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Melissa Hayden has diedBallerina was 83


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#16 rg

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Posted 09 August 2006 - 05:24 PM

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

#17 Allegrovitch

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Posted 09 August 2006 - 05:35 PM

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

#18 leibling

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Posted 09 August 2006 - 06:53 PM

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.

#19 Dale

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Posted 09 August 2006 - 07:11 PM

Thank you for sharing that, leibling. And thanks for the photos, rg. From film, you can sense her steeliness, but also her wit (just look at the ballets made on her!). She touched lives from the stage but also from the classroom.

Here's the NY Times obit:

http://www.nytimes.c...rts&oref=slogin

#20 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 09 August 2006 - 07:57 PM

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.......

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 August 2006 - 08:44 PM

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...ine/Hayden.html

#22 bart

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 04:25 AM

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.

#23 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 04:54 AM

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

#24 perky

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 05:29 AM

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.

#25 rg

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 06:00 AM

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'.

Attached Files



#26 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 06:09 AM

I'm guessing, but is that Francia Russell behind Hayden? If so - it depends on where she is in the tableau - if she's standing in a demi-soloist spot, the picture is post 1960. If she's in the corps, it's 1958-1960 - and then Barbara Milberg and Barbara Walczak should be in the picture as well.

#27 bart

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 07:41 AM

Thanks, Leigh, for the correction. The "mind like a steel trap" seemed too close to what one knows of Hayden in the studio that I let myself get careless (having a mind quite the opposite of a steel trap -- pehaps more like a fisherman's net with very large holes?). http://ballettalk.in..._DIR#/blush.gif

I've changed the original post and added an "edited" explanation.

#28 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 08:07 AM

Hayden did have a mind like a steel trap - but differently than Russell's. When I did the Agon interviews, it was Russell who had the most convincing (who knows if I was wrong, though . . .) recall for events that happened in the room. It relates to her extremely concrete work as a ballet mistress. If you want to know the steps and counts, ask Francia. Hayden had amazing recall, but as it related to what was happening to her (she remembered exactly what she wore the day the Russians from the Bolshoi visited to see Agon - this was 40 years later). Hayden's memory was a performer's memory - the details weren't computer-accurate, but she knew how she wanted something to look, and what effect she wanted it to have.

#29 kfw

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 08:12 AM

Hayden's memory was a performer's memory - the details weren't computer-accurate, but she knew how she wanted something to look, and what effect she wanted it to have.

Thanks for the interview, Leigh. So she knew how things should look. Good grief, what with the contested state of Balanchine ballets at . . . I can't quite remember the name of the company . . . what was she doing teaching in North Carolina? Oh well, I'm sure she did a world of good down there too.

#30 Helene

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 09:04 AM

Hayden did have a mind like a steel trap - but differently than Russell's. When I did the Agon interviews, it was Russell who had the most convincing (who knows if I was wrong, though . . .) recall for events that happened in the room. It relates to her extremely concrete work as a ballet mistress. If you want to know the steps and counts, ask Francia. Hayden had amazing recall, but as it related to what was happening to her (she remembered exactly what she wore the day the Russians from the Bolshoi visited to see Agon - this was 40 years later). Hayden's memory was a performer's memory - the details weren't computer-accurate, but she knew how she wanted something to look, and what effect she wanted it to have.

I think this is a very important point. While Russell danced for several years and was in the original casts of ballets like Agon, she also spent years at Balanchine's side as Ballet Mistress, and her focus in that role was much different than Hayden's as a performer. During one Q&A, Russell said after she had made a correction, Balanchine said something to the effect that "Soon you will be the only one who knows that."

You described in the DVT piece how Russell deferred to Hayden as a host would do to a guest, and it reads as if if Russell did not emphasize her knowledge of Balanchine's intent during that session, but let Hayden take the lead.


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