David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance — Mishaps


• Many performing artists desire quiet and privacy before facing an audience. Impresario Sol Hurok once was backstage before a performance by Sadler’s Wells Ballet. He knocked on ballerina Margot Fonteyn’s door. No answer. He went away, returned a short while later, and knocked again. No answer. He then opened the door and asked if she had heard his knock. Ms. Fonteyn told him, “GET OUT!” After the performance, the two met, and Mr. Hurok asked if she were angry at him. Ms. Fonteyn smiled, then asked, “Why on earth should I be angry at you?” After Mr. Hurok reminded her that she had told him to get out of her dressing room, she replied, “Don’t you know that, before a performance, I won’t talk to anyone?” After giving him a kiss, she added, “Remember, I don’t want to see anyone before I go on.”

• Soprano Joan Hammond once appeared on the BBC series Gala Performance on the same program as ballet dancers Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Unfortunately, as she was singing, she caught sight of the dancers warming up their muscles at the barre. Normally, this would be OK, but they were warming up using a rhythm that was different from that of the aria that Ms. Hammond was singing, so she had to stop, explain what had happened, apologize, then begin singing again. The aria went well this time, but after the program, the conductor, Malcolm Arnold, told her, “You were lucky, Joan. After Margot and Nureyev moved away from you, they came into my vision, and I had to force myself to keep to Puccini and not follow their timing for the entire aria. I didn’t want to stop and cause you to start yet again.”

• As a young dance student, Peter Martins thought he was both a strong and a good dance partner, but he learned the truth in a performance of August Bournonville’s Far From Denmark. At one point, the 20 males onstage were required to lift their partners and hold them in the air during the applause that followed. Of all the 20 males, young Peter was the first to lower his partner. She was furious at his weakness and hissed at him, “You need to do push-ups.” He cried after the performance, and the next day he bought a piece of exercise equipment known as a chest expander and started to use it and to do push-ups.

• Peter Martins took over as a co-director of the New York City Ballet after George Balanchine’s death. For a while, Mr. Martins continued his dancing career, but he soon discovered that it was too difficult to do both jobs. During a performance with Suzanne Farrell, with whom he had had little rehearsal, he had numerous entrances and exits. While he was standing in the wings, he watched an improvising Ms. Farrell and told the ballet mistress, “Doesn’t Suzanne look great out there!” The ballet mistress replied, “Yes, but you’re supposed to be there with her.” Mr. Martins quickly made a belated appearance on stage.

• Disasters and near-disasters are always a possibility at a public dance performance. Ballerina Darci Kistler once was dancing when her costume started to unravel at a side seam. She remembers thinking that even if her costume came off, she had to continue to dance. (Fortunately, this turned out to be a near-disaster rather than a disaster.) On another occasion, the glue on her false eyelashes glued her eyes shut so that she was unable to see on stage. And once when she was a young ballerina, her perspiration caused her mascara to run down her face; after that experience, she used waterproof mascara.

• Before a matinee performance, a young Margot Fonteyn noticed that some other people were taking a drink, so she had a few drinks, too. Big mistake. The other people weren’t dancing at the matinee, but she was. Feeling tipsy and inclined to giggle, she went on stage and discovered that her body could not do what she wanted it to do. The performance was a nightmare, and the applause following it was scanty. For the next 30 years of her career, she refused to take even an aspirin before a performance, and she never again drank before a performance.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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