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Tragedies and Disasters


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#1 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 January 2001 - 10:36 PM

While this thread is not intended to discuss the fine detail of Laurel Foster's death, owing to a request from the family to refrain from discussing same publicly - a form of self-censorship I think we can all live with - I wonder what the thoughts of the members are regarding accidents and misadventures that follow dancers and dance companies? After all, Emma Livry died of complications arising from severe burns suffered onstage in a rehearsal of Le Papillion, and the American Ballet was left defunct in Scranton, Pennsylvania when the company treasurer absconded with what little money the company had. Not exactly as bad as Livry's fate, but bad enough. What thoughts?

#2 Drew

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Posted 07 January 2001 - 11:45 PM

Sort of a grim topic...

Vaslav Nijinsky's mental breakdown...Tanaquil LeClerq's polio...Gelsey Kirkland's difficulties with anorexia and drugs...Yuri Soloviev's suicide...Kenneth Macmillan's premature death from a heart attack...These are among the most important dancers and choreographers of the twentieth-century.

The death of so many talented dance artists from AIDS...

There's something of an abyss between this type of tragedy (like the death of Emma Livry) and sleeze/corruption adventure that marked the American Ballet's problems! I gather from another thread on Ballet Alert that some of Ballet Arizona's problems stemmed from problematic management, though the company was, happily, rescued...

There are, too, what one might call self-inflicted tragedies -- say, the Balanchine-Farrell relationship which resulted in tremendous upheaval for many City Ballet dancers (just read the interviews with Farrell's contemporaries!!!) as well as Farrell, Mejia, and Balanchine himself. For some, Kirkland's career would fall under this rubric as well...In the former case (but perhaps even the latter), the causes of the tragedy are all too intimately linked to the causes of the artistic accomplishments. But there are other careers where interpersonal or political problems/issues probably affected careers rather brutally and in some cases unjustly and senselessly. Some cases of which I'm thinking are really matters of gossip so I won't repeat them, but certainly on the public/political front it cannot have been good for the Panovs as dancers to spend so many years under a de facto house arrest.

P.S. After reading this over, I realized that it might seem odd to some that I don't view suicide as a self-inflicted tragedy -- this is a difficult issue, but let's say only that I consider it linked to mental illness and not necessarily a choice that is under someone's control. Assessing "choice" is always enigmatic...perhaps no-one makes tragic choices consciously, but anyway I stick to my original distinction...



[This message has been edited by Drew (edited January 07, 2001).]

#3 ORZAK

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Posted 08 January 2001 - 09:52 PM

There was the tragedy of Patrick Bissel and then the legions of tragedies due to AIDS.

Only one of my partners is still alive......Basheva

#4 leibling

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Posted 08 January 2001 - 11:07 PM

I have often had thoughts on such a topic- the image of "the suffering artist" has a great deal of truth in it. There seem to be many dancers who find themselves drawn to difficult situations. Is it a personality trait? Is it an unconscious seach for a complete range of emotion? Is it lack of will power? (I guess I am speaking of seemingly self-inflicted difficulties) Is it the need to express a passion for life- living as fully as possible? Regardless of the reason, the dance/arts world is relatively small, therefore every tragedy is magnified. There are not many headlines that specify that a dancer has been killed, so to see such is a reminder that one has been lost where there are already few.

#5 Yvonne

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Posted 09 January 2001 - 12:23 AM

Basheva, I agree with you about Bissell - such talent and stage presence. Whenever I see him on video, I always feel sad wondering what might have been.... Posted Image

This past year, wasn't there also a young dancer from Chicago (not sure), who passed away due to anorexia while on her way to Disneyland? I can't remember her name, but what a tragic situation for her family.

[This message has been edited by Yvonne (edited January 09, 2001).]

#6 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 09 January 2001 - 12:35 AM

Yvonne, that was a dancer from Boston Ballet, Heidi Gunther. It was never determined that she died from anorexia. It was a heart problem of some kind. However, I think most people believe the heart problem was probably caused by annorexia. The medical people would not specify that, though.

[This message has been edited by Victoria Leigh (edited January 09, 2001).]

#7 Yvonne

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Posted 09 January 2001 - 10:00 AM

Thanks Victoria, I just couldn't remember her name. I've never heard anything about AIDS regarding Gunther, only Annorexia.

#8 samba38

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Posted 09 January 2001 - 06:15 PM

I'm sorry to disagree Mel, but to leave out the publicly printed circumstances of Laurel's accidental death -- in a plane crash at New Year's according to the Salt Lake City Tribune -- leaves her vulnerable to the implication in later discussion on this board that maybe it was a Heidi-Gunther-ED-related mystery. Unfair and inappropriate. The news saddened all of us who saw Laurel during her Miami City Ballet years, a young talent with much to offer.
On Heidi -- while people tend to remember anorexia, her symptoms and the chemical imbalance that leads to sudden heart problems are more in line with bulimia and more in keeping with her behavior and the laxatives found in her purse. Bulimia is a more hidden killer because people's weight doesnt' shift very radically, they appear to eat, even eat a lot, around people and yet they are playing chemical havoc internally.

[This message has been edited by samba38 (edited January 09, 2001).]

#9 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 09 January 2001 - 08:38 PM

Thanks, Yvonne, that was a rushed post and I did mean to say anorexia. Just corrected it.

#10 ORZAK

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Posted 09 January 2001 - 09:49 PM

I had the pleasure once of watching Patrick Bissel teach a master class - first to a mixed gender group of dancers and then to a men's class. What presence and power he had. He was by no means a small man, well over 6 foot, but could he ever move!!!

He arrived for the men's class straight from the beach (this is San Diego) and he was clad only in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. He carried his ballet slippers in his hands. At one point during the class when the men were saying that the music was much too fast for the combination which Patrick had set, he put on his slippers. And then as the class stepped back and the music started, he flew through the combination, inserted beats everywhere, and then without pause, reversed it entirely. He ended with a huge, glorious, multiple pirouette and finished impeccably. He wasn't even warmed up.

There were no more mumblings about the music being too fast. Everyone was in awe - total awe. This man in t-shirt, shorts and barelegs in ballet slippers.

I also saw him perform La Sylphide with Gelsey Kirkland - and what a glory that was. And a Swan Lake with Cynthia Gregory. Had things been different he would have been the perfect partner for her, in my opinion. He certainly was that night. Basheva

#11 pookey

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Posted 10 January 2001 - 12:34 AM

Samba 38
The only reason Laurel Fosters death was not a topic to be discussed was that her sister Amy and the family as well as all the members of Balet West needed time to grieve before the information went public. The last thing anyone wanted was for Amy to be harassed with calls from the press while she is dealing with a such a tragedy. When the info went public I notified Alexandra of that fact and that at that point it was probably O.K. to start talking about it.
I was going to put up a post about the death and circumstances surrounding it myself but I then decided it would be so much better to celebrate Laurel's life rather than dwell on the tragedy, which it truly was. I get sick to my stomach just sitting here thinking about it. Laurel was a lovely dancer and a good and special person. I will miss her dearly
You have inspired me to open a post about her now

#12 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 January 2001 - 08:10 AM

Good to know, pookey. While I'll save the happy memories for your thread, I can't help thinking about the air safety issues involved in this case. The National Transportation Safety Board will have to investigate, of course, but this one looked to me like another "continued aerial flight into terrain" accident, with a possible "pilot error, owing to inexperience or lack of currency in procedures" as a contributing factor. As a (non-current) private pilot, I still get some of the flight safety publications, and have noted over the years the inordinate number of doctors and lawyers who are involved in air accidents. These professions allow the pilot to have his/her own plane, but the time involved in the profession does not allow for sufficient practice time behind the controls, especially when the pilot wishes to proceed into marginal weather conditions (think John Kennedy) or navigate in unfamiliar or hostile terrain, and closer to the Arctic Circle is always hostile, when it comes to navigation.

While flying with an airliner is one of the safest modes of transport, private plane accidents have always been less so. If you have a friend who wants to take you somewhere in his plane, ask about how current his logbook is. I have an awful feeling this accident could have been avoided.

#13 salzberg

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Posted 10 January 2001 - 10:20 AM

Originally posted by Mel Johnson:
I have an awful feeling this accident could have been avoided.


That is, of course, the definition of "accident"; every accident can be traced back to human error.

I'm going to continue this, I think, in a new thread in the "Tech" forum, where backstage safety is a recurrent theme.




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#14 pookey

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Posted 10 January 2001 - 03:46 PM

Mel,
Although I believe that you are right, Laurel's accident possibly could have been avoided I feel we need to give a bit more credit to the pilot. Mike's dad (the pilot) was a very experineced pilot he apparently had been flying his own private plane for over 30 Years. Furthermore he had flown through bad conditions countless times and was very skilled at using his instruments, Unlike JFK jr. I also have to add that although it was snowing and the visiblity was very bad, Penticton had given the plane O.K. to land. In fact it as on their decent that the plane just crashed. I am hoping it was a plane malfunction as opposed to pilot error. I have to admit when I first heard Laurel was misssing I felt a little anger towards Mike's dad. I thought how could he take my friend into an unsafe environment. Now I realize he is not responsible and the horrible truth that he died as well along with Mike and his mom. Maybe we should not be so quick to judge the pilot without knowing the details. Unfortunately because of the severity of the crash no one may ever know the details

#15 samba38

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Posted 10 January 2001 - 04:43 PM

Pookey, Of course the family -- the Fosters and her ballet family -- were entitled to a time to mourn before dealing with strangers. But the thread was posted days after the Salt Lake City Tribune obituary with her photo so it seems unfair to let the discussion here drift toward those whose career ended in illness or in tragically self-destructive choices is if there were some connection between Laurel and these equally sad but different tales. I can't imagine how it would comfort Amy or the Foster parents to read about the Gunther or Bissell deaths on a thread about their daughter. (Actually, there is no adequate comfort so that's really a pretty silly statement by me.) Lastly, as a member of that supposedly ghoulish media, I have found survivors are often very glad and much comforted by an opportunity to give their vision of a beloved who is gone, to make them special and particular, not just a name on a body. Not all media are thoughtless jerks shoving microphones at weeping mothers. There are ways to ask someone, "tell me about your special person and why the world is lesser for their loss" that lead often to stories that enrich us all, a final gift unique as a fingerprint.


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