Posted by , 13 August 2005 · 80 views
Before there were glossy brochures for upcoming ballet seasons there were 'snakes'. They were long sheets of plain white paper approximately 5"X18" on which was printed, in two long columns, the programs for the coming season. They hung on a hook in the theater lobby. I still have the original 'snake' of the Sadler's Wells Ballet first American tour in 1949 in New York City at the old Metropolitan Opera House. It is somewhat smaller than the usual 'snakes'---5"X12", and as befits such a fine occasion, it has a gold background with black lettering. "First Time in America!" boasts the headline. "Introducing the World Celebrated Dancers"---Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, Moira Shearer, Pamela May, Beryl Grey, Violetta Elvin, Alexis Rassine, Harold Turner, Michael Somes, John Hart. Robert Irving and Constant Lambert were the Conductors.
Violetta Elvin was a former Soviet dancer named Prokhorova; she was married to an Englishman, hence the name change. (She was the first Soviet dancer I ever saw.) Prophetically, in her book "Soviet Ballet" (pub. 1945), Iris Morley said of her": "My favorite has always been Prokhorova who is taller than most and brings a lovely long-limbed pliancy to the swans, brides and willis. Sometime in pure wish fulfillment I envisage a kind of Anglo-Russian lend-lease (her term) whereby some of these younger dancers might dance for a season in English companies where they would be instantly hailed as Prima Ballerinas."
The season ran from October 9 to November 6. The price range was $1.20 for Family Circle to $4.20 for Orchestra or Box seats. By purchasing a Balcony ticket ($1.80) one could enter the Opera House at the Orchestra level and use the ticket for standing room. (The Family Circle had a special entrance and a terrible maze to encounter to go down to a lower floor) Standing room was excellent at this old opera house. The horseshoe arrangement of the seats made it possible to have an excellent side view which brought you closer to the stage; unlike the present "Met" where standing room is in the back of the Orchestra behind the last row of seats.
On the reverse side of the 'snake' is a listing of the complete programs. There were thirty-three performances: 10 of "Sleeping Beauty", 5 of "Swan Lake" (or, as listed, "Le Lac des Cygnes") and 6 "Cinderellas". "Swan Lake" was presented in four acts and was followed on the program by either "Facade" or "Hamlet". (Amazing :--compare that to today's truncated versions---and another ballet, too) There were 10 mixed programs of shorter works. On one evening (October 13) there were four American premieres: "The Rake's Progress", "Symphonic Variations", "Facade", and "Hamlet". On October 25 there were three more American Premieres: "Miracle in the Gorbals", "A Wedding Bouquet" and "Apparitions". These were followed with premieres of "Checkmate" and "Job". In all, Sadler's Wells premiered twelve ballets.
At the bottom of the sheet there is a small mail order blank. There is only room for ordering tickets to two performances. I attended half of them.
At the time I saw Sadler's Wells I had been a ballet-goer for five and a half years. This season, combined with performances of Ballet Theatre, Ballet Russe and the beginnings of New York City Ballet was the best introduction imaginable. Those truly were the "glory years".