Photo Credit: Phil Wayes

Monday, December 27, 2010

Flashbacks: The Most Poorly-Thought-Out Photo Ever

Two years ago, I was kicking around my mother's house and decided to take a picture of myself doing a shoulder stand.

Unfortunately, I didn't think too much about where I posed myself for this picture, and the result...well, looks rather painful:

Let this be a lesson to you, folks: Christmas Trees and your Fancy Area should NEVER go together.

I hope you all had a very merry Crotchmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trying to Class Things Up around here...

In October I started taking dance classes again, at Hope Stone. It’s nice, taking dance classes not as part of my workday, but just for fun and exercise. The fact that I enjoy being in the studio again is more important to me than How Well My Allegro Held Up during the hiatus (surprisingly: not too bad. Pirouettes are another story).

I have a bit of a biased opinion here, but I think dancing has got to the only most fun form of exercise out there. Really: Spend an hour an a half at the gym, then take a ninety-minute ballet class and tell me which was a more enjoyable workout. Moving, stretching, gliding to music in a beautiful way, or counting reps and running endlessly from your problems on the treadmill? I rest my case.

The hardest part about taking class again is actually getting there. I-45 hates the Bay Area in the mornings-- I need to leave at just the right time or I’m doomed to traffic hell (case in point: this morning I left at 8:15 and just barely made it to the barre by 9:30).

Class this morning was lovely. I saw my true-blue dance buddy E and my old dance partner R; as well a teacher of mine (a former ballerinas whose roles I got to reprise two years ago in Best in Ten) whom I haven’t seen in a few years. N. Glass taught a wonderful class (hey, that rhymes)-- I haven’t taken class from her in a few years, either; and forgot how much I enjoy her classes. She gave me some really good pointers on how to keep tension from creeping into my shoulders when I’m working in the center. I had a pretty good class, despite it being my first class in well over a week (Thanksgiving/traveling/all that fun stuff)...I expected to be a hot radioactive mess and feel like a loser; but it wasn't bad at all. E and I got to catch up a little after barre; we chatted about what we experienced when we danced in the company together and what we're up to these days. It was great to see her again.
I mentioned that I hadn’t had class in something like a fortnight-- it was my first time going to dance class since before Thanksgiving.
It’s also my first time going to dance class since I got engaged on November 27th.

Cool, huh?

(My buddies congratulated me, Jane gave me a hug, Oliver wagged his tail, and I smiled and glowed my newly-engaged glow).

It's good to be back in class. It's good to get moving again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Watching Dance: Visions of Sugar Plums- An Interview with Lauren Ciobanu

Christmas time is here... and with it comes Nutcracker season! The Nutcracker is a dancer’s tradition-- many begin performing as small children or mice in Act One, and “grow up” into new roles each year. For most girls, though, the dream role is the Sugar Plum Fairy: the pinnacle of Act Two, the epitome of all things sweet and good.

This season, Houston Ballet will be debuting Lauren Ciobanu as Sugar Plum Fairy. Lauren received her early training from the Phoenix School of Ballet, then went on to train at the Kirov Academy and in Stuttgart, Germany. She performed with Sarasota Ballet before joining Houston Ballet in 2009. I recently got to ask Lauren a few questions about what it’s like to dance this special role.


Notes From Upstage Left: Most dancers grow up with The Nutcracker-- either seeing it or performing in it every year as a child. Is there a particular production that will always be memorable to you?

Lauren Ciobanu: When I was three years old, my mother took me to see San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. Even today, I remember seeing the dancers on stage and knew from that moment that I wanted to be just like the dancers on the stage.

NFUL: You are debuting as Sugar Plum Fairy this year with the Houston Ballet. Have you danced the role elsewhere?

LC: I ‘ve performed the role with Sarasota Ballet of Florida and in guest performances throughout the United States. While dancing with Sarasota Ballet, I had the opportunity to partner with ABT’s world renowned Jose Manuel Carreno! We not only performed Sugar Plum together, but he coached me in the role as well. It was an invaluable experience.

NFUL: I imagine you must have been excited to learn you would be dancing the Sugar Plum this year. Can you tell me what thoughts went through your head when you found out?

LC: When Stanton Welch told me earlier this season that I would be performing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, I was elated. I was so honored that he would trust me with the role and I was determined to give it the respect it deserves, after all-- it’s the role that got my career started!

NFUL: Who are your partners? Have you worked with these partners before?

LC: I will be performing with Principal dancer, Ian Casady which I am so excited about. We have worked together in La Fille mal Gardee, Sandpaper Ballet and Stanton Welch’s TuTu. He is a wonderful partner and a joy to work with! I will also be performing with demi-solosit, Peter Franc. It is our first time working together, and we’re both debuting in these roles-- which makes it extra special.

NFUL: You got a lot of your training at the Kirov Academy of Ballet. How old were you when you began studying there?

LC: I went to the summer program at Kirov when I was 11 and was invited on full scholarship to stay for the year-round program. It was a difficult move at such a young age, but necessary for my training. The final two years of my training were spent on full scholarship at the John Cranko-Schule Pre-Professional program.

NFUL: Tell me about how you came to Houston Ballet.

LC: I was really impressed with Stanton Welch’s leadership. I admire his choreographic style; and I have always thought Houston Ballet has one of the most interesting repertoires’ in the country. I was also impressed with the high caliber of the dancers-- from the corps de ballet right up to the principals! Working with talented dancers performing interesting work was what I wanted to be doing, so Houston Ballet was my first choice.

NFUL: What was it like to dance in the Tree Lighting ceremony?

LC: It was so much fun! To see so many smiling children and bring them some Holiday joy was so special to me! I couldn’t believe how many children were present and hope that it brings more families to see The Nutcracker this season.


You can catch Lauren Ciobanu and the artists of Houston ballet in The Nutcracker, running now through December 26th at the Wortha Theater Center’s Brown Theater. For more information, visit You can also check out Houston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter. Don't miss this wonderful production!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


For most of my life, the holidays weren't the holidays without a production.

I grew up with a youth theatre company that presented a different Christmas play every year; each with of a run of something like 25 performances in ten days. In high school, there were holiday vocal concerts and band concerts and dance concerts, and of course there was Nutcracker.

The tradition continued as I became an adult-- just a few months after I moved to Texas, I returned home to dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy one last time. During the time I danced with the contemporary ballet company here, I got to perform the title role in James Sewell's version of Amahl and the Night Visitors-- twice (and they're performing it again this year, too. They've got an all-new Amahl-- a lovely gal who performed with me in Letters You Wrote last year. She will be wonderful).

In the last few years, I've gotten to share that tradition with my students as well: Three years ago when I first danced in Amahl, a big group of them came to see me perform. Two years ago, three of my students (and myself) danced together in the Great Russian Nutcracker production here in Texas. And last year-- after I interviewed Elise Judson and Peter Franc about their roles in the ballet-- I went to see one of my own students perform as a clown in Houston Ballet's Nutcracker.

This year, the tradition is a little different. For the first time since Ireallycan'trememberwhen, I'm going to experience the magic from the audience and not the stage. It'll be a little strange for me-- this time of year I'm usually busy sewing up extra pairs of pointe shoes and stocking up on fresh tights and pan-cake makeup, not baking and planning my Christmas decorating scheme. But it will be a nice change: I'll have more time to travel and visit family & friends back East; and I can get out and see a bunch of different holiday productions in the city-- something I didn't do enough when I was performing-- and support my friends who are gracing the stages. My "Holiday production" tradition still continues; but for now I'm going to be on the receiving end of the performance.

In fact, there's a new tradition beginning this year: My boyfriend and I have agreed that we will go to see Houston Ballet's Nutcracker as a couple every year from now on.

...and speaking of my boyfriend: We're leaving for Louisiana in a few hours, so I better get going. Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Everybody Hurts

Last night, I watched the movie Center Stage --the cult film of bunheads everywhere-- for the first time in a couple of years.

I watched that movie about a thousand times in high school; always joking about how cheesy and ham-fisted it was. But when I watched it last night, I found myself identifying with the antagonist Maureen (Susan May Pratt). She was the top ballet student, the girl who got all the good parts, the weapons-grade bitch-machine... who was secretly miserable. She had everything but then burned out and quit, which makes you hate her even more.

Watching the movie last night, I realized that I have a lot in common with that girl. Much more than I ever would have imagined. So much that it literally brought me to tears. I found myself relating to this massively-unlikeable character: I had a wonderful performing career, got great roles, taught and choreographed everywhere... but eventually, the very thing that brought me happiness made me really unhappy. B-movie or not, that film hit me where I live.

Which bothers me a bit. Dancing used to fill me with unsuppressed joy, and I'm really sad that that's no longer the case. I miss it. I really do. But how do you get something like that back?


I have nothing to say beyond that. Here's your moment of Zen:
"All you need is ignorance and confidence, and the success is sure."
~ Mark Twain

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Four Years.

On August 1st, 2006 I moved from Pennsylvania to Texas with very few possessions and very little money. I initially figured I would stay in Houston for (at most) three months, then head back to the Keystone State.

Four years later, I'm happy to report that I'm still here--and couldn't be happier about it. A lot has happened over the last four years: I got a great teaching job, performed with four different dance companies, and had my own dance ensemble for three seasons. I've also worked as a model, taught early-childhood music, and [briefly] ran my own "Baby Ballet" business. I had been fearful about moving 1,600 miles away from my family/my friends/everything I knew... but four years later, I can honestly say I made the right choice.

(If you haven't heard the story about how I came to Houston in the first place, you can read about it here.)

Happy "Houston Birthday" to me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Remember When: Part II

and the reminiscing continues...

* Remember when I had my first performance as a professional dancer; dancing PADV's signature piece Returning at their 2004 ArtBeat Concert?
* Remember when I auditioned for [Awesome People] Dance Company and got offered the lead in their Christmas ballet? That same night, the class accompanist declared aloud that I had "a fire in my eyes" and "danced with so much happiness."
* Remember when V and I danced together in Bolt?
* Remember how I used to make the Pennsylvania-NYC commute several days a week just to work with a small, just-getting-started dance company?
* Remember when I danced Douglass with [Awesome People] Dance Company?
* Remember when I did that dance-on-film project down near Galveston Beach?
...I do. And I always will. My dance career has given me enough happy memories to last a lifetime.