Photo by Mike Hillman.
By Alessa Rogers
So a few years ago Kevin Gillese, artistic director of Dad’s, came to the Atlanta Ballet (which may I point out is a very fancy professional organization that holds the distinction of being America’s longest running ballet company—not bad for the South!) and explained this idea of having ballet dancers and opera singers come to join his improv comedy theater.
I had seen Dad’s Garage. I knew they were the shit. “HELLZ YES!” We all signed up. We were so excited. Kevin is infectiously passionate. We were going to be the funniest professional ballet dancers that ever stepped on stage.
But then….no one showed up. Myself included.
Full disclosure: ballet dancers are fucking lazy. Like crème de la crème of lazy. If we are not spending 8 hours a day kicking our legs over our heads you’d better believe we are sitting in front of a TV with a large pizza that is not to be shared even with a starving child and that we are going to bed by 10 o’clock.
We are lazy. And sleepy. There is no way we are signing up for anything extra.
Fast forward a few years and Kevin and I have crossed paths a few times since then and I always regret having thrown away the opportunity to be a part of Dad’s. I mean who gets the opportunity to learn improv and perform with some of the best that the city (and really the whole Southeast) has to offer?
When the opportunity came again I jumped at it and I pulled along some incredibly talented ballerinas including two dancers who have been featured in Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” (if you are not in the know, this is a Big Deal). What struck me about our first of two workshops before Kevin threw us off the deep end (because he is insane or trusting… I’m not sure) is how meditative improv comedy is. The rules are listening, being in the present moment, supporting those around you, saying yes, not judging your choices… I think I’m in love.
So here I am at Dad’s Garage Performance One and the audience prompt is “broken ankle” which obviously is superstitious as hell for us. And then the next week Colin Mochrie did a true classical ballet lift with me (in excellent form may I add). And then I lost my pants because I always lose my pants when I am around Toronto people… but that is another story. And the next week Taylor and Barbara and I had a twerking lesson pre-show which consisted mainly of us laying on the floor of the Dad’s green room and humping the linoleum.
Every day on Saturdays I rehearse at Atlanta Ballet 10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. This is after an entire week of rehearsing 8 hours a day. Needless to say, I am tired. And hangry. Then I go straight to Dad’s. And I get some fries at the taco truck outside. And a beer. Then another one. And despite whatever happened at ballet that day, it all vanishes when I walk through the door. The nice thing about Dad’s is that the performers are a lot like the performers at AB: besides being passionate and being talented, they are so nice and warm and welcoming and generous and helpful and supportive. I don’t know if it’s because Kevin tells them to be nice to us, but they don’t seem to mind that we have no idea what we are doing, or that the last time I voluntarily saw 1 a.m. was never.
The warm ups backstage are fun and festive and hilarious and never ever the same. There is a sense of celebration and camaraderie. (Even though the ballerinas haven’t been quite brave enough to join in with the full cast yet—when they go out for their opening acts we quietly copy their warm-ups in the hallway, just the four of us bunheads). It makes me think: maybe instead of doing plies and tendus before shows of Nutcracker we should actually be doing “Five Things” and other improv games.
Photo by Mike Hillman.
The thing about ballet is that I’ve been practicing the exact same step, like THE EXACT SAME STEP since I was four years old. Last week Kevin came in and quickly explained the rules of a new game that the guests from Orlando proposed and everyone was like, “Yeah. Let’s do this. IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.” Despite having never rehearsed. This would not happen in ballet. It’s like saying you’re going to perform the solo from Swan Lake tonight but you’ve never even heard the music. It just would not happen. We probably spend an hour in rehearsal for every minute of on-stage time. But that doesn’t make these improv performers any less professional, any less of artists. It’s just a different kind. And it’s inspiring.