I love autobiographies, I always have. There is something so personal and intriguing about how people choose to write about themselves – especially people in the arts where often a little theatrical sparkle is added!
I was approached earlier this year to review Eva Maze’s Memoir, With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario. I was pretty intrigued by the title and am always keen to learn by women in the arts.
The book itself is beautiful and fully illustrated – it almost takes the form of a scrapbook with images included as if attached by photo corners and pages coloured like old paper. This very much appealed to my inner seven-year-old, who loved to make treasure maps dipped in tea!
The book is 9.5″ x 9″ and 200 pages. ISBN: 978-0983498384. Distributed through moonstonepress. It is also available on amazon
The book tells the story of Eva Maze, born in Bucharest, Romania in 1922 now in her mid -90s. Having always dreamed of being a ballet dancer Maze ended up becoming a successful theatrical impresario – a world hitherto dominated by men – representing a vast range of companies and artists. A pretty inspiring story and woman!
So to get to Chicago I decided to take historical research to a new level and in a bid to relive the Ballets Russes tour I got the train. The 18 hour from D.C. to Chicago. While train travel may have been glamorous in 1916 – it is not now. It was however a lot of fun – I sat in the observation car, attempted to sleep, fixed my mad train hair in the ladies lounge and finally ate breakfast in the dining car.
Once I arrived in Chicago I did what every good historian should do … I went to the Harold Washington Library!
They have a fantastic dance collection. I found my two current research subjects – Barton Mumaw and Nijinsky – side by side!
On the Saturday I found the Joffrey Ballet. I wasn’t able to visit but I stuck my head into the lobby!
I was also able to catch up with some of the tap artists and students that had performed at the Pillow over the summer. Chicago has a great tap scene. I went to see some of the amazing work that Jumaane Taylor and his colleagues are doing at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. maddrhythms
In search of more dance I went to the Ruth Page Center for the Arts where the Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival was running. This was a very interesting production showcasing 10 contemporary dance companies and choreographers including:
The center is named after Ruth Page (b. 1899 – d. 1991) who danced with Anna Pavlova on the 1918 tour of South America and with the Ballets Russes and Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo – she was also very involved in the Chicago dance scene throughout her life.
Two paintings of Ruth Page in the lobby of the center.
The Ballets Russes visited Washington D.C. twice in 1916. The first time was in March from the 23rd – 25th when the company performed at the National Theatre. They performed Cleopatra, Le Spectre de la Rose, Midnight Sun, Carnaval, Les Sylphides, L’après-midi d’un faune, Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, and Scheherazade.
The company returned under the leadership of Vaslav Nijinsky in November on the 20th, 21st, 22nd at the Belasco Theatre. They performed Les Sylphides, Le Spectre de la Rose, Papillons, Scheherazade, The Enchanted Princess pas de deux, Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor and Cleopatre.
The Belasco Theatre was built in 1895 and named the Lafayette Square Opera House. The Theatre overlooked the square and was just across from the White House – a really amazing location. An advert in the 1916 programme noted that it was ‘the most beautifully situated and appointed theatre in America, presenting on its stage at all times only the foremost foreign and native artists and attractions. A Washington landmark, which none should fail to see … ‘
The theatre was taken over by Shuberts and David Belasco in 1906 and renamed. By the mid 1930s it was turned into a cinema before being acquired by the Federal Government. The theatre was used at various times during WWII and the Korean War as a club providing entertainment to servicemen.
In 1964 the Theatre was pulled down and a new US Court of Claims Building built.
Romola Nijinsky recalled in her memoir: ‘About the end of November we arrived in Washington, where we gave three performances. President Wilson and the whole Diplomatic Corps were present, and Vaslav went up to render thanks officially for their help in securing his release from Austria. Also we were magnificently entertained by different Embassies.’ [Romola de Pulszky, Nijinksy, 1934, p. 349.]
After a week in New York City I hit the road once more and made my way to Washington D.C. I really like this city and not just because it has a huge amount of museums and the they are pretty much all free – but that is certainly a big factor!
Here are a few highlights and ballet finds from my stay.
On my first day I visited the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and found a few lovely things.
I loved these two curious collages featuring Tamara Toumanova by Joseph Cornell, 1940.
I also found modern dance pioneers Martha Graham (Paul R. Meltsner, 1938) and José Limón (Philip Grausman, 1969). All these pieces are on permanent display.
I later found Ford’s Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. I loved the book tower in the accompanying museum – all works about Lincoln four floors high!
I was also able to get my readers card for the Library of Congress (its free you just need ID and proof of address) – I seem to be collecting library cards from around the globe! The library is really beautiful. The Performing Arts Reading Room was not in the glamorous building but next door – still an incredible resource!
One afternoon I got to spend some time with Washington Ballet and Artistic Director Julie Kent – this is a really great company that I first got to meet at Jacob’s Pillow. I watched part of the rehearsals for Les Sylphides, Le Corsaire and Prodigal Son. These works are all going to form part of The Russian Masters program which will open the company’s season featuring works by Petipa, Fokine, Balanchine and Ratmansky. The program will show how choreography has changed over the last 150 years and how these choreographers in particular have shaped ballet into what we know today. The Washington Ballet
Finally I went to both the Textile Museum and The National Museum of Women in the Arts. They are both great museums – the Textile museum has a really interesting exhibition on the use of scrap fabric and well as a great permanent collection. I love the Museum of Women in the Arts and was impressed at the range of works – it would be interesting however to see the work and representation of women in other aspects of the arts both visual and performing.
Over the next month I am planning on following and researching (in a very small way) the route of the supposedly ill-fated Ballets Russes USA tour of 1916. This tour was led by Nijinsky and has often been deemed a failure, as has the première of his last ballet Till Eulenspiegel (which opened on the tour – and was the only ballet Diaghilev never saw). It was also the only coast to coast tour the Ballets Russes ever did in America, covering 57 cities in 5 months.
Nijinsky was 28 when he led this tour – just a bit younger then me, which makes this story even more poignant. Was this tour really a failure? I am hoping to find out.
Over the next few weeks I will be posting snipets of my research and discoveries.
First stop NYC!
From the 16th of October – 28th of October, 1916, the Ballets Russes performed at the Manhattan Opera House, now know as the Manhattan Centre. It was also here the Nijinsky’s last ballet Till Eulenspiegel premiered.
The building is still there, on 34th St, and is now used as an event and concert venue – a new facade was added in the 1920s.
The first week on tour the Ballets Russes covered Providence (30/10/16), New Haven (31/10/16 & 1/11/16), Brooklyn (2/11/16) and Springfield (3/11/16 & 4/11/16).
On the Thursday night the company were in Brooklyn performing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The evening included: Les Sylphides, Till Eulenspiegel, L’après-midi d’un faune and Scheherazade.
So after three months of living at Jacob’s Pillow – in the middle of the woods of Massachusetts – I finally packed up my suitcase and hit the road (well train/ bus) once more. For the next months I am travelling across the US visiting museums, libraries and dance companies in what will be the ultimate ballet nerd road trip! On my travels I will also be researching and retracing the 1916-17 Ballets Russes tour of the USA led by Vaslav Nijinsky.
My first week was NYC – a city I really love to visit!
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at the Lincoln Center is a fantastic place. I had gone to see the exhibition Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955 – 1972. The exhibition was curated by Ninotchka D. Bennahum, Wendy Perron and Bruce Robertson. Bennahum and Perron visited the Pillow in July and I was excited to see the exhibition. It is certainly interesting and closes this weekend so don’t miss it – Radical Bodies
While in the NYPL I came across a fantastic display of Hilary Knight’s designs for the stage – I had only know about his work as an illustrator for Eloise. Hilary Knight
Here are some of the highlights from the rest of my week:
I got to meet Ballet Hispanico over the summer and was really impressed at this vibrant and energetic company. While in NYC I got to visit their gorgeous headquarters and of course see the costumes! Ballet Hispanico
There were some really beautiful pieces in the exhibition. Fashion & Textile History Gallery, May 30 – November 18, 2017. Force of Nature
One day I also got to see the Baryshnikov Arts Center – what a great space for artists! BACNYC
On my final my final day in the city I was exploring Brooklyn when I saw the words DANCE and an arrow in the pavement – intrigued I kept walking.
The next sign read:
So I went – and while I was there I connected with the new archive team and got to hear and see more about their exciting three year archive project.
One week ago the 85th season at Jacob’s Pillow, in woods of Massachusetts, came to a close. The last event of the action packed 10 weeks was a film screening of Wendy Whelan: Restless Creature and a Q&A with the great dancer herself – by 7 o’clock it was all over.
That evening the production crew worked through the night striping the historic Ted Shawn Theatre and bit by bit closing down the festival. By Monday the the fairy lights strung around the grounds had gone, by Tuesday the outdoor furniture was stacked, and finally on Wednesday the whole Pillow family came together to put away, pack-up and clean and by lunchtime sleeping beauty had been tucked back into bed.
Walking through the grounds that night – everything locked up, dark and silent – it was hard to believe that for the last 10 weeks this oasis in the woods had been a haven of noise and colour and – of course – never ending dance!
For a total of three months I lived and worked on site at the Pillow – eating and living side by side with with dancers, artists, students, staff, apprentices and interns.
Over the next week I will be looking back on the highlights of this amazing summer – right now I am going to get some sleep!
I recently found out that legendary designer and costume maker Barbara Karinska had a summer cottage in the Berkshires – in fact just down the road from Jacob’s Pillow!
If that was not cool enough I then found out that it was in this cottage that George Balanchine and Maria Tallchief spent their honeymoon in 1946. In her biography Tallchief recalled, ‘After the ceremony… we drove to Barbara Karinska’s house in the Berkshires … for both of us work was more important than a honeymoon … a weekend in the country sufficed.’
A couple of weeks ago I decided to find this house and set off down George Carter Road. Two miles later I found the tiny blue cottage on the quiet road – pretty amazing to think one of the most influential costume makers lived here. The house is now called Karinska House and bears a plaque with this name.
Stone House Properties images of the Karinska House.
At the New York Historical Society you can now see, on permanent display, what is surely the biggest Picasso in NYC!
The canvas was once the front cloth for Le Tricorne, from 1919, designed by Picasso, and shows a traditional corrida scene.
In 1928 Diaghilev cut the middle section cut out of the cloth and sold it to raise funds. It was bought by a private collector. In 1957 it was acquired by Phyllis Lambert, architectural historian and daughter of Canadian business magnate Samuel Bronfman, CEO of Seagram Liquor Empire. The cloth was displayed in the Four Seasons Restaurant in Seagram Building from 1959 – 2014.
In 2015 the cloth was moved to the New York Historical Society. According to the New York Times the move ‘was the end of a tortured ordeal over the fate of the work, which had resided at the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building only to be pushed out in a dispute between the landlord and the New York Landmarks Conservancy.’
Here is a great video showing the installation of the cloth.
Also on display at the New York Historical Society are 11 facsimile costume designs and a video of the 1994 Paris Opera version of Le Tricorne.
The costumes and sets for Le Tricorne were made in London in 1919. A studio in Floral St was hired by Ballets Russes set painters Vladimir and Elizabeth Violet Polunin. It was here that the sets for Le Tricorne were painted.
Next time you are in NYC go and see this beautiful piece of Ballets Russes History.