Thursday, February 10, 2011


The front curtain rose. The clapping was rhythmic. Someone yelled "Bravo!" From the balcony there was a deluge -- programs -- little white airplanes flying in, bombarding me as a uniformed usher appeared with a huge bouquet of long-stemmed roses from the management.

As he lay them at my feet there were catcalls, hisses, people yelled "Geyhen heim, go home." Others were yelling, "Brava, bravo!" With a nod, thanking them, I bent, took one rose from the bouquet, stood up straight, and looking at the audience, held the rose to my heart. The curtain came down again.

The curtain stayed down. Sound from the warring crowd faded. "Why did they boo?" I asked the Dresser who helped remove the caftan. She shrugged, and disappeared before I could ask her to unhook the hooks on my body-suit.

I sent a smile to the Russian folk dancers in the wings as they getting ready to go on next, but no one smiled back. Climbing the stairs up to my dressing room, I passed the Nigerians who were performing after the Russians. Engrossed in adjusting their costumes, they didn't glance at me.

In my dressing room, I stuck the rose in my water glass. Twisting, wriggling myself out of the bodysuit, I heard the applause for the folk dancers on the loudspeakers ... one ... two ... three ... four curtain calls, cheers. no boos, no bravos.

I ran a comb through my tangled hair. My chic gold lamé dress for the party, gold pumps, bronze net stockings were waiting. Vanderhoff, the head of the Festival, had personally invited me --"We shall toast you with champagne, Fraulein."

My large blue duffel bag was open. Travel things were laying in it. Elektra's costume, rug, makeup, practice clothes needed to be packed.

Someone knocked. "You have visitors," said Arty, the friendly young Brit, who'd met me when I arrived, and chauffeured me to the hotel, and the theater.

The man and woman came in saying, "Bravo! We saw Elektra in New York -- it's fascinating choreography. You were excellent. Wonderful music!" The three of us made cheerful loud conversation as the loudspeakers broadcast the applause the Nigerians -- one, two ... four ... six ... eight curtain calls -- a roaring standing ovation.

The woman murmured something about Cologne audiences being Anti-Jewish. The man said, "I'm sure the critics will rave about your dancing."

I grabbed their words. "Did you notice anything ... I slipped a bit." (I couldn't ask -- I was dying to ask -- did you see the JIGGLE?)

As they went out the door, they said, " You are wonderful! You remind us what dancing is all about, Miss Frankel."

I did some of the packing, figuring Arty would help me with the rug after the party. I did my hair and makeup, donned my party finery, and clip-clopping in my high heels, I headed down the empty hallway to the Green Room.

Opening a door marked Grün Saal, it took a second to realize that I shouldn't have packed -- everyone was seated, eating, chatting. Where to sit? There was a vacant seat at the Russians table piled with coats. At Vanderhoff's table, the ballerina from England was clinking glasses with him.

There was a hush as I clip-clopped in my blazing gold outfit to the buffet. The waiters were already removing empty dishes. There was no salad or hot food left. I helped myself to three slices of Munster cheese, some crackers, and black coffee. Stood there holding a plate, hoping someone would wave.

No one did.

There was a chair near Arty. His friend was describing Fred and Ginger in an old movie he'd just seen. Nibbling on a cracker, I saw Vanderoff stand up. Wrapping my food in a paper napkin, slipping it in my purse, I said, "Arty, my plane leaves at 1 a.m. I need your help. I'll be upstairs in my dressing room. See you in 20 minutes." And hurried over to Vanderhoff as he kissed the ballerina's cheek.

I waited. then tapped his shoulder. Thank you for your hospitality, and the beautiful bouquet of roses." ... No smile, not a flicker of response ... "Thanks to your excellent stage crew, I enjoyed dancing -- I felt I danced well, but the audience's reaction surprised me."

Vanderhoff took out a handkerchief. Polishing his glasses, said, "We pride ourselves on the excellence of our staff." He put on the glasses, clicked his heels, saying "Viel glück. Auf Wiedersehen, Frau Frankel" And turned away.

The crowd in the doorway parted as if I were a leper as I went out. I ran down the hallway, raced up the stairs. feeling as if I were being consumed by fire.

I dumped out the rose, stuck the rose in my purse, and drank three glasses of water waiting for Arty. He didn't show up. Someone had piled Elektra's rug outside the dressing room door. It was heavy, hard to cram into the duffle. Grim, sweating, in my gold dress, and net stockings minus the heels, I pushed, rolled, and shove the duffel down the three flights of stairs.

In the street, I managed to wave down a taxi. The taxi took me to the airport. I changed clothes and boarded my plane. The rose had soaked the napkin covering my food. It was a six hour plane trip. I ate my soggy dinner and dozed, in between reviewing jiggles, white paper planes, boos, Geyhen heim, go home.

At Kennedy airport, after customs, and porters, when I was in a taxi -- with its windows wide open and New York air swatting me in the face, I wept.

JC made me grits, bacon and eggs, and buttered a first slice, a second and my third slice of toast. Telling him what happened, I realized I'd never know ... if it was the jiggle, the anti-Jewish thing, or the outrageous choreography.

I put the wilted bent rose in a glass of water with an aspirin. It never regained its stance. But I did. Hey, being booed is ... not fun ...

But weeping in a cab, glad, so glad to be home -- having the events of Cologne in my mind/body/soul -- it gives me gut power -- that's something to hold onto, to remember, and brag about!


Kevin Daly said...

I don't know how I'd react; probably beat myself up for weeks. The other night I was an accompanist in a concert and when I was done I was experiencing a post-show high but also scolding myself over slight errors that no one but me would pick up on. It's such a personal thing - so, so personal. But then again, they say whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Linda Phillips said...

Em,I am curious to know what year this was in?

I am Jewish and I have only once knowingly faced antisemitism and I was way too young to have the vaguest idea that I had just been the victim of prejudice.

How did you really feel, when you learned why you had been booed at and left to fend for yourself with your belongings?

Well at least it was not your performance that thy were booing at.

How disgusting, but I guess there will always be prejudice.

Carola said...

What a nightmare! What year was this?