Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 - Reminiscences of The Boston Ballet and Violette Verdy

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Single Snowflake Dancing "What Will We Do Today?" "We'll Reminisce About Our Boston Ballet" (;-)

Recently, a few of us were abuzz about the Robbins program that aired on PBS. One of the dancers interviewed was the effervescent Violette Verdy, a human being I can say is universally adored by all lucky enough to have come into contact with her. Violette danced for many years with the New York City Ballet as a principle dancer, and she often Guest Starred with us in Boston. In fact, she and Edward Villella performed their first "Giselle" with us which was an experience for the books.

I want to share a little story about Violette and performing with you. Not only was she magical when things went as expected, she was inspirational when things went awry. It may be difficult to imagine for those of you so accustomed to the wonders of the digital age, but not so very long ago, the ultimate in musical technology included the use of reel-to-reel tapes on players that were loaded by hand using tapes that were very fragile and subject to strange events in the moment. E. Virginia Williams made use of this technology when we went on tour. She made the tapes herself and ran them backstage when necessary. Whatever it took to make the dance magic happen.

Jacob's Pillow is a very famous location in Western, Massachusetts which still exists today and where much American Dance History has been made. Not only did our own Norman Walker perform there for many years with his company, he also directed the whole program for quite a long time. The Boston Ballet often performed there; on this particular occasion, we were dancing Giselle with Violette and Eddy.

It was the second Act - the White Act. Giselle has suffered through the Mad Scene at the end of Act One, and is now experiencing her first night as a Willi, that is to say, a girl who has died before her wedding night. While the story is a hoot, it provides an opportunity for some absolutely fabulous dancing.

The moment I want to describe finds Giselle alone on stage in the position commonly referred to as B Plus - knees together, right foot pointed behind on the floor. Giselle is about to embark on one of several solos. But, alas and music. It turns out that the tape had broken. While Virginia was frantically attempting a quick fix backstage, and the rest of us were observing the unfolding situation from the Wings, there was Violette all alone on stage completely unaware of what was happening and why. The audience, of course, was spellbound.

Violette did not break character, nor did she move as several minutes passed, apparently with nothing happening. I can still picture it. She absolutely radiated an other-worldly glow, alone, in the stage lightning, still, yet captivating in her shimmering whiteness and projecting a purity that was palpable. At one pointe, it must have been at least three or four minutes into the disaster, which can feel like an eternity on stage by the way, the music seemed to begin. A welcome note. Yet...again... the machinery faltered. Silence.

Violette, whose left foot was probably completely numb at that pointe from standing on it for so very long, made one smooth, breathtaking gesture. She pulled her right foot into fifth while lifting her gaze and face up into what appeared to be a heavenly light. It was absolute stage magic, the kind of moment and performance one never forgets. Everyone, audience, dancers, and techies alike, fell in love with her again. She was perfection. Pure. Simple. A peasant girl transformed into a life saving angel. She could save Albrecht (the cad!). She could save us all. She was the embodiment of everything good in the world. Wonderful.

It was THE MOST unforgettable moment and performance I had ever witnessed. Absolutely inspirational. I may have learned more about the possibility of the human spirit in that moment than at any other challenging moment of my life. Who can compare such events which happen so suddenly, unexpectedly, and change the way one looks at life? Her stillness was a revelation. Her expression, an inspiration. Her purity, a deep comfort in a time when we all seemed to need it.

Very shortly thereafter, Virginia fixed the problem and the show, as they say, went on. It wasn't the only such problem we ever had in those early, pioneering ballet days, but I certainly rank it as one of the important outcomes for me, personally. To see that composure in the face of the Unknown. The strength. The willingness to see the challenge through without falling apart.

  • Why do I tell this story?
  • It's so good to find inspiration in those quiet moments that often are overlooked in the hubbub of daily activity. The news we hear is often so discouraging lately, and while I am very, deeply optimistic about our collective future, I see that people are becoming run down, worn out, discouraged and full of despair. (Not at Arizona Ballet Theatre, which remains a beacon of positivity, I am happy to report.)

    Please remember that in our darkest moments, hope can prevail. Beauty is true and good. Anything is possible.