Los Angeles Ballet on sharing their craft with audiencesJan.03.2018
About Nutcracker #AfternoonTEALEAVES: Gifts of Time:
In time for the holidays, TEALEAVES, in a collaboration with 15+ ballet companies, 10+ luxury hotel partners, and an antiquarian horologist, launched the worldwide Nutcracker #AfternoonTEALEAVES: Gifts of Time initiative. The project is a twist to the traditional gift guide that offers experiential pairings to afternoon tea, themed after the story of the Nutcracker, and celebrates the arts, true craftsmanship, and spending quality time with others.
Piece together your real-life Nutcracker fairytale and explore various ‘Gifts of Time’.
#OverACupOfTealeaves: At TEALEAVES, we believe that the best “condiment” to any cup of TEALEAVES is a story to tell and wisdom to share. Our team had the opportunity to connect with soloists Chelsea Paige Johnston and Elizabeth Claire Walker of Los Angeles Ballet, and here is what we learned.
An array of treats greet Clara and the Nutcracker Prince as they enter the Land of Sweets. Chelsea Paige Johnston and Elizabeth Claire Walker greet the two as the Spanish and Arabian dancers, Chocolat and Café.
Working their whole lives on their craft and the technique behind it, each masterfully executes their performances on stage, aiming to make their traditional performance of The Nutcracker and their techniques a little better with each performance, adding layers of details and nuance to their characters.
“There’s an element of muscle memory that gets more secure, and allows the artist to do more of the art and craftsmanship,” says Johnston.
The holiday performance, fleeting and beautiful, is a tradition shared by many; a gift of time and dedication not only on the part of the dancer, but also the audience.
“This time of year is so special because we can share our craft with so many audiences, and I think true craftsmanship is the gift of the time we spent working on our art and sharing it with the audience,” says Walker. “The Nutcracker really feels like a shared celebration for us. Not only are we sharing our time spent working on our craft, but the audiences are also giving their precious time. They are running around cooking and shopping, but they take the time to come and see us perform, and that really means a lot.”
Discover how these dancers share their craft with their audience, a gift of time for all to enjoy.
TEALEAVES: What are some iconic ballet moves, sequences, or techniques that you perform in your role in the Nutcracker ballet? How many hours does it take to perfect them?
Walker: One of my favorite ballet steps is Arabesque, and in the Arabian divertissement, there’s a really difficult Arabesque where you have to go up in the Arabesque, and then roll through your foot and everything has to line up perfectly. Sometimes it goes perfectly, but then sometimes; after years and years of working on it; sometimes it still is a challenge. So yes, it’s always the same challenges, year after year, that we are working on. Some of the steps you see us perform in The Nutcracker, we have been doing since we began training as young kids. I started dancing when I was three or four.
Johnston: I also started dancing as a child. We dance in The Nutcracker every year, and each year it’s fun to come back to the same production and make it a little bit better each time. It’s what keeps it interesting – there is always some way to improve.
TEALEAVES: How many years has it taken for you to really continuously strive to perfect that Arabesque?
Walker: I think for most ballet dancers, their career starts very young. We both started to perform professionally probably at age 18, and by that point, you’ve achieved a level of mastery in a step, for example, Arabesque. But with age, things change, and places where you’re flexible change and places where you’re strong change, so it’s constantly evolving. I’d say it took at least six years to get to the professional point, but it’s a journey that will continue for years and years afterwards.
Johnston: We work our whole lives on ballet technique, and our performance is not just that moment. It’s the combination of years and years of work. And years and years of enjoyment, as well.
TEALEAVES: How do you maximize your time as a ballerina? And get the most out of your practices, and the rehearsals, and push the bar?
Walker: Anytime you go to the studio, you have to have that really deep focus. Having an internal drive, and really staying focused on the technique, on your performance, and on your role rather than getting distracted. It’s so easy to get distracted with everything. But I think just knowing that when you’re in the studio, it’s work time, and you’re going to get as much done as you possibly can.
TEALEAVES: How does your relationship with ballet change with time?
Johnston: I think with time, there’s a maturity that comes from continuing to dance and continuing to work on the same things. It allows you to see more in just a simple step. Each time you do the Arabesque, you can come at it from a different angle and improve that way. There’s an element of muscle memory that gets more secure, and allows the artist to do more of the art and craftsmanship.
Walker: As you spend more years in this art form, this craft, you’re able to add more nuance to your performances, and everything gets more layers of detail. You get the mastery over the steps early on, and you’re continuously working on that, but I think it’s really the artistry that comes out as you grow older.
TEALEAVES: What’s the thing about ballet that just keeps you going?
Walker: It’s a bit of an addicting thing to do, ballet. The skeleton of the technique, how it can be applied to all these different ballets that we work on. We are constantly having something new to work on, but also at the same time having such a familiar home for my art – it’s a routine, which can be very comforting.
The Nutcracker is beautiful in that way too, because it’s the same every year. Unlike other productions that we’re doing; that maybe we’re returning to, or maybe it’s the very first time; we can really have the comfort of returning to something familiar, and work on finding new ways to bring out its magic. It’s physical, it’s artistic, it’s social. And it’s performing, which we love to do.
Johnston: Especially because The Nutcracker is so traditional, it just really feels like home, and the fun of doing it keeps us going. It’s hard work, but there’s that payoff in the end, especially in the performance. The specific energy to being in front of an audience – you can’t find it anywhere else.
TEALEAVES: Was there any moment in childhood where you were like, “I really want to be a ballerina?”
Johnston: Yes, definitely. I actually specifically remember when I was 16, seeing a video of the ballet Giselle when I was training. I remember watching it and thinking, “I want to do this for the rest of my life. I want this to be my job!” The craft is so specific that you really have to choose the professional track and focus, but it’s worth it. We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to do this.
Walker: I think with most ballet dancers there’s a moment where there’s a turning point where you really have to dig in. It comes pretty early for all of us, in childhood, just because the career is so short, and your body is only able to do the steps for so long. So, there’s this moment where you commit yourself to going for it and doing more.
I remember I was around 11, and going to ballet a few times a week, just casually. I went to see a New York City Ballet performance, and it was actually a very modern ballet, like nothing I had seen before. I just loved the way they were moving, loved the choreography, and that it wasn’t a picture-perfect story ballet. After that, I realized that there were so many different types of work you can do within ballet, and really devoted myself to getting better training, so then maybe I could get there and do it professionally too.
TEALEAVES: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being a dancer that people wouldn’t typically realize?
Johnston: I think one of the most challenging things for me and my career is the confidence required to get our bodies to do such difficult things. You have to believe in yourself, and the second you don’t, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done an attitude pirouette, you won’t get around three times if you don’t believe you can. It’s an exercise in character building. Even for the smallest step we do hundreds of time each week, if you don’t believe it every time, it doesn’t happen.
Walker: It’s obviously such a physical art form, but you have to be mentally strong too. The biggest struggles, for me; are the times when I don’t have the confidence, or just don’t have the will to really get through, and that’s when I begin to struggle in this career.
TEALEAVES: Why should people care about the ballet, especially during this time period where social media is everywhere?
Walker: I think everyone’s attention is pulled in different directions in this day and age. With all the technology, and being on our phones all the time, it’s just little soundbites of information. It’s so much information that there’s a lot of value in being able to go to the theater and sit for an hour, or an hour and a half, with your family, with friends, with strangers around you and enjoy a live performance, a live experience.
Johnston: It’s a focus on something simple, and beautiful, and traditional.
TEALEAVES: Would you be able to talk about how each performance is very unique by its nature, as it’s live?
Walker: Each performance we give is completely unique. The same dancer can give a very different performance from one night to another, so you’ll never capture that moment again. It’s really this fleeting, beautiful experience to see a live ballet performance.
TEALEAVES: Do you feel there’s a special bond between you and the audience?
Johnston: There’s an exchange of energy between the performer and the audience, and it’s different depending on who’s there. Some of my favorite shows have been our Christmas Eve shows. They have such a special energy.
Walker: As performers; we feel the energy of different audiences. For us, the audience brings a missing part to the picture, which is a really great exchange and wonderful part of our job.
· ON TEA ·
TEALEAVES: Do you have any fond memories of afternoon tea; perhaps after your practices or when you were young?
Johnston: I like to get a tea every day in the afternoon. It’s a nice little breather before we go into our afternoon rehearsals. A nice little pick me up.
Walker: We get home from rehearsal in the late afternoon, and I like to make some herbal tea and just relax and unwind at home.
Piece together your real-life Nutcracker fairytale and explore various ‘Gifts of Time’.