The card that stole the show

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The Card that Stole the Show

I was looking for a memorable card to gift my aunt for her birthday this year, when I came upon an unexpected surprise.

Unsuspectingly, I approached “the great wall” of cards – you know what I’m talking about! — I barely embarked on my mission when I spotted the tip of something buried within the collage that just caught my eye.

I reached for it and pulled it out… or perhaps it pulled me in.

It had a visceral effect on me at first. The image exuded a whimsical beauty interlaced with richness of detail, and an unusual time portal effect.  It took my intellect several seconds to catch up and figure out that this was exactly what I was looking for. I loved it!  And, I loved it for my aunt!

More than a card… this was a piece of art which quickly revealed to me that it was taking center stage – it in effect became the real gift.

My aunt, whom I affectionately call “N”, is a connoisseur of vintage, antique and rare art collector items, and I am inextricably connected to the world of performing arts through ballet. So this was a perfect union – the place where our worlds meet.

Part 2: The Artist

I did a tad of research on the artist, BELLA PILAR, who grew up in New York and studied fashion design at Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

What got me right off the bat in Bella’s story is that precious milestone that all of us yearn for yet only few of us ever find: stepping into our Identity.

Bella says when she was just 9 years old, her mom began taking her to art classes, which appealed to her at once: “I immediately caught interest and quickly discovered how happy it made me.  I knew then that creating art would be a part of my life forever.”


Identity is what we see when we are connected with our qualities, our innate talents, and it’s what makes us and those around us happy.

For those of you who follow my work, you know that this topic is paramount in my writings because this is what we are all looking for, and it is what makes a blog or an article relatable to each one of us.  It is what makes Bella’s story meaningful for me.

Bella focused on her work at Papyrus (South Coast Plaza, June 2017)

For years, Bella worked as a makeup artist before her craft was discovered by an art director through an illustration she presented on her business card.

Today, Bella lives in Los Angeles and works out of her home studio.

Something else Bella said captured my attention because it shows how she sees the world:  “I love to paint other people’s visions. I feel like it’s a way of sharing my world with other people.”

It’s all about her ability to CONNECT – a most important aspect of success in any endeavor.

You can read up on Bella in a 2017 WAG magazine article and her profile on Papyrus Behind The Card.

til next time!

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SOURCES
http://www.wagmag.com/bella-pilars-most-fashionable-art/
http://www.prgreetings.com/papyrus/btc-detail/bella-pilar#.XY7LLJNKiqA
photo of Bella’s card by Elena Alexandra
photo of Bella from Papyrus Air on Twitter

The London Trip Day 4: meeting the daughter of Vaganova’s famous student

The London Trip

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meeting the daughter of Vaganova's famous student

here I am (studio booties still on) with Olga Semenova (middle) and Lana (right) at Masters of Ballet Academy

Do you remember my blog on Ludmila Komissarova, the central figure in the famous Vaganova graduating class photo of 1951?

Ludmila Nikolajevna Komissarova was one of the last students to train under the scrupulously watchful eye of legendary Russian ballet master Agrippina Vaganova.

Komissarova was in turn the teacher of my dear ballet friend Anna Korotysheva who actually inspired me to write the piece.

Well, this is the day Lana and I visited the London based school of Komissarova’s daughter, Olga.

famous photo of Agrippina Vaganova's final graduating class with Ludmila Komissarova in forefront with Vaganova (April 1951)

Herself a graduate of the revered ballet establishment on Rossi Street, Olga Semenova has continued to carry on her mother’s tradition starting from her teaching days at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Moving to the UK some decades ago, Olga eventually set up her own shop, founding the Russian Imperial Ballet School where she continued to teach the unparalleled system of classical dance. Today, her establishment is known as Masters of Ballet Academy (MOBA)

This was the day that we visited Olga at her MOBA school, where she arranged for us to observe an advanced class with one of her male instructors, and afterwards join her in her own rehearsal with a select group of students she was preparing for a trip to St. Petersburg where they would perform Olga’s choreography at the Hermitage Museum

As it happens, the group was shortly leaving for the trip and the atmosphere was frantic – though it somehow felt that there’s always something brewing at Olga’s place with her temperamental character at the helm.

Still, we managed to get her out for a snapshot before saying adieu.

On the walk back to our neck of the London woods, we passed by several landmarks you’ll see below.

Located at Langham Place, All Souls Church (the building with round porch enclosed by columns) is an Anglican church designed in the early 19th century regency style by one of England’s most notable architects John Nash, and often serves as the broadcast site of BBC
Olga with Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Principal of Vaganova Ballet Academy (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
Next to All Souls Church, this building with the clock on its facade is Broadcasting House, BBC's headquarters, an Art Deco style building constructed in the 1930s to the design of architect George Val Myer
All Souls Church entrance
Olga with Zhanna Ayupova (far right) Artistic Director of Vaganova Ballet Academy and Irina Gensler (2nd from left), the Vaganova professor known as “Queen of Character Dance” (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
walking through the subway station, saw this marquee advertising international ballet superstar Sergei Polunin
Olga with her talented firecracker of a student Maya - Maya stole our attention during the classes we observed (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
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The London Trip Day 3: London’s West Side & our first ballet at Royal

The London Trip

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London’s West Side & our first ballet at Royal

This is the day we were going to see our first ballet, Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden!

But before that, it was time to get to know the city, so we booked an excursion with the ever popular Strawberry Tours exploring London’s West End and Westminster district.

With our ‘mostly on-hiatus’ actor as our guide (we found this to be the case with many of the Strawberry Tours chaperons) – who by the way was able to remarkably channel his expressive talents towards our group – we made our way past world famous statues, monuments and landmarks in this government centered division of the regal European city.

After a quick change of attire back at our place, we headed for our ballet venue, and with a bit of  time on our hands, ventured into the indoor Covent Garden Market with an array of specialty shops and booths.

This is where I spotted the sketch of an artist who for me, taps into an ethereal quality of feminine beauty with a surprising element of innocence. I was able to take a photo of this piece (see it below!) but then was shooed away by a neighboring pit bull shopkeeper (or perhaps an assistant) from taking another that really caught my eye – a black and white sketch of a female form in a bodice exuding the likeness of a ‘nymph meets femme fatale’.

I’ve since visited the artist’s website and found a piece that somewhat approximates what I believe I saw on that day of May 11th. I’ve included it in the gallery below 🙂 

By the way – turns out this sketch girl has a PhD in Astrophysics, topped off with what is called a Zeldovich Medal for excellence and achievements in the field.  “For me art and science are a natural pair,” she says. This immediately also clicks for me because it’s what essentially defines classical ballet. 

And then it was time for the performance! –which did not disappoint! It even impressed with the display of talent exhibited by the Royal principal who happened to be dancing that night. The American-born, Russian-trained export from Boston, Sarah Lamb, won me over in the final act where she not only technically delivered, but was truly able to pull out the emotional energy making the scene of Romeo dancing with the lifeless body of Juliet genuinely work. 

Also worthy of mention is the beyond-the-norm athleticism and artistry of the company’s 1st Soloist Marcelino Sambé (recently promoted to principal) who was in the role of Mercutio that night.

So there it is, Day 3 of our London Trip in a nutshell!

Duke of York Column commemorates Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany who is perhaps most known for his lack of military prowess and character defects summed up in England’s famous nursery rhyme "The Grand Old Duke of York"
Bronze relief of Queen Elizabeth meeting people of London during World War II (located on The Mall road along our route from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace)
Walkers Of Whitehall alley entrance
sculpted by John W. Mills, “Monument to the Women of World War II” is a British national war memorial that was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in July 2005 on Whitehall road in London
statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square sculpted by Philip Jackson; Parliament Square in Westminster is famous not only for its collection of government buildings and statues, but also as the place for many demonstrations and protests
Arch into Royal Opera House shopping Arcade (below it, buggies in Covent Garden offering old-world rides)
at Royal Opera House gift shop: Margot Fonteyn as Aurora in Act II of “The Sleeping Beauty” (1951); Roger Wood Photo Collection
memorial statue of Queen Elizabeth (between two bronze reliefs paying tribute to her monarchical rule (located on The Mall road)
Walkers Of Whitehall: the last stop on our London West tour, we peeked into this ye olde pub with a history dating back to 1694 (when it started out as a bank) en route back to our flat to prep for the ballet
Walkers Of Whitehall
Cabinet Office building responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the United Kingdom (located off Whitehall)
Westminster Abbey: this Gothic abbey church is the final resting place of historical figures including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and more recently the ashes of Stephen Hawking
Portcullis House in Parliament Square area opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 members of parliament and their staff
My discovery by artist by Diana Shaul
Lilac tree which I believe I captured just steps away from the medieval St James's Palace on Marlborough Road, the giveaway is the ancient brickwork pattern that matches the St. James castle
The other bronze relief panel commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s work
“Monument to the Women of World War II” displays 17 individual sets of clothing and uniforms as well as a nursing cape, a police overall and welding mask around the sides, symbolising the hundreds of different jobs women undertook in World War II
“Monument to the Women of World War II” … view from the side
crowds gathering for the Horse Guards Parade from Whitehall with the Queen’s Household Cavalry guarding the entrance arches
Broad Sanctuary Houses, next to Westminster Abbey
this Abraham Lincoln statue, known as "The Man" or "Standing Lincoln", is located on the west side of Parliament Square outside the Supreme Court; it is a replica of the original in Chicago
my take on ‘nymph meets femme fatale:’ an ink and graphite pencil drawing by Diana Shaul

Romeo & Juliet Curtain Calls

Marcelino Sambé, as “Mercutio” in Romeo and Juliet (left)
Sarah Lamb as “Juliet” and Royal Ballet’s principal, Russian dancer Vadim Muntagirov as “Romeo” emerge for curtain call
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov acknowledge each other
inside the Royal Opera House: view of stage from orchestra section
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov greet the audience
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov return for another curtain call
Marcelino Sambé and fellow artists bow to a cheering audience
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov turn to head backstage
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov final farewell to audience as they turn to go backstage
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The London Trip Day 1: The Juice Bar Adventure

The London Trip

The Juice Bar Adventure... and NOPI

Our first full day out we decided to explore the city by visiting a well-rated pressed juice bar – a staple part of our daily nutrition – and get there via subway, or the “tube” as Londoners call it.

The place we found had really good ratings and was located right around the famous Notting Hill neighborhood.  What could go wrong?

As bona fide LA drivers, who rarely use any other mode of transportation, apart from the exceptional Uber, it turns out learning the London subway system is a serious task.

With a whole lot of bumping around and general confusion in the underground transport system, we worked our way through a maze of subway lines and tried to figure out the directional alphabet. Somehow, we got off at the right station and proceeded to our destination on foot.

We were getting close, we thought, as we passed a dingy biker’s hangout… but after a few more blocks we realized the building numbers were getting away from us… so we went into reverse.  Heading back to where we came from, we watched the numbers count back closer to our juice bar address. Lo and behold, there we were – right in front of the biker dive we hurried past a few minutes before … I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that it looked nothing like its online counterpart. yes, the age of virtual reality is upon us.

Well, since we were exploring, we decided to go in and have an ‘experience’.

The staff was  nice enough, inviting us to sit down at one of the 3 available spots in the joint, after removing a biker’s helmet from our table.  And the juices came out within 5 seconds of our order, which was certainly not enough time to press’ them through a machine. All forgivable… except for our front row seat to a local street gang character who entered the bar raging and looking to relieve his state through some violent altercation.  We just sat there, blindsided tourists.

All’s well that ends well, and that’s all that needs to be said here.

Actually, towards the end of our sit down, we met a tourist-friendly biker who enthusiastically directed us towards the famous Notting Hill neighborhood where the movie was made…living on a 24/7 production site in Tinseltown we weren’t as excited as he was, but we trotted in that direction enjoying the quaint streets and European culture.

In the second part of the day, we explored the area around our Leicester Square flat and found the Middle-Eastern inspired NOPI, award-winning eatery of the famous Jerusalem-born chef-restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi, whose book “Plenty” we discovered several years back.

Lana went in and made us a reservation for the following evening.

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Hotel Café Royal, a historic establishment whose clientele has included Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and David Bowie ... and yes! cars pass through here all the time!
club advertisements on historic buildings around Piccadilly Circus
close-up of our NOPI dish, courgette and manouri fritters with cardamom yoghurt; photo by John Carey
UKAI contemporary Japanese Restaurant on Portobello Road in Notting Hill neighborhood of London
award-winning eatery of chef-restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi
my Coconut, Passionfruit & Turmeric non-alcoholic drink (made with coconut milk, turmeric root, passionfruit, lime, spiced syrup)
Yotam Ottolenghi's book
walking along Glasshouse Street in Soho, London
... the next night at NOPI
at NOPI... our veggie selections with my Saffron Chase Cocktail (Chase gin, Pierre Gerbais Champagne, elderflower liqueur, saffron)
close-up of our NOPI dish, roasted aubergine with feta yoghurt, pomegranate jam, green chilli, walnut; photo by John Carey
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The London Trip Day 2: St. James Park & Buckingham Palace

The London Trip

St. James Park, Buckingham Palace and the Punishment Parade

With plenty of time before dinner at NOPI and plenty of sightseeing choices, we headed towards St. James Royal Park, a walk’s distance from where we were staying.

As we happily meandered through the old narrow streets of London towards our destination, we came upon a medieval fortress right out of the history books. In fact, it captured our attention enough for us to latch onto the tour group in front of it. Turns out it is called St. James’s Palace.

The next major stop on the tour was Buckingham Palace.  As we stood in front of the majestic sight, the tour guide told us what we later learned is every tour guide’s favorite story – the 1982 Michael Fagan incident – where a down on his luck inebriated Brit broke into the Palace, no less the bedroom of the Queen … a huge security breach with major staff restructuring repercussions.

Soon enough it was time to head back towards Leicester Square and change for NOPI.  On the route back, passing by yet another historic manor we saw batches of people heading towards an opening in the place.  We couldn’t help but to veer off to see what all the fuss was about.

Turns out it was time for the “The Four ‘O’ Clock Parade” ceremony (there’s no shortage of parades in London). We made it just in time to squeeze into a spot with a partially unobstructed view. Showtime! 

Also called the “Dismounting Ceremony” and “Punishment Parade”, this ritual takes place at 4 pm, or 16:00 hours, in the courtyard in front of the “Horse Guards” building facing Whitehall road in the City of Westminster.

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BAFTA iconic London home at 195 Piccadilly in the heart of London's West End and Soho neighborhood
...on the way to St. James Park
… on the way to St. James Park, this medieval era building on Marlborough Road is St James's Palace, the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, although no longer the principal residence of the monarch, it is the ceremonial meeting place of the Accession Council and the London residence of several minor members of the royal family.
... turning onto Marlborough Road headed for St. James Palace
section of the medieval St. James Place manor
Burlington House is located in Mayfair, London, the city’s affluent West End originally a private mansion owned by the Earl of Burlington it was purchased and expanded by the British government in the mid-19th century Today it houses art exhibitions from the Royal Academy, which is housed in the north end of the main building - with the other 4 sides occupied by the 5 learned societies together called “Courtyard Societies”
Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom
Buckingham Palace landscapes
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park info
people head towards "Horse Guards” courtyard entryway for “The Four 'O' Clock Parade”
one of several entrances into St. James Park
heading towards Buckingham Palace
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park Lake
heading towards "Horse Guards” building
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The London Trip – Arrival Day: our tiny flat

The London Trip

our tiny flat

Literally sandwiched between two sides of an “Award Winning Gay Bar” called KU, we finally found our shoebox apartment in the bustling, smoke-filled Chinatown part of Covent Garden, London.

I say finally as it took us quite a while to find our hidden dwelling – even the bartender from downstairs didn’t know that #28 Lisle Street was the doorway next to theirs.

After climbing 4 floors up the quaint, narrow stairwell – which incidentally felt more like 6, if you count the windy turns and extra stair sets along the way – with our travel trunks in tow, we entered and collapsed.

But we were finally here – and that’s all that mattered!

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just around the corner, towards Piccadilly Circus
from rooftop window of our London flat
dining table accents
Piccadilly Circus, a few minute walk from our flat
KU Bar, just outside our doorstep
Kitchen
Buddha next to rooftop window
kitchen plant... the one and only
Piccadilly Circus shops
mini dining table
living table with deco accents
… from our rooftop window
Bathroom
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I was there! The world of Balanchine, Robbins, Tudor, De Mille, et al… in 1940’s NY

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I was there!

The world of Balanchine, Robbins, Tudor, De Mille, et al... in 1940’s NY

“… one day Mr. Balanchine came in to watch class, and after class he asked me if I’d like to be in his show “Song of Norway”, which he had choreographed on Broadway.”

— Barbara Cole Folsom

This is the company that Barbara kept during her time in 1940’s and 50’s NY.  

The legendary faces in the photo above, seated on the bench from left to right are: Maria Tallchief, George Balanchine, Tanaquil Le Clercq.  Around the piano, clockwise from left are: Melissa Hayden, Frederick Ashton, Diana Adams, Janet Reed, Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, Nora Kaye.

The photo was taken February 1952

When I watched the American Ballet Theatre documentary chronicling its 75-year history with rare historical footage from its early days in the 1940’s, who knew that some 7 months later I would meet a ballet dancer from that actual time!

This was back in March, when my business partner Lana found out that a neighbour was acquainted with a 91 year-old ballerina living practically next door.  Naturally, I flipped!

The neighbor mentioned something about the ballerina being from New York – an even more exciting piece of news, since NY is an epicenter of the ballet world.  For me, this translated into an increased likelihood of the dancer having had a serious background — and a great story for us!

our note to the ballerina

It turns out the two ladies took a dance class at the local Y that involved Zumba mixed in with a bit of tough love from their instructor, who reportedly hurries the students to take their water breaks without a moment’s waste, immediately returning them to the dance floor… this I heard later on.

So of course, Lana, asked our neighbour to connect us somehow, to find out if this lady would be interested in meeting with us.

Our neighbour returned with instruction asking us to write a note to our person of interest in the way of an introduction, which she would then pass on to the ballerina, whose name we still didn’t know.

We obliged, the neighbour passed our note on and came back with the verdict: her classmate loved it and was enthused to meet. Finally someone wanted to see her, and not her husband, a 98-year old WWII pilot veteran who gets all the attention in their family… “not many of these left, ”she later affectionately admitted referring to him.

Barbara, whose name we finally learned through her phone call to Lana, set up a meeting with us for Friday, March 22nd at her place… just several miles from us in Santa Monica.

The day finally came and this is how our conversation went…

our commemorative parking pass from that day at Barbara’s place

Pack your bags for New York

We did the customary meet and greet and engaged in a bit of repartee about Barbara’s adventures accompanying her husband in his post as military attaché at the height of the cold war – definite spy novel material! – but this would have to wait.  We were there for one reason, and one reason only… which Barbara’s endearing husband well understood.  So after our initial exchange, Barbara began to recount the unforgettable moments in her remarkable journey:

Flyer from Balanchine’s school, which he established in 1934, together with his patron, the distinguished dance scholar Lincoln Kirstein

… when I graduated from high school, I packed my little bag, I went to New York the next day and went to the School of American Ballet… started by George Balanchine.

… one day Mr. Balanchine came in to watch class, and after class he asked me if I’d like to be in his show Song of Norway, which he had choreographed on Broadway.

So I said: “Well, Mr. Balanchine I really want to be in a ballet company, I didn’t think about Broadway.” — where did I have the nerve to say that!”  Barbara bashfully remembers.

Balanchine said: “It’s good experience!  You do my show, maybe later ballet company.”

Balanchine teaching some of his first notable dancers at the School of American Ballet (circa early 1940’s); photo credit Time Life Pictures /Getty Images

A little before Barbara’s arrival, the studio photo here shows Balanchine teaching class at his School of American Ballet (SAB) in the early 1940’s. The dancers from back to front are: Anne Barlow, Marie-Jeanne (Balanchine’s famous ballerina of the 1940’s), Georgia Hiden, Jane Ward, June Horvath, Kathryn Lee, and Mary Ellen Moylan, called the first great Balanchine dancer” by Balanchine’s star ballerina and former wife Maria Tallchief.

Balanchine working with Mary Ellen Moylan; photo by Hans Knopf from Jacob’s Pillow Archives (1942)

'Lucky"

Encouraged by her mom who more than anything wanted to be a classical dancer herself, but was not physically cut out for it, Barbara started ballet early on receiving her training at the Washington School of Ballet.

Barbara holds a photo of herself strking a pose on the Queen Mary, with Alicia Alonso in the background (right)

“I was fortunate that I had good training through childhood…” Barbara recalls. And it’s no wonder, as her teacher in Washington had been a Russian-trained dancer who actually toured with the Anna Pavlova Company.

Between her schooling in Washington and the final period of prep at Balanchine’s school in NY, Barbara had accumulated a good dose of Russian methodology and Vaganova instruction under her belt, enough to outshine her competitive peers and soon grab the attention of Balanchine, de Mille, Tudor and more!

… though Barbara frequently repeats in the conversation that she was ‘lucky’.

There’s certainly a measure of disbelieving innocence that comes through Barb when she recalls her fortuitously wild ride, but perhaps there’s also a dose of truth to this ‘lucky’ business, owing to the opportune showbiz era of 1940’s & ‘50’s NY and LA.  Barbara herself attests to this when talking about her departure from Song of Norway, where her shoes were eagerly filled with the likes of Mitzi Gaynor – box-office star of hits including South Pacific and There’s No Business Like Show Business.

“I don’t know why I was so lucky, but I certainly was, it wouldn’t happen now…” she told us.

Antony Tudor

Before taking off for her next venture, Barbara accepted Balanchine’s offer and went on to perform in Song of Norway.  In the meantime, like any other professional ballet dancer, she continued her lifelong classes.  One class she took was with the legendary English choreographer Antony Tudor.

Tudor is known for his psychological ballets pushing dancers to strip the ego and move beyond the boundaries of one’s own personality, thus allowing the dancer to enter and vividly reveal the world of the character they are portraying.

As celeb ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov put it:  “We do Tudor’s ballets because we must. Tudor’s work is our conscience.”

Antony Tudor
the famous Gelsey Kirkland and Jonas Kage performing a pas de deux in Tudor’s ballet “The Leaves are Fading"; photo by Martha Swope (c. 1975)

So after class he [Tudor] came up to me and said: “How would you like to be in Ballet Theatre, this company that just started?”  And I said, “ It sounds wonderful, I’d love it.”   So I packed my bag and went off on tour with Ballet Theatre. That was in 1946.

“Oh, I missed one step!” Barbara tells us. No big deal – it’s only her experience with Agnes de Mille!

Agnes de Mille

Agnes de Mille in 1954; photo credit: Everett

It turns out that during her stint in Song of Norway, Barbara took a several week course with the celebrated American choreographer, who took notice of young Barb and offered her a spot in her most famous musical:

… I took a course that Agnes de Mille, the Broadway choreographer, was doing at a school in New York… and after the final class she called me over and she said “how would you like to be in Oklahoma, my Broadway show?

And I said: “Sounds like fun, but I’m already in a show, I’m in Song of Norway.”

Barbara tells us that de Mille wasted no time in instructing her new found talent on leaving Balanchine’s production and joining her own:

She [de Mille] said:  “You take your two weeks, the union rules that you have to have two weeks notice to leave the show, and you come and watch, and we teach you what you would do in Oklahoma.”

But the Broadway dame showed Barbara the other side of a ruthless business when the young dancer decided to take leave of Oklahoma for her next big opportunity:

… after about three months, that’s when Antony Tudor asked me to go into [American] Ballet Theatre. So I gave in my notice to Oklahoma and de Mille was furious, she was just livid, she said: “I’ll tell you when you’re ready to leave the show!!”

And I thought, how cruel, and being only 18 I just quivered, it was awful.

Of course there’s much more to De Mille than that!

in character... Agnes George de Mille

Born in NY, into a family tree whose members were visibly accomplished writers, directors and producers in early film and theatre, as well as activists in the economic sphere, Agnes George de Mille compiles within herself a unique portrait embracing all these traits.

In her early life, Agnes moved to LA where her playwright father sought to launch his career following in the footsteps of his successful brother, filmmaker Cecil B. de Mille.

Agnes De Mille in a photo by Nickolas Muray (circa 1928)

Discouraged from her dream of becoming an actress on account of her looks, and not allowed to pursue dancing seriously as it was still considered a “pastime” in the early decades of 1900, Agnes resorted to studying film stars on the set with her dad, an occupation which she found interesting and one which served as her immersion into character study.

After graduating college with a degree in English, Agnes moved back to NY with her mother and sister, where she would begin her long and arduous pursuit of a career in dance and theatre.  Lacking the natural endowment attributed to a classical dancer, de Mille was driven to use her talent to create stories and character roles performing them in solo recitals, which were well received in the professional arena.  

But Agnes’ projects were not moneymakers, and the young innovator sought another route towards destiny, travelling to London with her mother, where her potential was noticed and encouraged by Marie Rambert at whose establishment de Mille would study for the next five years.

Now acquiring sufficient professional skill as a dancer and continuing her staging work, de Mille’s next chapter would bring her back to NY where she would combine her dance and writing acumen in her travels across the US and Europe as a performer and emerging choreographer who staged her first works with Ballet Rambert*, and later with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.

Over the course of her lifetime, Agnes de Mille developed an award-winning scope of work that spanned from ballet to theatre, musicals, films and even literature, with a distinct style of movement integrating modern and folk, and a daring flair for the dramatic, in a genre that was predominantly ‘good ole’ American storytelling.  De mille went on to carve out a niche of her very own as a 20th century artistic and cultural icon.  

*Incidentally, Ballet Rambert, today simply “Rambert”, is named after Marie Rambert, a dancer with the original Ballets Russes who was always tenderly remembered as a great teacher by her famous student, Audrey Hepburn.

This eventful period in Barbara’s life was also a memorable time for the entire country, as she herself told us:

… that summer I can remember the final day of the war trying to get home up Broadway, and it was just packed.  The whole of Times Square was packed with people, and everybody was grabbing and kissing and I just wanted to get home and to bed… it was a wonderful time for the country.

Presumably Barbara is talking about the very same day that this infamous WWII Victory picture was taken in Times Square.

Aug. 14, 1945, known as “V-J Day in Times Square” and more commonly called “The Kiss,” this image was published two weeks later in Life magazine; photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Ballet Theatre

Barbara accepted Tudor’s invitation and in 1946 traveled to England with her new family at Ballet Theatre for their international debut at Covent Garden:

… we went to England, we were the first American company that had been there at the end of the war – and it was just wonderful… We performed at Covent Garden Opera House and walked through the garden, the market to get to the Opera House and heard all the funny accents: ‘hello love…’

snapshot from ABT's history timeline commemorating the company's 75th Anniversary
The beginnings of American Ballet Theatre… clipping of a 1940 newspaper ad with ticket prices from 55 cents to $2.20. Choreographers include DeMille, Tudor... dancers include Chase, Laing, Lyon, Tudor, Romanoff…

Barbara proceeded to tell us that the repertoire brought over to England by the original American Ballet Theatre included classics like Swan Lake and Les Sylphides, and that the company did what they called a ‘ham and eggs’ program while touring:

We’d have the costumes ready, the music ready for the orchestra, and you would do Les Sylphides to start, and there would be a sort of comic ballet like Fancy Free, or light things.  And then we’d end up with a big rousing group like Petrushka…

But it turns out that touring is also where some of Barbara’s not so good memories reside:

… we travelled by train and sometimes the train schedule would be:

you’d leave late at night and you would arrive at the theatre the next afternoon, go right to the theatre, warm up, do some rehearsing wherever you could space it on the stage, and then do the performance, and then go back to the hotel and collapse.

It was not for me, I couldn’t stand it.  So I did it for 2 years, and then I decided that I would rather go back to Broadway.

Back to Broadway

As luck, or perhaps fate would have it, Barbara next hooked up with the historic dance figure Ruth Page, to perform in her Broadway show Music in My Heart, a tribute to the life of the Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

It turns out that Ruth Page and Barbara’s teacher in Washington knew each other because the two had been together in the company of none other than the legendary Anna Pavlova. “That’s real history!” as Barbara put it.

American dancer and choreographer Ruth Page as Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”, one of three Shakespearean characters she adapted for dance during this time (c. 1939)
Ruth Page and Harald Kreutzberg in Bacchanale, photo by Maurice Seymour (Chicago, c. 1934)
Ruth Page as Lady Macbeth in her choreographed adaptation of “MacBeth” (c. 1939)

After ABT… I did a show called Music in My Heart and it was choreographed by Ruth Page.

Ruth Page had her own company in Chicago, and she was asked to choreograph this show…  I understudied the lead dancer, and there was a little song that went with it, it was fun…

… the understudy part opened up because the woman who did it, Dorothy Etheridge, had been in… she was Ballet Russe, and she left to go back to Ballet Russe and I got the part to study, so that was lucky for me, again lucky… that I got to do that.

SIDEBAR

A word on Anna Pavlova.

After a short run with the Ballets Russes, the unrivaled prima of the Imperial Russian Ballet proceeded to form her own company, which toured the world with a repertoire based on the works of Russia’s luminary choreographer Marius Petipa, as well as arrangements commissioned especially for Pavlova herself.

“a very enterprising and daring act. She toured on her own… for twenty years until her death. She traveled everywhere in the world that travel was possible, and introduced the ballet to millions who had never seen any form of Western dancing.”

— Quote from Agnes de Mille, The Book of the Dance (1963)

James Starbuck, Sid Caesar and early Television

Barbara’s next opportunity came knocking without delay, when her former dance partner James Starbuck was asked to choreograph for a television variety show called Admiral Broadway Revue and called on Barbara to be in a talent group he was putting together.

Starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, the 1949 series ran for just 6 months serving as the predecessor to the small screen hit Your Show of Shows which debuted on NBC early the next year.

But it’s much more interesting to hear it in Barbara’s own words:

… it (Music in My Heart) probably occupied a year of my life. 

… then after it closed, the young man who had been my partner, James Starbuck, had the new choreography in the summers at a place called Lake Tamiment [a resort in the Pocono Mountains]…

They wanted 3 men, 3 women to dance and be in comedy sketches.  So he called me and came over to the apartment and I had quickly pressed a dress and got myself all dressed up to meet the director/ producer…

1949 Playbill Program Advertising TV Admiral Broadway Revue
James Starbuck rehearsing choreography with ballet’s grand Dame Alicia Markova for “Your Show of Shows” (1953)
Imogene Coca

Here’s Barbara’s recollection of her time working with the great talent Imogene Coca:

… we did a show called Admiral Broadway Revue. And that was for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca who was a very funny lady… she had danced in her youth and she did parodies of the swan, Swan Lake, they put her on wires and she would fly overhead, and she did the exact choreography, but just made it look so clumsy… she was wonderful!

And so until the show lost its sponsor, Admiral appliance company, it was another great year with another great gig in Barbara’s action-packed life:

… I loved it! (laughs)  … that was my introduction to television… I did a lot of television shows and early tests for color TV, you know, originally it was all black and white…

“Then I went to Europe for a while…“ Barbara starts to tell us, but her stream of thought is interrupted and we may have lost a precious piece of biographical data … maybe we’ll revisit that one!

Washington Ballet... the beginnings

“I was in New York for 5 years before I went back to Washington…” which is where Barbara was asked to teach at her alma mater, The Washington School of Ballet.

… I taught for them for a couple of years… the company wasn’t union then… it was still sort of like an amateur company, but with some very talented dancers, and then they started getting funding and they had the union come in and set up their part.

Program cover page for the Washington Ballet’s inaugural Nutcracker in 1961; image from The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Another interesting tidbit from an insider into the very beginnings of the now formidable Washington Ballet Company, which as their own webpage says: “…grew out of the success of The Washington School of Ballet…”

And again, Barbara was there!

Washington had no theatre at that time… well one.  It was called the National Theatre, and it had a fairly small stage because it was for plays, not for ballet… the stage was just too small.  So they performed in a hall, in Constitution Hall which was built for the DAR.

Do you know what the DAR is?  They’re a bunch of old ladies who remember the Civil War…

And this is where Barbara’s husband who has been patiently sitting with us the whole time and waiting for his moment, animatedly chimes in:  “Daughters of the American Revolution!”

DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC opened in 1929, built to host the annual DAR convention

Another parameter of Washington Ballet’s early performance venue, as Barbara reveals is:

“They couldn’t have scenery, so whenever I saw a ballet, you’d have to use your imagination.”

Washington Ballet founder Mary Day; photo from The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

For all of us who are building an idea from the ground up, it’s comforting to know that all the biggies had to start somewhere!

And speaking of starting out, here’s some encouragement about the power of your vision from The Washington Ballet, talking about their founder, Mary Day:

The School opened in 1944 and the Company was established in 1976 with Ms. Day’s singular vision clearly illuminated:

create a stellar institution of teaching, creating, and enlightenment through dance.

Barbara’s life remained busy and anything but boring.  Along with her teaching, she performed at a theatre just opening in the DC area:

… there was a theatre there opening called… Arena Stage, a theatre in the round, the audience would be all around you and would perform in the middle, so I was acting all the ingénue roles, the sweet little girls that never get the man.

On top of her performing and teaching schedule, Barbara would go down to the local air base to give ballet lessons to the otherwise idle children only too eager to engage in this activity.

… once a week I would go down to Patuxent Naval Air Station… where the children have nothing to do, so I’d make a fortune, every little girl on the air station wanted to take ballet classes, so they’d come over…

This is what Barbara’s husband, Sam Folsom, must have looked like around the time they met. Sam Folsom is one of the last living WWII Marine fighter pilots. (circa 1940’s)

This is also the part where Barbara meets the man in her life:

… and Mr. Folsom, Kernel Folsom, well no you were Major then [Barbara turns to confer with her husband, Sam].  He was producing a show for the March of Dimes for charity, and somebody told him that the ballet teacher might be willing to dance in his show. So he came over and saw me collecting all this money from all these little girls, and that was it, that did it.  Love at first sight.

Before moving onto the highlight of our get together – an impressive, weathered scrapbook with tattered edges, waiting to tell us stories torn right from the pages of glorious dance history…

…before we moved onto this magnificent object just waiting to divulge what it had inside, we got an additional archival treat.  Another article in the room was also asking for our attention – an impressive looking, large, gold covered book.

Barbara shows us the American Ballet Theater Coffee Table Book (a gift from her husband) with herself on the inside cover, standing right

It was the 1970s American Ballet Theater Coffee Table Book with photos by Cecil Beaton. Barbara proudly took it in her hands and opened it up.  There she was, young Barb in costume right on the inside cover!

“That was taken in London by Cecil Beaton… That’s me, and that’s my roommate Francis Rainer…” Barbara pointed to photos in the spread.

And now onto the centerpiece of our discussion: the scrapbook. A compilation of Barbara’s Broadway and Ballet Theatre “memorabilia” as she calls it.

The Scrapbook

We situated ourselves around the book and Barbara started leafing through it.

We start off with the Song of Norway booklet showing the original cast members of the Balanchine production:

“There’s no picture of me in the book because I went in after…” Barbara explains.

Ballet Theatre’s annual production booklet with a page on Balanchine and his works including “Song of Norway”

Barbara shows us production booklet covers from “Song of Norway”

The original Song of Norway was Ballet Russe, all the dancers he used were people taken from Ballet Russe. And when they had to leave to go on tour, that was when I got in.

… All these girls were Ballet Russe: Sonja Tyven, Mary Ellen Wallace (Moylan?), Pauline Goddard – and she didn’t go back to Ballet Russe, she left and did more Broadway shows.. and we were in another… TV show, she was one of the three of us…

In my research on the “girls” names that Barbara calls off, I came across a historic photo that former Ballets Russe dancer Pauline Goddard shared in an interview several years back, showing Balanchine with herself (Pauline Goddard) on right, Maria Tallchief in center; Mary Ellen Moylan Hanks behind Pauline. I’ve since found a better version of this same photo in a blog by The George Balanchine Foundation, featured here. 

historic photo showing Balanchine with Barbara’s one-time pal, former Ballets Russe dancer Pauline Goddard on right; Maria Tallchief in center; Mary Ellen Moylan Hanks behind Pauline

Moving on to Oklahoma! Barbara tells us:

“…my future roommate Frances Rainer was also in Oklahoma, so we went into Ballet Theatre together and roomed together.”

Below, Barbara points to her name in the 1946 cast of Oklahoma!  The images also show write-ups following Barbara’s career from various news sources including the Washington Post, dated April 6, 1946.

Production booklet with photos of Oklahoma! playwright, scenic & costume designers on left side opposite cast members on right
Barbara points to her name in the 1946 cast of Oklahoma
Oklahoma Playbill cover surrounded by newspaper clippings on Barbara “Babbie” Cole

Next Barbara walks us through a series of newspaper clippings:

Now here we were arriving in London and these are historic names in ballet…

That’s Melissa Hayden (born Mildred Herman) who was corps de ballet back then.

Ricki (Enrica) Soma married John Huston eventually, the movie director… she was a beautiful girl, looked very much like the Mona Lisa painting…

All these are all ABT… there I am.  And we arrived in London…

The top right corner photo captioned “Meeting the English Press” shows Barbara (far left) among a notable group of Ballet Theatre dancers performing in London in August of 1946. The article is titled “Ballet Theatre in London”, dated September 1946
Barbara’s colleagues: ABT company artists including Enrica Soma, Ruth Ann Koesun and Erik Bruhn in a production booklet from Barbara’s scrapbook
Chicago-born ABT dancer of Chinese-Russian descent, noted for her classic grace, Ruth Ann Koesun had a remarkable career including a White House performance in “Billy the Kid” for President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in 1962, and was featured on the cover of a 1947 Life Magazine alongside Melissa Hayden (Koesun in profile)

Melissa Hayden

After her time with American Ballet Theatre from 1945 to 1947, Melissa Hayden, the Canadian born daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, danced with the New York City Ballet for over 3 decades, almost 2 of those decades as Prima ballerina
Melissa Hayden

Enrica "Ricki" Soma

American Ballet Theatre dancer Enrica "Ricki" Soma
Ballet dancer Enrica "Ricki" Soma in a 1946 photo by Philippe Halsman; Soma was the 4th wife of film director John Huston and mother of actress Anjelica Huston

Michael Kidd

… when I said there were choreographers who were still dancing [at Ballet Theatre], I didn’t mention Michael Kidd … Michael Kidd did the choreography for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers… a lot of other musicals too… choreographing and dancing.

Michael Kidd in the Ballet Theatre production booklet from Barbara’s scrapbook
Michael Kidd talking with Fred Astaire during filming of subway scene in The Band Wagon (1953)

Barbara was certainly in the right time and place with Ballet Theatre, which turned out to be a talent goldmine where a fair number of future dance, theatre and film icons got their start. Michael Kidd, who happened to be at Ballet Theatre from 1942 to 1947 is a case in point.

The talented “kidd” from Brooklyn who started off with the name Milton Greenwald, was born in 1915 to Russian immigrants who had fled the falling Russian Empire on the brink of revolution.

Kidd’’s inclination for dance came through in school, though he would diverge from his path with several years of college in chemical engineering, which perhaps mainly served to spur his appetite for his number one choice.  Either way, Kidd could not be held back from his calling and joined the School of American Ballet as a scholarship student in 1937. 

The student quickly became the dancer, performing with American Ballet and associated companies.

Michael Kidd’s signature ability to artistically mimic personality styles and mannerisms turning them into choreography, seamlessly woven into the fabric of a story, was impossible to miss from the get-go.  His opportunity to do his thing came at Ballet Theatre in 1945 with his first production On Stage! about a stagehand who falls in love with a dancer.

This was followed by his rapid ascension to the heights of Broadway with Hollywood less than a step behind, and the rest is history for the 5-time Tony Award winner who cast his fellow company member Barbara in his premiere ballet.

Michael Kidd in choreography mode

Barbara reminiscently points to photos in her scrapbook article naming off her peers in the Ballet Theatre company aboard the Queen Mary in September of 1946:

Here we are on the Queen Mary… going over to London… that’s me and this is Alicia Alonso, she was the Cuban ballerina… And that’s John Kriza…

Barbara's famous Ballet Theatre colleagues aboard the Queen Mary

John Kriza

Berwyn, Ill.native John Kriza was a vibrant, engaging principal dancer representing Ballet Theatre for over 2 decades from its very start in 1940, a key figure in introducing ballet to the American audience
Jerome Robbins, John Kriza, Michael Kidd, Janet Reed, and Muriel Bentley in Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free (ABT, 1944)
Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina Assoluta, Choreographer

Alicia Alonso

Alicia Alonso, who is distinguished with the title prima ballerina assoluta – a rare merit reserved for only the most exceptional dancers – is an artist whose inspiration extended into the sphere of culture and politics, affecting the ideals of both her own country and the world.  Arguably her greatest gift is her living legacy, the Cuban National Ballet, (aka Ballet Nacional de Cuba) founded in 1948, along with its associate educational institution, the prestigious Cuban National Ballet School, (established in 1950).

Born in Havana, Alonso began her formal ballet education with the Russian-born ballet teacher and Cuban choreographer Nikolai Yavorsky at the Pro-Arte Musical Society in Havana (Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical) in 1931, the same year that Yavorsky was invited to direct the dance school established by the Society.  Around 1937, Alicia moved to NYC with her fellow ballet-student husband, where she continued to study at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, associated with the New York City Ballet.

Afflicted with a serious eye condition, Alicia underwent a series of surgeries, forcing her to be bedridden for extensive periods of time, with instruction not to move or even laugh – lest it may affect the healing process of the eye. During this time, with the continuous devotion of her husband, Alicia continued to study dance on a daily basis, teaching herself great classical ballet roles including Giselle using just her fingers.

The surgeries proved unsuccessful and Alicia was left partially blind, but unstoppable.  Adjusting her technique and partner skills to work with her, she continued to perform at an optimal level, as a top-notch artist for years to come.

I danced in my mind,” is her famous quote and a testament to the conviction of the true dancer in us, no matter the journey.

Alicia Alonso shows her spirit in her famous ballet role Carmen; original photo from ICAIC
Alicia Alonso in flight performing Giselle, one of her best-known roles

“Did you meet Jerome Robbins?” we ask.

“Oh sure, we were all in the company together…” Barbara informs us:

… in fact, not many people would warm up before the performance, and I just felt I had to, I didn’t want to hurt myself.  So I would warm up holding onto the piano, and he [Jerome Robbins] would warm up holding onto something else. The two of us… claim to fame.

Barbara's warm-up buddy at Ballet Theatre
Jerome Robbins immersed in imaginative focus (circa early 1940’s)

Jerome Robbins

Barbara’s warm-up buddy went on to create legendary works on Broadway known by audiences far and wide, including the big hits West Side Story, The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof.

Born in Manhattan, Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz, whose surname would later change to Robbins, came into a family of Russian-Jewish origin with ties to vaudeville and theatre showbiz society.

In high school, Robbins studied modern dance with a teacher who encouraged improvising steps to music, inspiring a play of imagination and a feeling of freedom to tell stories through movement in the young Jerome.  

In addition to modern, Robbins studied various forms of dance including folk, Spanish and Asian as well as classical ballet with a member of the Pavlova Ballet Company, Ella Daganova, known for her thoroughness in training.  Robbins’ dance education also included the learning of dance composition and performing with the Yiddish Art Theater.

Working with the artforms of classical ballet and modern dance through the media of stage, film and television, Jerome Robbins reached iconic status as an American choreographer, director and theatre producer.

Recipient of five Tony Awards, two Academy Awards for directing and a Kennedy Center Honoree, Jerome Robbins is not only a name in history, but a great example of how our impressionable childhood imagination is fostered by our exposure to the richness of arts and culture, and our potentials are shaped through the opportunities afforded by our environment.

We move onto the next series of photos of a less known ballet about which Barbara educates us:

Les Patineurs we did, that’s the ballet about the skaters and they [Ballet Theatre] put it together, cast it, in London because it was choreographed by [Frederick] Ashton, the British choreographer — and they chose me to be in it!

Of course we ask Barbara if she ever saw the famous maestro. “Once, he came in to approve the casting, but then he turned it over to an assistant,” she tells us.

Barbara shows us Les Patineurs ballet scenery image

I point to a waify illustration that catches my eye.  Barbara tells me: “I think it’s a costume sketch… “ and without losing a moment’s focus continues on with her Ashton ballet:

… here is Patineurs… this was my costume, they did it from the back with the little pillbox hat… Les Patineurs… and they put down a white ground cloth for it and pulled it really tight so we didn’t trip.

waify image in Les Patineurs section of Barbara's scrapbook
Barbara shows us her Les Patineurs costume with pillbox hat

SIDEBAR

The composition of Frederick Ashton.

Sir Frederick Ashton in a photo by Jane Bown (1970)

Though Ashton’s choreography expresses a spectrum of styles, from classical to dramatic to abstract, his connection with the Ballets Russes, through its former members including Bronislava Nijinska and Marie Rambert, has a deep influence in the formation and foundation of the man’s work. 

Perhaps the first and foremost influencer of this great British choreographer is Anna Pavlova, a legend in a stratosphere all her own, through whom he deeply fell in love with ballet upon seeing her perform when he was a 13 year old boy.

It is said that Pavlova “… inspired Ashton’s undying love of classical technique, and…all … that accompanies ballet: its airs and graces, its manners and mannerisms…”  as noted by Sanjoy Roy of The Guardian.

The second figure of notable impression on the art of Ashton is Bronislava Nijinska, the Polish-born, St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre trained dancer who performed with, and later choreographed for the Ballets Russes… and yes, sister of the famous Vaslav Nijinsky.

Hailed as an important 20th century choreographer, Nijinska is credited with introducing a more simple, modern aesthetic to the previously fancier, decorative variations in staging classical ballets.

Her specific sphere of influence on Ashton’s style appears to be her emphasis in using the upper body (the articulation of the head, shoulders, arms and hands, as writer Sanjoy Roy put it) to tell a story with less weight on emphasizing the legs as the primary mode of expression.

Interestingly enough, Bronislava Nijinska took her last breath just a few miles from where Barbara and I live now, at her home in Pacific Palisades, CA, albeit be it 1972. It turns out the international dance leader had been a Los Angeles resident for over 3 decades, moving and opening her own school out here in 1941.

Anna Pavlova with pet swan Jack (1927)
Bronislava Nijinska, circa 1930's

The third significant influence in Frederick Ashton’s life is Isadora Duncan, the American born, free-spirited pioneer of a dance, whose value lay in natural movement over classical technique, and whose mind was a fountain overflowing with imagination through movement.

Duncan, whose deep-rooted mission was “the creation of beauty and the education of the young” infused Ashton’s innovative aspect with a spark for the element of simplicity and honesty in speaking through the dance.

These intelligences came to form central components in the identity formation of Sir Frederick Ashton.

Isadora Duncan, early 1900's

Barbara spouts off more names… 

Nora Kaye… there’s Alonso and Hugh LaingIgor Youskevitch and his wife… a dancer, teacher.

Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch in photo opp for Swan Lake at Ballet Theatre (circa late 1940’s); photo by Maurice Seymour
American prima-ballerina Nora Kaye with principal Hugh Laing, two of the most significant dramatic ballet dancers of the 20th century, in (likely) Antony Tudor’s version of Romeo and Juliet at Ballet Theatre in NYC (c.1947)

Lucia Chase & Mikhail Mordkin

We continue to flip through [American] Ballet Theatre’s annual production booklet with Barbara’s nonchalant commentary…

This was the director of the company, Lucia Chase, and she had lots of money… she was a wonderful actor dancer.

Johnny Kriza who was just so charming.

There’s Michael Kidd [dancer there too], he did a ballet called “On Stage” and put me in it – I was so happy. We all had things to say.

Ballet Theatre [today known as American Ballet Theatre] co-founder Lucia Chase

Frankly, Lucia Chase can be credited with midwifing ballet into American society.

In fact, Chase not only brought ballet to America, she empowered the artform globally by facilitating a cultural exchange and integration of talent between the US, United Kingdom and Russia.  

Her efforts – or perhaps more accurately, passion – to advance ballet and thus advance the cultural wealth of our country and as well as broaden our horizons through artistic collaboration in the international arena have been honored through multiple platforms including magazine awards, honorary degrees from universities across the country, invitation to join distinguished organizations abroad, the city of New York itself, and even a Medal of Freedom from the US President in 1980.

What is perhaps less known is that her great teacher and influencer was the one-time Bolshoi ballet master and partner of Anna Pavlova, Mikhail Mordkin. Mordkin’s approach to ballet was perfectly aligned with Lucia’s love for acting, as he saw the art from the perspective of entering and playing out the character being danced.

Mordkin was also instrumental in encouraging Lucia to use ballet as a tool in working through her family loss and propelling her focus from personal grief to life purpose.

Another mighty figure from the annals of ballet history, Mordkin who formed his own company in the US with his American students including Lucia Chase, is credited with helping to “build the foundation for ballet in America”.  By all accounts, the seed of Mordkin was successfully planted in Lucia who may be said to have carried out his mission on a grand scale.

Anna Pavlova and Michael Mordkin performing the Russian Dance by Foulsham & Banfield, published by Rotary Photographic Co. (1909)
Michael Mordkin, from The Rucker Archive (c. early 1900s)

Balanchine’s Waltz Academy

Barbara points to several photos with impressive scenery. They are shots of Balanchine’s Waltz Academy, a production he did for Ballet Theatre, which Barbara “… did get to do… that’s me right there,” she proudly shows us.

“… all these pictures are ballets that had different choreographers,” Barbara explains. “That’s Robbins, Balanchine… Les Sylphides…“

George Balanchine’s Waltz Academy in Ballet Theatre’s production booklet (bottom half) with Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free on top
close-up of performers in Waltz Academy

“Diana Adams switched to New York City ballet, became a principal dancer with them,” Barbara tells us.

Diana Adams with Arthur Mitchell in George Balanchine's Agon in photo by Martha Swope from Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library (c.1957)
New York City Ballet rehearsal of "Agon" with Diana Adams and cultural phenom Arthur Mitchell, choreographed by George Balanchine; photo by Martha Swope (1957)
George Balanchine and the legendary composer Igor Stravinsky rehearse Agon in a photo by Martha Swope/ TimePix (1957)

Diana Adams & Agon

A principal with Ballet Theatre and subsequently New York City Ballet, Diana is recognized for her exceptional aptitude and versatility in both dramatic and abstract ballet genres. A favorite dancer of George Balanchine, Adams was appointed by the unflinching mastermind to teach at his School of American Ballet, whilst still a member of the company, a school where later on Diana would become dean, also at Mr. B’s behest.

One of Diana Adams’ most technically and psychologically demanding roles was Balanchine’s Agon set to the music of Stravinsky. 

A ballet whose name stems from the ancient Greek word for struggle or competition, Agon still remains an enigmatic study to both audiences and dance scholars. The most obvious clue to understanding this Balanchine work is its ever-presently loud dynamic of oppositional forces at play in every aspect of its expression, including the ultimately stark juxtaposition of a black male and white female in the lead roles.

It’s almost as if this echoes back to the very core of Balanchine’s own nature – expressing an unapologetic, even merciless severity, intensity and passion defining every aspect of his work and character.

If we go a step further, perhaps it’s not a long shot for this seminal work to represent the underlying essence of Mr. B – a vessel with a divine spark forced to re-create often tormenting ‘themes & variations’ of a dualistic world where yin and yang are always at war.

Now this guy became a big Hollywood dancer, Tommy Rall, he was … in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers… we just saw him in Kiss Me Kate, the old movie version.

And he became a Broadway choreographer, Don Saddler, every year he would do the Tony’s show…

Tommy Rall and Ann Miller in Kiss Me Kate
Donald Saddler (standing) with actor Robert Morse in 1973; photo by Neal Boenzi of The New York Times
Barbara leafs through her scrapbook to show us a page on Tommy Rall and Donald Saddler

Donald Saddler

A dancer with the original American Ballet Theatre, where he made life-long friendships with the likes of Jerome Robbins and “Fiddler on the Roof” star Maria Karnilova, Saddler went on to choreograph a number of notable ballet, stage and film productions including the Tony Award broadcasts.

Donald had an uncanny ability to tell a period story: “I do new research for every show because I believe you must recreate a period with respect and love,” The New York Times quotes him… “Each show is like taking a journey to another time and place.”

His talent for transforming the dance arts into a vehicle of time-travel, was recognized with several Tony Awards.

Saddler’s life in dance started with his attempt to regain strength after a bout with scarlet fever, after which there was no turning back. “I only knew who I was when I was dancing.”  he reportedly told The New York Times years later.

We have to wrap up somewhere, and we end our afternoon with Barbara’s account of André Eglevsky, at whose ballet school she taught in New York … at a later point in her life.

…got back to New York and I taught for André Eglevsky, do you remember that name?  He and Youskevitch were the big macho male ballet dancers from that era… Andre was not a very good teacher but he was a good example… take a preparation and do about 10 pirouettes without any effort… look and try to analyze how he did it, incredible – big, strong man.

Andre Eglevsky in a photo by Carl Van Vechten (1944); image from Marquette University Archives
Andre Eglevsky with Maria Tallchief, Diana Adams, and Tanaquil LeClerq (left to right) at New York City Ballet (circa 1950’s)

André Eglevsky

Born in Moscow, the soon to be ballet prodigy moved to France early on with his mother, fleeing the revolution of his country, and as is often times the case with other ballet dancers, his entrée into this exclusive world was in part prompted by Andre’s need to recover and strengthen his system after his ordeal as a young boy.

In Nice, Eglevsky studied with a group of formidable Russian teachers, several of whom were notable figures from the country’s Imperial world including Olga Preobrajenska. Later on, Andre would study in London with another star of the Mariinsky Ballet, Nicholas Legat.

Recruited by the Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo at just 14, he eventually became the company’s lead dancer alongside its star Igor Youskevitch. This is also where Andre developed his partnering skill working with the best of the best – namely the legendary Alexandra Danilova, who left Russia together with George Balanchine, the two joining the original Ballets Russes – she as a dancer and her as-yet unknown companion as choreographer.  

Eglevsky went on to become principal dancer with the world’s premiere companies and partner with ballet’s greatest.  His vagabond life-style took a more stable turn during his stay with Balanchine’s American Ballet (ltoday known as New York City Ballet) for a period of seven years.  

One of the most impressive figures in the life of Eglevsky was none other than Mikhail Fokin from whom he acquired what must have been the greatest role of his career – the “Spectre” in “Le Spectre de la Rose”, a role he eventually passed onto Mikhail Baryshnikov.

In the late ‘50’s Eglevsky together with his wife, also a former dancer with American Ballet and a student of the artform’s pioneers, opened their own ballet school and some years later formed the Eglevsky Ballet.  

Characterized by his imposing stature and definite presence of pedigree atop his natural gift for this discipline, Andre Eglevsky is regarded as the preeminent classical dancer of his era. 

It has been a transporting encounter.  We all give each other hugs and look forward to reuniting again.

Searching for Barbara...

I’ll end with this interesting message I found on BroadwayWorld.com in the midst of my research on Barbara’s exceptional life…

We are all searching for someone… someone who is in some way a piece of the puzzle on the road to discovering who we really are.

In fact each one of us holds a unique key to this great puzzle that we are all here to solve.

The secret is to match the puzzle pieces correctly. And it’s all about CONNECTION.  

Each CONNECTION brings us a step closer to our purpose, our talent, the expression of who we are … our IDENTITY.

Our drive for CONNECTION is deeply rooted in our DNA. And so underlying everything else that we do, is our drive for CONNECTION.

Our intuitive mind always directs us in our quest, if we listen. Our intuition is a voice that does not force, a voice that does not come from fear, it is a voice that simply knows. Our intuition is the voice through which our soul speaks to us.

Our Identity is our source of life, it is what gives us our beauty, our power, our riches… and finding our Identity is the only thing that can truly save any of us.

And so, I treat this essay on the rarely serendipitous journey of Barbara Cole and all the players in it, as an exploration of a life bearing the fruits of the spark of CONNECTION with self, with our natural talents… with our Identity.

For each of us the path to self is as individual as we are.  And for some of us, the treasure is more deeply buried than for others.  But beyond the shadow of a doubt, if you focus on what matters most, you will be stunned at what emerges in no time at all.

til next time!

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Midsummer Mayerling in LA

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Midsummer Mayerling in LA

There are few things that can get a long-time local to make the drive into hectic downtown LA.  What got me to do it? Seeing the Royal Ballet perform their signature repertoire piece at The Music Center.

Yes, this past weekend I made the trip to Dorothy Chandler Pavilion which typically hosts the dance events at the landmark performing arts complex.

Since it was my first time visiting, I gave myself some x-tra, x-tra time to get there, and arriving with plenty to spare, I took a walk down the streets of angel city capturing the shots below.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s raw, unapologetic portrayal of the agonizing cage of human existence – no matter how rich and mighty you are – through the true life drama of Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolf and his teenage mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera, which ended in the couple’s successfully executed suicide plan in 1889, Mayerling did not disappoint!

But it was dance historian Elizabeth Kaye’s talk prior to the performance that took it to another level, as her talks so often do.

I have come to greatly appreciate the rare aptitude of Ms. Kaye to transport us to another space and time no matter where we are in the moment, and in so doing elevate the entire artistic experience.

enjoy the snaps & check in soon!

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photo above: Elizabeth Kaye prepares to talk

Colburn Performing Arts Complex
concert on Grand Ave
view of LA's famous Angel's Flight railway
downtown LA view from 350 Grand Ave
fountain in courtyard near Colburn School
banner with LA Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel
view of courtyard with reflecting pool from Colburn School
The Music Center
"Nureyev" statue in reflection pool of Dorothy Chandler lobby
Mayerling cast & LA Phil conductor take bows after performance
Mayerling marquee at Disney Concert Hall
LA architecture
close-up of LA's famous Angel's Flight railway
long oval reflecting pool behind MOCA
The Broad contemporary art museum
The Walt Disney Concert Hall on 111 Grand Ave
The Music Center entrance... up the stairs
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Lobby
dance talk space at Dorothy Chandler
wall art installation at upper level of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
curtain call for Sarah Lamb in role of Mary Vetsera
MOCA: Museum of Contemporary Art
landscapes around Bunker Hill area of downtown LA
view next to Angel's Flight
MOCA Museum courtyard view
Colburn School courtyard entrance
Colburn School CAFE
The Founders wall at Dorothy Chandler
"Ballet Shoes" statue on opposite side of Nureyev statue in lobby of Dorothy Chandler
during intermission.... dance lecture hall at Dorothy Chandler
curtain call for Matthew Ball in role of Prince Rudolf

Harlequinade

Harlequinade

Saw this ballet for the first time on January 19th of this year at OC’s Segerstrom Center … and was unexpectedly sparked to write about it.

Fashioned on a mock tale of romance, greed, foolishness and mischief, this ballet brings us into the bygone era of comedic theatre accompanied by music and stylised dance.

With the character of a court Jester in the lead, we are invited to travel into the realm of the magical and mystical where all is possible.

The unlikely hero is not only colorful in costume, but reveals the tone of this production, which is painted if not saturated with humor, satire, and whimsicality.

Harlequin costume sketch by Robert Perdziola for American Ballet Theatre’s Harlequinade (2017)
Legendary dancers Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Fokine as attendants of Harlequin and Columbine’s wedding (circa 1900)
Marius Ivanovich Petipa (1818-1910)

The Jester as well as other roles in this ballet are modeled after stage archetypes seen in the beginnings of professional Italian theatre, called Commedia dell’arte, no doubt serving as the palette for the creative genius of Marius Petipa, who originally choreographed the ballet in 1900.

Anna Pavlova as Columbine and the Mikhail Fokine as Harlequin in the "Sérénade" scene choreographed by Marius Petipa to music by Riccardo Drigos in Harlequinade (circa 1902)
Robert Perdziola (circa 1980's)

The costuming is exquisitely executed by uber-talented Robert Perdziola who has been creating costumes and set design for over three decades – and this guy gets around! Case in point, Perdziola designed the sets and costumes for the Finnish National Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland (2016 premiere).

Card Lady costume sketch by Robert Perdziola for American Ballet Theatre’s Harlequinade (2017)
Card Man costume sketch by Robert Perdziola for American Ballet Theatre’s Harlequinade (2017)

But why am I really inspired to write about this ballet?

A Higher Beauty

Apart from the more obvious facets including the remarkable craftsmanship of costuming, set design, storytelling and choreography – the latter having been profoundly described as the art of giving physical form to music – apart from all this, I am astounded by yet another composition showcasing an artform that in itself is an instrument for elevating the consciousness of mankind.

A ballet production integrates in itself the highest artforms, with music and classical dance at its core.

The artform of classical dance (aka, ballet) is by definition an artform of highest integrity, as it requires its practitioner to integrate all the separate parts of the body into one harmonious, working unit, a unit which becomes an instrument capable of channeling and thereby physically expressing higher beauty.

Larks flying in Harlequinade; photo by Marty Sohl (?) for American Ballet Theatre (2018)

Higher beauty, is in turn evoked through the harmony of working parts acting as one unified whole.

young dancers posing in a bow for Harlequinade 2018 premiere; photo by Rosalie O’Connor for ABT

Bringing it back to the performance, what caught my eye most was the children’s numbers in Harlequinade.

It is an exceptional sight to see some-30 youngsters on a stage in an organized, uniform manner, each member holding his or her own, whilst contributing to the beautiful aesthetic exuded by the group.

This was seeing the integrity of ballet on a collective scale and beyond words.

Resurrection

As our in-the-know ballet lecturer Elizabeth Kaye informed us, we were about to see the revival of a classic masterpiece with its face-lift from none other than ABT’s artist-in-residence and today’s IT-boy choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky.

It is no small task to preserve the integrity of the original whilst filling in the holes and gaps lost in time and giving it new life. Thus Ms. Kaye revealed to us before the show that Alexei Ratmansky and his wife devoted a great amount of time to meticulously combing through Petipa’s original notes in an effort to keep the master’s work in tact amidst the restoration process.

the Larks in Harlequinade; photo by Marty Sohl for American Ballet Theatre (2018)

The notably accomplished choreographer, artistic director, former Bolshoi principal dancer and good friend of George Balanchine, Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev teaches at Novosibirsk Theater (circa 1960s—70s)

Ratmansky is not the first to restage this classic work.

Once again our dear ballet friend Anna comes through, sending a commentary by a distinguished ballet figure who shines some light on the subject!

In his article, Preserving Masterpieces of the Past (from the Journal of Soviet Ballet, 1983, №4), the Ballet Master Pyotr Gusev tells us that Harlequinade fell out of the Mariinsky/ Kirov Theatre repertoire in 1923, with its first reconstruction some 38 years later in 1961 for the Novosibirsk Theatre.

The 1963 debut planned at Novosibirsk never took place, and three years later work resumed on the project.

“The restoration of a ballet production or its choreography – is always a collective project,” Gusev emphasizes.

The Ballet Master recounts how in 1961, the oldest surviving performer in the main role of Harlequin, B. Shavrov, headed up a large group of veteran dancers, gathering old performers from every role all the way to the corps de ballet (with the exception of Lèandre, as no living dancers of this role remained).  In 1963, Shavrov finished compiling all the materials, but as mentioned the production did not take place.

In evidence to the complexity of the process, Gusev also mentions that the stage settings or “tableaus”, were only partially recovered and more difficult to restore than the choreography.

In 1975, after further remastery, the ballet was relocated to the Leningrad Maly (Small) Theatre of Opera & Ballet, aka, Mikhailovsky Theatre where it continued its rehab process.

Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev with highly regarded and influential ballet teacher Alisa Vasilevna Nikiforov at Novosibirsk Theatre (circa 1960s—70s)
Harlequinade “commedia characters in miniature form” as the dance writer Gay Morris aptly puts it; photo by Rosalie O’Connor for American Ballet Theatre (2018)

Surviving an arduous transformative journey Harlequinade retains the essence of its identity, delighting audiences anew while connecting past and present as only the thread of timeless art can do.

til next time!

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New York and the Nureyev Tapes

New York and the Nureyev Tapes

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Yes, my friends, we have finally made it out of LA… it’s the first time in a very long time!

The trip was sparked by the zeal of our friend Elizabeth Kaye, who beyond herself convinced us that we simply COULD NOT miss the May 18th (2018) performance of ballet stars David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova in ABT’s Giselle!

But what really drove us to make the unexpected journey was the discovery that nested inside the NY Library for the Performing Arts were the invaluable audiotapes that Elizabeth had recorded during her interviews with the one and only Rudolf Nureyev in 1990-1991.

with Elizabeth at the Met for ABT’s Giselle on May 18, 2018

Brooklyn

For our home away from home, we booked an Airbnb in a neighborhood of Brooklyn, both historical and hip, to get a meaty flavor of NY and some off-time from Manhattan which we rode into practically everyday — yes, this global hub takes some getting used to!

A seven minute walk from the place we stayed, we visited this trendy spot in the Clinton Hill area of Brooklyn on more than one occasion. This is one of those modern day dives where you’ll see the fresh juice machine next to the beer on-tap, and where we thoroughly enjoyed the popular Grasshopper drink – a refreshing mix of ginger, green apple, and lemonade.

Here I am at the Outpost with a latte and a side of neighborhood characters. I’m sitting beneath the work of a local artist in the lounge area of the rustic-meets-bohemian saloon, carved-out from the ground section of a large brownstone in the once wealthy neighborhood.

at the Outpost in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

Set on the street level of an old brick-red townhouse as typical for the NY neighborhood, we found a really decent juice-n-smoothie establishment – just around the corner from the place we were staying.  Every morning on our way to Manhattan, we stopped in to get our fix of ‘live’ food which would fuel us for the rest of the day.

the mega juicer machine at Rejuvenate which seriously caught Lana’s attention

Across from the smoothie bar was this stylish cafe always packed with regulars eager for their drink and a dose of the flavorsome scene. The cute Brooklyn eatery specializing in coffee drinks and a smattering of Israeli style dishes was definitely on our list, but Golda will have to wait till next time!

... sipping my morning juice at Rejuvinate
Golda

Manhattan

Between the ballet performances and the NY Library visits and our time with Elizabeth, the bulk of our activities revolved around Lincoln Center… we even found a large Whole Foods on the way there, which of course made the entire experience complete for us Santa Monicans.

Lana in front of the Lincoln Center complex which houses the Met Opera House, NY Performing Arts Library & home stage of New York City Ballet
... in front of the Met for ABT’s performance of Giselle on May 18, 2018

The Wall of Fame at Metropolitan Opera House, or simply “The Wall” is alphabetically tiled with over 1,000 black-and-white photos of star singers, musicians, conductors, dancers, directors, designers and even vip admins.

... at Met Opera’s Wall of Fame during an intermission for Giselle
Lana in front of NYCB for the Jerome Robbins tribute performance on May 20, 2018
large banners near Lincoln Center advertising Met House performances

Overall, the ballet performances were a treat, just because ballet is such a high art and it really does take you into another realm. See the X-tra! X-tra! section below for a glimpse into our performance menu.

The Nureyev Tapes

The greatest treasure we took with us was the experience of listening to the Nureyev tapes.  On three separate occasions we visited the NY Performing Arts Library, where the dutiful to the point of neurotic coat check lady, who made sure we absolved ourselves of all but the barest necessities before entering the sacred ground of the third floor dance division, got to know us very well.

What we heard was priceless, not only because of its historical value or the content itself, but because we were privy to a conversation with a channel of something akin to the immortal creative force.

It is possible that Elizabeth may be one of those closest to capturing the enigmatic psyche of the force that expressed itself through the physical vehicle of Rudolf Nureyev.  Her prolific and captivating Esquire article on the extraordinary dancer is certainly a testament to this conjecture.

Rudolf Nureyev in 1968 (photo by Colin Jones) & Elizabeth Kaye circa 1980’s

Nureyev is an exceptional figure who encompassed the pinnacle of the ecstasy and agony of the human condition, and who whilst displaying the spectrum of our mortal nature to its extreme, took a leap beyond the bounds of earthly limitation, ushering us into the sphere where the true power of spirit resides.

More to come on the Nureyev Tapes, from which I’ll be sharing segments in upcoming posts!

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