David Bruce: Audiences, Auditions, Autographs


• Anita Berber, known mainly as a controversial dancer in Weimar Berlin, performed in many countries. In Fiume, a city now in Croatia, she performed in a very small club where she could hear the comments members of the audience made about her. She overheard one insulting comment and memorized where it had come from. After her dance was over, she walked over to that spot and slapped the man sitting there. Unfortunately, Ms. Berber was nearsighted and did not know that the man who had insulted her had gone and that a man who appreciated her talent had taken his place.

• Being a nonconformist sometimes leads to opportunities. In London early in her career, modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan and Raymond, her brother, danced in the park. Enjoying their impromptu performance was a woman who invited them to her home, where Isadora again danced. The woman was the famous actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who introduced Isadora and her brother to other famous and wealthy people, and soon Isadora was performing in their homes.

• In 1976, Twyla Tharp created a piece for herself and Mikhail Baryshnikov. The piece contained no virtuoso acrobatic dance moves, and Mr. Baryshnikov did not leave the ground at all during the dance. The two danced the piece at a gala at the Metropolitan Opera House, and the audience — which wanted virtuoso acrobatic dance moves — booed them. Mr. Baryshnikov had never been booed before — and all the boos delighted him.

• Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps caused a furor when it was first performed. At first, audiences hated it, and made much noise during its presentation, once causing impresario Sergei Diaghilev to shout at the audience, “Silence! The dancers cannot hear the music!” Later, audiences appreciated the ballet.

• What a ballerina remembers about a performance may not be what the audience remembers. Early in her career, Violette Verdy danced the role of Cinderella at La Scala. What she remembers most about the production is something about the audience: the gleaming of men’s bald heads in the dim light.

• In 1907, Isadora Duncan danced in Moscow. At the end of the first act, some audience members hissed because of a lack of appreciation for her art, but Constantine Stanislavsky, the co-director of the Moscow Art Theater, stood up and applauded vigorously. Recognizing him, the hissers stopped.

• Whenever the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performed, many dancers sat in the audience. A non-dancer at a performance looked at the audience members as they walked around during the intermission and said, “I’ve never seen an audience so erect, with such beautiful posture.”


• Mary Anthony danced so impressively at an audition that Hanya Holm gave her a three-year tuition waiver. Actually, Ms. Anthony believed that she was successful at the audition because she owned only one record. She was required to dance two solos, and after she had danced to the music of the one record she owned, she danced her second solo without music. This “decision” of hers so impressed Ms. Holm that she gave her the tuition waiver.

• When ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev asked Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova to audition for him, she was indignant and told him, “Do you know that I am from the Mariinsky Theater? If I am good enough for the Mariinsky Theater, I am good enough for you!” She auditioned anyway, but was further insulted when Mr. Diaghilev asked her about her weight. She stormed, “Are you buying a horse? Maybe you want to see my teeth!”


• In June of 1952, Le Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas danced in Rio de Janeiro. Some ballet fans went backstage, where they quickly stole as many small souvenirs as possible, including many, many photographs that George Zoritch kept of himself in his dressing room. These fans brought the photographs around to Mr. Zoritch, who of course recognized where they had come from, but who signed them anyway. Soon, Mr. Zoritch noticed that the same people kept asking him to sign his photograph. He pointed out that he had already given them an autograph, but they said, “Yes, we already have two or three, but would you autograph one more?”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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