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Lousy ballet performances

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As I explained in another thread in the "recent performances" forum, this evening I planned to attend an outdoors dance performance in Paris, but it ended as a kind of diluvian desaster. Do you have some funny memories of performances where everything went wrong- bad weather, problems with the music, mistakes on stage, etc.?

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I'm not sure if I've posted about it before, but SFB's Stern Grove performance in summer 2000 ranks up there. San Francisco's notorious summer weather was responsible for the cancellation of Balanchine's Symphony In 3 Movements. The dancers had to wear leg warmers and sweaters during van Manen's Solo, Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill Of Exactitude, and Mark Morris' Sandpaper Ballet.

Smaller incidents, still worth mentioning:

In Swan Lake, the costume for the man in the pas de trois had a gaping hole in the armpit.

In Othello, one of the corps men's hats fell off and somebody else kicked it into the wings.

Dring the Agon pas de deux, some of the man's stage makeup got smeared onto the woman's tights, leaving a long, ghastly streak down the length of her leg.

All of the dancers involved shall remain anonymous. ;)

[ 08-15-2001: Message edited by: BalletNut ]

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The 2001 NYCB Gala up in Saratoga Springs ranks pretty high up there too...

It had been raining hard for more than a day, and water was leaking through the roof of SPAC and dripping down the stairs. During the performance the water continued to flow in along the floor.

The rain must have gotten into the sound system because the speakers screeched with feedback twice during Harmonheliere(sp??). The screeching/feedback was painfully loud (the music is loud to begin with), and the oboeist actually got up and left after the second screech.

One can only imagine the difficulties backstage since I believe the dressing rooms are in trailers/separate building, connected by walkways.

Needless to say, not too many people hung around for the fireworks or champagne.

Other incidents at NYCB...

One of the Froman twins losing the tap on his shoe during the tap duet in the premeire of Robert LaFosse's Ellington ballet.

Kate

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This is a great story, sneds, but it must have been at another gala in Saratoga.... I was there this year and it was a beautiful evening--they did Theme & Variations, Ballo della Regina, and Soirees Musicales--and the fireworks were spectacularafterward...

I think, perhaps, this was last year...it was wettish then...

I always feel so sorry for performers at the mercy of the weather.....

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I was at the outdoor area in Washington a number of years ago, Wolf Trap, isn't it, in the middle of a horrible storm which blew up in Swan Lake and just as Marguerite Porter was starting her fouettes, the lights went out. She continued as if nothing happened, which was amazing. I was sitting near the edge wearing a jeans skirt which was drenched, just sopping wet. I was unbelievably miserable, and decided culture out of doors was not for me.

As for other mishaps, a friend who was at the first night of PAMTAGG (a mishap in itself, from the sound of it) said that one poor mans pants started to split at the crotch area very noticably. He was off stage for a brief period and when he returned had hooked them together with a very large safety pin. I guess those in the audience that saw it were choking with laughter.

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I'll never forget this moment from an NYCB perfomance years ago:

One of the women's shoes came off during one of the "crowd scenes" in the first waltz of Balanchine's Vienna Waltzes (this is the one with the women in long, full, pink ballgowns and heeled slippers and the men in Hussar's uniforms). The shoe got very visibly and perilously kicked from one end of the stage to the other for what seemed like hours as the dancers swirled over it and around it. Judging from the gasps, I think everybody in State Theater was fixated on that shoe and the apparently imminent disaster of someone tripping over it, falling down, and starting a New Jersey Turnpike style chain reaction pile-up. Finally some young man from the corp bent down and swept the slipper up as he passed, held it triumphantly aloft for a moment or two, and then flung it off into the wings with a flourish to a round of applause. Disaster averted!

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I was a young child when Mr. Balanchine did Don Q. I do not remember the year. Maybe someone can advise me of this. Image Mr. Balnachine sitting centerstage, absolutely enface upon his horse ever so elegantly. Jaquelyn Kennedy Onassis sitting beautifully first ring, center. Well, I shall say the horse had a call from nature just as the curtain was to fall, but not soon enough. As a youngster, first I was astonished to see Mr. Balanchine on a real horse no less, but then the rest was an experience I shall never forget. I call it one of my funniest moments in the theatre.

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If memory doesn't play tricks on me, I think that would be about 1969-70, when Mr. B. was appearing as Don Q a lot, and always unadvertised.

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I remember a truly horrifying night for NYCB at the State Theatre. First, Robert Weiss ripped his Achilles tendon and Merrill Ashley finished Ballo alone and unpartnered. Later that evening in Fancy Free, a lense on one of the stage lights hanging above the stage exploded and glass fell on the stage. The dancer playing the bartender came out from behind the bar and cleaned most of it up. It was one of those nights when the dancers must have been happy to escape with their lives.

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i remember a performance of ruth page's 'nutcracker' in which at the beginning of the coda, the sugar plum cavalier fell down in the middle of the stage, apparently having hurt something, crawled off the stage, leaving the sugar plum to finish the coda alone. in the finale, in which she is partnered, the soloist dancing 'spanish' (who was her other partner) finished the performance with her. i recall a performance of 'etudes' at ballet theatre in which the ballerina fell on her back and one of the men fell on top of her, face to face (this happened on tour, not in new york).

and not ballet but opera: a couple of years ago, in a performance of 'manon' at the met, there was evidently a dog on stage and at the moment when the diva began her aria the dog started to howl! :o

[ 08-17-2001: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]

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That horse in Don Q made a habit of doing his business on stage. Later on they got smart and put on someone with a dustpan and broom.

I remember once in Giselle, Jennifer Penney's skirt was ripped (Act II), and it kept unravelling. Everyone in the audience (and onstage) were just waiting for the inevitable disaster to strike. At some point when she was offstage someone cut it - leaving her with a NYCB-style short tutu.

Another time Giselle's shroud wound up downstage center. How to get it off? The wili's were all kneeling facing the audience. The center girl leaned over and picked up the shroud, bundled it up, and quite quietly passed it to the next girl, who then passed it to the girl nearest the wings. She managed to toss it off.

Then there was the occasion Merle Park showed up on stage in Nutcracker (beginning of Act II) in one leg warmer. To make matters worse, it was bright orange! I think it was the titters in the audience that alerted her. There was an unchoreographed exit and rapid re-entrance.

When I was ASM for the Nureyev and Friends performances at the Colisseum. one night one of the flymen had to answer an urgent call of nature and thus got his cues mixed up. Instead off taking out the white drapery in the "country" scene, he put in the chandelier. Nureyev, one could see, was mad as hell. Fonteyn was as cool as a cucumber - she merely held the drapery out of the way until it finally was taken out.

There are always disasters that the audience may/may not realise are happening. Such was the case when Ann Jenner came down with appendicitis during Sleeping Beauty. When Aurora was carried out to be put to bed, she was carried out to an ambulance. There was a quick change of cast. In fact, even that was a precarious thing, because the substitute dancer, Brenda Last had 1) never danced in that production 2) had just started back in class after being out with a foot injury 3) hadn't done any pointe work since returning to class 4) was around only because she was in the audience 5) as she was a member of the 2nd company they didn't have a stock of her shoes at Covent Garden 6) of course she had never had a costume fitting for that production 7) as she had come to the theater to be in the audience she wasn't warmed up. Somehow all these issues were resolved in the space of an extra-long interval. We all got lots of overtime that evening.

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A similar skirt disaster happened with David Wall and Lynn Seymour in Mayerling during the bedroom pas de deux. A bit raveled off, then more and more and more! Wall tried to tear the fabric off, but he only succeeded in loosening more of it. pretty soon, they stopped trying to dance with one another, and started dancing with the fabric! One commentator said, "They looked like two piles of rags possessed by the Devil!" :o

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Then there was the "Live from Lincoln Center" telecast where Kevin McKenzie, partnering Makarova, forgot to take off his leg warmers in the final act of "Romeo and Juliet." He couldn't leave the stage, so "he died with his boots on."

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Here's one more I forgot: On the Kirov In London Video, Makar Vasiev starts having some kind of problem with his shoe during the coda of the Don Q pas, and right before he begins the turning leaps he bends over, rips it off, and tosses it onto the side of the stage before continuing. As he exits, he reaches over and snatches the shoe up on his way out. He does the turns on his shoeless foot.

[ 08-19-2001: Message edited by: BalletNut ]

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Actually, my favorite disaster occurred during a performance of Nutcracker by Northern Dance Theatre some years ago. The set had two tables on wheels set at angles about 3/4 the way upstage on either side. During the party scene they contained "food" items (including an edible cake) and small toys. During the tree-growing scene they reversed to reveal the same toys much enlarged. When the pas de deux music starts (after Clara has killed the mouse king), the tables were supposed to pull off. For some reason one got stuck and then overturned scattering rubber chickens, "salads" "cakes" "puddings" and the like all over the stage. Fortunately the vast majority of the items landed upstage of the tables, but some made it downstage center. The choreography called for Clara's older sister, now transformed into a Snow Queen to dance a pdd with the transformed Nutcracker, while Clara oohed and ahhed from the sidelines. The Clara, rather cleverly, oohed and ahhed as she gracefully picked up "magical chickens" and tossed them off stage. The pdd couple managed to fit their choreography into the downstage portion of the stage, while the lighting board operators killed the lights on the upstage portion - allowing the stage manager to sweep up the debris and the stage hands to manually remove the offending table.

This was the occasion of my one memorable encounter with Ross Stretton. He was sitting next to me in the wings, and as we both laughed helplessly, he grabbed my arm so hard that I was black and blue for a month afterward. :o

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Talking about skirt desasters makes me think of a "Lady of the Camellias" in Munich, when in second pdd Marguerite's skirt started to rip off. In this act, she wears a beautiful white dress, and the skirt must consist of many metres of white chiffon - audience held their breath while the dancer tried not to step onto the remains of her skirt... After they had finished the pdd without falling over, she sent off Armand as usual - and then Nanina came on stage with HUGE scissors to cut the skirt to make it less dangerous.

What is normally a highly dramatical scene (Armands father arrives to convince Marguerite to give up his son) failed a bit this impression in that performance...

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I'm sure that this is only one of a myriad of curtain mishaps we've all witnessed. Back when ABT was performing Baryshnikov's production of 'Swan Lake' the curtain started rising on Act IV. In this staging the corp of swans were on the stage floor face down presumably weeping in sorrow at the betrayal that Odette had received in

Act III. The floor they were laying on swirled with the thick fog from the machines and the corp was buried in this. They were suppose to rise as the curtain did but the curtain only rose about 3 or 4 feet and got stuck. There was a delay, the music started again but the curtain went neither up nor down. The music stopped and finally one of the black swans lifted her head from the fog and looked around as if to say "Do something!" They finally got the curtain to lower and, after a few minutes, got it to work correctly. I can't say it made for a terrible performance but I've alway felt sorry for those dancers breathing that fog. I wonder if it's hard to breathe in and if it's toxic?

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No, it's no worse than drizzle and smells faintly of vinegar, because there are small amounts of acetic acid created when the dry ice is immersed in warm water. You would breathe more acetic acid while walking through an apple orchard.

[ 08-20-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

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There was always the time Arthur Mitchell stepped on Jillana's hand in "fog" during A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was Puck and she was Helena. She waslying on the floor pretending to be asleep while Puck arranged the lovers correctly. I heard he broke one of her fingers. I think that qualifies as a real "disaster".

Then there's the story of Markova as Giselle. She had to go down a trap door at the end of Act II. The elevator went down and up and down and up....until the curtain, mercifully, fell.

There was an occasion I witnessed when, just before the start of a Royal Ballet performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Met, someone accidentally pushed the curtain button. It rose to reveal dancers draped over the thrones, lying on the floor, stretching, or practicing assorted steps. Most of them reacted quickly and jumped up and ran off before the curtain could be lowered again. The audience had a good laugh. :o

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Mel, thanks for an answer to my question about the fog. I'm glad to know that the dancers weren't in danger of suffocation! I should have realized that safety issues had to be in place to satisfy theater or union standards.

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Not surprisingly, donkeys onstage can, well, extemporize the same way as horses do. My only experience of this was during a performance of "Union Jack", when the donkey that drew the cart onstage for "Costermonger pas de deux", uh, relieved himself part way through, in full view of the audience, as this section is done in front of the lowered curtain. What made the event memorable, aside from its uniqueness in my experience, was that the, uh, mishap was cleaned up by Peter Martins, no less, who entered on the opposite side, already in his sailor suit for "Royal Navy", and equipped for his task with a broom, a dustpan, and a look of grim determination.

On another occasion, the curtain came down to within a couple of feet of the stage, about half a minute before the end of "Scherzo a la Russe"; we could see that most of the dancers continued to dance, but a few in back stopped momentarily.

NYCB never was strong on handling props, so that we weren't suprised when the girl dancing the trumpet solo in "Stars and Stripes" did it with an "invsible" one; but they were extremely adept at getting stray objects, usually a boy's slipper, into the wings. Usually two kicks were sufficient, nobody missing a step, much less bending over to pick it up, all to giggles and a whisper of applause from the audience.

Other minor glitches would occur, like two demis turning too close to each other so that outstretched hands would hit with a resounding slap and a gasp from the dancers, but a major one, like a bad fall, forcing the dancer to hobble off, sometimes provoked nervous giggles which spread around the stage and then faded. And there was one tall soloist I won't name in public who didn't seem to require anything at all to inspire her giggles, and once she started...

But I missed by one day an instructive mishap. In a short ballet, a dancer fell twice and nearly knocked someone else down, which wouldn't have been so awful if it hadn't been her professional debut! Nerves, we supposed. The night I went, her alternate was listed in the program but she was cast again instead, and danced superbly, if not quite justifying the wild enthusiasm of the regulars seated around me, I thought. Asking for explanation, I learned of the bad debut the night before. There was nothing wrong with her alternate. The management was not going to let that dancer stew for two days about an inauspicious beginning to what turned out to be an admirable and quite long career with NYCB, but put her right back out there to do what they knew she could do. It was one of those times I felt the depth and the wisdom of Mr. B's little empire.

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The story from the glory of the Kirov. I will not give you names, but a very famous male dancer in the end of variation in "Don Quixote" fell off pirouettes. He immediately stood up and without music repeated pirouettes beautifully, provoking rave applaudes from the crowd. The next morning we had "Swan Lake" and the young soloist, dancing pas de trois, fell off his pirouettes also. He also stood up, lifted his hand, like wanted to bring attention to what he is doing and repeated pirouettes. Unfortunately, he fell again. Without any confusion he stood up, repeat his gesture, made pirouette again and fell again! He was willing to do it all day long, I believe, but somebody from the wings just pulled him out of the stage. The conductor couldn't continue performance for few minutes, everybody was laughing as crazy, musicians included. :o

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My favorite was a 4th act Swan. This was a version with the jump off the cliff. Siefried seemed to bounce back up over the waves a few times. I guess the mattress was not too firm or his love was not sincere.

Andrei: Is this a tradition at the Kirov? I remember N. Makarova in one of her first Swan's in the West doing this with the fouettes (in Chicago). She fell after about eight, went downstage to the conductor and asked him to begin again. She then eeked out the thirty-two to thunderous applause (much more than if she had done them outright). Not a bad stage trick.

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