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Lucy Ash tiptoed behind the scenes in Saratoga USA to examine the workings of New York City Ballet, while John Aitken looks back to the years when the Grand Master Balanchine pulled the strings. The Company’s
visit to Glasgow will be their only UK date.
Saratoga Performing Arts Centre and summer home to the New York City Ballet. The damp air hums with mosquitoes and the chatter of hundreds of Woopies — America‘s Well-Off-Older-People. Armed with umbrellas. blankets and season tickets. these middle-aged up—State New Yorkers come here on cultural pilgrimages. It is clean. easy to park and nobody is going to snatch your pocketbook. With its outdoor amphitheatre — resembling a truncated spider on four legs — and immaculate lawns. SPAC is like a New England (ilyndebourne. The Albany Times Union reports that a Schenectady firefighter and his wife
j Denise feasted their friends on
I ‘jumbo shrimp stuffed with fontina
i cheese and prosciutto. followed by
. filet mignon in cognac sauce and
l \ It is a rainy evening at SPAC— the
strawberry almond cream pie.‘
The List-1.: H September 1989
Backstage at SPAC. an exhausted ballerina has crashed out on a sofa in the press room. She is all wrapped up but I can just see one foot poking gracefully out ofthe blanket. I tiptoe past and shut the door. In carefully measured tones the company's press rep talks about Saratoga: ‘There is a view that New York City‘s a bad place to be in July. People say it‘s hot and dirty— they like the fresh air here and the barbecues. I don’t happen to agree but I guess it‘s a nice break . . .‘ Like all good PR people for big companies. .‘Vlaitland McDonagh wants to promote a ‘happy family" image and in many ways she is right.
Several members of the NYCB are in fact related to each other: Ballet Master-in-Chief Peter Martin‘s son Nilas is in the company. soloist Judith Fugate shares a room on tours with her mother who is in charge of the women‘s wardrobe; the young
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soloist Michael Byars became interested in ballet after watching his dad play the oboe in the NYCB orchestra and Albert Evans and Andrea Long— the only black dancers - are first cousins. Moreover. punishing rehearsal schedules make off-stage partnerships somewhat inevitable — ambitious dancers have little time to socialise outside the ballet world.
And there is also the famous family resemblance. The NYCB's detractors call the ballerinas ‘pinheads‘. Yet some prefer the fiery athletic style to the rotund daintiness of Anna Pavlova: the typical NYCB dancer has a ‘long thin body‘ and ‘limbs that spear like daggers into space‘. according to the Christian Science Monitor. On closer inspection. these images seem rather exaggerated. The dancers do not all look like emaciated Modigliani sculptures or Amazons in tutus — some are even below average height.
These differences are hardly surprising for although most of the dancers were trained at the NYCB‘s own School of American Ballet, they come from a diversity of
backgrounds. Leading soloist Jock Soto. the company heart-throb. is the son ofa Najavo lndian mother and a Puerto Rican father. He was brought up on an Indian reservation and progressed to ballet from Indian hoop dancing. Fugae comes from a sleepy little town in New Jersey while Leonid Kozlov and his (now ex-) wife Valentina made a flamboyant entry after defecting from the Bolshoi Ballet while on tour in Los Angeles ll) years ago. Evans. who jokes in a laid-back Southern drawl about his yellow rooster costume for The Fircbird. is the son ofa train driver from Atlanta.
Ifthe NYCB is in any way a family. five years after his death George Balanchine is still very much the patriach. Many ofthe company‘s newest members speak reverentially of ‘Mr B‘ and seem genuinely upset that they never had a chace to work with him. Later. watchinga rehearsal. I am struck by the mood of quiet restraint. Martins sits immobile. back to the auditorium. as the dancers go through their paces. Every now and then a lady in a lilac cardigan claps her hands and the