David Bruce: Create, Then Take a Break — Dance, Death


• Early in his career, ballet master George Balanchine was a dancer, although he preferred choreographing. Nevertheless, as a young dancer he showed great stamina. Once, he missed a train, chased after it, failed to catch up with it, and so was forced to bicycle 16 miles to his next performance, where he danced a pas de deux. By the way, Mr. Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes” was so popular with audiences that he called it an “applause machine.” Also by the way, when the American — but internationally famous — Mr. Balanchine learned that President Ronald Reagan had chosen him to be the recipient of the highest award an American citizen can receive—the Medal of Freedom, he joked, “Of what country?”

• George Balanchine used real life when he choreographed his “Serenade” to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade in C for String Orchestra.” A ballerina once arrived late for rehearsal, so “Serenade” includes a ballerina entering the dance late. A male dancer became available suddenly, so Mr. Balanchine included a male dancer in “Serenade.” During rehearsal, an exhausted and overwhelmed dancer collapsed to the floor, so in “Serenade” the ballerina falls to the floor.

• Ballerina Margot Fonteyn’s husband was involved in planning a political coup in Panama. Once, Ms. Fonteyn found a box of grenades in her basement—she was not surprised. Ms. Fonteyn often danced witrh Rudolf Nureyev, At the Kirov School for Ballet, a very young Rudolf was told by a teacher, “Young man, you will either become a brilliant dancer or a total failure—and most likely you will be a failure.”

• Sallie Wilson used to be a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre. She began to study dance through an accident. A musician, she was playing in a school orchestra during a ballet performance when the lights in the orchestra pit went out. This meant she had to play from memory, and instead of looking at the music, she was able to watch the ballet performance. She liked what she saw, so she began to study ballet.

• When Ted Shawn was attending college in Denver in the early part of the 20th century, dancing was not permitted; however, Mr. Shawn and his fraternity brothers wanted to hold dances. Therefore, they sent out invitations that said, “You’re invited to come and play folk games with us to music on a slick floor.”

• Dancing in South America has its advantages, as flowers are inexpensive and plentiful. After a performance of Giselle, ballerina Alicia Markova was presented with a giant basket of white camellias. She and the corps de ballet were so astonished by its size that they counted the blooms—500!

• Dancers Irina Baronova and George Skibine used to play a childish (and for dancers, dangerous) game while waiting to go on stage to perform—they would have a contest to see who could stamp on the other’s foot first.


• The elderly actor A.E. Matthews once took a nap in his dressing room while sitting on a chair. During his nap, he fell off the chair, landed on the floor, and continued his nap there. The call boy found him on the floor, was frightened, and told the stage manager, “Mr. Matthews is dead.” Before anything could be done, Mr. Matthews woke up and went out on stage and performed very well as usual. Later, he told the call boy, “Next time you find me dead on the floor I suggest you tell them, ‘I think Mr. Matthews is dead.’”

• Theatrical director Tyrone Guthrie had a heart attack and was in an oxygen tent. One of his aunts thought that he was dead and opened the oxygen tent to look in. Mr. Guthrie opened one eye and said, “Not dead yet, fiddle dee-dee.” By the way, despite being very busy, Mr. Guthrie was very willing to give his time to others. His wife, Judy, once said that if the Timbuctoo Ladies Guild ever wanted him to give them a talk, Mr. Guthrie would write them: “Delighted! Can fit you in nicely on Thursday, on my way from Minneapolis to Belfast.”

• The great dancer Bill Robinson, aka Mr. Bojangles, was afraid to fly. People told him that when it was his day to die, it wouldn’t matter whether he was up in the air or down on the ground, but he responded, “I don’t plan to be up there on the pilot’s day.” By the way, at one time Mr. Bojangles wasn’t getting along with Ethel Waters, so he taught his dog to perform a trick. Whenever anyone said “Ethel Waters” to the dog, the dog growled.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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