Photo: Gene Schiavone.
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A Daily Dancer Blog

The Royal Opera House Muscat. Photo: M. Al Zubair.
This week, American Ballet Theatre travels to Muscat, Oman on the Arabian Peninsula for three performances of the full-length Don Quixote. ABT is proud to appear at the newly constructed Royal Opera House Muscat of the Sultanate of Oman, where the Company's engagement represents the venue’s first performances by an American arts organization.

Read below as corps de ballet member Nicole Graniero chronicles this exciting trip for ABT.

Day 1  •  Day 2   •  Day 3   •  Days 4 & 5   •  Day 6

Day One - October 24, 2011
A Whole New World!

Here I am Nicole Graniero, a dancer with American Ballet Theatre, stepping off the Qatar Airways plane in the tropic air of Muscat, Oman - although it should have been more like a magic carpet dropping us off into the Middle Eastern world of Aladdin. I noticed right away the architecture of all the buildings. It's that Middle Eastern, Arabian style. Or as one of my fellow dancers, Sarah Smith put it "All the buildings are like giant sand castles you would only dream up when you're a young child." I was taken to another land gazing out the window of the bus to the hotel. I was in another land! I couldn't wait to see how the city was going to look during the day (as we arrived late Monday night).

I feel so proud coming here! We are the first ballet company to perform in this beautiful opera house here in Muscat. I'm looking forward to our performances and seeing how the people here respond. After ballet class, I will have some time to explore our hotel and this interesting culture filled city! I can't wait!

Day Two - October 25, 2011

Nicole and Sean Stewart in Company class.
Tuesday, my first full day in Oman. Today was a free day but I decided to take the Company's optional class taught by Kevin McKenize to get my body moving after our long travel day. The Royal Opera House is stunning. The house is magnificent, decorated in gold, mother of pearl and teak wood. Although the house only seats about 900 people, it is still breathtakingly beautiful. All the people working in the house are friendly and excited to have us here.

Nicole with Eric Tamm on the beach.
After class Kevin recommended we go see the beach. He described how warm the water was and how it is a nice relaxing way to finish the day. To the beach I went. It was beautiful. The sand was soft and the calm water was bath-like and filled with life. Through the water one can see starfish and crabs pass you by. One crab was even friendly enough to crawl on to Karen Uphoff's towel. Next stop was one of the hotel's many pools. Most dancers congregated around the "leisure" pool where you could rest under an umbrella or order lunch or a cool beverage. I enjoyed a great lunch with my close friend Eric Tamm at the poolside outdoor restaurant, Tomato.

Sarah Smith, Nicole, Devon Teuscher and Gray Davis at the Souk.

After lunch I was onto my next Omanian adventure. For the evening, many dancers and staff members went on to a trip to the markets, known as the Souk. There you can find scarves, silk and cashmere, brass and silver goods, incense and spices. Everyone tried their best bargaining with the merchants and attempted to find the best products. Most of the salesmen were kind and open to photos, and some even offered stories about their life. One man, from whom I purchased a brass vase, described how his family lived in the desert owning 11 camels and a farm.

After all the excitement throughout the day, one needs to rest and relax to prepare for the next day filled with rehearsals and a performance of Don Quixote. Most of our tours bond all the people in this Company. For performances in Oman, we will have staff members and even some of their children join us as supernumeraries. We are all very excited to welcome our Associate Company Manager Kyle Pickles, Assistant to the General Manager Kimberly Walen and Rehearsal Coordinator Miki Shintani to the stage! Amanda Fields, daughter of Lighting Director Brad Fields, and Michael and James Whitehill, whose dad James is ABT's Director of Production, portrayed some of the town children.

(left to right)
James Whitehill, Kyle Pickles, Amanda Fields,
Coco Monroe and Michael Whitehill.
Photo: James Whitehill.

(left to right)
Nancy Fields, Amanda Fields,Joanne Whitehill, James Whiteill
Coco Monroe, Michael Whitehill, Miki Shintani and Kai Monroe.
Photo: James Whitehill.

Day 3 - October 26, 2011
Opening Night

The entrance to the Royal Opera House Muscat.
Photo: M. Al Zubair.
The following day was the opening night of Don Q. Not only an exciting evening for ABT, but a huge step for Oman! ABT has the honor to open Oman's doors to the world of ballet! We are the first ballet company in the world to perform in this country.

To make our performances superb we devote the day to rehearsing. No matter what country or city we are in, ABT usually follows the same schedule on the opening night of the ballet. We begin with spacing the ballet, followed by costumes and sometimes make-up, depending on whether or not photos will be taken. I was lucky enough to get the chance to dance the dress rehearsal for the role of Amour. Act II was not called to make-up so I felt a little funny not wearing my white pixie wig.

We ran the act making a few pauses for musical corrections. There was a small challenge on the stage: the dimensions were very deep but not as wide as usual. Thus, we learned to adapt our steps to the new space. After the act everyone returns to the stage for notes. Irina Kolpakova and Susan Jones gave me some helpful corrections on my variation.

The rehearsal day finished around 6pm. We take a break, rest, relax, eat and then onto the 8pm performance! The audience was very respectful. Not as enthusiastic as I thought, but this is the very first time they are seeing ballet. I hope they enjoyed it and will learn to appreciate this glorious art!

Nicole blogs backstage, in her wig and makeup for the role of Amour.

Days 4 & 5 - October 27-28, 2011

For the next two days, prior to the evening performances, we rehearse the repertory for our upcoming seasons at Bard College and City Center. It is a nice feeling to rehearse the new ballets on a stage instead of in a studio, to get the feeling of how it will be performed.

Tonight, Friday evening, was my Amour! It was a wonderful feeling to be out there playing the character of this god-like fairy of love. I hope I made Nancy Raffa (my main coach for the role) proud!!

I hope Oman loved having ABT! I know we all really enjoyed performing here. We have one more free day before heading on our long flight back to New York. One last day to enjoy this warm weather and foreign land!

Day 6 - October 29, 2011

Kristi Boone, Jennifer Whalen, Nicole and Adrienne Schulte.
Our final day in Oman was a free day. All the dancers were thrilled, as we usually only get one day off on our tour. I was determined to take in as much Oman as I could, so a day trip outside of Muscat sounded like the perfect idea.

A small group of dancers decided to go on a desert excursion and visit a water oasis known as the wadi. We met our tour guide early in the morning to start on our wild excursion. We journeyed two and half hours in an SUV to the desert (Wahiba Sands)! There we visited a Bedouin family where they offered us traditional dates and tea. They had beautiful scarves and woven bracelets for sale. Then came the most exciting part: the chance to ride on a camel. It felt similar to riding a horse only you sit much further back on the animal.

Nicole and her new friend.
The difficult part was staying on while the camel rose and lowered itself to the ground to allow you to get on and off. Luckily, the camels I got to ride seemed well-behaved - no spitting or hoof kicking that I noticed. Although I did notice their beautiful long eye lashes!

The camel ride was followed by another ride, only this time it was in the SUV through the sand dunes. Our car went up, around, flying this way and that, then we reached a vertical drop. Everyone exchanged a nervous glance, only to our surprise the car then slowly sank into the sand and made the scary vertical drop a safe slow motion one. Then again up, down, and around the dunes.

Nicole, with Eric Tamm and Luciana Paris, at the wadi.
After the desert, our next stop was the wadi nestled deep in the mountains. After the dry sandy desert, this wadi was paradise. It was filled with beautiful blue water, filled with tiny fish, surrounded by palm trees and exotic greenery. Our group enjoy lunch and a nice dip into the water at the wadi.

From the dry desert to the tropical wadi my day was filled with things I thought I would never experience. A great last day to a wonderful tour!

The people who make up American Ballet Theatre, from the dancers, to the stage crew, to the artistic staff all had positive reactions to this tour, with hopes to returning again in the near future! Thank you for letting me share my thoughts and stories of my time in Oman. Onto the next American Ballet Theatre adventure!

The wadi.