David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance — Choreographing, Christmas, Clothing, Competition

Choreographing

• Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed his ballet titled L’Après-Midi d’un Faune to Debussy’s music, which was a prelude to Mallarmé’s poem. Mr. Nijinsky created much consternation for everyone at a dinner party, all of whom thought the ballet was a wonderful introduction to Mallarmé’s poem, when he confessed that he had not read that poem by Mallarmé — or any poem by Mallarmé.

• While the great choreographer George Balanchine was lying in a hospital bed dying, one of his former wives, Maria Tallchief, visited him. Music was playing, and Mr. Balanchine was tapping his fingers together. Ms. Tallchief asked, “What are you doing, George?” He replied, “You see, I’m making steps.”

• When dancer Georges Skibine decided to become a choreographer, he asked the great George Balanchine for advice. Mr. Balanchine said simply, “Listen to the music and wait.” Mr. Skibine’s goal for his dancers became “not to dance to music, but to dance the music.”

Christmas

• Alicia Markova was dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy when Doris, her sister, sitting in the audience, overheard a little boy give what Ms. Markova considered the greatest compliment of her career. The little boy saw the Sugar Plum Fairy, then turned to his mother and said, “Can I have her for my Christmas tree next year?”

Clothing

• Belly dancer Amaya — née Maria Elena Amaya — well remembers her most enthusiastic audience ever. She owned her own dance studio, and at night she turned it into a club. For a performance one night, she decided to wear a red bra that fastened in the front, along with a gold vest. As she danced, the audience grew more and more enthusiastic, clapping and cheering. After the dance, she was called out for three encores. Finally, one of her belly-dancing students revealed the reason for the audience’s enthusiasm. Her bra had become undone, but she hadn’t noticed because she was concentrating on the dance and because her vest had kept pressure on her breasts. However, the audience had definitely noticed. Amaya’s husband had been in the audience, cheering like everyone else — and taking photographs. She had the photographs developed, then looked at them in sequence. Early in the dance, she was showing a little cleavage, which grew greater and greater as her dance progressed. The final photograph showed that the dance had stopped at the moment before she would have revealed all.

• David Janssen, star of TV’s The Fugitive, and dancer Fred Astaire went to the same tailor. One day, Mr. Janssen went into the tailor’s shop and saw Mr. Astaire with a new suit. Mr. Astaire had rolled up the suit and was busy throwing it against the wall. When Mr. Janssen asked what he was doing, Mr. Astaire replied, “The way to wear clothes is to tell them who’s boss in the beginning. Then they fit you.”

• While dancing in San Francisco, ballerina Alicia Markova needed new stockings. She entered a clothing store and told the saleslady her size, but the saleslady replied, “Nobody has feet that small!” However, Ms. Markova did, so the saleslady advised her to exercise more so her feet would grow bigger.

Competition

• At the 1969 International Ballet Competition held in Moscow, Mikhail Baryshnikov danced the lead role in Vestris. Among the judges was famed ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who was so impressed by the young dancer’s ability that instead of giving him the maximum 12 points for his rating, she gave him 13 points. As you would expect, Mr. Baryshnikov won the gold medal for the competition.

• At the 1966 International Ballet Competition held in Varna, Bulgaria, Canadian ballerina Martine Van Hamel won the overall prize for artistic interpretation as well as the women’s prize for dancing. Ironically, at her last performance, as she was taking a bow, she slipped and fell.

• In 1949, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Anton Dolin was introduced as “the greatest dancer in the world” to an African dancer, who immediately shouted, “No, I am.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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