We arrive in Arizona to an afternoon off. Then another day off. This is not my first Tharp rodeo, and I’ve so far learned that how I spend my free time on these grueling, tricky tours must take into account that traveling and touristing, though exhausting, don’t really count as training. So on any given day, knowing that my body and brain don’t deal well with too much time away from a good sweat, I try to keep myself on something of a schedule. Over time, I’ve made some rules for the free day (I LOVE RULES!) that have mostly to do with maintaining some kind of moderation and staying out of vacation mode while not also making it a joyless missed opportunity to explore wherever it is we are.
I look at the “productive” list as a rough “to-do” list for off days. And the disruptive list? Well. This list contains some of my favorite travel pastimes, best enjoyed very sparingly lest lasting guilt following overindulgence sticks around long enough to overshadow a good show day.
- shake off any leftover travel kinks with a stretch or a walk
- sleep, as much as I need, to get over jetlag or exhaustion
- unpack, repack, generally keep home away from home somewhat organized
- crosstrain, moderately
- take some time to explore and enjoy where we are (meal, museum, beach, bookstore)
- find best neighborhood coffee and baked goods. Enjoy both very liberally
- locate and test several fancy cocktails with FOMO mentality
- crosstrain, obsessively (long Uber to “creative” local yoga class)
- tourist, aggressively (overambitious hikes or bike rides, exhausting day trips, weird hands-on haunted houses)
A saying of Andrei Kramarevsky’s (he’s beloved as “Krammy” to his SAB and NYCB pupils) sticks with me here: “Take it easy, but take it.”
Today is a good free day. The brunt of our impending work is still largely unrealized, and I am not yet in the midst of a tough tech and show marathon. I have some time to appreciate what I do in the abstract.
In the morning, I finagle free breakfast from the hotel lobby – hospitality and hotel food hoarding is a skill I’ve now mastered – and sit with my colleague Matthew Dibble while we watch footage of the other Matthew’s wreckage. I am grateful to remain safely in the west/southwest for the majority of this tour, even if it’s come to my attention that the local politics, at least in our hotel lobby, are decidedly pro-Trump.
I talk with Matt about the repertory we share in this program, the Beethoven. As partners, we’ve been egging each other on in this rehearsal period, pushing each other to dance harder/smarter/better as we get more familiar with what we’re dancing. The temptation, often, is to get comfortable enough in a role so that it doesn’t terrify you every time you attempt it. We’re trying a different tack: Keep attacking. And Twyla’s been there with us every day, always right up in our faces after a run giving us detailed notes on what reads well and what doesn’t. What I love about this company is that on any given workday, we don’t take anything easy. Ever.
But enough talk – we work tomorrow. What am I doing, besides brunching, to get ready? Eager to hit a few productive bullet points, I follow Ramona Kelley to a Twyla Tharp “Treefrog” Master Class she’ll teach in advance of our performance at the Mesa Arts Center. As Ramona leads her students through a rigorous and specific syllabus with steps requiring concentrated and coordinated application of parallel, turnout, isometrics, foot strength, and vertical torso alignment, I realize with immense satisfaction that my body feels much different than it did the first time I tried this class over two years ago. Much stronger. Much faster to shift my weight. Much more grounded.
“I’m getting better,” I proudly announce to our company manager, who’s watching from the corner with a well-trained eye. By better, I mean less balletic.
Then, of course, there’s the difficult hinge exercise that requires rapid forward/backward weight shifting in a controlled parallel and still throws me for a loop. The “Lucky Leprechaun. “ I do indeed feel lucky when I’m not toppling left or right as I try it, and I’m fighting here to distinguish myself as a professional without much success. Ramona encourages us all to go ahead and go for it, locates the cheats that tempt us all to shortcut the step, and says something that echoes my earlier conversation with Matt: “Twyla likes to do things the hard way. She wants to see you try the impossible. It’s more interesting.” Even as Twyla’s teachers, we’re still always her students.
And tomorrow we get up and try the impossible, again. Today, I take the rest of my free time to find mediocre coffee and see a little bit of Mesa’s Main Street.