• While Anton Dolin was still unknown, and thus before he became a world-famous ballet dancer, he danced a benefit at the Albert Hall in 1923. An astute critic, Monica Ewer, was in the audience. After heaping praise on his performance, she wrote, “When I am old I hope to say condescendingly: ‘The great Dolin? I saw him dance when he was an unknown lad!’”
• Photography pioneer Edward Steichen once took a photograph of famed portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh and his wife outside against a background of magnolia blossoms. Mrs. Karsh complained, “What a pity it is not a beautiful day.” Mr. Steichen gently touched her arm, then said, “Everyday of life isa beautiful day.”
• Early in her career, soprano Francis Alda sang the part of the Princess in Maroufat the Metropolitan Opera. When someone asked why Ms. Alda should be given the part of the Princess, James Huneker replied, “There are two excellent reasons why Alda should sing the role. Her right and left legs.”
• A man hired American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler to paint his portrait, but when the portrait was finished, the man disliked it and called it “a bad work of art.” Mr. Whistler replied that he had done the best he could, but unfortunately the man was “a bad work of nature.”
• The German painter Adolph Menzel did not appreciate the work of the Impressionists. Looking at a collection of Impressionist paintings (which are now worth many millions of dollars), he turned to their collector and asked, “Have you actually spent money on this stuff?”
• Architect Frank Lloyd Wright knew what he liked — and what he didn’t like. The Internationalist movement in architecture led to buildings with exposed gas pipes and exposed heating ducts. Mr. Wright called such ugliness “indecent exposure.”
• Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacred de Printempswas, in the words of critic Cyril W. Beaumont, “an attempt to show the birth of human emotion in a primitive age.” It was very difficult to execute, and when it was unveiled for the first time, it required 120 rehearsals, although only six performances were given. By the way, Mr. Nijinsky used to bow to the audience by simply crossing his arms on his chest and nodding to the audience. According to critic Cyril W. Beaumont, “He never gave the impression that he accepted or demanded applause as his due. He appeared to bow out of politeness to the audience.” Also by the way, when Mr. Nijinsky’s mental illness first descended on him during a tour in South America, he became paranoid and hired a detective to protect him. One of the detective’s jobs was to search each stage for booby traps and for broken glass before Mr. Nijinsky performed.
• The Kirov Ballet of Leningrad once performed a satiric Creation of the World. The angels try to tidy up chaos, but the devils keep interfering. God and his cherubim play with the world, which is represented by an inflatable ball. God creates light by using a cigarette lighter to set the sun on fire, and he creates fish by throwing a can of sardines into the ocean. By the way, critics sometimes don’t want a black dancer to portray Satan, as Namron did in a 1975 revival of Ninette de Valois’ Job. However, black dancers also sometimes portray Jesus, as William Louther did in Barry Moreland’s Kontakion. Also by the way, in 1964, choreographer Kenneth MacMillan had the character God display a Union Jack on his shirt. Why? He explains that God is an Englishman, as everyone knows.
• Anyone who dances the roles of Odette/Odile in Swan Lakemust be an expert ballerina. In Act 3, the ballerina playing Odile does 32 fouettés — for one fouetté, she makes a complete rotation on her left toe while her right leg kicks in and out at waist height. Cynthia Gregory danced Odette/Odile for 20 years and never missed one of the 32 fouettés she had to dance each time. By the way, at the height of her career as a professional ballerina, Ms. Gregory estimated that she had sewn the ribbons on more than 4,000 pairs of pointe shoes. Also by the way, while dancing solos, the ballerina sets the tempo of the music. In opera and symphonic music, the conductor sets the tempo.
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