Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy – III

12 Feb

Four young men and three young women arrived in San Francisco the Monday afternoon before the Saturday evening performance.  Another arrived on Tuesday.  Olga arrived earlier.  From Tuesday until Friday, there was at least one daily telephone call.  “Renee, we need a photographer.  Can you help?” “The tunic for Swan Lake is missing.  Do you know a costumer?” “We’re leaving Mehdi and Marin bare chested for Bayadere and Corsaire. I like good-looking young men bare chested!”  Amid my desk duties at work, it was a great diversion to hear her voice, always enthusiastic, always excited about what was happening on stage.  “Oh, Renee, Mehdi has taken over and is leading the group, and what results he is getting!  He is WONDERFUL!”  My own excitement began to rise. I called my reviewing colleagues; everyone had prior engagements.  I couldn’t believe it.

The photographer materialized by an appeal to Shirley Peltz.  Nita Winter conversed with me late on Wednesday and Thursday.  I wondered if my own excitement could possibly convey to her how important the event was.  To Nita is was an understandable matter of economics, time versus dollars.  Nita was matter-of-fact, went off to Friday’s dress rehearsal with nothing promised about remaining.  She wound up staying until Sunday morning, sleeping on  Dorothy’s couch.

With my friend Remy Munar I took a later morning Greyhound bus to Stockton, knitting while she slept and speculating about the four dancers I had not seen.  Three I saw at Jackson, 1979 and 1982, and I knew just how good they were. It turned out Marin Boieru danced a variation in Maurice Bejart’s Gaite Parisienne during the Belgian-based company’s last Zellerbach auditorium appearance.  From the tension I felt, one would have thought I was the impresario as I taxied from the motel to be with Olga while she handled a last-minute tape tech.

Dorothy greeted me as I walked through the Romanesque arches of the Commodore Stockton Theatre, the high school auditorium she has saved from destruction.  With excellent sight lines, acoustics and rental fees, it could be rented by outsiders.  It conveyed the ambiance of pre-World War II  California Valley, settled, a trifle staid, but solid, enduring and occasionally capable of grace.  Characteristically, Dorothy was steady ahead.  Last-minute television interviews in Stockton and Sacramento had begun to swell last-minute ticket sales.  By curtain, the pre-performance sale of 700 tickets had passed 1000 for the 1500 seat auditorium.   Dorothy remarked to me, “It is going to be a success.  I wanted these dancers here because I wanted Stockton to see the best, to have them as criteria.  I knew they would dance off of each other, stimulated by their mutual presence.  They’re winners, all of them.  Olga is good with her mixes.” While we chatted, the dancers began to file in, to warm up and apply their makeup.

Staying with hosting families, their arrivals were spotty.  The pre performance situation possessed a sparseness because of their small number, and perhaps the physical distance between their regular habitats and Stockton itself.  But the ritual of preparation, using the iron pipes of the orchestra pit for a barre, overrode the strangeness of location, the anomaly created by the confluence via jet travel.

Silhouetted by the dim stage light, curtain up to aid the sound tech, a woman walked towards one of the stage entrances with a large flat box.  “Flowers?”
I inquired. “That’s about it,” came the reply as she marched ahead, sprays for the women, single roses for the men.

Shrouded  with shadows, two dancers entered the back aisle of the theatre.  One sported a discernible soup bowl line of straight brown hair: Marin Boieru, newly a member of Pennsylvania Ballet.  The other had a face familiar to Roman mosaics in the ancient empire ruins in North Africa; the curly mop of  hair, aquiline noise, large eyes with liquid stillness.  Mehdi Bahir, product of Rosella Hightower’s training in Cannes, a kitchen worker to pay his tuition in training for the Prix de Lausanne he won in 1975.  Mehdi’s practice costume was a outlandish a frame as his physical presence startlingly evoked Mediterranean classical artefacts.  A slash of white banding held the curly mop off his eyes; an outsized white shirt draped to the knees over garbage bag green sweat pants.  Face, textures, color conspired to display pure theatre.  Mehdi’s turnout,  diagrammatically correct like the pages of Blasis’ treatise, gave the impression of his oozing into the floor when he sat down, stretching his legs before him.  Boieru appeared in the orchestra pit.  Eric Vu An, white towel slung around his neck, looked as if preparing for a prize fight.  He grasped the painted iron pipe and started his ritual plie, tendu through the five balletic positions, occasionally breaking line to flex a recalcitrant music in the way dancers squiggle idiosyncratically in movement.

Claudia Jung and Nancy Raffa, their personalities to emerge during performance, practiced lifts with Eric Vu An and Marin Boieru before the curtain.

Jung required one-hand lifts above Vu An’s head.  The timing – preparation, transition, breathing and sheer physical heisting – all belonged to the Don Quixote pas de deux for which Mehdi Bahiri had coached them.  With visual acumen and obvious skill, Mehdi had coached the two slender young race horses into one of the most stylish, polished renditions I had witnessed in four decades of ballet going.  Vu An and Jung used their European stage presence and deportment to counter what American audiences usually expect in fiery audience flirtation.  The classicism was a trifle cool, but theirs was an excitement as Jung’s high-arched foot defined the extension of her leg in the up and out of second position. It nearly rammed her ear while retaining a classical look.

Eyeballs had bulged while Jung executed warming up battements for they had become a grand jete, one leg going vertical while the supporting foot of the other remained on the floor.  More exciting than the circus, Jung’s training and stamina for such a flexible body demonstrated the obvious systematic technical mastery  and care lavished on her by Konstanze Vernon of Munich,  one of the 1982 jurors at Jackson.

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