Mel Johnson

Melissa Hayden has died

64 posts in this topic

So sorry to read this. She was the first ballerina I was aware of in the years when I grew enamored of NYCB. However reluctantly Balanchine choreographed Cortege Hongrois for her farewell ballet, she triumphed in it and left some of the audience in tears.

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So sorry to read this.

I'm also very sorry to read this. She was a real favorite of mine when I was a new ballet goer.

I loved watching her use her powerful attack; it was really something to see.

I also remember her as a very nice lady, very cordial to us pesky fans.

RIP

Richard

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This is very sad news.

Yisgadal v' yiskadash sh'mey rabbah.

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I first saw her on camera in the documentary Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas, and judging by that she seems to have been as strong and distinctive a presence offstage as on. Her comments, as quoted by Nancy Reynolds in “Repertory in Review,” on the changes in the company wrought by Balanchine’s preoccupation with Suzanne Farrell are perceptive and to the point. Her talk with Robert Tracy in the book “Balanchine’s Ballerinas” is one of the best in that volume.

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I first saw her on camera in the documentary Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas, and judging by that she seems to have been as strong and distinctive a presence offstage as on. Her comments, as quoted by Nancy Reynolds in “Repertory in Review,” on the changes in the company wrought by Balanchine’s preoccupation with Suzanne Farrell are perceptive and to the point.

I agree, and I just hate this and as well, am totally shocked. I'll never forget her the one time I saw her (and I went there not even knowing she was dancing that night) in the one act 'Swan Lake', which is one of the five or so greatest performances by a ballerina I've ever seen. I was friendly at the time with one of the top young modern dance choreographers of the day (and continues) and he went on and on about how Melissa Hayden was 'such a great dancer.'

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I have to agree. Farrell was very good as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I liked her in it, but then I saw Hayden do the role, and she was great!

I never truthfully thought of her as being 25 years my senior, because I would catch delightful performances, one of which in "Tchaikovsky pas de Deux" prompted Clive Barnes to write to the effect that it made sense for City Ballet to hold onto its senior ballerinas, "because they dance so young!"

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I first saw her on camera in the documentary Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas, and judging by that she seems to have been as strong and distinctive a presence offstage as on. Her comments, as quoted by Nancy Reynolds in “Repertory in Review,” on the changes in the company wrought by Balanchine’s preoccupation with Suzanne Farrell are perceptive and to the point.

I guess that aired on PBS, what, 17 years ago now? Still, she looks so vigorous in that, the news comes as a shock. Time to go watch the tape.

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i have scanned a few undated publicity photos that include MELISSA HAYDEN - NB: to those who who such things - if these take up precious bandwidth, please let me know and i'll take them down or feel free to take them down as you see fit.

photo #1

CARACOLE - Finale - w/ Hayden in the air of a sissone; from left in background: adams? leclercq & wilde.

post-848-1155169397.jpg

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publicity photo #2

Hayden featured in GLINKIANA and in which she created the central role of Jota Argonese - c. 1967 - (i believe one can see in the background, R. Estopinal? E. Sieveling, D. Richardson, L.Stetson, and ? ?

post-848-1155169696.jpg

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undated publicity photo #3 -

APOLLO w/ D'Amboise & (from left) Hayden, Adams, Wilde

post-848-1155169821.jpg

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undated photo #4

SWAN LAKE - Hayden & P. Martins

post-848-1155169900.jpg

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Like Farrell Fan, I experienced Hayden as the "first ballerina I was aware of" at NYCB.

At that time (late 50s), Tallchief was in the process of leaving and, I suspect, dancing less. It seemed to my inexperienced, awestruck eyes that Hayden was cast in everything -- was capable of everything. Firebird, Swan Lake (Act II), Agon, Apollo, and on and on.

She was also, in those years, the dancer with the strongest stage personallity, and the most power, of anyone in the company. She could be funny, assertive, poignant, and surprisingly Balanchinian. She was also the dancer who made me most aware of the music. Her partnership with d'Amboise was electric.

To this day, I retain images in my memory of Hayden dancing (along with the sections of music to which each image was peformed). These are actually more vivid and more moving than almost anything I remember from the season just past.

Ave, Hayden.

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I seem to recall Martins describing her in his book as "a sensationally challenging partner" or words to that effect.

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NB: to those who who such things - if these take up precious bandwidth, please let me know and i'll take them down or feel free to take them down as you see fit.
We are proud and happy to host these wonderful photos of a great ballerina.

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trust you realized i meant to say: for those who KNOW such things, not 'who who' - sigh.

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Thanks very much for the photos, rg. She truly was a wonderful ballerina for Balanchine, and a pleasure to behold. Peace.

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This truly marks the end of an era- at least for me. Melissa Hayden was my teacher at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and while I knew she had been ill recently, it is very hard to picture the school without her in the studio scaring all of us half to death! Believe me, I say that with all due respect... if you have ever known any of her students and heard their stories of her, then you know that as a teacher, she would do or say ANYTHING to push you into new territory. She could make some very harsh comments, but in the next moment display so much compassion and caring that you knew she only wanted the best. After leaving the school and moving on into my professional career, I stayed in touch with her as much as possible, and here is where I saw the greatness of her as a person. She never failed to surprise me with comments so straightforward and honest that I would be caught off guard by the simplicity at which she arrived at her conclusions. She was keenly aware of human nature- perhaps that is one of the things that made her such an effective teacher, and what she couldn't figure out right away, she would go home and ponder. So much history... just a few weeks ago I spoke to her about a detail in Agon, and she knew exactly what the answer was, and even answered a few questions I hadn't asked.

Melissa not only taught you how to dance, but she taught lessons of how to succeed. Anyone who came from her class knew that one of the most important things a dancer can do is to listen to the choreographer, and give him or her whatever is asked. She would tell us that she didn't care if we fell- just as long as we were doing what she told us to do. This lesson came back to me recently when, teaching a class of rather talented girls, I found myself using her ideas to push them beyond their limits. I wish I could watch her teach again. All of those details of all of those variations she knew- she knew how so many of them should be done- every musical accent, every phrase, every step, position and movement. Well, she was there when many of them were created.

I miss knowing that she is still teaching- still pushing people beyond their limits any way she could. Thank you Ms. Hayden for everything.

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RG, those photos are wonderful remembrances of her, especially when added to everyone else's narratives. Thanks so much to you and everyone else. I, too, remember her from when I was very young, along with Tallchief, Wilde and Eglevsky.

She also had a very distinctive throaty voice that I liked very much, which made her directness and pithyness all the more appealing.

There's much to miss.......

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In her memory, I've taken the raw notes from my interview with her in 1997 on Agon and posted them on my blog (the link is right below.) They've not been published before - I hope they give some sense of her.

There's also a report I did in 2000 on her coaching three Balanchine ballets for the Balanchine Foundation at Dance View - http://www.danceview.org/archives/balanchine/Hayden.html

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Leigh, that's a remarkable article -- thank you.

About the 1969 filming of Balanchine works:

The dancers worked on these filmings without pay and early in the morning, ...
This kind of dedication from dancers is worth remembering and honoring. Balanchine and his work certainly seem to have inspired more than their share of it.
[Russell] is a true balletmistress with an eye and mind like a steel trap. Like a cryptographer, she can decode an archival video almost in the time it takes her to watch it, and her memory is detailed and organized. Russell proves invaluable at structuring the initial learning process and keeping things moving. Hayden thanks her and says it would have taken twice as long without her. For Hayden, memory is a livelier, more fluid thing, with overlays of events and emotional shadings. They work well together in their disparate styles, and Russell is enough of a lady and good hostess to defer to a guest in her home.
What a picture! It fits neatly into liebling's memories of Hayden as a teacher.
Hayden concentrates on the swivel turns, insisting they are done by each dancer one count apart. The problem is the piano accompaniment is almost impossible to count at that moment and the dancers are used to cueing that part visually rather than musically. The process is slow going but even through the inconsistencies, Hayden is working toward specific details and rhythmic style.

This provides quite an insight into the particular demands of the Balanchine version of classical style -- why it's so difficult to perform well -- and why it's so worth the effort.

Balanchine made an astute remark to Claude Bessy about posterity (Ballet Review, Fall 1995), “They will remember the steps but they will forget the idea.” The most notable thing about the Interpreters Archive sessions in Seattle was that they were the reverse; a step or detail may have been different, but the idea behind them remains vibrant.
I love this interaction between the "idea" and the actual steps needed to bring that idea to fulfillment. This makes it especially sad that we are losing dancers like Melissa Hayden, who were "present at the creation" -- indeed, at the heart of the creation -- and were able to bring a passion for and knowledge of BOTH idea and steps to those whose bothered to ask them.

EDITED TO ADD: Leigh points out that I misread the second quote. The "she" in the original refered to Francia Russell, not to Hayden. I've corrected this above.

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Thanks Bart, but for accuracy's sake, the second quote about being a true balletmistress does NOT refer to Hayden - it refers to Russell.

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I always admired Melissa Hayden for her spirit. So many ballets Balanchine created on her! Yet she was never THE muse. Year after year she stayed with Balanchine watching as he became facinated with Allegra Kent, Diana Adams, Suzanne Farrell. She hung on with a combination of hard work, immense talent, impressive ballerina authority, and sheer stubborness. I remember reading the section in Allegra Kent's autobiography where Hayden, unhappy that Kent was being given Swan Lake to dance instead of her let her displeasure known to Kent in subtle and not so subtle ways. Kent, no dummy she, befriended Hayden.

Roles I wish I had seen Hayden dance in include, William Dollar's The Duel, Cullberg's Medea, and Balanchine's The Figure In The Carpet, in which I believe she danced The Princess of Persia. May she rest in peace and light.

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the attached photo of AGON is undated, obviously not the first seasons b/c villella is now in the cast, but it's fairly early because besides hayden, other first cast members remain in their original roles: mitchell and adams, for instance. i don't know the company well enough at this time to identify anyone else, except j. watts, who, along with r. tobias partnered hayden in the 'bransle double'.

post-848-1155218424.jpg

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