As a young ballet student one of the things I looked forward to the most about the career I was working toward was the chance to perform around the world. The idea of travelling to exciting cities and dancing in front of new audiences in beautiful theatres sounded so glamorous. I heard stories of The National Ballet of Canada leaving on tours that lasted weeks across Europe, Asia, and the United States, and I dreamed of that for myself.
By the time I joined the National Ballet most companies around the world had either suffered budgetary cuts or soon would. Today, due to cost, most large ballet companies cannot tour as frequently as in the past, or for long periods. But, although we cannot do what was done in the past, I have toured a fair bit with the ballet, and it is indeed one of the perks of the job.
Although we experience the same downsides as any business traveller: strange beds with noisy neighbours, too many meals eaten out, being away from our loved ones, and not being able to see very much of the cities we are visiting, going on tour truly is a perk of the job. It really is exciting dancing in new theatres, and seeing new places (even if we can’t see them exactly like a tourist). Going on tour also creates even stronger bonds within the company. Already the dancers at the National Ballet are very close. We are a relatively small group (about 65) who work very intimately with each other. A lot of us have grown up together and shared in each other’s hopes and dreams over many years. But, when we travel we become even closer. We share long bus rides or flights together, and nights in hotel rooms. Often I have spent meals with people that I don’t normally see outside of work and we have become better friends. As a young dancer I was often excited to share a table with a dancer I looked up to. In fact, my very first performance as an apprentice was performed on tour. It was only 2 months into my contract and because of that early tour I felt like a part of the company much sooner than I would have normally.
Most recently, the National Ballet travelled to Washington DC. The last time we were there was 2006 and I was excited to return. I was especially excited because we were bringing ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ a ballet that some readers will know is very close to my heart. This was my first opportunity to dance a title role on opening night in a city other than Toronto. For those of you who read my ‘Diary of and Injury’ series, you were with me when I suffered the disappointment of not being able to do this in Los Angeles so I was very keen to get on stage in Washington.
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is an enormous, grand building, one of many beautiful, imposing buildings in Washington. Seeing this theatre each morning made me walk a little taller, and I imagine this beautiful building makes the audience, as I did, feel as though they are entering somewhere very special. Inside, the staff of the Kennedy Center was welcoming and generous. Our dressers, and wig crew were funny and kind, we were given snacks before each performance, and the theatre organized a wonderful reception for us and their major donors in which they went all out. The audiences were particularly fantastic, and it was fun to hear the reaction during the show in a city that had not seen ‘Alice’ before and who therefore did not know what was coming. At the end of each performance we were greeted with an almost instant standing ovation. For me it was a thrilling experience.
(The Kennedy Center)
(With Greta Hodgkinson)
Although I was busy and tired, and making sure to save my legs for the performances, I did manage to see some of the city. I did some shopping in Georgetown and was introduced to a fantastic Chinese tea house there called Ching Ching Cha which had a different ritual to follow for each type of tea as well as lovely food. I managed a morning cab ride to a few sites with Aleksandar Antonijevic, Rebekah Rimsay and Brendan Saye. I went to see the Smithsonian Air and Space museum with fellow dancer Xiao Nan Yu much to our enjoyment and both of our husband’s jealousy, and on the day of the Presidential inauguration, the two of us tried very hard to get to see the parade. In the end, there were too many people for too few metal detectors and we couldn’t get through, but it was fun to be amongst the excitement of the city on that day. (As an aside, this was my second thwarted attempt to get close to Barack Obama. The first being that I hoped he would come to the show. The ballet had invited him and I had sent a few notes on Twitter, but he had to send his regrets. What? He’s a busy guy?)
(The Lincoln Memorial) (The Washington Monument)
(The Actual Apollo 11 Command Module)
The final night of our stay, after my last performance (a matinee), Nan and Rebekah and I went on a night tour of some of the city’s monuments including the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials among others and a drive through Arlington Cemetery. We finished our evening at a wonderful French restaurant called Le Grenier and celebrated a successful run with red wine, and beautifully crafted, inventive, delicious meals. The next day, before our flight, I squeezed in a visit to the Natural History Museum for a peek at the Hope Diamond and a beautiful temporary exhibit on orchids. Although I had planned to go next door to check out the Ruby Slippers, I ran out of time and disappointedly had to leave.
(The Lincoln Memorial) (The Closest I came to the President)
It was wonderful to get back home to my husband Ryan and my own place, but visiting Washington with the ballet was a truly exciting time. I look forward to returning, hopefully soon.