Cristin Cotton of Creative Loafing came to watch rehearsal the other day and the wonderful article below was the outcome.
Christopher Fleming/The Traveling Ballet master
Swordplay and swoons — backstage at Gaspar Ballet
A behind-the-scenes look at the stage combat and choreography the “Pirate Fantasy.”
The smell of sweated-down dance shoes and tossed-aside greasy pizza boxes filled my nostrils on entering the Gaspar Ballet rehearsal space. I had been invited to preview Act 1, complete with a behind-the-scenes training in stage combat by Nick Peregrino and Dillion Anthony, two principal dancers from Ballet Fleming. I have no experience with dancer lifestyles and half-expected to see the men in tights eating granola bars and drinking vitamin-injected tropical smoothies. I was caught off-guard when my introduction with Christopher Fleming, the ballet’s director and dance choreographer, was interrupted by principal dancer Alex Crozier — Jackson wanting to know where the soda machines were located because he was craving a Coke. And here I have been counting calories and trudging up the Stairmaster as a way to ring in the new year — talk about self-conscious.
I did not have to wait long before I figured out just how Crozier-Jackson could gulp down sugared syrup with no concern to it heading straight for his thighs. A sword with my name on it was handed to me by handsome Peregrino. The dark-haired performer proceeded to warn me about the importance of keeping eye contact to ensure safety. Nick has that captivating stranger persona going for him, so being told to make unabated eye contact with him was far from anything resembling a task. He then included “The idea is that you, the fighter, have a relationship with your sword. Remember to always move when it moves in order that you don’t look robotic”. Yes, sir.
He then led me into a series of combinations with each involving six different positions across the body. An attack to my upper left arm is considered “1” with an attack to my upper right arm is regarded as “2” and so on with the right and left leg designated as “3” and “4”. The hardest positions to sustain (and where Crozier-Jackson’s buff arms come to mind) are “5” and “6”. “5” takes place just above the head with the right arm holding the sword and the end pointing horizontally to the left; which, when the attacker is on speed-dial and adrenaline, it can be somewhat nerve-wracking to the attackee.
Except when fighting with Nick, of course. I trust him completely. “6” is almost identical with the right hand swapping directions mid-air and the tip of the sword horizontally pointing to the right. Number “6” allows time for the attacker to perform a swoopey-oopey move (in this case, Nick performed a fancy dance move) in order to distract as well as maneuver another attack.
My right arms hurts by now and my reflection in the mirror captures a flushed girl in purple sweat pants. However, I’m determined to play the role of the tough girl, so I cheerfully lie and say that, yes, I’m ready to learn combination C. Anthony tells me to not worry, that C is the easiest of them all. Right, easy for him to say, that is. C includes traveling of the feet where the attacker’s right foot leads and the left follows resulting in a squatted series of hop-skips. I’m reminded why squats are a practiced exercise from hell — after 10 minutes my legs were screaming at me to stop the torture.
At one point I hit Nick’s sword quite hard to which he corrected me saying “It’s not about hitting the target hard. Here on stage, aggressive fighting is portrayed in the actor’s body and face. See, when I go to attack I’m barely hitting your sword, however my facial expression says otherwise. It looks like we are really fighting each other”. He then proceeded to show exaggerated pained facial expressions when attacking me to which he ended with a smile and a “See?” Yes, I saw. Anything you say Nick sounds good — I mean, great.
Exaggerated everything, from facial expressions to body posture is portrayed throughout the ballet. The dancers never say an actual word to each other; therefore, the story is reliant on the dancers’ body language. A beautiful example is found during the scene where Gaspar and his maiden escape for some alone at a beach.
Both dancers Alex Crozier-Jackson and Adrianna de Svastich portray a love-struck couple with long embraces, nervousness-out-of-newness romantic stares and “I’m so into you” shoulder shifts. The romantic getaway is interrupted when the party back home breaks out in a fight between the militia and Gaspar’s fellow pirates. Gaspar sends one last longing look to his sweetheart before returning to the festival to save his mates. At this point Fleming leaned over and winked, whispering, “Only in Florida would you have a beach pas de deux”.
This will be the second time that Gaspar will grace Tampa’s presence in tights. The ballet is made possible through provisions from the Sanchez Foundation with proceeds benefiting the American Red Cross of Tampa Bay, YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, and Drew’s Shoes. Last year the ballet raised a whopping $60,000 for Bay area charities and hopes to top that this January.
Thankfully, my thigh muscles have calmed down but my arm still finds time to tell me that it’s sore. I can only imagine being in shape enough to where a day spent in stage combat would seem like a walk in the park. For now, I will try and stay fit with just that — a walk in the park.
Recovery aside, I must say that after having only experienced the magic of Act I, I am antsy to see the complete and finished ballet on Jan. 29, to which I will wear a dress with heels — not sweat pants.
See the ballet on Sun., Jan 29, at 1 and 6 p.m. at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. Tickets start at $19 and are available online at strazcenter.org or by calling 813-229-7827 (STAR ).