David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance — Programs, Rehearsals


• Léonide Massine choreographed La Boutique Fantasque for — of course — humans. Believe it or not, while Mr. Massine was in residence in San Francisco in 1977, a version of the dance was performed at the Rossmoor Miniature Theatre — the dancers were puppets!


• George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet once needed a leading dancer to perform as Apollo at short notice, and Peter Martins, a young dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, was called in to dance. Everything seemed to Mr. Martins to go well at the first performance, and the critics agreed, but the next day at rehearsal Mr. Balanchine said to him, “Before we begin, you know, you do it all wrong.” Then Mr. Balanchine showed him what he wanted. (Mr. Martins says he got the impression during the rehearsal that perhaps the one thing he had done right was to show up for the performance.) Later, Mr. Balanchine told Mr. Martins’ teacher, Stanley Williams, that he had been impressed with the young dancer at the rehearsal: “I changed everything, and he remembered everything.” This led to Mr. Martins being asked to join the New York City Ballet.

• Anna Pavlova’s dance company once arrived in Washington, D.C., for a three-day engagement, but the ballet master neglected to call for a morning rehearsal — an oversight the dancers gleefully took advantage of. Arriving at the theater that evening with only minutes left to put on makeup and costumes, the dancers were confronted by Ms. Pavlova, who told them to form a straight line on the stage, then asked, “Have you practiced today?” All of the dancers were forced to admit that they had not. Ms. Pavlova then said, “I am Anna Pavlova — you are my corps de ballet. I practice every day while you do nothing — we will have a lesson here and now.” She then made her dancers practice for half an hour, despite the audience members who were impatiently stamping their feet on the other side of the curtain while waiting for the performance to begin.

• Opera singer Mary Garden sometimes watched rehearsals of the Ballets Russes with Sergei Diaghilev, and she noticed just how much attention to detail he paid. On one occasion, he noticed a tiny flower in a dancer’s hair and ordered her to remove it because the color wasn’t right. Ms. Garden asked him, “Don’t you ever rest?” Mr. Diaghilev replied, “My dear Mary, there is all eternity to rest.” Ms. Garden writes, “I don’t wonder it was the greatest ballet company in the world.”

• Buddy Ebsen is perhaps most famous for his role as Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies; however, he and Vilma Ebsen were a famous brother-and-sister dance team during the 1930s. Frequently, they rehearsed in hot, unventilated rehearsal halls, leaving pools of sweat on the floor. Other people used to come into the rehearsal hall, look at the pools of sweat on the floor, and ask, “Were the Ebsens here?”

• At a ballet rehearsal in London, Sergei Diaghilev suddenly asked Leon Bakst, “What are the three most beautiful things in this theatre today?” Then he answered his own question, “[Ballerina] Olga Spessiva, the little boy with the big brown eyes, and me.” The “little boy with the big brown eyes” was Anton Dolin, who became famous throughout the world as a ballet dancer.

• When it came to his dancing, Fred Astaire was a perfectionist. He sometimes rehearsed 18 hours a day, losing up to 15 pounds in the process. In addition, when his dancing partners rehearsed with him, at the end of the practice, they would sometimes find blood in their shoes. Mr. Astaire once explained why he rehearsed so much: “I wanted to make it good, then make it better.”

• Ballerina Natalia Makarova was rehearsing Manon when the orchestra suddenly began playing an unexpected piece of music. She felt bad because this meant she wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the music of the ballet, but then she saw everyone smiling at her and realized that the orchestra was playing “Happy Birthday.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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