David Bruce: Create, Then Take a Beak — Critics, Dance

From Bruce Anecdotes

Critics

• Boston Transcript critic Henry Taylor Parker signed his articles H.T.P., which the victims of his criticism said stood for “Hell To Pay.” Once, some talkative members of the audience bore the brunt of his wit. He told them, “Those people up on the stage are making so much noise I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”

• Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) noticed something odd about the critics who reviewed his books. When they reviewed his first book, they denounced it as “rubbish.” However, when they reviewed his second book, they denounced it as an unworthy successor to his first book, which had been excellent.

Dance

• Choreographer Merce Cunningham once won a prize at an international festival in Paris. Oddly, and without Mr. Cunningham’s permission, a representative of the State Department of the United States picked up the prize, despite not having supported Mr. Cunningham financially. Several weeks later, the State Department mailed the prize to Mr. Cunningham—in a package on which there was postage due! By the way, a college student writing an M.A. thesis once wrote the very busy Mr. Cunningham and asked him to write her about his technique. Mr. Cunningham’s reply: “Tell her to come study!” Also by the way, in dance class or rehearsals, Mr. Cunningham would sometimes be asked how to do a certain move. He always replied, “You just do it.”

• In vaudeville, audiences grew to know and love successful acts. This sometimes created problems. For example, the act might be a tap dancing act, whose members wanted to change the act when they grew tired of it. However, the audience wanted to see the same dance they had seen the last time the tap dancing act had gone through their town. For example, the Berry Brothers were famous for their cane dance and danced it for decades. Warren Berry once said, “I was so tired of hearing that music. … I would stand in the wings before going onstage, and just grit my teeth every time.” However, if the tap dancers ever wanted to change their act, their agent would tell them they wouldn’t be able to be booked.

• Choreographer Agnes de Mille was once asked if she had a dance prepared that could be performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She replied, “Certainly, I’ll go home and get it.” Actually, she didn’t have the dance already prepared—she went home and created one. By the way, at age five, Agnes started taking piano lessons. Later, she said that she had learned to read music before she had learned to read words. And at age 13, Agnes saw Anna Pavlova dance. From that time, she knew that she wanted to devote her life to dance. She said later, “I was as clearly marked as though she had looked me in the face and called my name.”

• Suzanne Farrell learned that she was to dance the role of Dulcinea in George Balanchine’s new work Don Quixote, so she started to read the work by Cervantes, but after 400 pages, Dulcinea still had not appeared in the book, although the Don did describe her appearance frequently. When Ms. Farrell told Mr. Balanchine that she found reading Don Quixote “rather overwhelming, philosophically and otherwise,” he told her, “Don’t worry, dear, you don’t need to read it.” Of course, as the choreographer of the ballet, Mr. Balanchine was able to tell her what she needed to know to dance the role.

• Ballerina Alicia Markova became a celebrity when she danced Giselle in New York. During the performance, her foot was broken, but she continued dancing. Ms. Markova once told Agnes de Mille, “I continued the whole solo variation, little hops on pointe and all. Think of it: right across the stage on one toe on a fractured foot.” By the way, ballet shoes last for only one performance, but they can be worth the expense. After each performance, Ms. Markova had to be cut out of her shoes. However, after each performance, four men had to help carry the bouquets of flowers she received.

• When George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova were keeping house together and working for Sergei Diaghilev, they participated in the Monte Carlo premiere of Le Bal. Unfortunately, all of the soloists except Ms. Danilova received flowers at the curtain. This made Mr. Diaghilev angry, and he spoke to Mr. Balanchine about it. At the next performance, Mr. Balanchine sent Ms. Danilova 100 roses at the curtain—there were so many that she couldn’t carry them all, and she gave many of them away to other members of the company.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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