Travel

Not Your Boston Tea Party

As quickly as I arrived back to NYC after the closing of my show in Houston, I left and made my first trip to one of America’s most historic cities, Boston.

Staying at one of Boston’s finer hotel’s, Le Meridien, offers free access to the MIT Museum across the street.

How to officially check into a hotel @jmstevko

The announcement of our complimentary pass to the museum garnered little enthusiasm on my behalf, but turned out to be worth it to learn about the last centuries' greatest technological advancements paired alongside other odd experiments and works of art. On the surface they, seem utterly useless, though I’m sure their creation was an important step in the discovery of new possibilities. A reminder that one must love the process, because it's about the journey, not the destination. 

Hologram of Rosemary H. Jackson, the founder of The Museum of Holography @jmstevko
Arthur Ganson's sculpture at the MIT Museum in Boston @jmstevko
Another Arthur Ganson sculpture, name unknown @jmstevko
Arthur Ganson's "Machine with Wishbone" at the MIT Museum in Boston @jmstevko

View all of Arthur Ganson's Kinetic Sculptures on his website http://www.arthurganson.com/pages/Sculptures.html

A Dance into the American Frontier

Skipping through the spring issue of Lonely Planet’s magazine, I serendipitously came across the ‘Easy Trips’ featuring San Diego and the Sunset Cliffs as a recommended quick escape to what San Diegans call ‘American’s Finest CIty.’

Having just finished my month-long engagement of Balanchine ballet in this ocean-side resort town, I find it hard to argue!

The introduction of the Lonely Planet article catches evidence of some young guys sporting board shorts (potentially surfer dudes) illegally cliff jumping, off a natural rock arch into the whirlpools below. Launching yourself from an unstable cliff into the rapids below not your cup of tea? Point Loma’s Sunset Cliffs are eye-candy enough for the timid traveler.

But before I urge you to visit these majestic, seaside walls, let me take a moment to warn that according to a recent amount of news stories, deaths by selfies are on the rise.

If there ever was a place to fall to your death, San Diego falls under that category. Backing up along the cliff face may grant you a stunning shot of a sunset dipping below the Pacific’s horizon, but keep your footing on the loose dirt lest you dream of falling off the face of the earth, consumed by the raging tide.

At the southernmost edge of Point Loma, along with a naval base,  lies what may be my favorite natural wonder to date.  After making a steep drive down the edge of a cliff (you’ll notice this area is rather precarious) explorers can park their cars and walk down to a natural phenomenon called tide pools, or rocky intertidal area. When I had heard about these weeks before, I KNEW I had to see the before I left. But to get the effect, one must visit at the lowest tide.

My visit was perfectly timed. As I drove south to drop off my Australian coworker at the airport for an afternoon flight I continued on south to reach my destination exactly at low tide. At this point, the tide has retreated from the base of the cliffs to reveal a stony foundation of varying levels. This causes multiple pools to form, trapping certain wildlife until the water not so subtly comes crashing back up the side of the coast.

At this point in March, it’s just after the recommended time to visit in February, which was perhaps the reason I didn’t spot any octopi; but, what I did see still amazed me. About 20 other people were venturing down to the pools with me, all hunched over peering through water to find signs of life. Some of the spectators were toting a kind of specialized equipment, appearing to be marine biologists.

Desperate to see really awesome sea monsters, I ventured as far out on flat rocks as far as they would reach. With all my things packed to leave that night - my waterproof Sperry’s being tucked safely in my suitcase - the water still beckoned calmly unto me. It felt as if it was offering reassurance I could safely follow the stepping stones further out into the shallow water. Once there, what I had feared became reality when I felt the waves getting too strong and too close. I made a desperate, last-minute attempt to dash to higher ground, but quit as I realized it was too late. Shoes and pants; saltwater washed…

What I had failed to notice were the instructions on surveying the territory where they suggest you just get wet.

Due to the twice daily drastic changes in these critter’s environment, most have evolved to survive harsh conditions, mostly when the low tide exposes the organisms to heat and open air.

For instance, this anemone that collects shells on it’s underside to retain the moisture when it’s exposed during the low tide.

These chitons, of whom fossils have been found dating up to 400 millions years ago, seek shade on the exposed rocks.

And my childhood favorite, hermit crabs, because what’s cooler than crawling back into a shell whenever you want?  But leave all the vacant shells where you found them! As the name suggests, they seek out larger shells as they grow, and competition is high.

While the Cabrillo National Monument Tidepools are by far my favorite national park, San Diego boasts countless other breathtaking, outdoor scenes worth visiting. One of them being Balboa Park.

Following a Spanish and Mexican tradition of creating public places for recreational use, this park on former Pueblo Territory was set aside in 1835 and presently lies just outside downtown. The West Coast equivalent of New York City’s Central Park, this Balboa Park was the site for the Panama-California exposition from 1915-1917. For the event, ornamental buildings in the style of Spanish Colonial revival which now house varying attractions such as: 16 museums, a replica of Shakespeare’s Old Globe theater (a popular venue for Broadway-bound shows) an outdoor stage, greenhouse and the famed San Diego Zoo. The surrounding grounds are portioned off into majestic and exotic gardens, including one showcasing hordes of never-before-seen varieties of succulents.

The park’s location makes it a no-brainer to head down to the historic Gaslamp District or  what may be the USA’s southernmost, Little Italy.

After our first day in the theater, my flatmate, who I know from my first job out of college at Milwaukee Ballet, met up with an old friend from the same time period who coincidentally just happened to relocate west.

Having just visited Searsucker in Las Vegas, I knew it was a my first choice for a night out on the town, especially because it was just blocks from our venue, the historic Spreckel’s Theater. The four of us gathered in time for their happy hour and ended up staying well past that. The manager, Emily, surprised us with their finest small plates. The pork belly and egg, served with hollandaise on brioche was indescribable. I can’t recall a savory dish that was so tender it melted in my mouth, but this one was one for the ages.

Not surprisingly, all of San Diego’s surrounding area is built up with fine beachside dining spots. Just down the street from our Del Mar accommodations was Jake’s - where all of the guest artists were treated by board members to a celebratory final night dinner.

Right on the beach, fashioned out of an old gas station, every seat at Jake’s boats a view of the ocean; and at dinner time, you couldn’t ask for more, as you watch the sun quickly dip under the waves.

No celebration is complete without a colossal dessert. The special here was is hula pie: a literal tidal wave of macadamia nut ice cream, sandwiched artfully between a cookie crust and hot fudge. It tasted as beautiful as it looked. We came crashing down on the natural disaster of desserts just as furiously as I wished this decadent chocolate dream was doing all over my body.

San Diego does not disappoint, living up to it’s nickname as America’s Finest City. I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I would miss this coastal paradise. But all good things must come to an end - a phrase that rings truest for a freelance performer like myself.

With my first Balanchine ballet under my belt I’m ready to move onto something completely different, the musical Carousel, directed by Tony Award winning director, Rob Ashford. First mounted last year in Chicago, this show now makes its southern debut with Houston Grand Opera. While I’m sad I had to turn down the opportunity to be part of the original cast, I’m excited to hit the ground running. This show is full of firsts: my first time performing for my family in Texas and my first time with a supporting role: Enoch Snow Jr.!

Objects in Mirror are Farther Than They Appear

The City of Lights...

...the Gambling Capitol of the World...

...Sin City...

Or the moniker, undoubtedly coined by a jaded tourist, “The Land of Lost Wages” - my personal favorite for America’s great cartoon of a city, Las Vegas.

The very thought of a Vegas visit can either prompt an immediate response of disinterest or jumpstart visions of a vacation where one is not just allowed, but welcomed, to indulge in their wildest, forbidden urges. With a track record as blasphemous as that, one would expect advice to the tune of, “Don’t get into too much trouble!” or “Make sure you don’t go out alone!” Instead, the only thing I heard from countless veterans was “Don’t walk anywhere. Everything looks really close, but it’s a lot farther than it looks.”

For me, this 4 day romp through The Strip was strictly for work. While in the midst of rehearsals for Balanchine’s Square Dance with the City Ballet of San Diego, I had a gig. This job was a variation on a prior performance, kicking off a convention for various business peoples and led by a new and well-established aerial company based in Chicago: C5 Create With No Limits

No, I don’t do aerial work (I dabbled once in silks training, but monkey climbing up a hanging drape and holding my body weight up solely with my two arms is more trouble than it’s worth). Instead, the founder of the company is strapped into a harness and does a dramatic running and dodging number to a motivational script and house music, while the rest of us serve as backup dancers, doing daring choreography on a giant conveyor belt, charmingly dubbed ‘The Treadmill’, and falling off backwards at the end onto a gymnastics mat. And this time, the big finish included confetti cannons, because there’s no better way to kick off a work day than to fill a cavernous convention space with tons of flying, shredded paper.

The lot of us, reuniting from all over the country to remount this show, were housed at Caesar’s Palace, smack dab in the middle of Vegas’s Strip.

For those who aren’t acquainted with the city, The Strip includes 15 of the world’s 25 largest hotels. Each hotel is a super-sized caricature of its themes most iconic symbols: Paris, Rome, the Middle East and China are all rising out of the desert on this 4 mile stretch. Architectural styles such as Beaux-Arts, Modern, Roman, Baroque, Moorish, Art Nouveau, and even Pirate Ship all naturally occur right here one next to the other. They otherwise would never been seen together in the same room; a modern day convenience!

After checking into the most spacious hotel room I’ve seen and having a good laugh to myself when spotting my room’s jacuzzi, I joined my Chicago ladies for a dip in the ‘Venus Pool’. It’s  one of many in a giant complex of watering holes in the hotel’s courtyard. A dancer who had already had the pleasure of attending the pools over the summer, whispered rumors that one's carnal urges can take hold in these adult pools, leaving many topless. And I don’t mean the men….

 

My fair skin disallows sunbathing, so I quit to my room, where I planned out my program for the following days. A full day was required for rehearsal. This, and the fact that I was still on central time, left me too tired to toss all my morals out the window and rack up a list of things that happened in Vegas that would stay in Vegas.

Though, the day’s rehearsal was long, I still set time aside for a drink at the high-profile, Michelin Star restaurant: Hakkasan. Downing a delicious whiskey cocktail named Buddha’s Palm.

This is a good point to interject a note about Vegas’s prices. In one word:

HYSTERICAL.

After the initial comedy and once you realize you have no other option, that word becomes:

PARALYSING.

One castmate, after living life at the club late one night, came back to her room and ordered a grilled cheese from room service. At checkout, she discovered that grilled cheese was an outlandish $54. The saddest part of the story...she never got it. She fell asleep drunk and hungry.

Needless to say, my travel know-how prohibited me from falling victim to these tourist trap prices. Luckily, there appeared to be a happy medium: play slots where they deliver you free drinks! Now, since gambling addiction has happened in my family, I’m not stupid enough to toss all my earnings away. My tactic was to slowly play the slots, losing as little money as possible.

For my first ever slot machine, I came across this little gem: A Dolly Parton themed penny slot (a misnomer: since the lowest required bid is 50 c) that included bonus prizes of listening to a number of Dolly’s hit tunes.

 

I slipped in my $20 and carefully scanned the game’s rules which made no sense to me; maybe because they aren’t actually rules, just an explanation of how the computer will take advantage of you. Shortly after seating myself, as planned, a waitress approached me for my drink order.  I happily ordered a gin and soda. Waiting for my drink, but still not understanding how the machine worked, I hit the button with the lowest number on it and watched the digital pictures spin.

My bid was 50. Once the pictures of butterflies and pink heels slowed to a stop, it turns out I had won 20! Not bad for my first gamble, but I’m no idiot. This computer is built to capitalize on me and I won’t have any of that. My drink arrived, so, I decided to cut my losses and cash out.

Now, this gin and soda was effectively 30; after my bet and meager win. Sure enough, the drink tasted like 30 as there wasn’t 30worth of well gin in this glass of soda water to be found. It holds true that nothing is free - Especially, not in Silver City.

For those on a budget, there is hope. On my cab ride from the airport, the driver let the cat out of the bag about the Fremont St. experience. Located in downtown Vegas, or Old Vegas, since the Strip is technically just outside the city limits, Fremont St. offers an incredible overhead canopy light show, zip-lining, and $2 - $3 drinks. Preferred by locals, the bars here are calmer, with a homey feel and cheaper drinks; “Hipster” even, but those are a local’s words, not mine.

The next afternoon’s show went off without any major hitches and received glowing reviews from the management.

It was time to pack my bags and head back to San Diego to finish cleaning up the ballet with the Balanchine Trust repetituer, Elyse Borne....

 

Square Dance is a major corps de ballet workhorse; too fast to think between steps with multiple formations requires a healthy mix of calm agility, and constant surveyal of the dancers’ periphery. Showtime is near; two weeks away, and running it flawlessly, without stops, is necessary for building stamina. Not to worry because my Del Mar accommodations feature a cliff-side patio, with bedroom access. It’s a place to toss back a few glasses and give my limbs the chance to just be limbs, and not paintbrushes for ballet.

You can watch a past televised performance of by the Miami City Ballet here:

 

 

 

Uncovering Brno: Czech's Second City

"If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it."

This quote, whose source is uncertain, is popular among artists the world over. From musicians to singers to dancers, that endless murmur from our inner voice is perpetually haranguing us on practice. “Should I be practicing now? Did I practice ENOUGH today?” Or even “I sound/look AWFUL! Why can’t I do this right?! That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. I’m quitting! Really, this time I am!”

As an artist, our sanity takes its toll when we aren’t provided with an opportunity to do our craft. This is made so much more difficult when travelling.

Luckily, on a trip two years ago, a pilgrimage from Prague to my great-grandfather’s village in neighboring Slovakia, I had the chance to stay in shape (and keep my own artistic sanity) by attending company class with the National Ballet of Brno - a city that was just named one of 52 Places to go in 2016 by the New York Times, making this the perfect opportunity to uncover this Czech ‘second-city.' Czechs can proudly read the headlines here: Brno podle New York Times mezi 52 nejlepšími místy světa pro rok 2016

With the help of Central Europe’s version of budget buses, Student Agency, I arrived one calm, cool night in Brno, near the Main Station (Hlavní Nádraží).

Side note: Many people who have yet to visit this area of the world may refer to it as “Eastern Europe”. But the natives in this part of the country, especially in Prague,  will quickly jump at the opportunity to point out that this is CENTRAL Europe and even Vienna, Austria  lies farther east than the Czech Republic. A very valid point considering that at first thought I would have grouped Austria with Western Europe...

This time around on my second visit, I was staying at the Ballet Master and current principal  dancer’s quaint apartment, which I’ll note is most every traveler's’ favorite way of diving into a culture. Nothing beats staying with a native in their own home (granted, in this case, one of them was Brazilian). Beside getting the inside scoop on the area, you’ll most likely get homemade, authentic meals.

One dinner, sleep, and breakfast later and we made our way to the National Theatre of Brno, which encompasses all the theatrical arts - opera, ballet, drama, and music - on a campus with three different theatres. Class this morning took place in the ballet studios in the oldest of the venues, the Mahen Theatre. Built in 1882 after the former theater burnt down, (a fairly common occurrence in the day), it was the first theatre in the world to be entirely lit by electricity, and was visited by Edison himself. Being the first of its kind in this city, no power plants existed, so a steam plant was erected specifically to run the theatre. While up to date with electricity, the innards of the theater still retain much of the original architecture.

Dancers in ballet companies traditionally start the day with a ballet class to keep their technique solid and warm-up for the rest of the day's rehearsals and potential performances following at night. I happily danced a good class led by the company's Slovak  artistic director. Due to the size of the studios, the men here take class in a separate studio to avoid cramming everyone in one tight space, which makes it difficult to move across the floor once you get to centre work...sometimes it's so crowded that even barre work is impossible and you end kicking dancers in front and behind you.

After class, I thanked the director, as is customary, and quietly bowed out to allow the company to move on with their day. I then began sightseeing. Luckily today required no awkward exit unlike the year prior in Budapest, where a soloist had twisted her knee during the last combination across the floor, the grande allegro.  As the entire company gathered around to assess the severity of the situation, I had to skimp on the goodbye and just ghost. Probably for the best since I felt completely inadequate afterwards. My lack of knowledge with the Hungarian language had me in for a surprise when I struggled to keep up with the other dancers, trailing behind a few counts in each combination. It was comforting knowing I had a better working knowledge of Czech.

Brno is the Czech Republic’s  second-largest city and the capital of Moravia, which is the region covering the southeast portion of the country and also part of northwest Slovakia. Having been situated at the confluence of two rivers and amongst the rolling hills typical of the Czech Republic since before history, you can really get some stellar views of the cities architecture, spanning from Gothic to Baroque to a modern style known as Brno Functionalist.

Since I’m not particularly fond of modern architecture, my goal was to make it to the Cathedral of St. Paul and Peter perched on a hill on the opposite side of town.

Heading out of the theater, I first pass St. James Church. An ossuary on the building’s side piqued my interest. Weeks prior I had just visited the Sedlec Ossuary just outside Prague, which was a mind-boggling experience. Never before had I seen human bones taken to such decorating heights!

I approached the door of Europe’s second largest ossuary to find out it’s closed for ‘technical difficulties’... Unsure about what kind of troubles they were having with the bones of 50,000 humans, I slowly backed away figuring it was best not to ask questions in this situation, which was a potential cover-up for the undead and continue on my journey.

Impossible to miss as you pass through the town’s Zelný trh (Cabbage Market) is a monolithic, baroque statue of Hercules and Cerberus, finished in 1695.  Three figures on the fountains ‘cave’ are representative of the old empires of Persia, Greece, and Babylon.

Just past the Zelný trh you’ll find another square near the Reduta Theatre with a small statue of an angelic looking W. A. Mozart. An homage to the famous composer who performed here with his sister as a youngster.

Now on the other side of the city I slowly scale the hill leading up to the cathedral.

Atop another hill lies Špilberk Castle, of which the only picture I took is of it’s three guardians.

Stevko-Brno-Cats.JPG

With the moon rising, I began my journey to Bratislava to once again take company class with the Slovak National Ballet which proved to be excruciatingly painful after a full day of walking miles around the city. Little did I know, I would wake up with swollen, tender feet and would later regret forcing  myself through an entire ballet class. 

Stevko-Brno-View.JPG