I have an anniversary, of sorts, coming up this month. It will be 60 years since I saw my first ballet performance on Saturday evening April 22, 1944. Accompanied by my sister Marie and her friends we went to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to see Ballet Theatre. Our seats were in the first row of the balcony around the curve of the horseshoe shape of the theater---and 4 levels up. I had a fairly good view of the stage by leaning over the brass railing. The program was Fokine's 'Les Sylphides", Robbins "Fancy Free" and Lichine's "Fair At Sorochinsk". To this day, I feel the only way to truly appreciate Fokline's masterpiece is to see it from this perspective. Normally, one likes to sit up close but the height was a distinct advantage: it made it easier to see the movements and groupings envisioned by the choreographer. Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin danced the leads.
This was followed by "Fancy Free" (with Leonard Bernstein conducting---my schoolgirl crush at the time.) The ballet had its premiere a few days before on April 18; this was probably the second or third performance of the work. It received a raucous reception, and the old Opera House erupted in waves of enthusiasm. Robbins masterfully captured the personalities of his original cast to perfection. Robbins was the 'rhumba' sailor, John Kriza the 'dreamy one' and Harold Lang, the 'show'off'. The pas de deux that Robbins danced with Janet Reed was in the best tradition of the Hollywood World War II romance movies at the time---casual relationships could quickly become immediate. Muriel Bentley was deliciously insoucient as the 'girl with the red pocketbook'. At the end Shirley Eckl slithered hesitatingly on to the stage, and Rex Cooper was properly bored as the bartender.
The last ballet was David Lichine's "Fair At Sorochinsk" to music of Moussorgsky---a colorful work that has probably not been seen since. Anton Dolin appeared as the Devil and danced the role 'on pointe' and Andre Eglevsky was most appealing as the lover. I always thought he was shown to best advantage during his Ballet Theatre days. A Hopak was a high point of the work; I cannot recall who danced it, although in retrospect it might have been Nicholas Orloff.
Before this performance my other encounters with ballet had been mainly in operettas, i.e., "The Chocolate Soldier", "New Moon" and the Warner Bros. films of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in "Capriccio Espagnol" and "Gaite Parisienne". The year before I saw Agnes deMille's "Oklahoma". But this first encounter with a ballet company had a profound effect on me, unlike the other performances I saw. I went on to study ballet for seven years and although I was in my teens, I had a natural flexibility which eased my way. Ever since that first performance so many years ago, ballet has been a big part of my life. 04/13/04