by Jessica Wallis
I seldom blog. Those that know me know I am someone who does not do things by halves, and the daily (and infinite) responsibilities of my position don’t leave time to venture into the vast world of writing to the degree that good writing deserves. But today I refused to ignore the story that I have needed to tell.
When I do write for our blog, I don’t take such a personal, emotional stance (something a little scary to do, especially for someone in my position). But this is me, loud and clear, and completely candid about something that is deeply emotional.
For those of you connected with us on Facebook, you are still, patiently waiting on our album from our World Premiere presentation of The Ashley Bouder Project. This is not because I am lazy or because I won’t make time for it. It’s because I am overwhelmingly emotionally tied to the project, especially the evening of the show, and my heart perhaps just hasn’t been ready to get that close to it again. Maybe a director isn’t supposed to say that, but that is the unapologetic fact. If you spent even a few minutes with me at the master classes the day after the premiere, you probably saw me either tear-up, or even begin to cry. It wasn’t about being unprofessional. It was that there was no possibility of emotionally separating myself from what had happened the night before (and the entire year prior during which the creation of the project took place), and that the sheer magnitude of it all had finally piqued.
(I said I’d be candid in this blog, and I am staying true to that, however a disclaimer is in order. I cannot express my feelings inside about my role in the premiere of The Ashley Bouder Project without sharing my personal feelings and emotions tied to my role in the accomplishment. That said, I am in no way claiming importance over anyone involved, just simply sharing my piece, of which I am very proud.)
Those that were lucky enough to be in the Ohio Theatre on October 25 saw history. Perhaps you don’t realize, but a big piece of that history was that the choreography of George Balanchine was performed, live onstage, by dancers of the company he created for the first time in Cleveland in years and years. And I will proudly say that it was in large part due to my efforts to take a risk to reach out to Ashley Bouder, and her risk to pursue her vision. When Indiana Woodward and Sebastian Villarini came out onto that stage in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux… it all flooded: absolutely flooded into my mind, my soul, my heart, and my brain. I had done it- I had presented Balanchine. I had presented the work of George Balanchine, perhaps the greatest dance genius that has ever lived, in my hometown, onstage, in the nation’s second-largest performing arts district. I had made my Balanchine debut, and it was with dancers from the New York City Ballet. Even at this moment, it is overwhelmingly emotional to think about and realize my accomplishment. I don’t know that there will ever be another moment like that in my career. And what was to follow with Ashley and Amar in Agon… there really are no words. As someone in the audience told me: “Jessica, I was in row M that night, but at one point, I could hear them breathing. Nobody was moving. It was electric, and I feel like Ashley was flawless. It was… wow.”
I keep searching for the magic. I keep searching for that connection. I keep reaching to find that place within myself where it all came together. To go back to “real life” after something like The Ashley Bouder Project for me, and those of us who are so deeply tied to it is difficult. Tonight my soul found that connection, and of course again, it found it in ballet.
Like many people across the nation this last week, I indulged in a binge-watching session of Sarah Jessica Parker’s city.ballet. Unlike others, I had to get into a place where I was emotionally ready. While that may sound especially dramatic, it is true and it is not without reason. We all have those things in our life that are triggers- emotional triggers because they touch a place very deep inside of us. When I was young, I saw the New York City Ballet for the first time on television. At that time, even at such a young age, I knew I was experiencing something so special, so vital, so much larger than life. I had found that “thing” that would forever resonate (hence my emotion at seeing the work of this company’s founder performed because I had helped to bring it). Thus, my watching city.ballet was immediately an emotional activity. My reluctance with city.ballet, as with coming face to face with the photos for the Facebook album, was emotional fear to be that close to it again. But, like with romantic love, it is only when we embrace it and overcome that fear when we can finally get what we need.
“The more you care, the more the little things are upsetting. It’s a love relationship with ballet. People always say you have to take that risk and love, because it’s better to have a broken heart than to have never loved.”
–Mary Elizabeth Sell, NYCB Corps de Ballet dancer, as voiced in city.ballet
In the opening episode of this season of city.ballet, Harrison Ball describes ballet in his life as a person with its own characteristics; one who can be loving and embracing, and one that you just want to shut out. This sentiment, along with so many others expressed by the dancers in this series brought it all home and made me remember why I have such emotion- it is because ballet is such a powerful, all-consuming, living, breathing art. I am glad that I have taken the life-long risk of ballet and its inherent emotion, for having never loved and never experienced a career in this art would have been a tragedy.
It is finding comfort and connection in the words of the dancers in the city.ballet series that pushed me to share these feelings I have. What was done in Cleveland with The Ashley Bouder Project was a moment in history that embodies what Ashley said at the end of her city.ballet episode:
“It’s a testament to the will power. If you really know that you want something, then you can go get it.”
As I have explained, I am someone whose heart is inextricably linked to her work. I love the people I work with in a way different than family, but just as deep. The bond formed in artistic collaboration is one that is intense. When you’re in the day-to-day, it’s easy to feel exhausted and overwhelmed, but when you see it all come together as it did, you wonder why you ever let one ounce of frustration into the equation. How The Ashley Bouder Project came together is nothing short of a miracle, if even only due to the number of firsts: the first time Joshua Beamish‘s Rouge Et Noir was ever performed, Ashley Bouder’s first Don Quixote, Indiana Woodward and Sebastian Villarini’s first Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, Ashley Bouder’s first Agon, B Michael‘s first ballet costumes, the musicians’ first performance with dancers, our lighting designer’s first time lighting Balanchine work, and Ballet in Cleveland’s first time presenting it. It was all of the dancers’ first performances in Cleveland. The day before the premiere was the first time all of the collaborators had met (and for anyone who saw the show, that should be nearly unbelievable, as its sense of cohesiveness and unity was pure magic). And finally, it was the first time an ensemble from the New York City Ballet had performed in Cleveland in over 50 years.
And the list goes on.
This project came together, as a tale of two cities. It had a life in New York, and a life in Cleveland, and it was weaved together between the two locations with loving care by Phil Chan, Ashley Bouder, and myself, with the support of incredible collaborators and generous donors. The collective genius of the dancers led by Ashley, the endless efforts of Phil, Josh, B Michael, Mark Howard, Jimmy Lawlor, production stage manager John Ebert, and the talented and dedicated musicians, could have never taken place without their willingness to look beyond themselves and rather at the whole… as powered by equally selfless individual and corporate donors, and countless hours from volunteers.
I am moved, humbled, honored, and beyond professionally fulfilled by what was the result of The Ashley Bouder Project, in its premiere, crowning glory. Collaborators, you have moved me in a way I cannot describe, and I will forever be proud to have had my name beside yours for this project. We will do it again. Of that, I am sure.