I sat down for dinner with Joni Keaton, a Ballet Performance and International Area Studies double major from Rockville, Maryland (DC) to discuss her experiences with Dance in Barcelona, Spain and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
L: Where did you study/travel?
I studied abroad in Barcelona and I danced at the Edinburgh fringe festival for two weeks in August of 2015 and I got to perform with a semi-professional ballet company. I studied in Barcelona in the summer of 2017 for four weeks.
L: Describe your experience/journey with Scotland
There’s a program called Brooklyn Ballet Theater that is a summer program for dancers. They take a group to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world. It runs the entire month of August; we were there for two weeks. We rehearsed here in the States first and created a ballet performance and then brought overseas. We did Alice in Wonderland and I got to play Alice which was really special. For me, one of the most amazing parts of dancing is acting within the dance and getting to embody a character, and getting to do it over there was really cool because y’know Lewis Carrol obviously. We performed every morning for two weeks straight at a little theater, the zoo theater, a little black box. Everything was very self-generated. All the costumes we brought over ourselves. We had these really cool portable panels and they’re painted back and front so we could flip them to make different scenery really easily. It was amazing. It was my first time getting to live a more professional company sort of lifestyle.
L: Why did you go to Barcelona?
OU School of Dance takes a group of dancers every summer to study at Centre de Dansa de Catalunya, a studio there. The dancers there are wicked talented. The kids are between 13 and 18 and they’re just like prodigies. It was one of the most intense, focus driven environments I have ever been in. These kids were hungry for ballet. How it works in a ballet class is the teacher gives combinations and we go over them. A lot of times we’ll go over it once and then the teacher would correct, maybe we’ll do it again. But I mean these kids would just, again and again, keep going and the music would keep playing, and I thought wow, I need to rise to their level. The classes there too would go on for a very long time. Here there’s obviously a very strict schedule at OU. People really don’t have more time than we’re given. We have an hour fifty class three times a week and an hour twenty class two times a week and we stop then because everyone has to run off and do other things. But the nature of this program is that all these kids are really training to be professional dancers, and, because it’s the summer, they don’t have anything else to do. But these classes were technically supposed to be…I don’t even know how long they were supposed to be, but sometimes they would go for three hours. But the teachers there were some of the most incredible teachers I’ve ever had. I would go back to Barcelona just to take a ballet class from one of them. The way they taught was also a little bit different, because here you might repeat combinations throughout several different classes. There They actually gave us a class at the beginning of our time there and wed did that same class for weeks. All of the combinations were pretty much exactly the same. It really helped me tune into my body and get a deeper understanding of the movement they were giving us. It really pushed me in a way I hadn’t really been before
The class was also really cool because it was taught In a bunch of different languages. In Barcelona, they speak Spanish, obviously, but also Catalan, which is a local dialect. The steps of ballet are always given in French. The language of ballet is universal, ballet is codified. If you want to do a Tendu it’s always a Tendu, always in French the teachers would talk or give corrections in Spanish or Catalan. They luckily spoke some English, not a whole lot, but enough to be able to kinda correct us. A lot of times they would be giving Corrections to their students and I wouldn’t necessarily understand what they were saying but because ballet is such a physical art form, you can get the gist of what they’re trying to communicate based on how they move and how the people they’re correcting are shifting their bodies in response to what the teacher is saying.
L: Did you notice any difference between the teaching philosophies or focuses of the United States and Spain?
In a lot of ways, they were a lot more hands on with their students. They would often get really into their space, increase flexibility, somewhat forcibly, definitely more hands on. I don’t know if that was a reflection that people are just kinda more hands on in general in Spain. I think people aren’t as afraid to touch each other; there’s not as big of a space bubble as in American where people tend to give each other room. I don’t know if it was a reflection of that, but it could have been.
L: What besides dancing, what was your interaction with art in Barcelona and Scotland?
I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of my time exploring the different art cultures. I think every artist needs to experience the fringe festival because it is life changing, to be in an environment for a month where there’s just so much happening; there’s everything from professional performances to experimental performances to street performances. There’s visual arts, there’s music, there’s dance, there’s theater. There would be days when, after we would perform, we would see four shows in a row and just hop from show to show because the tickets were relatively cheap. There’s just so much happening all around you, it’s not difficult to find a music performance or a comedy performance that’s going on. To just see so many different kinds of people doing so many different kinds of things, I’ve definitely never experienced something like that in this country. This was informal, we were all just artists there to support each other and create our art together in a safe space. The appreciation for the art there was beautiful. The fact that everyone wanted to be there and be in this environment was really cool.
In Barcelona, we got to go to some art museums and see old churches which I consider art just because of how beautifully intricate the architecture is, the carvings, the attention to detail. I think churches definitely tell a story in the arts since the beginning of time because people were so invested in the church, they put a lot of money into making them beautiful and it was one of the first places that art had true expression and people have the ability to create things there.
L: What was your average day like in Barcelona?
We would wake up and start with Pilates, have a modern class with the OU professor, have lunch back at our apartment, and then come back for ballet class. Here I take ballet at 9 am every morning, in the US it’s very traditional to take ballet in the morning and there I was taking it at 3 pm, which, personally for me, I get very lethargic in the afternoon. It was a good push to experience dancing at a different time of day because as a performer, you have to be able to perform at any time of day.
Ballet class went on. Sometimes you get bored (I love what I do but sometimes there are classes that aren’t really engaging) but it really was an intense experience for me in terms of just wanting to dance. There wasn’t a single class where I was like, okay I’m ready to stop. I think a lot of it had to do with the teachers and how motivating they were. It’s hard to describe what makes a good teacher in ballet, but I just loved the combinations they gave and the way they delivered them. I really wanted to work hard in class and I would just push myself. It was just a really pivotal experience for me in my dance journey.
L: How would you describe the artistic culture of Spain?
It’s a really interesting mix of old and new. Barcelona is obviously a very touristy city, but it’s also a very ancient city, so you have the contrast between the more modern contemporary art there and the old — churches for example. Even just seeing murals on the street and then going into the Picasso museum. It’s an urban city, it’s growing it’s changing, but there are pieces of art and history that are still important. People are still going to the Picasso museum to learn about his life and see his work but people are also wanting to create new work, new art in different ways.
I got to see a Flamenco show and obviously that’s something that’s very important to Spain. The dance is culturally theirs and getting to see that was very cool for me because I’ve seen flamenco dance in the US, but seeing it there, being in the place where it was created gave it a different feel.
L: What were the ways you could see the artistic culture influencing daily life, the people, the culture, anything?
It felt like there were stories in the walls, the architecture, walking down the streets, the whole city was the art. The city is so historic and so much of it has been preserved. You get the Gothic architecture, the buildings that have been there for centuries that people have made new, it’s old but it’s alive. The whole city, everyone is living in a constant state of art. People are closer together most of the time and that creates more interaction between people and I think there’s more spontaneity. This one street performance, a woman was dancing, doing this weird movement, and someone joined her, and then someone else, and then families, and kids. That was my impromptu dancing in the streets in Barcelona.
L: How would you describe the artistic culture of the United States?
I would say there’s a really great desire to be innovative. I think a lot of people are looking for new ways to express themselves and are also using art a lot of times for social change or making a statement about things. I think it’s become the trend in art is this country. I think that sometimes it can be incredible, but I think it can also be good to spend time focusing on the past. There are people, in dance specifically, working on old repertoire and classics. It’s important to acknowledge where you come from but I like the fact that people are trying to go in some new directions and move art forward.
L: How do you think artistic culture influence daily life for people in the United States?
I think it depends on where you live. Where I’m from, I was exposed to a lot of art growing up. I was lucky. I feel very fortunate to have grown up going to art performances and I have my parents to thank because they love art and they took me to things. They were the ones who signed me up for ballet. If I had grown up somewhere else, I think my perspective might be different. In certain places in the US, there’s not as much of an opportunity to see professional theater, but that’s not to say local cultures don’t exist, Norman is a great example actually. I would hope that people would make an effort to know what’s going on in the arts, that they would want to participate in it. I think for a lot of people, it’s not a priority though, and I wish it was because I think art has the power to create change and I think people are trying to get the attention of the public with what they’re doing. They’re trying to communicate, not just art for the sake of art.