Ballet at Lincoln Center, onstage and off

By Caitlin Kelly

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Watching a ballet at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City is one of my favorite things to do; if you haven’t yet been to New York or taken in a ballet there, add it to your to-do list!

Lincoln Center, three majestic white marble buildings centered around a stunning circular fountain, sits on the west side of Manhattan, spanning several blocks in the 60s. Walking across its plaza in the darkness always creates a sense of anticipation and elegance, whether you’re going to the opera or the ballet.

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The Koch theater, one of my great pleasures of living in New York

I’ve attended performances there over the years — and have even performed on  its stage, in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Sleeping Beauty, with Rudolf Nureyev in the lead.

I’d studied ballet since I was 12 and had written about it before, so I was invited to come from Toronto to New York to be an extra — or “super” in the ballet. I was one of four “ladies in black” whose presence on stage in Act One presages the entrance of the witch Carabosse, who casts the spell on Princess Aurora, and puts her into a deep sleep. I didn’t have to dance, but walk beautifully and persuasively in costume so no one would suspect I wasn’t a professional dancer.

As a freelance journalist, I was sent on assignment to write about it by Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe & Mail — and dictated my story over the phone from my hotel room at the Empire Hotel to an editor in its Toronto newsroom. (No Internet then!)

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What an adventure!

We had no dress rehearsal. We didn’t see our costumes until opening night and my shoes were very tight. I didn’t know the score, and came down (!) several bars too soon, leading three others down a staircase too early behind me. Ohhhhhhh, shit!

I’ve done many crazy things in my life, but staring out at that enormous audience in that prestigious venue, was fairly terrifying. I did all eight performances, exiting every night, as one does, though the stage door — which I now only get to see from the outside.

Last weekend I went with a friend to see the New York City Ballet’s version of Swan Lake, a classic first performed in Moscow in the 1890s. The music is gorgeous, the story — as often with classical ballet — one of deception and mistaken identity, the action orchestrated by a wicked sorcerer against a noble prince being forced to choose a bride.

The NYCB version is short, with only two acts, and the stage set is spectacular — designed by a Danish artist, poet and geologist. One of the reasons ballet is such a rich experience is its combination of sets, costumes, music, choreography and extraordinary dancing, creating a wealth of beauty.

The dancing we saw was a bit spotty, some of it excellent and some of it raggedy, including some of the pas de deux work where partnering is key, the ballerina relying heavily on her partner’s strength and sensitivity to allow her to do her best.

We had excellent seats in the second ring (balcony), with great sight lines; the Koch Theater has four rings, (you can see fine from higher up, but binoculars are helpful from that height.) Our tickets were $103 apiece, which is a lot of money for one show, although I paid $85 in 2006 to see Romeo and Juliet for similar seats, so it’s not much of a price increase in 11 years.

Having written about the ballet several times from backstage, I also really appreciate knowing what it  takes to make every performance even possible.

 

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Read your program notes carefully and you’ll find credits for everyone from the wig master to physical therapists and masseurs; it truly takes hundreds of highly-trained specific talents to mount a production, even before the first dancer begins to pirouette. Those pink satin pointe shoes can cost $100 or more per pair — and the corps de ballet alone had 24 women.

 

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Dancers work through pain every day

 

I’ve been going to the ballet since I was a small child in Toronto, and never tire of it, whether the warhorses of Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Swan Lake or more modern pieces. One of my favorites is Serenade by Balanchine. That music brings tears to my eyes every time — and the opening montage is unforgettable.

I’m glad I did all those pliés and tendues, because I know, in a small way, the incredible hard work, athleticism and dedication it demands.

 

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The Koch Theater railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

Have you been to the ballet?

 

 

What did you see?

 

Did you enjoy it?

 

 

19 thoughts on “Ballet at Lincoln Center, onstage and off

  1. Loved Ballet as a teen- but it didn’t love me back..my feet let me down big time. Spent an afternoon sailing the Chesapeake with Nureyev who was appearing in DC back in the late 70’s.. Was a big thrill of course..couldn’t take my eyes off his veins..haha. 😲

      1. I blame it on my feet..which is only partially true..I didn’t have the body, the soul or the “will” for that matter…plus our instructor was such a **** 🙄… that didn’t help..haha

  2. Jane Morgan

    Studied as a child/teen. Still enjoy weekly class. Fortunately, married to a tolerant guy who indulges my love to watch. I tried to see ABT’s Swan Lake when we were in NYC in June (you were away, in Europe. Drat!), but it was sold out. My claim to fame??…I was asked to help dress Dame Margot Fonteyn when she visited my small Canadian city in the ’70s. My biggest regret??…I declined, because my boyfriend and I had made plans with friends. Yup, I passed up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to watch a rerun of the Poseidon Adventure on TV. Ouch!

  3. Jade Mayhead

    Ballet holds a special place in heart, even though I have only actually seen it once! I took part when I was younger, and it’s something I wish I never quit! xo

  4. You remember I saw Romeo & Juliet back in April, and I’m going with my mom and sister to see a visiting Russian company do Swan Lake in November. We tried to get tickets for Nutcracker in December, but the number of people involved grew too big, and I realized that I couldn’t afford a ticket, so we decided to just watch it on DVD or YouTube this winter (good thing BalletMet, the local company, does Nutcracker every year). Even if I can’t go see Nutcracker this year, there’s Gisele in March, and something based on Wizard of Oz in late April, early May. Believe me, I’d like to see those both, and with a slightly bigger paycheck, it might be possible.
    I’m really starting to consider myself a fan. In fact, I think part of me has always enjoyed ballet, though that part may have been sent into a coma by exposure to my sisters’ direct-to-video ballet movies and only awakened in college. At the very least, after I watch a few more shows, I’ll definitely write a post about it. And one of these days, a story featuring a ballerina or two will get written.
    Speaking of ballet, within a week of seeing my first one, I came up with an original idea for a ballet, taking place in the early 20th century and focusing on a traveling sideshow. Maybe someday I’ll get it performed, if I only had some idea of how that works.

    1. How cool! The score for Romeo and Juliet is SO gorgeous.

      It’s very difficult to break into that world unless you are already a choreographer and/or professional dancer with an established reputation.

      But I often hear a piece of music and think I’d love to choreograph something.

  5. I remember seeing The Nutcracker as a child. It was magical each and every time we went. I love that the arts are still going strong. Back in the day–when I felt I had more disposable income–I donated to a teacher who wanted to take her Harlem class to a few shows at Lincoln Center. They wrote me letters after the first trip that brought tears to my eyes. It was the first time any of them had ever seen the arts, let alone Lincoln Center. Keep writing about them! Let’s keep them alive.

  6. I don’t know much about ballet, but I loved watching Darcey Bussell dance. I saw the live screening of her last ever performance before she retired in 2007. It was obviously a very special and emotional performance for her. And sooo many flowers were thrown on stage at the end!

  7. I think I was about 8 or 9 when I saw my first ballet. My parents and us sat on the very last row. They told us years later they weren’t sure how we would behave and were ready to haul us out without disturbing others. I remember being mesmerized by the dance but then fell asleep afterwards.

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