The Buzz, 5-18: Pivots
Remembering Fonteyn; Feting Forsythe; Honoring Homer
By Paul Ben-Itzak (Paris)
and Robin Hoffman (New York)
Photography by Dominik
Drawing by Robin Hoffman
"No one will contest
that the month of January was Pavlova's. A spirit hovered over Paris
like a swan's wing opening, like Giselle's veil emerging from the
tomb. The portrait of the Departed was everywhere; for once newspapers
were unanimous in their piety; and the public, that great and blase
assemblage, stealthily wiped away a tear in memory of she who was
so little, so much.... Sylphide, dragon-fly, chrysanthemum, Danseuse,
vestal, Muse. Anna Pavlova was the spiritual force, piu grande
che noi, that permits the art of the Dance to stylize convention.
In a realm that evades, and should evade, resemblance, she was that
which all have imagined but none have seen. This gift of metamorphosis,
this power of suggestion exalted her genius and minimized her defects
to such a point that, in the light of searching criticism, she appeared
incomparable. Was she the greatest? The question is superfluous.
She was unique."
So wrote L. Franc Scheuer
in the March, 1934 edition of The Dancing Times. But if the month
of January was Pavlova's, the month of December, 1934, ushered in
another era, when, at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, the character
of a young boy trepidatiously entered the ancient ballroom of a
Scottish castle. The Ninette de Valois ballet of the evening, "The Haunted
Ballroom," has, like many of the treasures of our history, been
forgotten; not forgotten has been the interpreter who portrayed
Young Tregennis, son of the master of the house, in her first appearance
as a soloist: Margot Fonteyn.*
It would be a long 15
years before the United States would get to revel in Fonteyn, when
she performed the role of Aurora in Petipa's "Sleeping Beauty" with
Sadler's Wells on October 9, 1949 at the Metropolitan Opera House,
in a production staged by Nicholas Sergeyev with additional choreography
by Frederick Ashton and de Valois. It was the beginning of a love
affair which would last into the 1980s, in a career extended by
Fonteyn's partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
With the help of Nureyev's
foundation and after the tireless transatlantic treasure-hunting
of Fonteyn's friend and colleague Joy Williams Brown and Robert
Gottlieb, that love affair will be remembered in Margot Fonteyn
in America: a Celebration, which opens today at the New York Public
Library for the Performing Arts. Brown, a former Ballets Russes
de Monte Carlo dancer, performed with Fonteyn in Roland Petit's
Ballets de Paris, most notably in Petit's 1948 "Les Demoiselles
de la Nuit," with designs by Leonor Fini. (The ballet required Fonteyn
to wear a cat mask. At first she refused, Xavier Gauthier recalled
in "Leonor Fini." "Never could I imagine myself doing such a thing
at Covent Garden!" Fonteyn explained in her autobiography. But Fini
threatened to set the Theatre Marigny on fire, and Petit implored
Fonteyn, "Wear the mask! She is capable of anything.")
Over the past year,
collecting Fonteyn memorabilia for the Lincoln Center exhibition
has taken Brown to Paris, where the Fondation Pierre Berge Yves
Saint Laurent loaned her dresses worn by the ballerina, and to London,
where the Royal Opera House Archives contributed costumes. The resulting
exhibition, writes our Robin Hoffman, "is extensive without being
overwhelming, and put together with style and a great deal of love.
The collection of rare photographs manage to capture the ballerina's
superstar quality on and offstage, her graceful chic and humor.
Among the photographs is a series of 12 of Fonteyn in costume for
Sergeyev's staging of Ivanov/Petipa's 'Swan Lake,' demonstrating
classical mime gestures. The gestures are performed with her entire
being, their meaning echoed on her face. It is exemplary, and all
young ballet dancers should see these photos. There is also a kiosk
with a selection of film clips, including one series of Fonteyn
working at the barre in which the ballerina provides the narration.
I was so taken with her clean, beautiful movement that I can not
remember what she was saying in the voice-over.
"The costumes, displayed
on dress forms, recall Fonteyn in some of her most famous roles.
Here is a real imprint of a great artist in this ephemeral art of
ours. My favorite is the Act I Aurora costume from her American
debut. Fonteyn would have been about 30 years old. This is the iconic
pink Aurora tutu I've seen over and again in the photos, and there
is some vibrating magic left in it by the one who wore it. Unlike
the couture gowns also on display, stage costumes are not meant
to be looked at up close, and seem very personal here, from the
way they form a ghostly cast of her torso to the practical beige
elastic straps and extra row of hooks on the bodice. They are marked
by her hard work. Displayed with the tutu are the autographed pointe
shoes she wore in that historical debut performance, which catapulted
her to celebrity in America.
Fonteyn's Act I costume from "The Sleeping Beauty,"
as displayed in Margot Fonteyn in America: A Celebration. Sketch
by Robin Hoffman.
"I was born too late to
have seen Fonteyn dance live. I knew from the ballet books I grew
up reading that she was an important ballerina. I knew she was a fashion
icon and a big star. After seeing this exhibit, I understand and am
impressed on a much deeper level." Margot Fonteyn in America continues
through September 3.
Reversing our Buzz expedition: Americans have been known to dazzle
the public on this side of the Ocean. But if the Yank choreographer
William Forsythe had to come to Europe to find a company and a city,
Frankfurt, that would financially back his explorations, on the
Ballett Frankfurt, he hasn't gone unappreciated in his homeland
-- and not just by ballet audiences. As the Frankfurt experiment
winds down -- the company gives its final performance next month
in Paris, before Forsythe shifts to a scaled-down, private version,
with financing from Frankfurt and Dresden -- it's fitting that Forsythe's
native land should mark his contribution, as Danspace Project at
St. Mark's Church will do next Tuesday, honoring Forsythe in its
Forsythe in rehearsal with the Ballett Frankfurt. Dominik Mentzos
photo courtesy Danspace Project.
Forsythe with performances will be the John Jasperse Company, in
an excerpt from "Just Two Dancers"; Frankfurt stalwart Antony Rizzi,
presenting a selection from Forsythe's "Approximate Sonata"; Ron
Thornhill, and the Donna Uchizono Company. The gala audience will
also catch a film on Forsythe and Sang Jijia, produced for the evening
by the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative.
What's a putatively
modern dance theater doing feting a putatively ballet choreographer
in the first place? Forsythe, says Danspace Project executive director
Laurie Uprichard, "is recognized for his pioneering choreography
that has expanded the boundaries of classical dance both physically
and philosophically. As Danspace Project's 2004 Gala honoree, William
Forsythe represents the core values that Danspace actively seeks
to embody, including creativity, risk-taking, integrity, dedication,
excellence, and partnership and collaboration." For more information
on the Danspace Project Gala tribute to William Forsythe, please
visit the Danspace Project web site, or e-mail Peggy H. Cheng
Frankfurt ballerina and Forsythe muse Dana Caspersen was one of
the last collaborators of the late Homer Avila, on whom Caspersen choreographed a piece
in Germany. Homer felt blessed to be able to work with a number
of outstanding choreographers, and his will, we've just learned,
asks that the scholarship he began for Alonzo King's Lines Ballet
Dance Intensive be continued, and that a scholarship be established
for dancers to study with Zvi Gotheiner. (Homer was bi-coastal.
Is.) For the former, contributions, made out to Lines Ballet, can
be sent to Missy Globerman, Development, Alonzo King's Lines Ballet,
26 Seventh Street, San Francisco, CA 94103. Forthe latter, contributions,
payable to ZGD, Inc. can be sent to Zvi Gotheiner, artistic director,
ZGD, Inc., 246 W. 38th Street, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018.
*Research on "The
Haunted Ballroom": "Balanchine's Stories of the Great Ballets,"
by George Balanchine, edited by Francis Mason.