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Strange Meetings

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A few months ago, my friend Felicity returned from St Petersburg bearing gifts: programmes from the Kirov, (used) tickets from ditto, ballet leaflets, newspaper reviews in Russian which neither of us could read, though we tried….and from the Hermitage Theatre a small piece of loo paper. (Just in case you don’t know, that’s 'toilet paper' in American.)

Somewhat taken aback, I looked down at the small square of paper and was able to say – eventually and with total honesty – that her gift had left me completely speechless.

Ah, but this was to help me remember something important, Felicity informed me. In Russian public loos, apparently, you have to be sure to pick up your loo paper from a shelf on the way in (as you will not find any in the loo itself) - which can lead to embarrassing problems.

But there was more to be said of the Hermitage Theatre's ladies’ room than this, it transpired. While visiting that facility during the interval, Felicity spotted two girls from the corps de ballet. (They were in costume and make-up and, thus, pretty unmistakable.) It appears that the dancers don't (or didn’t on that day, at least) have their own loo backstage and have to share with the public.

Now Felicity is a ballet fan and therefore quick to respond to any and all ballet opportunities. So she whipped out her programme (fortunately not having had to use it for other purposes) and asked for (and got) the girls’ autographs. Returning to the loos in the next interval (for research purposes) she saw a lot more dancers - who disappeared in a flurry of hysterical screams of laughter the moment she produced her programme and pen. (This Felicity informs me, was the only time she heard Russians laugh out loud during the whole course of her visit.)

I was left to ponder the effect, on Ladies' rooms in the West, if the dancers suffered from similar backstage problems. I mean, imagine rushing off after the second act of Swan Lake and finding yourself miles back in the queue behind 32 swans. (And how long does it take to get out of a tutu, I wonder? Not to mention, getting it back on again.)

I wondered, also, if any of Ballet Alert’s dancers had been asked for autographs in strange places…..or had experienced interesting backstage plumbing problems.

- Wendy

PS I should add that Felicity spent most of her time at the Hermitage Theatre being knocked out by the beauty of the Theatre and thrilled by the quality of the dancing she saw there! Better wonderful dancing and mediocre loos than vice versa.

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Very interesting story – thank you. Although I wonder if it's proper etiquette, strictly speaking, to ask for autographs under such circumstances? After all, the dancers do have to stand there and wait in line, and while many might not mind signing a program or two, it might get annoying after a bit.

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Thanks for the amusing story. When my wife and I went to England in the 60s, she was fascinated by the various kinds of loo paper she encountered in London and elsewhere -- the different textures, thicknesses, and even colors. She amassed quite a collection and we brought it home. It's still here someplace.

As for autographs, once, a long time ago, she and I were in a New York City subway train, and standing above us was a young man reading a book I'd written. He was showing a funny passage to his girlfriend. This was such an unlikely event (nothing like that ever happened to me again) that Alice said, indicating me, "this is the author, would you like him to sign your book?" They looked at us as though we were a pair of lunatics (my photo was not on the book jacket). He obviously wanted to decline the offer, but not wishing to arouse the crazy folks, he reluctantly agreed, but wouldn't give his name.

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I was told the story some 20-ish years ago of a young, rising dancer in a large New York company about to debut in her biggest role yet. Afflicted by the nervous, urgent need to urinate, she told a fan of her agony as, once the tights are on, the ladies are not permitted to use the bathroom. A cruel policy, but understandable in view of sanitary considerations. Talk about suffering for your art!!!!

FF, I was stopped on a corner (65th & Broadway/Columbus, in fact) by a gentleman who claimed his mother to be the author of the book I was carrying. I told him how much I was enjoying it and asked him to send her my thanks for her good work.

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There's a letter in the Arts & Leisure section of the Feb. 16 New York Times that relates to this thread.

"To the Editor:

In September 1997 I spotted a New York City Ballet dancer on my downtown No.2 train. I thought he was Peter Frame but wasn't sure. The train stalled between stations and I began to speak with the dancer. He was quite friendly and told me of the company's plans.

When I asked for his autograph, he graciously gave it; he was Kipling Houston. I am sorry to see that this graceful, jovial dancer is retiring from the City Ballet.

Ellen Levitt


This is a pleasant anecdote, but it got me wondering about people (I'm sure there are many) who ask for autographs from "celebrities" of whose identity they're not sure.

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As a resident of the "dance-belt," I see dancers all over the place, all the time. My personal rule of thumb: ok to approach as they enter/leave the theater. Not in the supermarket, not at the ATM, not in the course of their daily, private doings. (Of course, if their dog is in your dog's play group, normal, neighborly chat is fine.) I did break my rule once: After I'd paid for my groceries, I lingered a few minutes until Suzanne Farrell had done likewise, and as she was leaving the store, I told her how much I'd enjoyed seeing her company at their New Victory season. I asked when they might be returning to New York. She was very gracious, and I wished her luck and left.

Of course, there are those who crave the attention. Once, I was alone on a bus with Mme Danilova. She was seated in the front, and as I boarded, I gave her a smile and nod of recognition. I sat mid-bus and savored the "performance" as she spent the rest of the ride posing and preening, apparently for my benefit.:D

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I'm of the smile and leave 'em alone school, personally. But I have a story that relates to Farrell Fan's.

I had a friend in college who looked (by dint of hair and moustache) like Elliott Gould. He never claimed to be Elliott Gould. In fact, he'd deny it. He got wonderful treatment on airplanes, always upgraded to first class (he thinks Gould's reputation for modesty is his doing).

Once, I went out to dinner with him and several others in a small town -- Fredericksburg, Virginia. I was in a film class and, by coincidence, we were making a movie, and Michael was in the movie (he was a lawyer; this was just for fun). The waitress, who must have overheard our conversation about "botched takes," kept eyeing us and by the end of the evening, all four waitresses were staring and giggling, asking for his autograph. "You are Elliott Gould. I know you are. I just loved you in Mash!" one said. Michael smiled, modestly, thanked them, said he wasn't Elliott Gould, and declined to give the autograph.

We went outside and on this tiny street in a tiny town was one car. An enormous, white, stretch limousine. YOU ARE TOO ELLIOTT GOULD! We heard the waitresses screaming after us.

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It reminds me of a POB performance I had attended around 1996 with an American acquaintance met on a.a.b., after the show I had to go to the "entrée des artistes" of the Opera Garnier to take something a dancer of the corps de ballet had left for me (I was making a page about her). It had never been to the "entrée des artistes" before, and even though I knew approximately where it was, I was not really sure... We crossed two young gentlemen who seemed to be coming from the right direction, asked them where it was and they politely replied. And a few meters later, I realized with surprise that one of them was Manuel Legris, whom we had seen shortly before in Ashton's "Rhapsody"... Well, that was the only conversation I ever had with Manuel Legris ;)

Farrell Fan wrote:

" This is a pleasant anecdote, but it got me wondering about people (I'm sure there are many) who ask for autographs from "celebrities" of whose identity they're not sure."

I remember a POB performance I once attended in Lyon at the Maison de la Danse. After the end of the performance, I was near the artists's door, and there were two teen-aged girls waiting there. One of the first people to go out was Jean Guizerix, a former POB principal who was then one of the ballet masters of the company. The girls rushed at him asking for an autograph, and he replied with a smile "well, you know, I wasn't dancing today", thinking that perhaps it was a mistake from them, but they did know who he was and wanted an autograph from him...

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Many thanks to everyone for the interesting stories.

Just in case anyone's wondering, I’ve been known to hang about outside stage doors myself (much more fun – and certainly safer – than waiting at Kings Cross station for my train), but would tend not to ask for autographs elsewhere. (Though if I’d found myself on the same bus as Danilova……).

- Wendy

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