THE WASHINGTON BALLET -- In Lisner auditorium this Friday at 8 and Saturday at 2 and 8.
"One two, down-turn-and-out."
The ballet dancer in the chocolate-brown rehearsal skirt and pink legwarmers hovered on point a moment, stepped, turned.
"Soft arms, soft arms," the choreographer called above the stately music. "Yes."
The dancer was moving away from the others, reaching forward. Her body's changing patterns flowed. She was inside the ballet now, Isolde thinking of her lover. Her face was lit. She was a shimmering illusion.
This Friday night Lynn Cote will be out of rehearsal leotards and into costume, out of rehearsal and on stage at Lisner Auditorium, dancing a principal role with the Washington Ballet in its third and final Spring Program.
It isn't difficult to imagine her as a blonde version of Emilia, the young ballerina played by Leslie Browne "The Turning Point." There are similarities in age; in the size, if not the color of the wide, long-lashed eyes; and the unaffected manner, so far from the stereotypical stagey, arrogant prima donna or petulant "baby ballerina."
Cote will be featured in "Lament," based on the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde, a new ballet by WB's innovative, "hot" choreographer and assistant artistic director Choo San Goh. A week ago Cote was noticing that the ballet followed her out of rehearsal, even in her dreams. "The character takes over," she says."When I'm out there dancing I'm in an imaginary world where everything is perfect. It's magic. It's freedom. Nothing can touch me there."
Cote is what many of us wanted to be when we were seven or eight years old, before we knew about the unstinting hard work and discipline. When Lynn Cote was seven dancing hadn't occured to her. She saw herself "more as a gymnast-type," an active child with a need to move. "I was here, there, everywhere. To tell you the truth, I think my mom wanted me out of the house an hour a week to get rid of all my energy. When she asked me about ballet, I was reluctant, didn't see myself doing that." But a creative teacher with the Fairfax Youth Ballet conveyed to her a feeling that "dancing was more than just dancing, more than just doing the steps." Her class leaped make-believe puddles," twirled through invisible forests, and caught Lynn's imagination. When she was 10 -- the age when most a lot of us were deciding we'd rather be Nancy Drew -- Cote Won a scholarship to the Maryland School of Ballet, performed "the Little Mermaid," and discovered the magic of dancing on stage. "That's was it," she said.
She is 20 now, a graduate of the Washington School of Ballet, which she attended since she was 13, and a veteran of three summers on scholarship with the American Ballet Theatre in New York City. sThis is her third year as a member of the Washington Ballet, which she thinks of as "a supportive family."
But Lynn Cote is, after all, herself and not a movie character. Nor does she see herself in a cinematic light; in fact what she identified with most in "The Turning Point" was the hard work, and the dailiness of it, which patterns the life of the professional dancer.
Five days a week Cote and the 14 other company members (plus eight "aspirants") are warming up at the barre by eight in the morning. At nine there is technique class, followed by rehearsal till one. If a ballet needs it, more rehearsal time will be scheduled before dinner. A similar routine is followed Saturdays, and there are rehearsals three evenings a week till nine.
What has Cote had to give up for that life? "Food," she says. She hasn't given up smoking though, almost a pack a day; a surprising number of dancers do smoke, she says, adding that the habit has not yet affected her wind capacity. A social life is another pleasure Cote hasn't had to give up: "If I go out, I go out like a normal person," with friends who aren't part of her dance-world. Cote thinks she had to give up more as a child: "It was going to school, going to ballet class, coming home to do homework, go to bed, and that was about it." Is it worth the sacrifice? "Oh yes," her voice doesn't hesitate. "When I look around I find I have so much more than so many other people my age . . . I'm lucky to have that."
But life hasn't been continous stage magic and applause. She remembers dancing in "The Nutcracker" when she was a ninth-grader, and making her entrance for the "snow pas-de-deux" on slick stage. She went toward her partner for a lift and fell, just as the cymbals crashed. She gives the salty laugh of a survivor, recalling how she just sat there "in the middle of my tutu" while her partner urged her up and the audience gasped. Only her pride was hurt that time, but she is keenly concious of possible injury, as are most dancers; not frightened of it, just aware. "Who knows?" she says, when asked about her future. "Tomorrow I might fall and break my leg."