DanceView Times, New York edition
Letter from New York
When I picked up Friday’s New York Times and saw the photograph of the naked prisoner, stage left, lying on his side with a leash around his neck and an American soldier holding the other end of it, my first thought was: “Why would The New York Times put a picture of a dance by Paul Taylor on the front page?” For that image, down to the white surround, was exactly the one that Taylor presented in fashioning Patrick Corbin’s entrance as the Petrushka figure in the 2003 work Le Grand Puppetier. Of course, the photo wasn’t of dance at all, but rather of a real prisoner in Iraq, either posing or actually being dragged along the concrete floor by a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. It had simply been anticipated, in nearly every detail (Taylor’s victim wears tights, and he hangs onto the collar of the leash as he’s dragged so as not to be actually garrotted), by Taylor’s choreography less than a year ago.
Taylor channeled the Zeitgeist with Promethean Fire, too. That hair-raising work ends with a tableau of planes poised (perhaps on a destroyer) for take-off; the costumes are the color of oil. Although Promethean Fire has been referred to as Taylor’s 9/11 dance, its last moments are, in every sense of the term, looking forward: the massed forces in it are organized, military, and the final tableau (like the final tableau of George Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements, to a World War II-era score by Igor Stravinsky) is about something on the edge, not about the past. Around two months after the informal New York première of Taylor’s masterwork (at an APAP showing), we had invaded Iraq.
If Taylor’s radar is, indeed, reliable, we may be in for the long haul. I haven’t seen his new Dante Variations; however, from the descriptions by those who have, it doesn’t sound as if anyone in it gets out of the “Inferno.”
Veronika Part, a soloist at ABT who formerly danced principal roles with the Kirov-Maryinsky Ballet, is one of the three Absent Graces of New York ballet: dancers of outstanding physical beauty and remarkable gifts for dancing who, for some reason, are hardly ever cast in New York. (The others are Monique Meunier, also a soloist at ABT and a former principal dancer at NYCB, and Carla Körbes, currently at NYCB.) Last Sunday, Part, at least, made a rare appearance in the auditorium of the Martin Luther King Jr. High School with the Victoria Ballet Theater, a student group from Fort Lee, New Jersey, who were joined by several high-powered professionals in a program of excerpts from 19th-century ballets called “Back to Old Classics.” The stagings and costumes were credited to Victoria Lebedeva—the “Victoria” of Victoria Ballet Theater—who is a graduate of the Vaganova Choreographic Institute and a former soloist with the Kirov. Other professional dancers on the program were Oksana Konobeyeva (formerly with the Bolshoi and ABT), Elizabeth Fernandez (artistic director and cofounder of The New American Youth Ballet), Gennadi Saveliev (currently with ABT), and Yu Xin (who has danced with ABT, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Beijing Ballet, where he was a principal dancer).
Part only appeared in the first ballet on the program: Anton Dolin’s Pas de Quatre, in which four living ballerinas impersonate the Romantic era’s Marie Taglioni, Fanny Cerrito, Carlotta Grisi, and Fanny Elssler. Dancing the role of Taglioni, the empress of the group as well as its de facto mistress of ceremonies, Part—statuesque and noble, with long feet that give her an epic height on full point—seemed to have dropped in from another world altogether. Both Konobeyeva and Fernandez outdanced her in technical terms; Fernandez’s buoyant jump, which has no visible preparation whatsoever, was one of the joys of the spring ballet season so far. However, what Part offers as a beauty, which is a matter of nature and temperament, and as a stage presence, which is a matter of craft and experience, made her appearance indelible. It was wonderful, too, that she remained in full costume and make-up for the hour and a-half that followed Pas de Quatre so that she could take a bow with the entire company. Her professional dedication is a priceless pearl in itself.
There were a number of impressive performances in this program, and although most of them were from the pros—with Gennadi Saveliev winning honors among the men for his elegance and classicism—some were also by the students. On the level of theatrical production, we were watching a school recital, with aspiring ballerinas who wore glasses or had braces on their teeth and rank beginners who couldn’t always remember where to be when. On the level of spirit, though, we were watching one of the most charming afternoons of ballet to be seen in the Lincoln Center area this month. The smallest children cared very much about doing the right thing, which goes a long way in a ballet performance, regardless of whether it’s by amateurs or professionals. And there were some very witty theatrical choices. (The casting of the tiniest girls in the “Sabre Dance” from Gayne was a brilliant stroke.) Even with a number of mishaps and stumblings, “Back to Old Classics” was real ballet—interesting and vividly alive.
Photo of Veronika Part and Dmitri Simenov dancing in the Kirov Ballet's production of Emeralds by Marc Haegeman.
In Balanchine’s 1965 Harlequinade, one of the abiding enchantments is the set by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, which is based on the 19th-century paper toy theaters that were designed and sold by Benjamin Pollock (1857-1937), of East London. Pollock was much loved for his theaters, and much visited by celebrities of his day, among them Robert Louis Stevenson and Serge Diaghilev. After his death, his printing plates and sheets of characters were saved from the dustbin, and, during the 1950s, a Pollock-theater devotee named Marguerite Fawdry built a museum of toys—many of them from the Victorian era of the theaters—around Pollock’s rescued legacy in an attic near Covent Garden. In 1969, the collection—which contains such precious holdings as a roomful of Noah’s Arks (for children to play with on Sundays), a game of Good and Evil from ancient Egypt that anticipated the game of “Snakes [or Chutes] and Ladders,” and a little doll of color for which her adoring owner, age seven, crocheted an entire ensemble of winter clothing—moved to a couple of adorably crooked little houses at 1 Scala Street, within walking distance from the British Museum, where it was known as Pollock’s Toy Museum. Pollock’s was able to survive in an area where rents were skyrocketing because its rent was artificially low. Two years ago, the Pollocks Toy Museum Charitable Trust applied to be a part of the Heritage Lottery Fund, in order to move the museum to Greenwich, but the trust’s application was turned down. A fundraising effort by the Trust to purchase the buildings at 1 Scala Street also failed. On 31 March of 2004, the museum closed its doors. Upon hearing of that, I wrote to ask what would happen to the collection; and on 4 May 2004 I received the following letter from Alan Powers, Chairman of the Trustees, which I reprint here with permission:
“The situation has been changing in recent weeks, so it has been difficult to find the right thing to say.
“In brief, the landlords have declined to make any arrangements for a future purchase of the buildings [at 1 Scala Street] by the museum trust, which means that the collection is being packed for storage. A fairly large proportion of the collection belongs to the family of the founder [Marguerite Fawdry], who also own the building, and some of these items will be going on display at Thirlstane Castle in Scotland.
“The family also own the limited company that operates the shop at the museum and intend to maintain it at least as a mail-order business.
“There has been a great deal of support in the media for Pollock’s during recent months, and it is clear that people will feel its loss. It has been able to survive in a sheltered economic situation, since only a small proportion of the commercial rent for the premises was paid, and the staff salaries were very low. This situation could not go on forever, and one cannot begin again under the same conditions.
“Two years ago, in anticipation of the end of the lease at Scala Street, the trustees prepared a plan to move and expand the museum, but this was turned down by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and no other major donors were forthcoming. The HLF were sympathetic to the museum in principle, but did not want to support it at such a high cost as the plan required in order to acquire the premises, fit out and cover start-up costs.
“The trustees have gone back to reappraise the options for the museum and are looking at possible partnerships that will add to the range of its coverage and strengthen the collections. It will still be difficult to find suitable premises in central London that meet all our requirements, and this will require some good luck.
“You probably read about the William West exhibition on the Web site. This was a great success and helped to establish the toy theater in the museum world and in the public eye. We are hoping to promote more exhibitions of this quality in the future.”
For further information, go to: www.pollocksmuseum.co.uk
Artistic Director, Founder, Teacher, and Costume Designer
Dancers and Apprentices:
Pas de Quatre
Variation of Princess
Florina from ‘The Sleeping Beauty’
Variation from ‘The
Sleeping Beauty’ [Prologue]
Variation from ‘Giselle’
Dance of the Little
Swans from ‘Swan Lake’
Adagio from ‘The
from ‘Hunchback Little Horse’
Dance from ‘La Bayadere’
Pas de Deux from ‘Carnival
Grand Pas de Deux
last updated on March 22, 2004