Anyone who has been visiting here knows I'm absolutely mad about ballet, especially as performed by the New York City Ballet company. When I was a child, my parents subscribed to the NYCB's Sunday matinees. We traveled by car to the city from our suburban home and had a pre-performance picnic at the 79th Street Boat Basin, where Roy Cohn docked his 95 ft yacht.
Our seats were in the Fifth Ring of the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch theater). They cost $1.00 and were arranged one behind the other along the railing. From that vantage point, the dancers were mere dots on the stage below. My father justified the seats by telling us that from this height we would take in the entire stage and be able to observe the architecture of the ballet. Apparently, he was onto something.
When I was finally able to afford better seats, watching a ballet up close was a revelation, in ways both good and bad. On the one hand, you could see the dancers' faces, their lightening quick footwork, the grace of their arms, the beauty of the partnering, but you also saw them working. Hard. Sweat would fly off their bodies, their costumes could become soaked through. There were occasional grunts and after an especially grueling sequence, you could see the dancer fighting to keep his or her heavy breathing in check. Still, one of my favorite sounds is the pad of ballet shoes across the stage as the dancers assume their places.
It wasn't until many years later that I came to appreciate the gift of ballet that my parents gave me. We were witness to the finest choreography of the twentieth century. We saw Balanchine and Jerome Robbins ballets performed by the very dancers on which they were made. I sometimes imagine that Frank O'Hara and Edwin Denby were in the audience for some of the same performances.
The world of ballet is endlessly fascinating. It is a closed world with its own hierarchy and culture. Ballet dancers give their all to their art. Their careers are usually over by the time they reach forty. If they're lucky and manage to be injury-free, they may eke out a few more years in the less demanding roles.They are not wealthy when they retire.
I'm always surprised that more young people do not attend the ballet. While tickets can be expensive, there are usually discount programs available. Who wouldn't want to see young highly trained individuals executing difficult moves to beautiful music? Beats me.
Perhaps this new series, launched by AOL and produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, will change minds and influence how young people spend their money. Instead of blowing $100 on a few fancy cocktails, why not take in a ballet? The Nutcracker Suite begins on November 29. And I'm happy to make recommendations for the 2014 season. Won't you join me?