David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance — Children, Choreographing

Children

• Even as a young boy, Rudolf Nureyev loved dancing. One of his report cards included a notation by a teacher who stated that young Rudolf “jumps like a frog and that’s about all he knows. He even dances on the staircase landings.”

• As a very young dance pupil — 14 years old — Margot Fonteyn (then known as Margaret Hookham) showed much ambition. When she was told that Ms. Anna Pavlova was the greatest dancer in the world, she replied, “Then I will be the second greatest.”

• When Anna Pavlova was eight years old, her mother took her for the first time to the ballet, saying, “You are going to see the country of the fairies.” Her mother spoke truly — the ballet was Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

• When Elise, ballerina Maria Tallchief’s daughter, was very young, she wrote a poem that began, “Because she is my mother, / every night she turns into Cinderella.”

Choreographing

• Felia Doubrovska taught at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet for 30 years, and before that she danced in many of his works. Mr. Balanchine, of course, often fell in love with muses, who inspired him to create some of his masterpieces for them. He also often made his muses either his wives or his girlfriends, and many of them — Tamara Geva, Alexandra Danilova, Vera Zorina, Maria Tallchief, and Tanaquil Le Clercq — became famous. Ms. Doubrovska remained simply friends with Mr. Balanchine, who told her, “Our relationship is so nice, the way we can look each other in the eyes. My girlfriends and wives I try to forget.” Ms. Doubrovska half-joked that she was a “little sad” that she had not been one of his girlfriends or wives “because then I would be famous.”

• George Balanchine choreographed many ballets for the New York City Ballet. Other companies tried to perform his ballets, but they weren’t as successful as his own company; however, this didn’t bother Mr. Balanchine. He once explained that he loved to play the piano, although he played it badly. When he tried to play difficult compositions such as Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, he loved playing them, although he performed them badly. And so, Mr. Balanchine explained, “That’s why I understand those other companies when they dance my ballets. They do them badly, but they love them. Let them enjoy themselves!”

• Thommie Walsh is the dancer whose pose with crossed arms appeared in posters for A Chorus Line. According to Mr. Walsh, the pose came from being bored in rehearsals and waiting for choreographer Michael Bennett to create dances. However, after Mr. Walsh became a choreographer, he realized how horrible his body language had been, and he telephoned Mr. Bennett to apologize, saying, “I know now what it’s like, with ten or twelve dancers standing around, waiting for me to come up with the steps, the idea, to move it, to shake it. I know what it must have been like with me standing there with my arms crossed.”

• Robert Gottlieb disliked John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin in part because of what he called “its patched-together Tchaikovsky score” — so did George Balanchine. Mr. Cranko had died young of a heart attack, but Mr. Balanchine told Mr. Gottlieb that he had died because of a different reason: “Tchaikovsky up in heaven looked down and saw that ballet and went to God and said, ‘Get that one!’” Of course, Mr. Balanchine was well aware of his place in history as a great choreographer, and when someone once asked him his opinion of the other choreographers, he answered, “And who are the other choreographers?”

• Sergei Diaghilev motivated his choreographers by telling them, “Astonish me!” They responded by astonishing the world. On May 19, 1912, when Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun (L’Après-Midi d’un Faune) premiered, it was a seminal, groundbreaking event. At first, the audience did not know what to make of it, and some boos and catcalls were heard as the ballet ended. However, Mr. Diaghilev ordered the ballet to be encored, and this time when the ballet ended, the audience responded with a great ovation.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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