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Janet Collins


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 31 May 2003 - 09:52 AM

Janet Collins, America's first black prima ballerina has died. I never saw her -- I wonder if any other Ballet Alertniks had, and if you had any memories of her to share.

I've copied over the obituary from Links:


Janet Collins, Ballerina Who Was First Black Artist at Met Opera, Dies at 86

Janet Collins, prima ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera House in the early 1950's and one of a very few black women to become prominent in American classical ballet, died on Wednesday in Fort Worth. She was 86 and lived there.  

Ms. Collins taught dance, choreographed, performed on Broadway and in film and appeared frequently on television. But she was best known as the exquisitely beautiful dancer who was the first black artist to perform at the Metropolitan, four years before Marian Anderson sang there.



#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 31 May 2003 - 01:28 PM

I met Janet Collins twice in my life. Once, when I was 6 or 7, and "went to work" with a young, talented mezzo who lived in town here. She went to study with a teacher who had a studio at the Old Met, and then she took me to see some rehearsals of operas that they were doing that season. One of them was La Traviata and Ms. Collins was dancing the Spanish dance in that. I knew really very little about ballet then, and nothing about sex, but I knew that this lady was really, really pretty, and she could dance like anything. After the rehearsal, I was introduced to her, and she became the Ambassadress of the Opera to the second grade. She asked me if I were enjoying all the singing, and acting, and dancing. We had a nice conversation, as I recall it, but the details have faded. A few weeks later, I was taken to see Aïda, and she was dancing the lead in the ballet in the "Gloria all'Egitto" scene. I wanted to go back and say hello to her, but we had to catch the train back home.

Flash ahead some 10 years, and I'm at a matinée performance at NYCB. The first ballet was "Con Amore" which I enjoy very much, despite the disapproval of some critics, The second was "Agon" - an interesting choice for a matinée in those days, a pause and then "Tchaikovsky pas de deux" with André Prokovsky and Violette Verdy, then "Ballet Imperial" with the Ter-Arutunian sets! Now, for the first ballet, I wondered about the empty seats next to me of two unlucky absent balletgoers who were late and didn't see the funny number. When I returned to my seat, the "absent" were in place. Ms. Collins and Robert Joffrey! Ms. Collins looked for a moment, thought, then said, "Why I remember you! Why, how you've grown! You came to see me in rehearsal at the Opera!" Immediately we were in conversation as old friends and talking about the performance, and during the ballets, keeping quiet, but opera glasses were trading back and forth like mad. In the intervals, we were comparing impressions and concluded several points in common about the show, including that "Agon" had seemed like madness, but was actually a spectacularly good harmony with the rest of the program. I never had the pleasure of meeting her again, but she lives on in sweet memory.

#3 Kurvenal

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Posted 05 June 2003 - 06:50 AM

I saw Janet Collins dancing in the opera "Aida" at the old Met back in 1951, but I don't recall much except that it was a lavish production and Janet did the requisite pseuo-Egyptian moves choreographed by Zachary Solov. That was her first appearance and she did danced in a number of other operas after that including "The Dance of the Hours" in "La Gioconda", but I did not see any of those following engagements.

What remains vivid in my memory is a performance she gave about the same time at the 92nd St. Y. One of the numbers was done to an a capella rendition of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child". She was in a black dress that had a wide skirt that went to the floor. Her bare feet were spread apart but she never moved them. All her movements were confined to one spot as she bent, swayed and twisted her torso and used her arms and head to convey such pain and anguish as did not seem possible. I think I attended that performance with a number of friends including Arthur Mitchell who went on to become the first black dancer in Balanchine's company and eventually became the founder of the Harlem Ballet.
Fred


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