I was in Cologne, Guest Artist -- major festival -- preparing to perform a Theatre Noir blood and horror solo. They were paying me well; transportation and accommodations were first class. It was going to be one performance only -- the other artists on the program were all recognizable names.
Back then, I was very aware of being an up-and-coming name, quietly excited, tickled, to be there -- and proud that "Elektra," was choreographed by Todd Bolender to dissonant modern music by Hans Werner Henze -- both were names dance and music aficionados would recognize.
Rehearsal: Scary. Huge stage, powerful front spotlights which make balancing trickier. Technicians, other dancers were watching. I was in practice clothes (flattering things, meticulously picked out). I didn't perform, just marked a few movements as I set the lighting and curtain cues.
My costume was a white body suit. The solo began with me wrapped in a white rug, rolling in, unrolling till a torn-looking white cloth rug covered the entire floor. Rising up, in a lyrical adagio depicting Elektra's memories of love, my movements accelerated into passion, then murderous rage. It ended with me in a victorious pose, open-mouthed as if screaming, blood dripping from my upraised hands.
It received good reviews in New York. I figured it would be a hit with the European Press and the Festival's international audience.
I planned my curtain calls. First -- with my bloody hands behind my back, a deep bow. Second -- (it took 20 seconds to slip on my gorgeous, floor-length, white silk caftan), as the front curtain opened, I'd enter from back wall of the stage -- proceed slowly downstage (long walk, 25 feet) to the footlights -- open my arms as if embracing the crowd. Then, curtsy deeply, gracefully accepting the applause.
Additional curtain calls, I'd improvise, depending upon bravas and cheers. I expected at least four or five.
I ate very little before rehearsal, afterward just nibbled on a Hershey bar. Would you eat if you were going to dance in a white body suit? You would not! I'd taken a diuretic (to pee away water weight). Dancers, like models, singers and film stars, do all sorts of things to look thin, crash dieting, taping, strapping, padding to make their bodies look perfect.
Flowers, telegrams wishing me luck were delivered. "Half hour!" the Stage manager announced. It was time to warm-up -- banish scaredy-poops (that's what I call technical fears.) Because of the rug, I had to position myself carefully for the pirouettes. And the adagio was tricky -- I had to balance on one leg with those spotlights in my eyes, and slowly lift and extend the other leg out into a high position -- hold it there like an arrow aimed diagonally upward.
Applause ... there was a welcoming trickle of it as I started the rolling entrance. The packed house was riveted as I unfolded myself -- you could hear a pin drop, as I rose up from the floor, and my body in white was completely revealed.
Even as I write this, I'm getting a knot in the pit of my stomach ...
Pirouettes ... okay. As I started to balance for the extension ... a tiny jiggle, but I did a very high, beautiful diagonal up ... agonizing -- damn tiny jiggle -- when ice-skaters flub a trick, we're eagle-eye watching to see if they'll flub the next one.
Conquering the agony, actress Em found focus and went on to the climax --- found the blood bag (a tiny balloon in a marked spot on the rug), pricked it with its pin, bloodying myself. Then, with the final chord -- full-out, wham -- I hit the triumphant, open-mouthed murderess pose.
Lights up full ... trickle of applause ... two, four hands clapping ... I sense the audience is stunned, I'd done the ending brilliantly ... guttural low sound ... is it a moan? Bloody hands locked behind me, I lower my head, and bow ...
Is it a boo? ... two, three, more voices ... that dreadful sound.
Curtain closes ... boos ... definitely boos, and clapping hands applauding louder. I rush upstage, wipe my hands on the towel my dresser hands me while helping me into the caftan -- oh God -- the leading lady star's bow I'd planned, choreographed, rehearsed with the stage crew!
Unexpected things -- sometimes we can handle them. Sometimes we can't.
I do it. Head high, enter from the back and do the long walk, proceed to the footlights in my gorgeous glittering caftan, open my arms as if embracing the audience and do my deep, graceful curtsy, as boos and applause are mounting -- warring. Front curtain descends slowly ... so slowly -- will they bring it up again -- will the ordeal continue?
More about the cheering and booing tomorrow.