Backstage with the American Ballet Theatre Fans
- Offstage with the Dancers
By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
A well-kept, New York Dance Scene secret huddles together each night, when ABT is in town, beneath the cavernous Metropolitan Opera House, in heat and humidity, clutching flowers, programs, and special pens, Beanie Babies and bags of lemon drops and chocolate kisses, ever so patiently standing guard at the Met Stage Door, awaiting the Principals and Corps, collecting signatures and greetings from dancers, their friends and spouses, and ABT Staff and Associates. This loyal Club, that has no name, just faces and Ballet souvenirs, recently accepted this writer, another Balletomane, into its private world, one that is understood best from this inside perspective.
July 1, 2002, Inside the Stage Door Entrance of the Metropolitan Opera House, about midnight, hushed and humid, I was joined by Marianne Stegeland, Hermine Weiss, Lois Kirschenbaum, Tommy Ng, Adam Jagusiak, and Barbara Segall.
REZ: Why is this Stage Door scene so important to you? What brings you together here, night after night?
Group: Most people just go to a great performance. We feel the urge to see the artists, to thank them in person. This, to us, is part of the whole evening, the completion of the performance. People think Divas are unapproachable, but, actually, they are quite personable. Some Dance Companies are said to be more aloof. The dancers are sometimes surprised when you greet them, and some have an initial language barrier, when they first arrive in New York. Once they are more comfortable in English, they are more relaxed.
Marianne: I started as an ABT Boutique volunteer five to six years ago. I felt everyone was concentrating on the soloists, but I wanted the Corps kids to participate. I set a goal for myself to learn how to recognize every member and celebrate each dancer. I developed a different project each year for five years. Last year, I brought a map of the world each night to the Stage Door and had each dancer sign in the country where they were born. This year, I bought an extra large pair of men's ballet slippers and an extra large pair of women's toe shoes. I alternate the shoes each night and have every member of the Ballet Company sign my shoes and slippers with my special pen. If I see Corps members try to shyly leave, I approach them with a Beanie Baby as a Thank You for signing my project.
Lois: I save all the newspaper reviews and articles and discard them from year to year, when it's too much. I also go to the Stage Doors of Carnegie Hall and the Opera, as well as to City Ballet. (After a dynamic and detailed discussion of this writer's own all-time favorite Ballet Star, Rudolf Nureyev) I saw my first Nureyev New York performance at the Brooklyn Academy. I used to meet Nureyev at the Stage Door. I also saw him at the Chicago Lyric. Margot (Fonteyn) was always lovely.
Hermine and Lois: We find out when the ABT, City Ballet, and Opera intermissions are scheduled, and depending on the night and who's in town, we buy two tickets for one night, sometimes one standing room and one regular seat, and we walk quickly back and forth to see our favorite stars in our favorite acts or arias.
Group: We also make surprise birthday parties for our Ballet Stars, like one for Susan Jaffe. We sometimes bring cake and champagne and sing to them. (The group then recited several birthdays of several ABT Principals, to the exact day.)
Adam: I'm here for the beauty and the tension of the performance. This scene (backstage) completes the performance. It's a mood, a social camaraderie, and we like to hear the gossip!
Group: At the Stage Door, we learn about the good news and the accidents. We knew that Irina (Dvorovenko) was injured more severely than first announced. The rehearsal accident happened before the Ballet Season started, and she was at first still listed, then her name was removed.
REZ: What do you all do, post-Ballet Season?
Group: We go to the City Ballet and the Kirov, but (in the Kirov) an entirely, new generation of dancers are dancing now.
REZ: Why hasn't the Paris Opera Ballet been in town, lately?
Group: The rent at the Met is probably too expensive. They haven't been here for a while.
REZ: Whom do you miss the most?
Lois: Erik (Bruhn) was the epitome for me of a true classical dancer. Also, Anthony (Dowell) and Edward (Villella).
REZ: What ever happened to Villella?
Group (in unison): He's Artistic Director of the Miami City Ballet.
REZ: So, what else do you do, Off-Season?
Group: Beaches and Baseball. Half of us are Yankee Fans and half are Mets Fans. (Another story, another perspective.)
Ballet fan, Robert Hill (ABT), Lois Kirschenbaum
Gennadi Saveliev (ABT)
Marian Butler (ABT) signing for Jessie (ABT fan)
Nina Ananiashvilli (ABT) & Roberta
Tommy Ng, Adam Jagusiak
Marianne Stegeland, Lois Kirschenbaum, Hermine Weiss
Julio Bocca (ABT and from Argentina), Ballet fan, Cecilia Saia (Tango performer and teacher)
Cecilia Saia (famed Argentine Tango Performer and teacher), Vladmir Malakhov (ABT), Roberta Zlokower (ExploreDance.com staff)
Herman Cornejo (ABT), Carmen Corella, Ballet fans
Marianne Stegeland, Sarawanee Tanatanit
Nina Ananiashvilli (ABT) signing for a fan
Jessie, an out-of-town Ballet Fan & Marian Butler, Corps of ABT (After "Le Corsaire")
Marianne Stegeland, Lois Kirschenbaum, Hermine Weiss, Michele Wiles (ABT) (After "Le Corsaire")