All That Glitters Is Not Gold –
All Who Wander Are Not Lost.
His school in South Kensington was populated mostly by professional dancers from London’s West End theaters. He was known also for placing many of his students in European ballet companies.
I felt as if I was starting all over again as a young ballet student, but in a new land. With no idea of British money – it was still shillings, sixpence, half crown, etc. – I simply paid for daily lessons by holding out a hand filled with change and let whoever was in charge pick out what they needed.
I Join A Ballet Company
Well, I was twenty-five, had been dancing since age fourteen and already belonged to two theatrical unions, but I suddenly had ‘potential’. Not a very encouraging evaluation. At any rate, he accepted me at a huge salary of fifteen pounds a week and the ballet mistress began straight away teaching me the repertory. So, after only two weeks in London I had landed a dancing job.
Ballets Minerva was an odd outfit. The director, Edward Gaillard, had been a member of the Vic-Wells Ballet [later to become the Royal Ballet] and after seven years in the army joined The Ballet Rambert. He was also one of the soloists in the magnificent ballet film, “The Red Shoes”. Eddie lived with his mother. The three principal girls of the company lived a kind of sequestered life in a tiny cottage at the bottom of his parent’s garden. There was an older male dancer, Harry. Where he lived I never knew. These five people were the starters of this company, then in its ninth seemingly imperishable year.
Then there were the extra dancers
of which I was the newest recruit. Actually, I was the only male
dancer. The other male, Harry, only did the character roles. I think
he also did the choreography but I never saw him get any credit for
Photo: As Young Scrooge
Kathleen Gray, the senior dancer
took the role of Old Scrooge in male drag. The Prima Ballerina was
always Margaret Cameron. Everyone danced several roles including
girls becoming boys when needed.
My second debut in the Pavilion Theater at Bexhill-On-Sea was in a weighted down drama on “Circe And Ulysses” to music by Richard Strauss. Winter had begun and the theaters were icy cold. England is not known for heating, at least it wasn’t in those days. As I was about to make my first entrance I stood in the wings shivering, half naked in my short Greek tunic and bare chest. Eddie, standing on the other side of the stage thought I was trembling from stage fright [I wasn’t] and sent Harry over to calm me. Of course, as Ulysses I had plenty of acting and duets with Circe but mostly it was sitting and watching the drama of Circe and her hand maidens preparing for my death.
“Hamlet” was another dramatic and
At the London try-out of “Alice”, all the critics were present. I made my first entrance as the Unicorn, leaping out onstage to do battle with the Lion. As I’d never read the book I didn’t know what the battle was about. It was the crown I later found out. I tried to make the leap as high as I could. On landing I felt as if someone had shot me in the calf and hobbled off stage to sit down and watch my foot swell up and turn black. Apparently I had not warmed myself up properly before attempting leaps that I soon found out was absolutely necessary in the cold and damp English climate.
Photo Left: As the Red King in "Alice" Photos Right: As the Knave Of Hears in “Alice”
On Tour With Ballets Minerva
I got my first taste of the British class system when I first boarded that coach and began to take a seat beside the leading ballerina who always sat in front. She quickly put me in my place by telling me my seat was in the very back. I was not only a newcomer but a foreigner as well, and an American to boot.
In each city, the five founders stayed in the best hotels while the rest of us were assigned to cheaper digs. I didn’t mind. I was enjoying touring and the chance to see all of England at close range.
Once backstage, Eddie showed me his triple tour en l'air. He just jumped up, without any preparation or warm-up, and spun around three times. As any male ballet dancer will tell you, the skill to do a double tour in the air must be guaranteed, at least to one side. I could do doubles to both sides for sure, but a triple is a feat I had never seen before, except perhaps in figure skating. Eddie must have really been unique doing this.
These tours to various cities
usually lasted two or three weeks. One day we would be in some Devon
township and the next, looming on the horizon somewhere in the far
North, then back to London for a week or so. We always looked
forward to engagements in London as not only the audiences were more
sophisticated but it was home. During these free periods I was free
to take classes at Andrew Hardy’s studio and go to performances by
The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera at Covent Garden, and see the
current plays and films.
an odd set of circumstances I acquired a Mentor, Charles Menzies. He
was a London banker and the proper English gentleman, all for Queen
and country and that sort thing. British to the core. He had been in
the RAF during the war and was also a supporting member of Covent
Garden Opera House. He knew all literature and owned a huge
collection of books. In fact, he was a book addict and couldn’t pass
a book-store without going inside and purchasing something. He was
quite fond of the dance and the fact that I was a dancer and also
spoke Russian intrigued him, as he spoke several languages.
Photo: Charles Menzies
I suppose he originally thought of me as a naive American for the first time in Europe, alone and vulnerable. In fact, I always knew myself to be guileless and needing guidance. He thought I had a promising career as a dancer in Europe. Taking me under his wing so to speak, he taught me all the social graces that I never had an opportunity to learn before or otherwise. I certainly didn’t learn any of them growing up in Braintree, or while struggling to survive during the tumultuous New York years, or in the hurly-burly of show-business. He introduced me to British manners and customs that later came in handy when I was choreographing my own version of “Alice”, or creating a ballet on “Upstairs Downstairs”, after the British TV series. I received my real education from Charles and he remained my friend, teacher and advisor until he died, rather tragically of a heart attack on a street in Stevenage, Hertfordshire where he had retired.
My First Trip To Russia
Knowing my fondness for things
Russian, Charles suggested a trip to the Soviet Union. This was
during Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership, 1953-1964, pursuing his
course of reform.
We traveled on a completely filled but comfortable tour bus from Amsterdam with two drivers and a tour guide – a job I was myself asked to do many years in the future. The bus took us through Germany, Poland and entered the Soviet Union at Brest, then visiting Minsk and Smolensk before arriving in Moscow.
As soon as we got settled in Ostankino, we took a trolley to Red Square and I began practicing my Russian with the Moscovites. Red Square looked like something out of a children’s story-book with St. Basil’s cathedral and the Kremlin bathed in colorful lighting.
Photos: In Red Square and in front of the University of Moscow
A Short-changed Othello