“What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others”, by Confucius.

 

 Every now and then I find myself sitting at the kitchen table, or at a restaurant, trying to decide what I want to do for the next year.  It is never an easy decision, because you have to assess your resources.  You always have limited money, time, and support, but unlimited passion.  I decided last year that it was time for me to introduce Scheherazade to Baltimore.  A gem of Les Ballets Russes choreographed almost a century ago, the dancing is exotic and classical, and the music (by Rimsky-Korsakov) is flavorful and touching.  I realized that I would have to restage the ballet for a smaller and more tentative cast than the original production, and began the creative process for my company and myself by studying various existing productions.

 I started rehearsing the lead role with my partner in early March.  Our pas de deux (dance for two) is 10 minutes long, demanding memory and stamina, yet does not contain particularly strenuous lifts.  After the first half hour, it became obvious to both of us that all we needed was rehearsal time.  We danced together in Les Sylphides recently, and have comfort dancing together.

 I also started rehearsing the roles of The Persian King and his brother in March.  Their interaction in the first and the third scenes is important in understanding the whole plot.  I approached their choreography as if it was a new choreography.  We began with the bare minimum cued to the music (we called it the skeleton.)  By introducing subplots, I made them think and learn from each other.  In coaching the development of their performances, I believe that “less is more” only when you are comparing two different qualities.  Any other time less is less, and more is more.

 I could not start the corps de ballet till the following week, because I needed to be sure who was able to commit.  I started corps rehearsals with the Three Odalisques, a beautiful trio executing belly dance like movements.  Since I was born in Turkey where belly dancing is a way of life, I retained the choreography, but added my interpretation (which in my humble opinion makes it better.)  I brought a DVD of a recent performance for the dancers to watch at the first rehearsal.  Although this may seem like cheating or unorthodox, it’s a common rehearsal practice.  Dancers are frequently so busy with their own corrections during the rehearsal time that they can fail to capture the whole picture which for an artistic director, must remain the most important thing.  Helping the dancers to see themselves within the whole picture speeds up the preparation period and makes the artistic director job easier.

 My first rehearsal with the full corps de ballet wasn’t until late March.  By that time I had divided the ballet into three scenes, making it easier to schedule separate rehearsals for everyone.  When working in a semi-professional situation, it is particularly difficult to be able to rehearse with the whole cast all the time.  Someone is always either sick, having personal problems, or is injured.  I read that Balanchine had similar problems in his early years in NY, and that is why he choreographed Serenade with different number of girls in each scene.  Trying to mount a professional production under these circumstances can take a toll on you because you strive for perfection that at every step is un-attainable.  Much great choreography that we like today had been revised and restaged with a different cast countless times.  They are not a product of a single creator but a collaboration of many talented artists over time.

 

 Two weeks before the performance date, I was finally able to see my dancers transforming into artists.  In any live performance, the beginning is what grabs the audiences’ attention, and the ending is what they will always remember.  If what happens in between is good, you will have a great performance. When my dancers do well in the studio, I always say:  ‘Good.’  If they can do it that way with the makeup, costumes, lights, sets and a bit of stage magic in the presence of an audience, it will be “Great!” 

 

Watch Cem Catbas and Evgenia Singur dance in Scheherazade part 1.

 

Watch Cem Catbas and Evgenia Singur dance in Scheherazade part 2.

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