Tag Archives: Antony Tudor

TUDOR BALLET “DARK ELEGIES” HAS FINGER ON THE PULSE

20 Apr

I saw Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies performed last night at New York Theatre Ballet’s “Legends and Visionaries” program at Florence Gould Hall, NYC.

Though created by Mr. Tudor in 1937, the ballet couldn’t have been more current. Tudor described this work as his favorite ballet, and many consider it to be his greatest. “From bursts of rage to tender moments of quiet devastation, Tudor’s ‘ballet requiem’ expresses the raw emotion of a tight-knit community faced with the inexplicable loss of their beloved children,” explains the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust.

"Dark Elegies" - ABT - Fall, 2005. Julie Kent and Grant Delong. Photo courtesy of Sally Brayley Bliss

“Dark Elegies” – ABT – Fall, 2005. Julie Kent and Grant Delong.
Photo courtesy of Sally Brayley Bliss

Newtown, Connecticut grieves for 20 children and six adults gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. Boston grieves in the wake of Monday’s marathon bombings, with three dead and more than 260 injured. Together, we grieve as a nation.

It has been 76 years since Tudor choreographed Dark Elegies. Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed. The ballet’s subject matter and emotional content feel raw. Dark Elegies has its finger on the pulse. Perhaps it always will.

Dark Elegies is danced to the Song Cycle Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”) by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). The work consists of five songs to lyrics by Friedrich Rückert. It was first performed in London by Ballet Rambert on Feb. 19, 1937. First cast included Peggy van Praagh, Maude Lloyd, and Agnes de Mille. First US Performance was by American Ballet Theater (Ballet Theatre) at New York’s City Center, January 24, 1940.

NY Theatre Ballet performs chamber ballet masterpieces and new works by emerging choreographers, and innovative one hour ballets for children. By pairing the ballets of legendary creators with those of new visionaries, NYTB helps audiences to rediscover the old and be thrilled by the new.

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PRESERVING THE WORK

5 May

The events of this week made me realize there is so much more to a ballet archive than the simple collection of photos, film, dance notation and personal remembrances. It’s not just about the collection of materials, it’s ultimately about the preservation of the ballets within that archive.

The ongoing mission of The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, in addition to the licensing and production of Antony Tudor’s ballets, has been to preserve Mr. Tudor’s work – his ballets, his teachings and his creative process – for future generations so they are never lost.

Antony Tudor teaching at the “old” Met – NYC, 1961

This week the National Endowment for the Arts announced an award in support of the development of The Antony Tudor Dance Studies Curriculum.  Their award, along with funding from the Jerome Robbins Foundation, the CORPS de Ballet and the Cornelius N. Bliss Memorial Fund, will allow the Trust’s “Curriculum Committee” to complete lesson plans for a dance curriculum which will offer a multifaceted, comprehensive approach to learning the work of Antony Tudor. The curriculum, intended for university dance programs, will include Tudor’s method of choreographic composition; his unique use of gesture and movement; the application of choreographic phrases in partnering, pointe and men’s classes; and, of course, Tudor’s unique musicality. Archival images, performance video, and studio exercises will be part of the package.

According to Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, “engaging the student-dancer on a level where significant learning takes place is the most effective means for preserving Tudor’s work. A fully developed Tudor Curriculum will best serve to assist dance teachers and students in the interpretation, presentation, and performance of Antony Tudor’s choreography…. it is vitally important this be done now while those who worked directly with Antony Tudor are here and ready to share their knowledge.”

Tudor at “old” Met, including left to right Pina Bausch, Jennifer Masley, James Waring, Bruce Marks – June 1961. Photo: Liz Sawyer

According to Mikhail Baryshnikov, former Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre, performing in even one Tudor ballet amounted to “a passport to become mature, to be an adult dancer, a dancer in-depth…”.

This week the NEA endorsed The Trust’s mission to insure Antony Tudor’s legacy – the development of an education program that engages young dancers in the choreographic complexities and creative process of his unique style.  Tudor was one of the great masters of 20th century choreography. The Tudor Curriculum will ensure his legacy will live on through learning. I’m excited!

ABOUT ANTONY TUDOR:

Antony Tudor was one of the giants of twentieth century choreography. He presented his works at American Ballet Theatre’s first season, and continued to choreograph works for companies throughout the world. His ballets have been performed by the world’s leading ballet companies including Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and the Royal Ballet. Tudor was Choreographer Emeritus at American Ballet Theatre, and also was a renowned teacher at The Juilliard School, where he was a founding faculty member of the School’s Dance Division.

Tudor rehearsing “Little Improvisations” with Lance Westergard and Lee Wagner at Juilliard – 1964. Photo: Liz Sawyer

Licensing for performances of Antony Tudor’s ballets has been more or less consistent since Mr. Tudor’s death in 1987, with the exception of a spike in performances during Mr. Tudor’s Centennial year in 2008. Almost every major ballet company, regional dance company, university dance program, and international ballet school desires to have Tudor ballets in its repertoire.

Adria Rolnik, author of Adriaballetbeat, is Web Coordinator and Archivist  (Photos, Materials, Memorabilia) for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust.

VISUALS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

4 Apr

When did my posture at the barre really change? After all the years of shoulders back and down, pulling up, sucking in that gut , nose in the air, weight forward, nothing made me reconfigure my stance at the barre better than this visual:

Thank you to my teacher Claudia Guimaraes, who said, “picture a dot under each of your shoulder blades, then a dot under each of them at your waist. Now connect them in a crisscross, and pull your stomach up and in.” Wow – that changed everything! By utilizing that visual, my posture changed – I’m now raising my leg higher, my balance is improved, I’m doing better pirouettes and ponches and have an easier time at the center. It was Claudia’s visual that made the difference.

I’ve had many teachers who use visual cues to improve technique, but some images resonate. Take my teacher Luba Gulyaeva,  for example – “when you ponche, you are balancing a crown on your head, not bending over to scrub the floor!” Oh my! Or another gem: “melt like ice cream” in describing the perfect plié.

A recent story in the New York Times science section titled, “Ballet Fans Truly Know How to Feel the Moves”  reported ballet lovers  “truly feel they are dancing” when they watch a performance. According to Corinne Jola, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Surrey in England, “Scientists report ( ballet) spectators showed muscle-specific responses in their brain as if they were expert dancers – even though ‘they were clearly not capable of doing the actual movements.’” Even for a non-dancer, visual cues affect their sense of movement. The spectator’s observation of dance helps them visualize their own dancing!

Stephanie Madec and Ramy Tadrous in "Lilac Garden," 2012, Ballet du Rhin. Photo: Jean Luc Tanghe

One of the reasons The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust sends a “répétiteur” to set a ballet is because it’s not just about dance notation and the steps – it’s also about nuance, feeling, interpretation. (Read Trust répétiteur Donald Mahler’s WordPress blog on setting Tudor’s Lilac Garden in France, and you will see what I mean)! The répétiteur must fine tune the dancers in their interpretation of the ballet. It’s not just the steps, it’s how you feel them.

“Melt like ice cream…”.

What makes a better history teacher? A better yoga teacher? A better dance instructor? The ability to communicate and make an idea come alive is what makes the message resonate.

What visuals have helped you improve your dance technique?

FINDING NATALIE PORTMAN

11 Oct

I know the ballet world wasn’t particularly fond of the movie Black Swan. From American Ballet Theatre’s Sarah Lane not being credited as Natalie Portman’s body double, to the implication ballet dancers are self possessed, anorexic freaks, the complaints were loud and clear. Top that off with the fact that it takes a lifetime to train to be a professional ballerina (not the one year producer’s implied it took Portman) and dancers were, for the most part, upset. And that’s understandable.

Nevertheless, I liked the movie!! I was entertained. And I tend to agree with New York Times film critic A.O. Scott who said, “Black Swan is no more about the behavior of ballerinas than its central pretext, ‘Swan Lake,’ is about the habits of birds.”

Natalie Portman as "The Black Swan." Movie Poster: Wikipedia

Besides, I LIKE Natalie Portman. I’ve always enjoyed her films (from Garden State to Cold Mountain) and was delighted when she won the Oscar for Best Actress in Black Swan last February. I thought she did a great job portraying a ballerina similar in personality to Odette, the White Swan, who slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.

That being said, let me zoom back to a great night at The Metropolitan Opera House last May, when I attended opening night of ABT’s mixed repertory program with members of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. The evening included two premieres – Alexei Ratmansky’s Dumbarton and Christopher Weeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, plus a performance of Benjamin Millepied‘s Troika and a revival of Antony Tudor’s Shadowplay.

The audience was filled with ballet luminaries such as Peter Martins, Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet his wife, prima ballerina Darcy Kistler; Anna Kisselgoff, former chief dance critic of The New York Times; philanthropist and former dancer Nancy Zeckendorf; Amanda McKerrow and her husband John Gardner, both former ABT principal dancers and now Tudor Trust répétiteurs; and, of course, Benjamin Millepied and his very pregnant significant other, Natalie Portman!

Tudor's "Shadowplay" on YouTube - Anthony Dowell, 1967

Ok, I’m star stuck! I’m a fan. Natalie’s big time – an Oscar winner and girlfriend of one really cool choreographer… how could I not be excited when I went to the rest room at intermission and came face to face with the Black Swan herself! Very pregnant and very gorgeous, there she was, waiting in line next to me, and then the two of us were there, alone together, at the sink!

Staff of The Tudor Trust at the Met for ABT's "Shadowplay" Premiere

My mind was racing. Should I say something? A hello? Make a comment? Introduce myself as a member of the Trust? Say something pedestrian like, “I love your work,” or, “Congratulations on your Oscar?” Or how about, “Good luck with the baby?” Instead I just stood there and looked at her. Then she looked at me, and I looked at her again. She glanced at me once more, because I looked twice. And I didn’t say anything. Not a word.

I eventually returned to my seat, after a chat with some friends in the lobby. I plopped down next to Amanda McKerrow and said excitedly, “Guess who I just ran into in the ladies room? Natalie Portman!” And what do you think Amanda said? “Gee, Adria, I would have introduced you to her – I was just hanging with her and Benjamin by the bar. I would have introduced you, but I didn’t see you……..”

Oh. My. God.

WHOSE SPOT IS IT ANYWAY?

13 Sep

I often wonder, why do people always stand at the same place at the ballet barre? No matter what the class, or whom the teacher, no matter what the day or what the level, it seems dancers always stand at the barre in the exact same spot! (In my class, I can almost tell you where people are standing with my eyes closed).

I remember when Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Tudor Trust, told me she always stood at the piano when she took barre in Mr. Tudor’s class at the Metropolitan Opera House and that’s how she became close with Elizabeth Sawyer, Antony Tudor’s accompanist for 17 years.

Dancers at the Barre - Tudor Centennial at Juilliard; Photo: Cliff Jernigan

I’m not talking about “the middle,” where the more advanced or higher level dancers tend to be first. I’m talking about the barre and why people always seem to stand in the exact same place. In my class, dancers are often so committed to their spot that people are literally afraid to “steal” a regular spot from another class member. (I recall one day a dancer holding a tiny section of the barre at the piano relocated like a bullet when the person who normally stands in that spot arrived late – yikes)!

Actually, there seems to be a bit of protocol regarding where you stand at the barre. In a 2009 article in Pointe Magazine, author Temple Kemezis said, “At the beginning of every day, class sets the tone for how you will work. Make note of where people like to stand to avoid standing in someone’s favorite barre spot….”  The article, which discussed proper etiquette for a first-year company member, went on to say, “Communication is your best friend. Checking ahead of time is far better than being kicked off the barre mid-plié by a principal who is late for class.”

Edgar Degas - 1888. "Tänzerinnen an der Stange" Source: Wikipedia

Ashley Bouder,  Principal Dancer for New York City Ballet, told me she always stands in the same spot in company class. “I have stood in the same spot in company class for eight years. I always stand directly behind the piano, no matter which studio the company is taking class in. It makes me feel comfortable. It’s like waking up in your own bed. A hotel bed may feel great, but nothing beats home. That’s how I feel about my barre spot. It’s my home base; a place to start my day,” she said.

In a story called, “A smile on my face… as long as you stay clear of my space” columnist Heidi Rice said it doesn’t matter if  it’s where you sit in college, yoga class or church – “People stake out their territory.” The article, recently published in The Post Independent of Glenwood Springs, CO, went on to say, “When I looked up this whole phenomenon on the Internet, I found something that said, ‘Humans are homeostatic by nature.’ In other words, our bodies like things to pretty much stay the same.”

Yes, we are creatures of habit.

Recently my daughter told me a lawsuit was filed at her NYC gym after one man pushed another off his “favorite” bike in spin class and wound up breaking the trespasser’s arm! She hears the “pusher” is now banned from the Equinox gym for life and “is probably in anger management.” Well, ballet people don’t go that far, but yes, we do like our spots!

Do you always stay at the same place at the barre? (I try not to. But then again, I do like a clear view of the mirror and hate being squished in the corner. The back of the room gets too warm for me and I don’t like being too close to the door…).

Well, I guess I do always stay at the same place at the barre! Or try to!

APPLAUSE FOR ME?

29 Aug

Back in 2008 students of the Juilliard Dance Division participated in the Antony Tudor Centennial Celebration, the 100th birthday commemoration of the late choreographer.

The purpose of the weekend celebration was to bring together generations of dancers, writers and musicians who were touched by Mr. Tudor and his work. In addition to class workshops and a performance of Dark Elegies at the Juilliard Spring Concert, the weekend included informal studio performances of Tudor’s Little Improvisations, Continuo, Undertow and Judgment of Paris, performed by Juilliard students as well as dancers from the JKO School at American Ballet Theatre, ABT II and New York Theatre Ballet.  And that’s where the applause comes in.

As event coordinator of the Tudor Centennial weekend I was invited to observe a rehearsal, along with Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Tudor Trust, of Tudor’s Undertow by Juilliard dancers under the direction of Trust Répétiteur, Kirk Peterson.

That day, just prior to the Centennial, students were rehearsing in a 3rd floor studio at The Juilliard School at Lincoln Center.  Sally and I were ushered in and seated – Sally in front of the mirror on a folding chair next to Larry Rhodes, Director of the Dance Division, and I, refusing a chair, just plopped down cross legged on the floor next to them. The dancers worked with the taped music of William Schuman’s commissioned score, stopping occasionally to grasp one of Kirk’s pointed corrections, and I was excited to observe.

During a short break, Kirk introduced Sally as Trustee and the person responsible for these wonderful Tudor ballets. The students were thrilled and began bowing and applauding her, as proprietor of these important works. Then, to my surprise, I was also introduced – as Event Coordinator of The Tudor Centennial. And again, all of the dancers began bowing and applauding, but this time, to me!

Me? They bowed and applauded me??  What a reversal of fortune – dancers applauding me, instead of the other way around. Will wonders never cease?

UNDER THE ORCHESTRA PIT

13 Aug

There is a wonderful man who lives under the orchestra pit in New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. Well, he doesn’t actually live there, but it’s where he spends his days.

I’ve spent a lot of time at Lincoln Center in recent years (as Event Coordinator for the ABT Dancer Reunion and the Antony Tudor Centennial at Julliard), but it wasn’t until years later, as Archivist for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, that I had the opportunity to unearth Met Archivist John Pennino’s underground lair, home of the Metropolitan Opera Archives.

The trip to the Archives, led by Mr. Pennino himself, began by walking through the pass door to backstage, continuing on through narrow pipe-ceilinged hallways and down remote staircases to the building’s depths. As dramatic and elegant as the Met is upstairs, the opposite is true of the space underground. Cinder block gray walls and harsh fluorescent lights are de rigueur. It was a long walk to the archives, buried as they are, under the orchestra pit and stage.

 

I was asked to stop before entering the Archives, which are contained in a dark basement room piled high with file cabinets, stacks of boxes and old tin desks.  I had to leave my handbag, my tote, my jacket… I wasn’t allowed to hold or bring in anything. I had to tuck all of my belongings in a corner before even being allowed in the room! (No one is allowed into the archive with coats or bags because of theft.  But I wasn’t offended… I was excited)!

I was there on a mission to discover photos and memorabilia of the great choreographer Antony Tudor, who began staging his ballets for American Ballet Theatre (then “Ballet Theatre”) in 1939, and who in 1951 became Director of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and School. It was at the Met where Mr. Tudor recreated his ballets Jardin aux Lilas, Dark Elegies and Judgment of Paris, as well as created his first American masterpiece, Pillar of Fire, in 1942. And it was in 1974, as Associate Director of American Ballet Theatre, he created his final masterpiece, The Leaves are Fading. The Met Archives were a treasure trove, and I had access!

So there I sat, kindly tended to by Mr. Pennino, quietly going through files of photos and memorabilia that he had stacked up for me, anticipating my visit. He sat behind me, at his own desk, hearing me occasionally gasp, mutter “wows” and voice disbelief. I found telegrams to Mr. Tudor, letters, old programs, rehearsal photos, performance photos… the collection was priceless.

Tudor’s “Echoing of Trumpets” – Photo: Louis Melancon

The Trust wasn’t given permission to use all of the materials – copyrights and all –  but Mr. Pennino did give permission when he could. It was through his kindness that The Trust could gather materials not only to publish in their fund-raising book but to also digitize and store, in the hopes of further preserving Antony Tudor’s legacy to the dance community.

Before Mr. Pennino brought me to the Met Archives I was given a tour of the lobby, with its huge archival displays of photos, beautiful paintings and glass-lit cabinets filled with costumes, accessories and memorabilia. But nothing on display in that dazzling lobby compared with being able to go through the archival materials in that dusty room under the orchestra pit. That, indeed, was a rare treat!

COMING FULL CIRCLE

28 Jun
Lincoln Center, New York. June 7, 2007.

Lincoln Center - Image via Wikipedia

I was sitting at a long outdoor table at Café Fiorello at the end of a crisp October day in 2007, overlooking the spraying fountain on Lincoln Center’s plaza.  Among those at the table were Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, and Tudor Centennial committee members  Ernesta CorvinoLance Westergard  and Donald Mahler.

Tudor Centennial Planning Meeting

We had just left a long first meeting of the Antony Tudor Centennial Celebration, being planned for March, 2008. The meeting, which took place across the street in a Juilliard conference room, also included the wonderful Elizabeth Sawyer, Antony Tudor’s pianist for 17 years, Amanda McKerrow, the amazing prima ballerina and former star of American Ballet Theatre, Diana Byer, Artistic Director of New York Theatre Ballet and Yasuko Tokunaga, director of Dance at The Boston Conservatory. The committee included over 33 American Ballet Theatre alumni, Juilliard alums and assorted ballet luminaries.

The Centennial Celebration, for which I was hired as event coordinator, was to be held at The Juilliard School, March 29 & 30, 2008. The weekend was designed to bring together generations of dancers, writers and others who were touched by the life of Tudor, and would include teaching workshops reconstructing his class combinations and choreography. They were also going to feature panel discussions with dancers, writers and musicians. (Ultimately, the event was attended by over 250 guests and participants).

So what brought me to the Tudor Trust? A year or so before, with a bit of luck and some really great contacts, I had the opportunity to meet with Rachel Moore, Executive Director of American Ballet Theatre. I was soon given what for me was the ultimate gig – planning and executing the American Ballet Theatre Dancer Reunion which took place on Memorial Day, 2007.  Working in the Ballet Theatre offices for close to a year’s event planning is a story in itself (more later) but after that wonderful event for 600+ dancers (including a cocktail reception, “JKO” school demo, performance, on-stage post performance bow and party), my credentials were sealed. I was taken on by the Tudor Trust for the Centennial event at Juilliard.

Now here I was having my drink, watching the sun set over Lincoln Center plaza while listening to the laughter, lively conversation, and most importantly, the wonderful stories of the Met and Tudor. Past and present had combined in the most wonderful way. I felt I had returned to my childhood roots, working with people who loved the ballet, who understood the importance of the arts, who shared my passion. I had come full circle, sitting at that table with these incredible artists, staring at that magnificent fountain-sprayed facade so many years later.  I had come home.

THE “NEW” MET! WHAT A DIFFERENCE!

24 Jun

In September, 1966, the new Metropolitan Opera house opened its doors at Lincoln Center in New York City’s Upper West Side. The Center spanned 16 acres and eventually had 12 resident organizations, including The Met, New York City Ballet, The New York Philharmonic and The Juilliard School.

The Metropolitan Opera House was, and still is, located at the center of the Lincoln Center Plaza, on Columbus Avenue between 62nd and 65th Streets. The outside walls were made of travertine marble; a giant circular fountain stood in front of the building, and hung from the entrance foyer were the wonderful murals by Marc Chagall, specifically created for the space. And what about the beautiful red carpeted lobby, and those gorgeous starburst chandeliers that rose to the ceiling before a performance? A shocking change, this theater, from the old Met Opera House on 39th street.

Photograph of the facade of the Metropolitan O...

The Metropolitan Opera House; Image via Wikipedia

Clearly, we had to move – the old Met didn’t have adequate space, and the new one had all of the needed technical facilities, but the old Met, in my heart, was still a gem. I remember Jackie Kennedy tried to “save it” – make it a historical site, preserve it, but in the end she failed and it was raised to become nothing but a nondescript office building.

But here we were at the new Met, and like wow! REAL dressing rooms, with rows of mirrors and lights and lockers and showers! There was an intercom system where you could hear an announcement when you were supposed to come up to the stage. There were wardrobe rooms, and makeup rooms, and fitting rooms, and makeup ladies that came to your dressing room to apply their craft. We would rehearse on stage and there would be a group of gray uniformed ladies in the orchestra, wiping and polishing the chandeliers that were lowered to seat level for cleaning. How they made them shine! There was a revolving stage, with sets that could appear and disappear – no more dragging sets into the street in all kinds of weather. The curtain went up at the push of a button. No one had to pull the cord! The difference between the two theaters was staggering.

The Fountain at Lincoln Center

In the new Met, ballet classes and rehearsal halls were downstairs. In those days no one was allowed to bring water into the studio – and, of course, there was no such thing as “bottled water” – after class you could go to a water fountain to take a sip. There were “no-smoking” signs in all of the studios, but tons of cigarette butts were left on the floor beneath them. The floors in the studios were perfect, the walls gleaming. I had a locker. It was exciting.

DANCING AT THE OLD MET

20 Jun

The year was 1962, and New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House at 1411 Broadway between 39th and 40th street was an amazing place. From its opening in 1883, the Met has always been regarded as one of the world’s leading opera companies.

And this overwhelming, historic building was also home to The Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and School, directed by the great Antony Tudor who teamed with Margaret Craske, a “Cecchetti pioneer.” This is where I spent my days, after school and on Saturdays and sometimes Sundays, a world very much apart from my Brooklyn home. Not only was I there for class, but I was also in residence for performances on many evenings and matinees as a “super” in operas including La Giaconda, Faust, L’Elisir d’Amore and Parsifal.

The “Old” Met – Photo Courtesy Metropolitan Opera Archive

The world of the old Met, which disappeared in 1966 with the opening of the “new” Met at Lincoln Center, is just a memory, but is very dear to me. So here’s a peek at that behind the scenes world from the eyes of a little girl in ballet shoes:

Dancers, stars, chorus, staff, all entered the building from a tiny stage door on West 40th street. Outside the door was a fruit stand, owned by an old man who sold the most enormous and delicious oranges and grapefruits. I used to call him the grapefruit man. We’d buy one to bring in, peeling it the dressing room and eating the grapefruit sections before class.

You would enter through the stage door into an old and tiny reception room, with a guard sitting at a desk and the opera stars dressing rooms only about four steps from the entrance. Before performances you could hear them in their dressing rooms, vocalizing while piles of floral bouquets were delivered and piled high on the floor next to the guard, waiting to be presented at curtain calls.

Ahead of you was a big iron door, the “stage door” itself – literally 10 steps from the front entrance. Things were tight – so tight, that at intermission the stage hands would drag the scenery onto 39th street, even along Broadway, because there was no room to place the scenery in the house between acts. And to the back left of the entrance hall was the elevator – a tiny lift, with an elevator man and a chain door he would pull open and closed. Two memories of that elevator – one, it would bring you to the glorious ballet classes upstairs, and two, it was the elevator that brought the chorus down to the performances – and I would be with them in that elevator, with their vocalizing, joking, faces covered in pancake makeup, all of us wearing full costumes and period hair – what a scene it was!

The old Met was so tight on space that the children in the operas used a “dressing room” that was really a costume storage closet, with Met Opera ballet dancers in their cramped dressing room across the way. You’d squeeze in to the closet for makeup, have a dresser, and then have your costumed stage mother escort you down that elevator with other members of the chorus. I remember my first peek at the professional dancers – how immodest they were, parading around naked, and squealing when they heard the ballet “boys” were coming up for a party after the Christmas Eve performance. I wished I could have stayed for that party.

The kids in all performances were under the supervision of a lady named “Spyri” – everyone loved Spyri, especially the guys. I always remember hearing Spyri was married to a stagehand, and everyone would stare at her – she always wore a buttoned down shirt, unbuttoned really, with her big breasts popping out of the top. She was a legend. I ran into Ernesta Corvino recently, and even then, we were amazed and laughing at how well we remembered Spyri! (Ernesta’s father was Ballet Master at the Met Opera Ballet Co.)

Some particularly memorable moments of my stage time at The Met include the night Nicolai Gedda, the famous opera star, was peeling an apple as part of his role as Nemorino in “L’Elisir d’Amore” and while singing badly cut his hand and was bleeding all over his costume and floor. He held his hand behind his back and continued singing while everyone in the wings were waving handkerchiefs and bandages for him – if only he could get off stage, even for a moment! During a small pause he did get off to the wings, wrapped his hand in a cloth, and flew back on the stage to continue on with the scene. No one in the audience was the wiser.

Or the time there was a scare, a big scare, that a stagehand came down with meningitis, and according to doctors we were all exposed! My mother was terrified, didn’t want me to go back, but I did and thankfully no one caught it.

And who can forget the time Nathaniel Merrill, the stage director of “L’Elisir,” singled me out at the dress rehearsal, with a stage full of opera stars, chorus and extras in place, to say, “Who did your makeup? Why aren’t you wearing lipstick?” I told him the makeup lady said, “little girls don’t wear lipstick” and the 100+ people on stage, including the great soprano Mirella Freni, started laughing out loud! Then Mr. Merrill said, “Well you tell her from me that you have to wear lipstick!”

Do you know to this day I never walk out the door without it?

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