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CHAPTER 16

Round-Up
The two week season in Tucson was over and I was flying back to New York. I always used my flying time to reflect. I had flown all over the world and thought that some of my best choreography had been done on planes.

Mulling it over, returning to Harkness House didn’t seem to me a good conclusion. The company had folded. All the ballets I had notated while there were now of no use, obsolete. Nothing seemed to be going right. Perhaps it would be wiser to go free-lance. I  could stage, I could choreograph. Hopefully, there would be other opportunities.

The Kansas City Ballet was headed by Tatiana Dokoudovska, sister of the gruff Vladimir Doukoudovsky; a former star of the Ballet Russe and for many years a well-known teacher in Carnegie Hall. I had even taken some of his classes. To re-stage “Round – Up” seemed like a good idea, but a re-choreographed and hopefully a better version than the one I had done earlier in Tucson. The other ballet on the program would be by David Howard and was classical in content. Round-Up would be an excellent contrast.

Within two weeks I had set it all. There were far better dancers than in Tucson. After I left it was performed with the Kansas City Symphony orchestra but unfortunately I never got to see it performed. I never got a video or even one picture! Reviews yes, which according to one reviewer it was:

“ ….the undoubted hit of the evening …. Richard Holden’s witty “Round-Up, worked out to the strains of Hershy-Kay’s “Western Symphony”. They had saved the best for the last. “Round-Up” contains more than it’s share of clichés, a matter of deliberation, not accident, and one of the most deliciously comic sequences seen in these parts recently. That one occurs in Scene 3, when the Champion Roper .. dreams of a newly met girl friend … who appears in his dream as the White Swan, Odette, of “Swan Lake”. Between the classical fluttering and the gauche gestures appropriate to the Western setting, that sequence had the audience in stitches”.

Another Choreologist
Quite unexpectedly another choreologist had arrived in New York; a Swiss by the name of Jurg Lanzrein. I had met him once in London while doing some  post-graduate work. In that female dominated world of choreology it was indeed rare to find another man who was interested in notation. I think there were only about five in existence at that time. We went to a local pub where he was asking me how he could get a job in America. I couldn’t give him much advice when it was not all that easy for myself to find work in such a specialized field.

Even so, a year later he somehow managed to join NYC ballet as company choreologist. This was of course a plum position to be in and much sought after by any choreologist.

Surprisingly, within a few months of his residency, Jurg asked me if I would like to go to the Joffrey company and teach them Sir Frederic Ashton’s “The Dream”. For some reason  which I could never fathom, he had been asked to do it and had actually received the notated score from the Royal Ballet. This in itself was astonishing as The Royal and especially Ashton was always very particular about who they lent their ballets out to. That it was in Jurg’s hands didn’t make much sense but I let it pass. He didn’t have the time to do it, he said, but I suspected he might have felt it was a bit beyond him. In any case, I was glad and even delighted  to take over the job from him. Who wouldn’t welcome a chance to teach the Joffrey Ballet a work by Sir Frederic Ashton?

Photo: Jurg Lanzrein [background] memorizes the steps to a Stravisnky ballet which Balanchine is teaching to Jean-Pierre Bonnefous and Karin von Aroldingen. Later, Jurg, will translate the movements on to paper.


Photo: A step from “Goldberg Variations” with Anthony Blum, Susan Hendl; and the same movement on paper.

I couldn’t help thinking back to my first months at the Institute when I saw “The Dream” premiered at Covent Garden and wondered at that time how such a complicated ballet could ever be notated. Now it was set before me, fully notated by Faith Worth, the very first trained choreologist to work with a company. She was a pioneer and a top-notch notator and her notation of this complex ballet was easily read.

Robert Joffrey
I had never met Robert Joffrey but admired his company very much. He had a deep regard for the historical ballets of the Diaghilev era and brought in the great Leonid Massine, and other long forgotten choreographers to re-stage them. Rebecca Harkness had once sponsored his company, but after two years of its very successful touring, even to Russia and the Far East, she decided to no longer underwrite it. The withdrawal of this sole patron, who also controlled over half the dancers and the bulk of the repertory, left no choice forJoffrey but to disband. It was a very sad situation, but such a move was typical of Rebecca Harkness, who always acted on some outrageous whim, with no regard for the feelings of others or the damage she could cause. It took eight months before Joffrey’s efforts were eventually rewarded when the Ford Foundation made a one-year matching grant to the newly formed Foundation for American Dance. Rebecca Harkness built her own company with dancers and repertory of the original Joffrey company.

Photo: Robert Joffrey in his younger years

Sir Frederic Ashton had a high regard for Robert Joffrey. He admired Joffrey’s scholarship and impeccable attention to detail in his faithful re-staging of masterpieces from the past. Joffrey’s company was one of the few, in fact, the only one in America at that time, that Sir Fred would allow to produce his ballets.

The morning I arrived at the Joffrey studios in Greenwich Village, Sir John Hart from the Royal Ballet was already there. He was to stage the ballet and apparently, being familiar with choreology as was all of the Royal Ballet staff, it was he who requested a choreologist to assist him.

Photo: Sir John Hart

After a brief introduction, there followed two weeks of non-stop work. Every day from nine to five I was buried in the Dream score, teaching the dancers their roles while Sir John only sat and watched with an occasional comment. He seldom interfered and I would go home each night with my head spinning from the intense, unceasing concentration.

The Dream is one hour in length with 5 principals, 8 soloists, 12 corps girls and 5 corps boys. There are intricate, geometric floor patterns for the corps plus a very involved story line. Ashton choreographed it directly from the Shakespeare play, using Mendelssohn’s familiar music of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

I was at the 1965 premiere in London at Covent Garden. Antoinette Sibley danced Titania and Anthony Dowell made his debut in the role of Oberon, doing all his turning steps to the left as was his custom. Most dancers turn to one side better than the other.

The cast: Rebecca Wright as Titania and Burton Taylor as Oberon.The second cast was Starr Danias and Gregory Huffman. I would work with them all again. In time, Rebecca would join ABT and Starr and Burton would later dance in my Sleeping Beauty. Sadly, both Burton and Gregory, superb dancers with fine character, would die within a few years.

Photo: Rebecca Wright and Burton Taylor

As all the principal lovers had names that Shakespeare had given them; Helena, Hermia, Demetrius, Lysander, it was often confusing, and I sometimes had to ask a dancer what role he or she was dancing and if they were in their right place.

Both Joffrey and Sir John seemed very pleased with my work and at the premiere at City Center, Sir John, with Joffrey, at his side, gave a pre-curtain speech. It is not often, or perhaps never, that a choreologist receives recognition or praise for his work from the stage. I was glad a friend of mine had a tape recorder to record it.

He said: “I’d like to thank Richard Holden – it was through his gifts as a choreologist who gave me the enormous assistance in putting the work together in the first place, and it largely due to him that you are able to see this tonight”. [transcribed from tape recording]

Photos: Gregory Huffman, Starr Danias, second casts


On week-ends, I was staging a “Sleeping Beauty” in Poughkeepsie, a three hour train ride up-state. It was a school company, but it hired a few professionals and some Harkness trainees that I brought with me. The Director had taken me to the Russian Tea Room on 57th Street to discuss the contract. After three black Russians I was ready to sign anything!

The Russian Tea Room, located next to Carnegie Hall on West 57th Street, was a glamorous meeting place for dancers [of the famous kind who could afford it] and musicians, journalists, agents and theater folk of every description. Many contracts were signed there, many important theatrical deals were agreed to over a bowl of hot borscht.

George Chaffee's studio was just around the corner on 56th Street. During my early student days I would never dream that I could even enter the Russian Tea Room let alone partake of a meal there. It was a long reach from the Automats where I usually hung out.

Spring Waters, First Firebird
In Poughkeepsie I was also to stage  “Spring Waters” which I had learned from Marius Liepa himself while he was setting it on the Harkness Ballet. He was from the Bolshoi in Moscow and already famous for his role as Crassus in Griegorovith’s “Spartacus” that which I had seen so many times.

“Spring Waters” was originally set on him by its choreographer, Asaf Messerer, so what I was getting was truly authentic. This flamboyant pas de deux must be a burst of unleashed bravura to be really effective, and with a rousing rush of energy for the duration of three minutes, which is the length of this duet. Who could I get to dance it? Nearly every dancer in New York wanted to learn and perform this brilliant showstopper!

I had met Betteanne Terell and David Gleaton in the class of Nina Scarpova who was the wife of Igor Youskevitch. We all called her “Mama” Youskevitch”. Her classes were in a second floor, cockroach infested studio on 7th Avenue. Igor was at the same time teaching permanently in Austin, Texas but occasionally showed up in NY to teach a single class.

I had used David before in various productions I was doing around town. He had also, like myself years earlier, danced at the Radio City Music Hall. Both he and Betteanne were anxious to learn “Spring Waters”

At the performance in Poughkeepsie, the audience did not know it was such a short pas de deux. After the couple made the famous exit down-stage-left with him holding her aloft in a one arm lift, the audience expected it to continue and so didn’t applaud at all, until I started it. Then the director questioned why she was paying so much for such a short bit of dancing.

Photo: Betteanne Terrell [Slackman] in Firebird, with Dale Muchmore.

Betteanne started a small ensemble of her own for which she asked me to be choreographer. Thinking of what I could do for such a small group of nine, I choreographed my first mini ”Firebird”. I was to re-stage it in an enhanced version so many times in years to come, but this was the very first. I only had five principal dancers and a corps de ballet of four. It premiered in a New York City High School on a blustery, winter morning during assembly. The inner-city teen-agers filled up the auditorium, not knowing what to expect. None of them had ever seen a ballet before. It was okay until the Prince made his entrance, and in tights! The jeers and hoots didn’t stop until after the corp’s dance with golden apples had ended and his pas de deux with the leading Princess, which ends with a kiss. The kiss they understood.

After the finale, with the magnificent chorale of Stravinsky, they all stood up and cheered, as yet another batch of students filed in for a repeat performance. I was introduced to the Principal as ‘the guy who made up the steps’. This title served me well for many years to come when introduced to individuals and audiences who knew little or nothing about ballet, let alone the term ‘choreographer’.

The next performance of “Firebird” was given at the foot of the World Trade Towers in lower Manhattan, while thousands of office-workers viewed it while eating their lunches. How many of them would die in that unspeakable tragedy to come somewhere in the future?

Betteanne later became ballet mistress for the touring, all-male “Ballets Trocadero”. I was astonished one evening while watching the Dinah Shore show on TV to see the “Trocs” dancing “Spring Water’s. Betteanne had stolen not only the music from me but also my staging, without giving any credit, or fee. Ballet can be an underhanded and cruel profession.

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