Conference Summary 1999

Hello Everyone!!

By now my thoughts wander from those of us who have returned to the barre and what a shock it always is, I feel as though a sign should be posted like: BEWARE of the BARRE!

In the meantime, this is such a great moment to send you these ’reflections’ and ‘impressions’ of the July conference and then following on to the NBS teachers’ seminar; for many remained on afterwards. This method of sharing is a joy and I do it with excitement, love and admiration for this art form, the formation of this organization and for all of you who warm the cockles of my spirit by bringing such staggering dedication and professionalism to our tradition.

Rose Flachs will be forwarding minutes to everyone shortly, and I told her that I promised not to steal her thunder. So I will let her present the facts and I will paint pictures. Here goes:

As Rose and Charles Flachs, Shari Garber, Joannie Buttram, Christine O’Neal, Sarah Stravinska and I gathered in Toronto at Toby’s cafe around 4:00 p.m. on a very hot Thursday afternoon July 29, l999, I remember the sense of pride I felt as they strolled down the street to meet me. We were really doing our first international conference though it was in actuality our second conference, what with the inaugural being the first…I stood on Church Street watching them (dancers are so elegant!) in the heat thinking, watch out this organization is going to take notice!

Those of us that had arrived early enough were able to see the end of the summer presentation and performance by students of the National Ballet School held in the Betty Oliphant Theatre (NBS founder). Here could be could be seen the best opportunities and examples of training, nurturing and vision for dance at the highest of levels.

The evening’s program opened with a demonstration of Cecchetti’s work taken from advanced and professional training levels. Long ago the school was built on the Cecchetti tradition as its foundation. We were able to see this presentation on exquisitely trained young dancers, as this work perhaps might have been done or seen in his day. And interestingly enough the work did not look dated because it was set on, I would say, neo-classic dancers. (This has nothing to do with the Balanchine technique or style, what I refer to here is the new generation of dancers trained at NBS.) I felt these young dancers brought Cecchetti forward in time and also with a quality of spirit. This devilishly difficult body of material was set, rehearsed and coached by two illuminaries and scholars of the Cecchetti work: Glenn Gilmour, long-time master-teacher of the men that have graduated from NBS and Diane Van Schoor, Chair woman of the Cecchetti Society of South Africa. and International examiner for the work. Following this was the NBS evening of young choreographers involving all students from the school. Again here was another splendid array of talent. This time it was the students themselves presenting their views, choreographic ideas, and inventions which made me realize that the dance world is more than alive and well. The talent around NBS is pretty phenomenal. To sum this up, this evening was the most perfect of introductions to set up the next two-and-a-half days of the CORPS conference.

We were twenty-six strong, which I thought was indeed impressive. Again I was blown away with new colleagues this year, just as last year when I met so many of you at our inaugural in Tallahassee,. And still there are others that I’ve not yet met, but feel as though I know because of the ’MINI-MIRACLE OF THE EMAIL’.

To be a name dropper, newcomers at the Toronto conference were: Mary Margaret Holt; Director of the Ballet Department at the University of Oklahoma, Karen Bowes-Sewell of York University whom I have not seen in 36 years when we were both students at the NBS (Karen I did not mean to date us, besides you are much younger than I) Lisa Fuscillo from University of Nebraska who flew in for 6 hours (not bad!), Tauna Hunter, the new Director of the Ballet Department at Mercyhurst College, Nola Nolen from Slippery Rock University, Sandra Allen, Administrator of the Ballet Division at Brigham Young University, Sharee Lane from the University of Utah, and Sharon Oberst from Western Oregon University, plus the CORPS ‘oldies ‘ (this has nothing to do with age!) like myself; Florida State University, Barbara Hamblin; Chair, University of Utah, Ballet Department, Gretchen Warren and Sandra Robinson-Waldrop both from the University of South Florida, Lee Brooke; Florida International University, Joannie Buttram; University of Georgia at Athens, Denise Celestin; Witchita State University, David Curwen and Shari Garber; University of Michigan at Kalamazoo, Rose and Charles Flachs; Mount Holyoke College, Patty Graham; Columbia College, Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal; Washington University, Sarah Stravinska; University of Southwestern Louisiana, Penelope Reed-Doob; CORPS Honorary Advisor, York University, and Mavis Staines; Artistic Director of National Ballet School of Canada and Honorary Member of the CORPS. This was indeed an impressive “turn out”!

Oh, please, I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!!

Mavis Staines opened our session with a most generous welcome, and I felt it brought forth a bonding to such a special haven that I have treasured for many years and one that I continue to return to year after year. I felt at the moment of her introduction that it was a very special privilege to have been the conduit for this connection. Mavis’ elegance, presence and insight were realized, like last year, by all as she opened the CORPS Conference. I followed with an introduction for which I labored over for about a week as to whether to do or not to do. But as we came together it felt very right, and I thought it also set the tone for the next two-and-a-half days. I felt great joy for all of us on behalf of this Organization to make the first awards presentation to Mavis for the National Ballet School in the form of a contribution to their scholarship fund.

Much of what follows will sound repetitive to Rose’s minutes so I am going to comment only on these certain aspects:

The CORPS’ ‘barre work’ began with a presentation, discussion, and passage of constitution and bylaws. A depth of gratitude and thanks goes to Patty Graham from Columbia College. Whom I know worked long and diligently on this during the past year. It was wonderful and fortunate that Grant Strate, renowned Canadian Dance Administrator and Choreographer, as well as one of our guest speakers came and sat in with us during most of our meetings. We continued to be in luck as Grant, who graduated from law school many years ago, as well as birthed one dance department and fathered the other, was on hand to assist us with some of the legal jargon and questions…more about Grant later.

By now we were all into it and on our way. We moved into the ballet technique presentation by Gretchen Warren and Sandra Robinson from the University of South Florida. Their students presented via video a fine demonstration of ballet technique and artistry. Sandra and Gretchen discussed focus, goals, and objectives of their teaching, and presented their syllabus and approach. The USF undergraduates seemed to transcend the capacity and ability for attainment in a four-year program in higher education. I know these two spirited and astute professionals perceived our appreciation and respect for them throughout their lecture. I cannot thank both of these colleagues enough for such a wonderful presentation!

After lunch Lindsay Melcher Director of Physiotherapy at the National Ballet School took us into the realm of dance kinesiology. She presented both the necessity and value of it. She is a wonderful bright young scholar whose specialty in this field has been shaped from her work and research with the NBS, studying the physical rigors and demands placed on its young trainees and advocates. It was very interesting to see all of us dig into this with her. We know not only its value and necessity, but all wish, I am sure, that we had the advantage of a dance physiotherapist built into each of our departments. There was no loss or hesitation for discussion and discourse. I felt that we could have kept Lindsay going for a number of hours

There is something about a ballerina-presence when she enters a room (not only does it happen on the stage) but when Veronica Tennant came through the door of our meeting space, the natural response was to turn and look. What is the magic, even today after several years of retirement, that eyes go directly to her? Principal Ballerina for twenty-five years at Canada’s National Ballet Company, Veronica recaptured her past illustrious history as an artist. A history which I think made Veronica one of the signature models or emblems for the new generation of Canadian dancers produced at the National Ballet School, and which would bring that Country’s Company into a prominence of international fame and recognition that it had not known to date. For me it was more than exciting, as most of you there will remember I had not seen this lady, at this intimate moment, for nearly thirty-five years. To be standing next to her rather than from the audience side of the proscenium arch opened a well of memories deep inside of me. We were both at the NBS school together and all these years have remained spiritually connected because of a ballet I made for during her senior year at the school (just as I was about to go into the company) her called Romeo and Juliet. It would be the unveiling of her unusually fine gift as a dramatic ballerina and would send her to begin the journey of her career. Though I did not say this at that moment, seeing her after all these years is perhaps one of the great treasures that I will cherish forever. We were all captured by the reveries of her luminous past, her keen astute presence, which I remember from our days in school and the presence and focus of her future—wow!

The above mixed with CORPS business and discussion constituted Friday. Exhaustion versus exhilaration was starting already from the intensity of this Conference. We entered into Saturday morning full steam ahead with our own meetings and Ad Hoc Committee reports and discussions. Believe me, as we used to say going into the christening scene in Sleeping Beauty, “there’s no rest for Carabosse”. Well this is exactly how intense we were during these CORPS morning meetings. We would have given the Lilac Fairy and her attending fairies a run for their money!

After lunch we went on to Joysanne Sidimus, Executive Director of the Center for Dancers in Transition. Here was a bright, astute, extremely focused colleague who also had a career as a principal dancer with four major companies: New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, London Festival Ballet, and the National Ballet of Canada. What more could any dancer ask for! From this dance career came Joysanne’s use of keen ingenuity and perception as she refocused her own talents and gifts, to think of dancers at the turning point of their careers—as they leave the stage—to form and become Executive Director of the Center for Dancers in Transition,. Joysanne spoke freely and openly about her work and the walk that every dancer walks as the career comes to its conclusion. For some it is simple, for others it is a life-change that becomes self-absorbing where they find themselves in a maze looking for a way out. This is often a transition that is not pleasant or simple. For many Joysanne’s Organization has become the source that places them back on track; the door opens for them to recharge and refocus.

Saturday afternoon came full circle as Grant Strate took the podium and spun a web of Canadian dance history to which all of us found ourselves being conjured and pulled directly into its middle—another joyous trip into the past for me. Grant is the Poet Laureate of Canadian Dance, both as Artist/Choreographer and as Dance Administrator. He spans the beginnings of the history of the National Ballet, as soloist, assistant to the artistic director and as the Company’s resident choreographer. Later, as his appetite changed he was drawn to the direction of dance in higher education. He founded and directed York University’s Department of Dance where he created the model for dance at the eastern Canadian University. As time progressed he finally settled to the west, in Victoria, BC; where as chair of the Simon Fraser Department he has continued to shape Canadian dance history. Some of us had the fortunate opportunity the following week to scoot up to George Brown University to see the choreographic project that Grant, as guest director, was overseeing.

Sunday morning the sun shown yet still bright and we began going full steam ahead. Remember my above remark about ‘Carabosse’—she hadn’t seen anything yet! I have never seen so much accomplished. The meeting was the essence of the best and quickest petit allegro I ever remember. Secretary and Treasurer Rose and Charles Flachs left us on Saturday, so Sunday morning Vice President, Shari Garber and Lee Brooke sat on each side of me taking notes. They were kept busier than any Carabosse I have ever seen cast a spell! So much was accomplished it was unbelievable. Again, I refer you to Rose’s minutes to clarify all CORPS meetings.

Yes, I am about to conclude! Excitement prevailed and never wavered during these two-and-a –half-days. I was energized, my faith restored, and most of all my respect was not only deeped, but I felt very humble in ways too many to recount. Perhaps the one that comes most readily to these ’teary’ eyes is to know that there are such fine colleagues out there who have been constant to this art form and tradition. At last through this Organization we have a means to celebrate our lives and work together. This is what constantly lingers in my memory from this past summer, 1999, and most of all, I’ll never forget the gathering in l998 when it all began.

Much indebtedness, on my behalf, is due to all of you for your care, enthusiasm, and belief that we could make this Organization go forward. We have done just that, and it has was not a miracle, what it has been is belief in the common goal by all of us. What I say here is most important because often times individuals that give generously of themselves because they believe in the venture (or adventure as surely this has been) are often forgotten. I want to thank all of you for the new members that you have brought in, the additional funds you have contributed beyond membership dues, and the extra effort from many of you but most of all for the trust and belief in the efforts of myself, Sharon Garber, and Charles and Rose Flachs as officers. I personally want to thank Sharon who was always on the email air waves when I need VP support and Charles and Rose for their never ending work, support and focus on the goal. I believe that the two hardest offices to fulfill are Secretary and Treasurer; without their consistency we would not be at this stage of such a fantastic beginning!

I conclude by sending you all my love and best wishes for 1999-2000! Need I tell you how excited I am about the Millennium Conference in Salt Lake City hosted by the Ballet Department at the University of Utah. Please all begin to plan now to attend…it would be pretty phenomenal to have a full membership turn out!


PS… I almost forgot. Many of you stayed on for the NBS international seminar. This too was remarkable, and it was awesome to see all of you so totally and positively engaged in the week that followed (after the intensity of our conference) please be sure to share the wealth of this experience with everyone as you email back and forth. Remember we also talked about the possibility of returning to the NBS every other year with a conference year in between at a member institution.