Google Led Me Back to My Teenage Idol

September 28, 2008

She was an American dancing with the Bolshoi, and her name was Anastasia Stevens. Or was she American? Her voice, when I heard it more than 40 years later—last week—sounded vaguely British. And she was as beautiful as I remembered. Here’s how it happened.

In the fall of 1962, the Bolshoi Ballet came to NYC, bringing Maya Plisetskaya, Vladimir Vasiliev, Ekaterina Maximova and other amazing dancers. Galina Ulanova had been the star of the 1959 tour, but now she was with the company as a coach. The company hired American teenagers to fill out the crowd scenes in Spartacus (this was the first Spartacus, by Leonid Yacobsen, not Grigorovich’s, which was made a few years later).

When we rehearsed onstage at the old Metropolitan Opera House, one absolutely lovely corps dancer served as interpreter so that we could understand our instructions. She had frizzy red hair (frizzy! There was hope for me as a ballet dancer!), was totally trained in the Russian method, and had a mellifluous voice.

In a previous blog I talked about how smitten I was with Plisetskaya, Vasiliev, and Maximova. A reader sent me a note telling me about Eric Conrad, an American now dancing in Russia. It made me think about Stevens, the American dancing in Russia at that time. I’d always wondered what happened to her, so I googled her name. I found, to my amazement, that a film had been made about her by the maverick filmmaker Albert Maysles. Although Maysles Films does not have the rights to air the segment, I was able to view it at their office in Harlem. Seeing those 12 minutes of black-and-white footage was like entering a dream world. It was the NYC of my teenage years, with Studebakers and pillbox hats. Anastasia had a lovely face—and yes, that slightly frizzy hair. She moved beautifully, with classic port de bras at the barre and a spirited quality in a mazurka onstage. Ulanova helped her with her costume. As Anastasia tied the ribbons of her pointe shoes, she said she’d like to do Giselle one day.

Does anybody know if she ever did? Does anybody know where she is now? While signing an autograph, she said she was from Massachusettes. This film was shot for NBC but little else is known.

Update, Dec. 2017: I found this 1962 article from a Montreal newspaper on her.