Making It Happen: Postcards from the Ballets Russes
Seven years ago, a private screening of the popular documentary Ballets Russes sparked a project at the University of Oklahoma: a specialty archive that will preserve historic Ballets Russes treasures and make them available to students and researchers.
In a discussion after that screening, Yvonne Chouteau, a native Oklahoman and former Ballet Russe ballerina who was featured in the film, asked, “What are we going to do with all of our memorabilia?”
Chouteau and her husband, the late Miguel Terekhov (see “In Memoriam”), also a Ballet Russe principal, had founded OU’s dance program in 1963. As with dozens of Ballets Russes artists who settled in the U.S., their efforts to build audiences and train dancers supported the expansion of dance in America.
Chouteau’s question prompted OU School of Dance director Mary Margaret Holt to create the Ballets Russes Archive, a repository for rare materials from three Ballets Russes organizations: Serge Diaghilev’s company, de Basil’s troupe (founded with René Blum), and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Letters went out to former dancers and their family members across North America, seeking everything from contracts, correspondence, and programs to photographs, film footage, and costumes.
Camille Hardy, a former Dance Magazine critic who is now an OU dance history professor, became the project’s principal researcher. To date, about 70 people have contributed materials, with frequent new arrivals.
Many items in OU’s archive do not exist anywhere else. Examples include a scrapbook documenting Chouteau’s career and a series of interviews that include Terekhov detailing the Original Ballet Russe’s five-year tour of South America.
But some materials are deteriorating, and none can be used until they have been restored and catalogued, with finding aids and an interactive database to lead researchers to what they need.
To that end, Hardy joined forces with OU’s School of Library and Information Studies. She received a $100,000 research grant—a coup for dance in a competitive, university-wide applicant pool. The grant funds positions for two graduate assistants in library science and a graduate dance scholar who will assist in the long-term goal of digitizing the entire collection. It’s a true group effort, with input from Mary Cargill, dance reference librarian at Columbia University, and Patricia Rader, cataloger for the New York Public Library’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
By June 2013, Hardy expects to have these resources available to OU dance majors and dance history minors, as well as scholars from outside of the university. At that point, she plans to begin digitizing the collection. Eventually, it will be accessible worldwide from any place with an internet connection.
But benefits are already evident. In March, the Dance Heritage Coalition awarded Tara Davis, an OU library science graduate assistant, a fellowship in preservation and archiving. Davis is as fascinated by tour itineraries, rehearsal schedules, and daily correspondence as she is by letters from Tamara Karsavina and Alexandra Danilova.
Striking studio photographs convey the companies’ glamorous image; but the candid snapshots taken backstage or on the beach, Davis says, reveal more personal emotions: “It’s something the dancers are sharing with each other. It makes my imagination run wild, and wonder what it was like behind the scenes.”
Hardy feels that the archive revivifies the Ballets Russes legacy in a region where its tradition is already strong. “It’s about accessibility,” she says. “We have treasures here and we want everybody to have access to them.”
Eugene Collins and Paula Tennyson in Swan Lake. Photo by Maurice Seymour, Courtesy Ron Seymour; from the Margery Beddow Collection.
We all know that dancers are typically perfectionistic, highly-motivated, driven and capable of enduring physical pain. These same qualities that lead to success can also drive stress that eventually leads to burnout.
But did you know that diet can play a role in taking care of your mental health?
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?