A blog about my world. Posts will be added frequently.
Apr 15, 2017:
Leslie's Current Reads
1) 'Workin' It! RuPaul's Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style' by Rupaul Charles (left)
If you don't know already (and I really hope you do), Rupaul is the world's most famous Drag Queen, most known for being the host of her show "Rupaul's Drag Race." It is undoubtedly my favorite show on television because it not only showcases the world of drag as a beautiful art form, it also is incredibly inspiring. Rupaul always exclaims my favorite quote at the end of each episode: "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an Amen up in here??" And that quote has resonated with me throughout my life and career. The book "Working' It" is an extension of the great advice Ru gives on his show, plus on tips on how to live our best lives and work to our fullest potential! Ru also breaks down his process of getting into drag and it's very fascinating. This book is a super easy read, but it really has a great message. And the pictures of Ru (a.k.a Supermodel of the World) are phenomenal.
2) 'Giovanni's Room' by James Baldwin (right)
James Baldwin is a one of a kind author. His language is unlike anything I have read in another book. He is so clever with his sentence structure, and always makes a point that makes me go "that's absolutely it." The story is of a white American ex-soldier, grappling with his sexuality. He moves to Paris and falls in love with a handsome Italian man who eventually is murdered. It's about loneliness, alienation, shame, and the "mystery of loving." It is a magnificent story that is deep and tragic. But, the main reason I decided to read "Giovanni's room" is because I recently had a huge obsession with Paris. In the 20th century, there was a big relocation of African-American artists to Paris and other parts of Europe, such as James Baldwin, Eartha Kit, Pat Cleveland, and Josephine Baker to name a few of my favorites. Their moves were clearly due to racism in America, but for a lot of these artists, Paris was where they really became stars. There seemed to be some allure to Paris that made it a melting pot of art, culture, and of course, racial tolerance, which helped these icons thrive. Baldwin's writing style made Paris seem like this deeply textured and romantic wonderland. Of course Baldwin doesn't speak of only roses and sunshine in the city of lights, but even the grimmy and dark aspects of Paris still intrigued me with awe. The imagery was so captivating that I was determined to get to Paris to see what all the fuss was about. "Giovanni's Room" was the straw that broke the camels back.
Thanks to Mr. Baldwin, I ended up going to Paris and having an unforgettable time.
Mar 1, 2017:
Thoughts on Comfort Zones
discomfort or fear. It only last for a moment. Those feelings of frustration due to something being "too difficult" or scary eventually dissipate and then there is complete bliss. It is possible to get past personal hang-ups and insecurities! People can go their whole lives living in fear and never end up reaching their full potential. It’s unfortunate, because if we all get in the habit of letting go of psychological restrictions and push ourselves to take that leap of faith into the depths of any scary situation, we can land on a new side of ourselves. We become stronger from these experiences. And have more learned lessons to add to our tool belts of life.
In my life there are so many exciting and fulfilling experiences to be had! My tool belt always seems to be getting heavier and heavier…I'm so grateful.
This has been a philosophical message courtesy of Leslie Andrea Williams.
Recently, I did something very out of my comfort zone. I did my first nude dance photoshoot.
People always say that you should do something that scares you every day. I can certainly say that on this particular day I accomplished that. Yes, I was scared. Yes, I was nervous. Yes, I felt exposed and slightly uncomfortable the moment I took off my robe. But I think that's what was so invigorating about it. And while it was a scary situation, I was made to feel extremely comfortable and safe by the photographer. He wanted me to feel at ease while dancing, so I was asked to improv so he could capture me in spontaneous action. Luckily, improvisation is my favorite form of dance. Also, I could chose my own tunes to dance to. Good music makes me feel so alive, so while I was dancing I practically forgot I was nude and was living my life! Even though I was naked and vulnerable, I knew I could lift myself out of that discomfort by dancing. It felt so freeing to just let go and dance. And the photographer was able to capture me in my most raw and genuine form. There's beauty in vulnerability!
After the shoot, I got to thinking about the experience of discomfort. I was reminded of the fact that some of best accomplishments in life can come out of a place of
Feb 15, 2017:
The Girl with the Wine Stained Dress: A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, there was dancer named Leslie. She danced with the magical company of Queen Martha Graham. The company had just performed at the royal Joyce Theater in the Kingdom of New York City. All of the dukes and dutchess of the board were there, and other New York City dance world royalty. It was an amazing performance, and now it was time for the Annual ball at the Maritime Hotel.
Leslie was excited for the ball, and was dressed to the nines in her orange satin dress. The dress had a magnificent train that was held the whole night by her prince charming boyfriend and escort to the ball. She had just made her entrance. She overheard a friend of hers commenting on her gown with something along the lines of, "She bring it to you every ball, why art thou gagging so?" Leslie admired the beautiful scene and gave kisses to more friends and colleagues on her way to the royal bar. She enjoyed a delicious glass of Bordeaux with her prince charming, and they made a toast to the night.
But suddenly, at the stroke of midnight, something terrible happens. As Leslie goes to greet Martha Graham royalty Sir Lloyd the Knight, a girls hand accidentally flips Leslie's glass of Bordeaux onto her orange satin dress. Leslie was distraught and rushed to the royal powder room with her prince charming carrying her train all the way there. The clock chimes throughout the Kingdom.
Frantically, Leslie and her Prince try to towel off the orange satin dress with warm water. "The dress is ruined," Leslie exclaimed in dismay. Her magical ball extravaganza was not going how she had planned. But suddenly, Leslie's fairy godmother appeared with a smile on her face. She said "Leslie, all is not lost. You are still beautiful, and your Prince Charming is still handsome. I know just what to do. Go forth, back into the ball, and show the kingdom what the new fashion trend is...wine stained dresses are all the rage-eth!" The fairy godmother sent Leslie and Prince Charming on their way, and cast a spell on everyone at the ball. Suddenly, the ballroom lights dimmed. Not a soul could see the stains on Leslie's orange sating dress. All that could be seen was her radiant smile, and her beautiful Balenciaga.
And so, Leslie partied at Queen Martha Graham's royal ball, and had a jolly ol' time. Everyone she talked to would say, "Leslie! I am gagging on your eleganza, miss thang!" Leslie smiled. She winked to her fairy godmother that flew off into the night, and passionately kissed her Prince Charming.
She lived happily ever after. The end.
Here are some pictures from my magical time dancing at the "Royal" Joyce Theater! (:
Jan 23, 2017:
The Streets of Haiti
The Martha Graham Dance Company traveled to Port-Au-Prince and Jacmel, Haiti for a week of cultural exchange. When we arrived last week, Port-Au-Prince was still recovering from a devastating hurricane in October. But the people were still in good spirits. The vibrancy of the city was unlike anything I had seen before, and even though there was a lot of poverty to be seen, there was still Haitian pride. The company performed for different ends of the class system; from the US Embassy at a five star hotel to the locals of downtown Port-Au-Prince on an outdoor stage.
I felt proud to be able to share my dancing with everyone and learn about their culture as well. Especially as a black woman.
I brought my camera on the trip and was really enamored by the streets of Haiti. Its energy is captivating. So I took a few pictures!
Nov 17 2016:
Behind The Scenes: On-set for Blood Orange's music video 'Better Than Me'
I had the pleasure of dancing in Dev Hynes's
(a.k.a Blood Orange) new video for his song 'Better Than Me' feat. Carly Rea Jepsen off of his latest album FREETOWN SOUND. This is my personal take on the outstanding
It was a joy to rehearse for Dev’s new video at the Graham studios in the West Village — the place I go everyday to work my butt off with The Martha Graham Dance Company. It was going to be my first real experience as a "video girl" working on a set. Video dancing is something I've always enjoyed and I was excited to learn the in's and out's of making world class music video.
Coming into the first rehearsal and seeing familiar smiling faces was such a heart warming moment for me. A lot of the dancers had danced with me in Dev's last music video for the song 'Augustine.' I knew I was about to have a great time and that another really special video was about to be made. Meeting new dancers was fun too. Everyone had great personalities so of course we all got along well.
The movement for the video was choreographed by Dev's right hand movement collaborator, Juri Onuki, and Dev himself. Their steps were so much fun to dance!
The day of the shoot was a long one, but it was so worth it. Our call time was 6:30am and we did not finish until sundown. The shoot took place at a warehouse in the Bronx. I walked into the space and people were working everywhere. Camera people, producers, wardrobe, hair and make-up…everyone was setting up for the shoot. The set was top notch, from the state of the art lights and cameras all the way down to the buffet of breakfast, lunch, and snacks provided for the crew and dancers. There was even an omelet station. And so much Red Bull (necessary)!
At the hair and make-up station, I felt so taken care of. The hair stylist knew exactly what to do with my natural hair (which is hard to come by, unfortunately). I knew I was in good hands just by sitting in the chair and noticing the plethora of curling irons, straighteners, hair products for all hair types, combs, brushes, and hair accessories laid out on a table next to me. In the make-up chair, I was the lucky girl that got to wear the sparkly purple Chanel eyeliner. The look for the shoot was pretty natural, but it never hurts to add some subtle glamour! At wardrobe I was given this incredible vintage grey pinstriped suit. I was obsessed with it. I put it on and instantly felt like the coolest person on the planet. At the end of the shoot, I was told I could keep the suit, and I almost cried. One of the wardrobe assistants was putting my shoes on for me and said, “This is usually what we do for the models at campaign shoots.” I was a model for a day! (lol)
While filming, in between takes, the crew would bring out large fans and leaf blowers to cool off the dancers. Hair and make-up was standing by to give us touch-ups. I even got a casual scalp massage close to the end of the day. The dancers had to look 100% for each take. And there were a lot of takes. It was important to start shooting so early, because we needed to have ample natural lighting for the group number. We would shoot one section of the group dance multiple times at different angles. Then we
would shoot the next section with the same direction. This would go on for the entire day. It was important to keep my energy up for each take, because once the video is put together, it should look like one continuous streamline of beautiful dancing. Thats why the make-up and hair touch ups and leaf blowers were so important. As a concert dancer, there are a few differences and similarities to being on set compared to being on stage. Usually, dancing with Graham, we tech a show the same day as a performance. First, we take time to space out a ballet on stage, then we run it once to make sure the lighting is correct, and then we perform the piece. It was slightly the same on set, because we still had to space out the group dance and figure out the best positions for the camera to capture the movement. But we had to basically "run" the dance about 50 times, which was quite a change from what I am used to.
As a performer, I had no problems adjusting to dancing to a camera. My performance level does not change if I am dancing to a room of three people, or to a auditorium of a thousand. There were a good number of crew members watching us dance on set, but all I could think about were the hundreds of thousands of people on youtube that would be seeing this video. That was my audience.
Amongst the crew members were photographers and videographers documenting everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Who knew dancers laying on the concrete trying to cool off in a hot warehouse in hot wool suits could be such an edgy pic?
My favorite part of the shoot was the improv section. Dev told us that he was going to film this part in slow motion, so he wanted us to dance as big and boldly as possible. We all moved through the space, connecting to each other, or jumping over each others heads! During a little contact improvisation session with another dancer, my neck was accidentally rolled over by his body. I had to lay down to make sure I didn't break anything, but I was so excited to keep going, I was up again after a few minutes. The improv section really gave us all a chance to show what talented dancers we were. It felt so good to dance around to the grooving tune of Dev's music. It was so freeing. And I'm happy that my Graham hinge showed up in the final cut! I made it my mission to get that move in there.
Working with Dev is always amazing. He is such a visionary. He knows exactly who to call and what to do to make his vision become a reality. He is so nice, chill, and fun on set, and yet he still gets so much done! He’s not difficult, neurotic, or crazy like a lot of other people can be in the biz. He is such an inspiration. At the end of the shoot he said to me “You’re so crazy! You’re dancing is so amazing. You're like, one of my favorite dancers.” I was grinning from ear to ear.
I feel so honored to have gotten the chance to dance in the video. Dev said that he considers the video his “masterpiece.” I can’t believe that I can say I contributed to making his vision come true. That video shoot was such a blast. I know the next project with him will be just as fun if not more.
The day ended with me bumming a cigarette from Carly Rae Jepsen, who was featured on the song and in the video. We talked about the shoot, dance, and birthdays (t was hers). It was incredibly casual. ;)
Watch the music video for Blood Orange's song 'Better than Me' feat. Carly Rae Jepsen on the OTHER PROJECTS page. And then go listen to the incredible album FREETOWN SOUND!
Oct 31, 2016:
Bailar en Cuba!: A daily insight journal
The Martha Graham Dance Company traveled to Havana, Cuba to participate in the Festival Internacional de Ballet de La Habana, honoring the great Alicia Alonso. Since the Cuban borders have been opened, it has become one of the leading dance festivals in the world. Ballet companies from all over participated, such as The New York City Ballet, Joffery Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, and Dutch National Ballet (Yes, Michaela DePrince was there). And of course members of Alicia Alonso’s company, Ballet Nacional de Cuba. The Graham company was the only modern dance company in attendance. We were invited by the US Embassy to embark on a cultural exchange of dance. It was a great honor to be there.
I technically count our second day in Cuba as the first, because I can’t bring myself to count the 21 hour travel day just getting to Cuba as a real day. We were up at 3:45am, got on a flight to Fort Lauderdale, had a long lay over, got on a flight to Santa Clara, Cuba, and then had a three hour bus ride to our hotel in Havana. On the bus, I was mostly asleep, but every time I would open my eyes and glance out the window I felt like I was in no man’s land. It looked like I had gone back many years in the past before civilization. There were endless fields and farms, and homes that looked to be built by hand. Men were sitting outside of their shacks washing their shoes or tending to their cattle. There were no paved streets or traffic signs, only dirt roads. There were almost no cars, only people in horse drawn buggies. Any car I did see looked like it was built in 1960. Men were on the side of the roads hitchhiking. They had small sacks with them, which most likely enclosed everything they owned.
We stoped at a rest stop for a bathroom break. The rest stop was an empty outdoor restaurant. There was a souvenir shop only consisting of merchandise with Fidel Castro’s face on it. Outside of the bathroom was a woman sitting next to a table with toilet paper roles and a tip jar. We had to tip her to get a few sheets of toilet paper. The bathrooms themselves looked like they hadn't been cleaned in years. The toilet in my stall did not flush.
Getting to Havana definitely was not the easiest task! But I was certainly relived to get there, and to be greeted by complimentary margaritas upon check-in.
We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Presidente located in a very affluent neighborhood in Havana. I loved my room. There was a working toilet with a full roll of toilet paper next to it. I was ready for the next 6 days. Oh, and did I mention the view?
For our first official day, some company members and I went exploring in Old Havana, the city center/dowtown of Havana. In Old Havana, the original baroque and neoclassic architecture of the city stands tall. Some of the centuries old buildings have become quite run down, but the further we walked to the capital, the more renovations we saw. All of buildings were rich with an array of colors - blue, red, yellow, pink, orange, and green. The city is filled with vibrance. Along with the colorful buildings were colorful classic cars and taxis. Horns were honking and the smog from the diesel fuel filled the air. The locals seemed to not have much, but they did a lot with a little. They had their own businesses; selling things from bread, to jewelry and other nick-nacks, to barbershop and hair braiding services. There were of course a lot of places to drink. The streets were crowded with beautiful people of all sorts of skin tones. Stray dogs and cats were roaming the streets. Some
were missing legs. Young children getting out of school were congregating on the sidewalk in their cliques sporting their customized uniforms and showing off their latest gadgets (which looked to be the “new” iPod nano). Men were sitting outside smoking cigars. Women were outside on their balconies hanging wet laundry. The city was moving at its own pace, stuck in time.
We walked down the streets surrounding the capital building that is currently being renovated. After walking down many ally ways and back streets (and grabbing ice-cream from a local shop along the way), we stumbled upon what looked to be a popular square for drinking, dinning, music, and dancing! We stopped to have a pint of beer, and soon after arriving I noticed that I was having my picture drawn by a local sketch artist! I'll cherish this work of art forever. #masterpiece
After the show I ran into a fellow company member who was about to go out salsa dancing with one of his Spanish friends who visited him in Cuba and they invited me to come along! I was so excited. His friend had another friend who was a local cab driver and he drove us around in an incredible green classic car with a decked out light interior. The seats were plush
The day ended with a gathering of the Patrons that joined us for our Cuba trip at the residence of Cuba’s U.S. ambassador, Jeffery DeLaurentis. The Patrons consisted of board members and long-time devoted fans of the Graham company. It was so nice to spend time with them. Usually we see them at our performances, but it was so nice to get to know them in more intimate settings. They were here for a vacation, and this this tour felt like somewhat of a vacation for the company too! The company got dressed up in their finest cocktail garments and rode in beautiful classic Cuban taxis to the residence. The home was very beautiful, and was originally built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We all were enjoying the wonders of Cuba and learning about the history together! It was a great evening.
white leather and the sound system sounded state of the art. It was quite early in the evening on a weekday, so unfortunately all of the salsa clubs weren’t open yet. We went to at least 4 different places! But even so it was still such a wonderful time just driving around the streets of Havana enjoying the company of friends. The windows were down, the music bumping, and the beautiful city of Havana was rushing by in the night. It was almost like a dream. “I can’t believe I’m here right now,” I said to myself. I was overflowing with joy and gratitude.
After driving around we finally settled on stopping at an outdoor Cuban restaurant. The restaurant was underneath a large wooded awning and the tables sat on a soft layer of sand. A breeze would roll in, and you felt like you were on a beach. We sat amongst Cuban locals and their families and loved ones, laughing and being merry. We enjoyed drinks, delicious fish and rice, and a live salsa band! We joined the other restaurant goers for a number on the dance floor. Sadly it looks like I am a pretty bad salsa dancer, but hey, it was my first official go around in a very authentic setting! I’m sure with practice I’ll get much better.
THE GRAND OPENING
It was time to go to the opening night of the Festival Internacional de Ballet de La Habana, honoring the great Alicia Alonso. The opening night performance is at the Grand Teatro, a historic landmark in Havana, and one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen. Alicia Alonso is a former prima ballerina, and has her own company, Ballet Nacional de Cuba. From a young age she was always partially blind, but was still dancing and choreographing, which is incredibly inspiring to think about.
The curtain goes up and the show begins with hundreds of young students walking on
the stage to curtsey to the audience. They file out in perfectly aligned rows of 10, as if they were in the military. They are all dressed in their best black dance attire, hair slicked and laid and perfectly “quaffed”. These men and women looked so lovely. The men’s bodies were impeccably muscular and proportioned. My company members and I were gawking over each girls stylish choice of leotard and skirt. By the end of the curtseying, there had to have been over 100 dancers on stage. It was a rainbow of different complexions too, which was a beautiful thing to see. They all began to do a series of port de bras to very heroic and boisterous classical music. They dispersed, and then the members of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba came out and presented themselves to the audience. One at the time, the female dancers came out and curtsied – the applause getting louder with each entrance. Then, the men come out, bow, and make a formation around this large velvety red drape that is billowing at the back of the stage. The men motion to the curtain, the music becomes EXTRA dramatic, and suddenly the curtain swoops up to reveal the great Alicia Alonso sitting on a golden throne. Everyone in the audience gasps. My face cracked into tiny pieces. It was hands down the greatest thing I had seen in Cuba.
The male dancers escort Ms. Alonso downstage with the company and students filling in behind them. They were just walking, but the steps were perfectly choreographed. Ms. Alonso at this point in her life is completely blind, but you wouldn’t know it from her elegant steps and stage presence. They all took one great final bow as the audience stood to their feet to cheer wildly.
The dancers performed a mix of ballet classics like Sleeping Beauty, and more contemporary ballet pieces. There was one piece that seemed to be a take on Swan Lake, with the corps de ballet all dressed in white tutu’s and the lead dancer in a black tutu and pointe shoes with edgy makeup. It was quite a rendition. All of the dancers were very clearly well trained, had strong technical ability, and clean lines. Cuba is home to some of the best classical ballet dancers, such as Carlos Acosta, Loipa Araújo, Caridad Martinez, and Lorena Feijóo. It was no surprise to see such great talent on the stage.
After the show I had a crazy experience getting back to the hotel. Since the motor vehicles in Cuba are very old and still have diesel engines, it is common to have them overheat. Just the day before, I had seen men pushing their cars down the street trying to get them to restart, and once the engine finally woke up they stealthily hopped back into the drivers seat and drove away! They are quite skilled at it! But this night we decided to take a “buggie” style cab that is basically a motorbike with a yellow taxi colored shell casing around it. The engine overheated three different times…in the rain. But instead of the driver pushing solo, he asked my company member who was riding with me to get out and push too! The taxi started up, but not without teamwork! During all of the craziness we couldn’t help but take some selfies due to the sheer insanity of the situation. Even though our taxi stopped three times in the middle of moving traffic…we still had a good time. It was all a part of the experience.
TOILETS AND TECH
Theatre time. It was the day of our tech, and we were all excited to get to the theatre we would be performing in, El Teatro Mella. This day was a luxury for the company because we usually tech our shows the same day we perform, which can be very tiring. But today we had the opportunity to space and tech both casts for the two days of performances.We were able to get well adjusted to a raked stage, which is a stage that is on a slight downward incline. Since long before the early 20th century, these were the only stages that dancers ever performed on. You usually see these kinds of stages in older theaters like El Teatro Mella, or The Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia. When we were in Palermo, Italy, we had to perform on a stage with an even bigger incline than the one in Cuba. Even doing a simple
tip forward on one leg can make you feel like your going to fall off the stage, or flat on your face. The degree of incline can be so small, but it really can set the dancer off their center. Since it was not the first time I had to perform on a raked stage, I knew what to prepare myself for. El Teatro Mella also had a pretty big stage, so the company and I were at ease knowing we could really move and take up space while were dancing. For me, it is always easier to adjust to a larger stage than a smaller one because as my rehearsal director says, I’m “a big shifter.” I have long and strong legs that allow me to travel through space at a great distance in only a mere measure of music. I consider this to be a gift of sorts. My director always says, “You need five football fields to dance the way you do!”
Tech day was the first day I truly saw the weight of performing in a third world country. A lot of buildings in Cuba are not renovated and have no updated plumbing or electrical system. This theatre was a prime example. For the first day of tech there was only one working toilet. The rest of them did not flush. When we did get the toilets working again, we could not flush toilet paper down the drain. It even was an ordeal getting toilet paper, which is not something that is often used in most Cuban bathrooms. Unless people bring it themselves, there usually isn’t toilet paper in public bathroom stalls. Like in Santa Clara, there was almost always someone sitting outside of a public restrooms that you had tip before you could get a couple of sheets of toilet paper to use. It’s amazing to think that things like toilet paper can be considered a luxury.
El Teatro Mella had very nice sized dressing rooms, but they weren’t well lit. The stage manager had some backstage workers create a makeshift dressing room for us in the basement, but it was pretty dangerous. The workers basically created a light by connecting two exposed wires together. Although I commended the the effort and resourcefulness of the workers and my stage manager, It was certainly a difficult situation to have to deal with. They were determined to find a solution, and they succeeded. Luckily the theatre was very close to the hotel, so the company just went to do their make-up and hair there.
Also close to the theatre was a delicious grill that I got lunch at that day. I didn’t totally recognize everything on the menu, but thanks to my two years of Spanish in high school I knew what bistec de pollo meant…chicken steak! It was so delicious. It came with rice and beans, a salad with vinegar, and a strangely large potato. All of that food was was the equivalent of five USD! The economy is certainly something I do not understand in Cuba, but I know for a fact that almost everything is extremely cheap.
DAY 4 AND 5
These two days felt like they went slowly and quickly at the same time.
Every day was a taxi ride or walk to El Teatro Mella, a warm up class, another tech, and then a show. I was performing in Martha Graham’s Diversion of Angels as The Woman in White. It is a featured role I am always excited about because I feel so beautiful and pure when I dance it. My partner and I dance as The Couple in White and we are steadfast in love. We represent a mature couple that has been together for a long time and support each other through everything. I was doing this role for only the second time with a new partner. I was slightly nervous, because our last run didn't go as well as I would have liked. But I was determined to not let that happen again. Whenever I am feeling nervous about a role, I always try to think about the character and
the story more than the massive amount of notes I sometimes have, or technique, or trying so hard to be perfect — that’s my worst enemy for sure. When I tap into the character, I remove myself from my own body and their essence takes my place. I let go of my thoughts and embrace the “Blood Memory”. Blood Memory is the psychological idea that we as humans have experiences, thoughts and feelings that have been felt and passed down by our ancestors. This was a term that Martha Graham used a lot, and was the title of her biography. The term is inspired by Carl Jung, who said that “history us not contained in books, but lives in our very blood.
When I go on stage I never feel like I have to worry about tapping into a role, because I know I have already experienced it in a past life. With enough studying and preparation, I can really “lose myself” on stage. That’s what’s so great about Martha Graham, she had this keen understanding of all things and all people, and managed to showcase them in such honest way. You can’t help but be raw and true on stage doing Martha’s work. It just won’t work any other way. The performances were a huge success. We received standing ovations during our curtain calls. The audience loved us. I felt on top of the world. And to finish the night strong, it was time to celebrate with a lovely paella feast at the exquisite home of event planner Pamela Ruiz and her artist husband Damien Aquiles. Their home has been host to quite a few A-list parties and has been featured in many fashion forward publications. I wore my finest bargain brand dress to the event. People kept saying to me, “You look like you're going to the gala!” Everyone there was mostly in casual attire, but I was in party mode. No one could mess with me. I had just performed the role of a beautiful woman in love, why not channel that after the performance through my outfit? My dress was $45 from a thrift store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but you certainly wouldn't know it!
It was a lovely evening of drinking, dancing, (raining), and of course eating. We all had a great time. It was a celebration well deserved.
It had finally arrived, the last day full day in Cuba. I can say with confidence that I was very tired, but with the performances being over, it was finally a chance to soak up the last moments I had in Havana.
I started the day off with attending a festival screening my friend Nan Melville’s film Nrityagram: For the Love of Dance. She directed and edited a documentary on the story of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble of India. She traveled to the Nrityagram village and was enchanted by the dancers and their devotion to Odissi Indian dance. The film was a very interesting look into the village history, the dancers training, and how the Ensemble is thriving in the 21st century. Nan documented one of their many performances in New York City, and I was entranced by the beauty and stylized intricacy of the dancers movement. The screening took place it what looked to be a old Cuban home. The decor was very grand. The foyer was decorated with beautiful ivory walls, and the windows were stained with colorful glass. The curtains were a rustic orange and draped from ceiling to floor. All of the furniture was made with a rich chestnut wood and the aroma flooded my nose as soon as I walked in.
I wanted to get a tour of rest of the home after the screening, but I had to run to my next engagement — a lunch at the Hanoi restaurant by the sea. It was so nice to sit by the water, eat great food, enjoy delicious cocktails with company members and Patrons. People couldn’t stop complimenting my satin purple pants I bought just for Cuba. They are most likely my favorite article of clothing I own right now.
After lunch, we all visited a famous Liberal Arts University for a tour. We watched a dance class for a few minutes and boy, was it exciting! It was like a fusion of latin dance and jazz.
The teacher was high energy and rocked a fabulous pair of jazz sneakers. He yelled and called out counts, he even kept the bumping latin music playing as he taught the next combination. He kept the class on their toes non-stop. Lay-outs, pirouettes, leaps, and high-kicks were all rolled into four 8-counts. And he wasn't afraid to dance the steps with his students and show them how it’s really done. The students were so happy to have us there watching. After the class, the director of the dance division gave a heartfelt speech about how the Graham Technique has influenced their training immensely. She said it was an honor to have the company visit because we are such an inspiration to the students. It made me feel so proud to call myself a professional dancer. I was once those kids in the classroom not long ago. I was full of gratitude.
A few Patrons, a fellow company member, and I finished our excursions with a visit to a local museum. It was small, but the current exhibit displayed was an array of carefully framed paintings. It was was a color trifecta! And it was a great backdrop for my pants.
After all that, my day ended with a mission: to hunt down an purchase some cuban coffee. Not just any cuban coffee, but of course, the best.
An initial trip to the local convenience store brought me no luck surprisingly, but a hotel receptionist pointed me in the direction of another hotel in the area that sells it. After a couple of wrong turns (or five), I finally made it to this tiny souvenir shop that was in the lobby of a grand hotel seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I asked the clerk where the cuban coffee was, and she pointed me to the jackpot. Huge packs of Serrano brand cuban coffee lined the shelfs. I bought three packs with no hesitation. At only about 15 USD a pop all I could think about was how expensive these would be if I tried to get them in America.
Night approached. As I walked back to my hotel with my heavy bags of coffee, I looked around at all of the homes and people outside on the street. Children playing on rusty bicycles, men on their porches enjoying their beers and cigars, and grandmothers in their living rooms enjoying whatever is on television. It’s the same kind of thing you would see anywhere else, and yet it is so different. Cuba is a world of its own. The culture is rich, the people are diverse and full of color. Their coffee is to die for. Their dancers are some of the most technically sound. My time there with The Martha Graham Dance Company was such an experience, I just couldn’t help but share. I can’t wait to return to Cuba again.
Sep 11 2016:
Fashion week is a magical time in New York City. For a week in September, my walk to work feels like a mini fashion show. The Graham Company rehearses in the West Village right on the border of The Meatpacking district, which is a prime location for fashion week events. The men and women of the neighborhood are so well dressed, and every once in a while I’ll walk past a building that was holding a fashion show. I cant help but rubberneck walking past to get a good look at the beautifully dressed people, photographers taking photos of a casual celeb, or a blogger with her own iphone tripod taking the perfect fashion week selfies...(she was prepared.)
I got to get right in the mix and attended the Tracy Reese fashion presentation. It was at an East Village cemetery….but they had it set up to look like an East Village garden tea party. Also the models were mostly real women; actors, dancers, philanthropists, advocates, and singers. The dancer in the show was Martha Graham Principal dancer Xin Ying, who was absolutely dazzling. The clothes looked amazing, everyone was having a fabulous time taking pictures, listening to the live string trio, and drinking their tea. Tracy Reese seemed to be enjoying herself as well. Most designers at their shows are running around like chickens with their heads cut off!
It was a perfect day to have a spring/summer season show.
I was wearing a vintage silk cami, culottes and shoes from zara, and a vintage jacket from Blumarine that I got in Italy. The bag was from some cheap store in the garment district and the I got the sunglasses from a friend for "free.99".
The scarf used to be my mothers, and I am wearing it as a choker/scarf hybrid. Everyone seems to be wearing chokers these days, but my style is a little more personal so I like chokers that are made from obscure fabric. For example, for a casual look, I have a denim choker that I wear all the time that was cut from the actual hem of a pair of jeans.
Fashion comes in all shapes and sizes and is beautiful!
Happy Fashion week everyone! For more pictures of my style/outfits of the day, check out my style blog LEZ BE HONEST on tumblr!
TBT to me at fashion week spring/summer 2015 on bustle.com
Aug 26 2016:
Chicago, Lar Lubovitch, and Labyrinths
My short time in Chicago was jammed packed with exciting adventures.
The Martha Graham Dance Company was performing at the Chicago Dancing Festival, a gathering of dancers/dance companies from around the country for four days of remarkable shows. The company was performing along side hip-hop/break dancers from Rennie Harris Puremovement, Aszure Barton + Artists, Joffery Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. The festival was co-founded by choreographer extraordinaire Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke, former Lar Lubovitch and Hubbard Street dancer, and Juilliard Alum. This was the Chicago Dancing Festival’s 10th year anniversary. Martha Graham has participated in the festival numerous times.
I had the great honor of dancing for Lar while at Juilliard in the piece Concerto 622. It was such a blast. His movement suited my body so well. It requires a light, free, and open quality, yet is still strong and grounded. After that time, I had run into Lar on several occasions and I always had such pleasure conversing with him. Once, on one of my first days working at the Graham Company, I ran into him in the building elevator. He jovially asked, “What are you doing here??” and I eagerly responded, “I’m in the Graham Company now!” He happily replied, “That’s great! Congratulations. That suits you very well.” And before company class in Chicago, it almost felt full circle to greet him. Lar Lubovitch is one of my favorite choreographers, so going from initially working with him as a student to dancing in his festival as a professional felt very satisfying.
At the reception after the performance, we got to chatting again over celebratory champagne with a lovely group of people- Jay Franke, his hilarious husband and festival board member David Herro, and Joffrey Ballet dancer April Daly, who danced beautifully in the duet from Lar’s Othello for the performance.
I can’t wait for my next run in with Lar!
Other things that made my trip so much fun:
-Sight-seeing and having a lovely dinner with Delaney, an old friend from high school who is doin’ her thang in the windy city.
-Catching up at The Bean with my friend Jeffery Duffy, dancer at Hubbard Street and Princess Grace award winner. We ate at this amazing restaurant that is the stir-fry equivalent of chipotle…so delicious.
-Trying to find the exit out of the labyrinth that is the Harris Theatre and somehow ending up in the Metro station (???) with my friend and company member Lloyd.
-Having an exciting last night out with my company and the amazing dancers from Rennie Harris.
It was such a great trip. Chicago has become one of my favorite cites.
Aug 8 2016:
Leslie's Current Reads
This post was inspired by The Martha Graham Dance Company's rehearsal director, Denise Vale. In a rehearsal for
Dark Meadow Suite, she was discussing how the ballet was created by way of Martha Graham's most used sources of inspiration, Carl Jung's studies on genetic memory and his theory on the collective unconscious, and works from Joseph Campbell. Denise says she herself is a fan of Campbell because he is a great person to read if you're on a 'personal life journey'...which is pretty much everyone. I'm happy she reads Campbell, too!
In my current journey, here are some good books I've been re-reading lately.
1)'A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on The Art of Living' edited by Diane K. Osbon (left)
I consider this the starter package/reference material of Campbell's works. Excerpts of his writings on love, religion, work ethic, and art are covered in this book.
2)'Sister Outsider' by Audre Lorde (middle)
Audre Lorde is a "Black Lesbian feminist poet" and writer and she has a lot to say about being a woman. Even though Lorde made her voice known in the 20th century, this book of essays, speeches, and letters are still relevant in today's society. Her essay on the "Power of Eroticism" will forever be one of my favorites. You do not have to be a black lesbian feminist poet to understand the significance of this book.
And always remember, men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
3)'The Art of Inequality: Architecture, Housing, and Real Estate' edited by Reinhold Martin, Jacob Moore, and Susan Schindler (right)
Living in New York City is not easy, and the real estate system of New York City especially seems to cater to the wealthy at the expense of the middle and lower class. This book gave me insight into just how much work the housing industry in metropolitan areas really needs.
May 8 2016:
The Magic Shrine of Luck and Prosperity
A dancers shrine is sacred. For me once I decorate my dressing room space I instantly feel its energy bringing me luck for the show.
Since I've been with the Graham Company, I make my shrine Graham related. It's known by every Graham dancer, past and present, that the spirit of Martha is with us always. In fact every single Graham teacher I had that danced with her speaks as if she is still alive today! Because after all, she is. Her legacy will live on forever.
My shrine has many pictures and postcards of Martha. When I performed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I received some lovely postcards of Isamu Noguchi's set pieces from Martha's works. Those sets hold symbolism not only in her ballets, but they hold great symbolism in my heart. I have letters, good luck cards, and notes from my colleagues that I have been collecting over the years. But the ones I feel hold the most magic are from my first Graham teacher and mentor, Terese Capucilli, and from Christine Dankin. They staged Dark Meadow while I was at Juilliard, and both of them are Graham legends. And thanks to them, I have a job at this company. Their notes have more validity and weight because of the monumental impact they made on my life. Also having such uplifting words from two incredible dancers gives me so much strength for the stage!
My colleagues at the Graham company always joke on me because even though we tour and are in a different theatres pretty much every 3-4 days, I still decorate my dressing room space with a shrine! But I have no shame in my game! Every dancer has their pre-show ritual and this is mine. I can't wait to add more memories and good luck charms as my career progresses.
Apr 18 2016:
A day I will never forget
It was a Monday. April 18th 2016. The night of the Martha Graham Dance Company's 90th season Gala performance. I was to perform as the Leader of Steps in the Street in Chronicle. Chronicle was the first Graham piece I ever saw and the first Graham role I learned once I joined the company. It is one of my favorite Graham pieces. It is crazy that starting out as an apprentice I received the opportunity to learn this amazing featured role!
That evening, I was nervous to say the least. I tried my hardest not to think about how nervous I was. I had performed this role many times before and all over the world. China, Germany, Kentucky...I had no reason to be nervous, right??
Before the show I ate a delicious deli sandwich and salad in Central Park. I looked at all the people enjoying their days, smiling and laughing, walking the paths, or riding their bikes, holding hands with their children, or having a picnic in the grass. I looked at them and thought about how none of these people cared that I
was about to perform a featured role for the company's biggest night of the season. In fact, 99.9% of the world did not care that I was about to perform that night. It was quite eye opening. It made me realize that all of this nervousness and weight that I was putting on my shoulders thinking about how I was to perform in front of many Graham alumni and my directors did not matter in the grand scheme of things. The world was still turning. There was no need to feel that pressure. I just wanted to dance.
It was time. My make-up and hair was done, I was warmed up, and made my way to all the hustle and bustle of backstage. I tried to stay calm, but the adrenaline was starting to kick in. As much as I didn't want to I was starting to feel that pressure again. But then, I thought about all of the people I was actually dancing for who actually cared. My parents, my nana, my best friends...the list went on and on. All of these people are so proud of me, and I am lucky to have them in my life to support me.
On April 18th 2016, I danced the hardest I can ever remember dancing. I left my heart and soul on the stage. I wasn't thinking about anything else but the story. I was completely lost in it. I was the leader of the Steps in the Street women-I was their voice. I was the voice of triumph, perseverance, and strength. I felt it all.
As we were taking our bow, the crowd was going wild. It was a standing ovation. Everyone on stage was so happy and proud to be done with the NY season. I was so overwhelmed with emotions- I couldn't believe I just did that! I broke down. I was totally ugly crying. After the curtain went down, Denise, our rehearsal director came backstage and said, "I hope those are tears of joy!" I replied with snot and tears coming down my face with a resounding "Yes."
Every time I dance on stage, it is extremely humbling. I come outside of myself and just dance. I don't think about me. And even though the world is still turning, I still get to go out there and do what I love for the people I love. I don't feel more alive and connected until I am on that stage.
April 18th 2016 is a day I will never forget.