• Early in his career, pianist Denis Matthews played the music for a performance by German dancer Annie Fligg. Unfortunately, during the performance, a misunderstanding occurred. In one dance, each time she came by Mr. Matthews, she hissed the word “fast!” at him. Mr. Matthews thought that she was telling him to go fast, so he speeded up the music. Actually, she was trying to tell him that the music was too fast. (Fortunately, she survived the dance, although the tempo almost caused her to have a heart attack.)
• Sir Thomas Beecham once conducted a performance of Mili Balakireff’s Tamara, but he did not make concessions to the dancers; instead, if anything, he speeded up the tempo, making the dancers work very hard to keep up with the music. After the piece was finished, Sir Thomas said, “That made the buggers hop!”
• August Wilson has written many plays about the Black Experience, including The Piano Lesson, in which Charles S. Dutton danced with his back to the audience. Caricaturist Sam Norkin felt that this was a brilliant idea, as it kept a serious play from appearing to be a musical. However, later Mr. Norkin learned that Mr. Dutton danced in this way because he was “bashful” about his dancing, although the play’s director, Lloyd Richards, wanted him to face the audience.
• A Broadway show called Strike Me Pink had a chorus line that consisted mostly of the girlfriends of the financial backers of the show. One backer of the show, Waxey Gordon, saw a pretty chorus girl in the show and asked whose girlfriend she was. Informed that she wasn’t anyone’s girlfriend, he asked, “Then how the hell did she get into the show?”
• Sir Ralph Richardson once toured in William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in Quito, Ecuador, where the dancing fairies had a rough time because of the high altitude and the lack of oxygen. Quickly, the company learned to put oxygen tanks behind the trees, so the fairies could breathe in extra oxygen before dancing.
• George Balanchine wanted his dancers to learn from the places they traveled. Once, Patricia Neary was in Rome, teaching a ballet by Mr. Balanchine. She telephoned him to talk about the dancers, but Mr. Balanchine asked, “Pat, but what about Rome? What have you seen?” She honestly answered, “Nothing.” Mr. Balanchine then said, “Forget about my ballet! You’re only in Rome once. Go out and look at the beauty of Rome. The sculptures, the fountains, the Sistine Chapel — Rome. Learn!” She did.
• Anna Pavlova took her dance troupe to Japan, where H. Algeranoff purchased a cup with a design of blue reeds against a cream background for only twopence. To the Japanese, the cup was nothing special, but to foreigners, it bore the mark of perfection. Ms. Pavlova admired the cup, then she told Mr. Algeranoff, “You know, Algy, there is nothing in this country that one wants to throw away.”
• Being young and ignorant has its advantages. At the very beginning of her career, in 1928, modern dance pioneer May O’Donnell crossed the Atlantic in a ship. A very bad storm — which she called “one of the worst storms in the century” — occurred, and because she and the other young dancers did not realize in how much danger they were, they thought the rolling of the ship in the storm was fun.
• In London, while dancing Giselle, Alicia Markova performed on a stage that used lifts — remarkable for their speed — to ascend Giselle from the grave to the world of the spirits known as Wilis. One performance, as she stepped onto the lift, one of the stagehands said, “Here goes the last jet to Wili-Land!”
• When Maria Tallchief joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a 17-year-old, she was untraveled. On her first train trip with the troupe, she spent all of the first night sitting straight up in her seat — because she didn’t know how to make it recline and she didn’t want to ask anyone for help.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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