(Friend of Art Scatter Martha Ullman West, she who knows a plie from a pirouette like nobody’s business, has recently sojourned in her home town of NYC and brings us back this Big Apple journal from October 21 to November 5, 2008. The city seems familiar, but …)
I attended a performance in a theater new to me — the Rose, where I heard a stellar rendition of Bach’s St. John’s Passion by Musica Sacra in a space that is usually relegated to jazz. And I felt so even more when I had to ask not one but two of the hordes of security police on Wall Street to direct me to One Chase Manhattan Plaza, the bank’s headquarters and the location of the Ballet Society/New York City Ballet archives. These are not exactly housed in a vault, but they have been relegated to the fifth floor sub-basement of that temple to Mammon for good reason: a board member of the Balanchine Foundation arranged for donated space.
There couldn’t be a worse place to work– no air, harsh fluorescent lights, a desk that was too high, a chair that was too low. But it was a gold mine of information regarding American Ballet Caravan‘s 1941 tour of South America, the first North American ballet company to go to the region, on a goodwill tour arranged through Nelson Rockefeller by Lincoln Kirstein for the overt purpose of a cultural exchange, and the covert purpose of undercutting anti-American propaganda disseminated by Germany before Pearl Harbor.
I spent two days delving into boxes of documents and photographs, physically uncomfortable, but psychically happy as the proverbial clam. The archivist, Laura Raucher, who has a degree in the science of dance from the University of Oregon, photocopied anything I wanted and spent more than an hour searching the database for the heights of various Balanchine ballerinas, information needed for another project.
A few days later I was at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, for which I daily thank Robbins, whose royalties support arguably the best dance library in the world, looking at film of Marie Jeanne coaching today’s dancers in her role in Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, created for her before that 1941 tour. I learned that the ballet, a high-speed visualization of the Bach Double Violin concerto, used to be performed even faster than it is today. The library is an extremely comfortable place to work, fluorescent lights notwithstanding, but there you must do your own photocopying and pay for it, sigh. Always something.