fifths, white tights, etc., that when he saw his name up on the casting board he was convinced there had been a mistake and said so to the stager, Wendy Ellis-Somes. She reassured him that they would work on the parts he had difficulty with, but nonetheless he described this deceptively simple-looknig ballet as "the hardest ballet I have ever done" [an assessment echoed by Birmingham Royal Ballet's Robert Parker].

Another interesting comment related to how he worked on the characters for dramatic ballets. He said he went home and looked at his facial expressions in the mirror and was surprised at how much they failed to convey the emotion he was feeling. He also said that when working on "villain" roles like Tybalt and Iago, the nastiness which he got in the habit of portraying in the studio and on stage spilled over into his everyday life so he found himself snarling at people on the bus or his mother on the phone!

You can see some great photos of Damian here

After the talk, we had dinner with Darren Anderson, an Edmontonian who has danced with Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, and most recently Smuin Ballet, where he became Community Relations Manager after retiring a couple of years ago.

If you love ballet, please check out my season of outstanding ballet trips by clicking here.


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Pointes of View Lecture Series
Meet the Artist Interviews
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Meet the Artist Interviews
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