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Last Train Out of the Land of Sweets: Jennifer Grapes says Goodbye

grapesThis is my farewell note to a little place I like to refer to as "Neverland". I've lived in the world of fairies and princesses, where girls don't grow past 16 years old for the last 10 years. You can't throw a pebble around here without hitting Prince Charming or a handsome cavalier. Of course Dracula did visit once, but he was so sensual and irresistible, no one seemed to mind. Although there was a lot of riffraff going on several floors beneath Fleur's house, everything smelled of roses, champagne and caviar in her room. Once in a while, we fairies and cavaliers do go outside our "safe" box and play around with dancing that is just about the music, a feeling, a mood or just the steps. No one can argue with the fact that we dancers are a beautiful, charming and exquisite race that exists in our own little world which people come to visit to for a couple of hours to escape from their own lives. And now I have to take a one way ticket out of here. For good.

Although what you see on stage looks beautiful and effortless, what goes on behind the curtain is not always the same way. I have been suffering from arthritis in my left foot for quite sometime now. I have tried to push through the pain and continue going on with a smile on my face, but the pain doesn't go away and is becoming very limiting. Unfortunately, it is my "turning" foot as well, which means that since I'm a right turner, my left foot is my supporting leg and has to do all the weight bearing work. If you watch closely, you will notice that during a standard pas de deux the girl stands on her left leg much more than the right. Every pirouette, fouette, balance or promenade is usually on that leg. Not to mention, jumping on a foot with a constant nagging pain can get very frustrating.It's unfortunate that our body is our only instrument and when something goes out, you can't just run to the store and replace it. It's also very disappointing when the body just takes over and says, "Nope. I'm not going to do that." Dancers have a very strong mind over matter philosophy which can usually get us through anything. However, when the body takes over, you know you're in trouble. And that is where I'm at right now. I wish I could continue on, but I have more "bad" days than "good" days and the balance has shifted in the negative where matter is taking over the mind.

I don't want to focus on the negative, though. Although, some would say I have had a very short career, I feel so lucky to have had such a full and amazing career. In the past ten years, I have been able to travel the world dancing and performing some of the most coveted roles. I have seen just about all of the United States, Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan. I have danced on Broadway in New York City. I have danced the complete repertoire of classical ballet and I found my best friend and favorite dance partner on the whole planet, Darren McIntyre. We have conquered the world together on and off the stage. And last, but certainly not least, I feel so lucky to be able to finish the last leg of my career here in Milwaukee. It has been here that I finally figured out myself and learned to accept her which, in turn, has allowed me to find the love of my life.

I want to thank Michael Pink for all of the amazing opportunities that were given to me here. I originated two roles for his ballets, Aubade and Peter Pan, which is always such a huge compliment to any artist. I danced in Jerome Robbins' legendary Fancy Free with one of my favorite performers, Patrick Howell. I rocked the boat with Raven Wales in Timothy O'Donnell's, the games we play, which if you saw it then you know what I'm talking about, and if you didn't then you might want to check it out :) David Hovhannisyan and I performed a lovely pas de deux as the Darling parents in Peter Pan. Although it was short, I adored the music and I felt like we both got lost in it for just a brief moment. I got to kick the exquisite Luz San Miguel off my stage in Esmeralda and dance a "fleurty" pas de deux with the very charming Ryan Martin. And I got to jump out of the giant box marked "Snow Queen" and make all the little girls sigh. They are the reason I wear extra sparkles. They are also the reason why I picked this role to say goodbye.

Sunday, December 26, will be the last time I pop out of the box dressed to the nines. I wanted to finish with what I used to dream about as a little girl----the sparkly tutu, the gorgeous tiara, the pointe shoes and the spotlight, of course. It's also special because two of my very good friends will be sharing the stage with me that day, Justin Genna as "Drosselmeyer" and Deanna Stetsura as "Marie". Oh, and I can't forget to mention my two favorite men off stage, Joe and Jeremiah, will be in the audience as well.

In closing, I want to give EVERYONE at Milwaukee Ballet a HUGE thank you (including my friends in the development office who were so amazing to me and one of my absolutely favorite people, Mary Piering in costume, fancy freethe unforgettable Mary Belle Potter, and my favorite backstage dresser, Janice). You have helped to make one little girl's dreams come true.

I also want to give young dancers a bit of advice. Don't take your body for granted and treat it well. If you abuse it, it will catch up with you one day. That's a fact. (I know because I wasn't a believer either.) DO NOT put your feet under pianos, heaters, sofas, beds, people or ask your friends to gently drive over them. They are very precious parts of your instrument and once they give out, well everything goes. I know many aspiring dancers will go to any length to achieve the perfect line, but just remember eventually everyone has to pay the piper. With that being said, my piper wants to be paid and my train leaving the Land of  Sweets is departing this Sunday at 1:30 and I'm not packed! If you can make it, come join me in saying goodbye this Sunday.

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes in the new year!

Jennifer Grapes
Company Dancer

See Jennifer's Peter Pan pas de deux with David Hovhannisyan here.