6 January 2011
My Film fest BFF Sani gave me a copy of the Black Swan, which I still have to see. I took a sneak preview and I am reminded of how beautiful ballet is.
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
When I was in college, I worked part time as an usher at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (1981-83). I was paid around Php 12.30 /3 hours, which basically covers for the whole performance. I do not remember anymore how much we were paid for overtime, but I am sure it was not much (Php 12.30 for 3 hours? Go figure). I usually check in at around 6 in the evening and made sure I am in my barong and ready for briefing at 6:45 in the main lobby. My exposure to the arts was immense during those years. Those were the years that the CCP hosted some of the best international and local performances. The CCP was one of the best legacies of Imelda Marcos. I have wonderful memories of CCP.
Cultural Center of the Philippines
One of them is meeting the Great Russian dancer Maya Plisetskaya.
Maya Plisetskaya is now over 90 years old
“For some ballerinas, their legendary status is a given and recording twenty-five curtain calls and reviews most of us would kill for doesn’t seem in the least conceited. Maya Plitsetskaya is one of these. Born into post-Revolutionary Russia’s greatest dancing family, the Messerers, Plisetskaya seemed destined for a life on the stage. Her uncle, Asaf, was an outstanding teacher whose students make up a roll call of Soviet ballet: Galina Ulanova, Vladimir Vasiliev, Ekaterina Maximova. Her aunt, Sulamif, was a Bolshoi ballerina (as well as swimming champion of Moscow for five consecutive years). At age 91, she still travels the world teaching class.
Throughout it all runs her struggle to shake off the official designation nevyezdnaya – unexportable – that kept her from traveling with the Bolshoi Ballet on their tours abroad. A photograph of a flying leap in 1956 – exactly the year in which Plisetskaya was barred from joining the Bolshoi at Covent Garden – demonstrate the powerful physicality that London was missing.
Plisetskaya in Isadora
The ban was finally lifted in 1959, when she was allowed to tour the US, but her absence from that triumphant London visit in 1956 seems to have denied her rightful place in the British version of ballet history. Here, she is best known for a record number of performances on the gala circuit of Anna Pavlova’s Dying Swan, but her repertoire and choreographic endeavors were extensive. She danced Swan Lake over eight hundred times and in the book she lists the world leaders who sat through those performances. If you thought that Prime Minister Gandhi, Presidents Kennedy and Nasser, Emperor Haile Selassie, Marshal Tito, Chairman Mao and Comrade Khrushchev had nothing in common, think again. They all saw Maya Plisetskaya dancing a swan.”
(Taken from Great Russian Women)
Ok let me correct that. She did not really say – Nice meeting you Mr. Kish.
She was one of the performers of the Stars of the Russian Ballet. I have never seen CCP so full that well-known personalities were even sitting on the aisle because the house was packed.
I was a new usher and my expectation of what to see was very low then. I have no full understanding of what the CCP was all about. What I know was that it looks great from the outside especially at night. The inside was something else, it was old and beautiful.
When the Stars of the Russian Ballet came to town, I was assigned to the presidential box on its first night. Plisetskaya was to perform the Dying Swan from Swan Lake. I said, what the hell is a Dying Swan? A sacrificial dance where you kill a Swan at the end? I was 19 that time (I think) and a probinsyano. I also think that ballet was too gay.
The night of the performance and Imelda arrived. The curtains went up. The best part of being assigned to the Presidential box is that you can stay inside and watch the show by sneaking-in in any of the small rooms (you stand near the door so you can easily exit if needed).
You know the night is special judging on what everyone was wearing and on how big the jewels of Imelda were. And let me tell you, her jewelry pieces that night looked like flashlights! They glow in the dark (it’s like glow sticks)!
It was the turn of Plisetskaya to perform the Dying Swan (the last in the program). The stage was bare of any props. It’s dark and what you see is just one figure in white. She already looks like a ghost from afar and in a way it was eerie. The music was haunting and her movements were stunning. Her arms look so long and they look like crepe paper flowing without the bones. I was stunned with what I saw. It was amazing. She looked like a Dying Swan as in – a Dying Swan. I was so taken that I started crying (damn I am teary eyed again) and I was having goose bumps all over. I have never seen such moving beauty, and after more than 20 years I still remember how beautiful it was. When she finished her performance, there was a thunderous applause that I thought the roof of the CCP would cave in. People were throwing flowers at her, which was the first time I have seen such a scene. I also do not remember how many times the curtains closed and opened. The next thing I know, Imelda was on stage and was giving her a bouquet and she pulled Maya Plisetskaya towards the side of the stage to let everyone know that it was the end of the performance and everyone must leave the theater.
Maya Plisetskaya, The Dying Swan
The next night, I was assigned to give the bouquet(it was really the ushers responsibility except on some gala nights). That is how I met Maya Plisetskaya, the legendary Russian dancer.
To me the swan did not die. It is very much alive. I have admired the others- Maniya Barreto, Yoko Morishita and more.
Ballet after all is not too gay. It’s a work of art.