Monday, January 28, 2013


My husband and Phil Lawrence, the director for the Shakespeare company that John was trying to get into, were sitting on the bench in my dance studio.  They were talking about me.

My studio floor had been covered by a huge 15 x 40 yellow-brown braided rug for more than nine months.   Our baby, two month-old John David, was in the front room with Iris, his nurse.   I'd been rolling up the rug every day, for a month, doing abdominal exercises, taking my barre, and working on creating a solo for myself.

When I finished performing the solo for the two men, I headed for the kitchen and made coffee for them, figuring they'd needed to talk about my dancing and the choreography.

"The Four Seasons," Vivaldi's Opus 8, was going to be a 45 minute solo.  I was planning to sell it -- and myself -- as guest artist, to string quartets, or small string orchestras.

Dancers don't do 45 minute solos.  I wasn't a big name, but I had reviews, quotes from critics from my performances with my Dance Drama Company.  I didn't want to go back to being the mother-janitor-director-choreographer-leading dancer.  Becoming a soloist with orchestras  seemed like a great idea.   

In Vivaldi's "Spring," I performed slow, tentative movements that suggested my body was a seed coming to life. "Summer" was joyful quick steps, leaps and turns. "Autumn" was gracious, grand, swirling movements as if I were greeting guests.  "Winter" was dimiuendo-ing music, during which I slowed down every step, and gradually lowered myself to the floor, and stopped moving.

Re-entering the studio with the coffee pot in hand, I heard someone say, "Does she cut the mustard?"

I waited, couldn't breathe, was hurt, bothered, riveted  by the question -- my future was hanging there -- I had an exquisitely beautiful little son, a husband who loved me, loved my work as an artist, and understood that I needed to dance.  He understood why, after a tour of England and Scotland, I didn't want to head a dance company again.

Opening night in London had been cancelled because one of the male dancers who practically worshiped me, punched one of the girl dancers, who was snotty, disrespectful to me during dress rehearsal.  He knocked her to the floor.  She couldn't get up.  The doctor we called said her arm was fractured.

Opening night in London was the culmination of a year of work on "Dream Dances," a full-length ballet that received raves throughout Great Britain and Scotland -- it might have launched me as a major choreographer.  A boy dancer who loved me, a snotty girl who probably resented the fact that I was the star dancer -- perhaps I would have been a better artistic director if I hadn't also been the leading dancer -- the boy, the girl, and my ego -- my chance to make it -- bang-crash gone.

I heard Phil say, "I liked the Vivaldi."

John: "It's a long solo."

They talked about other dancers for a few moments.

One of them murmured, "But does Emily cut the mustard?"

Yes" one of them said.

That YES was what I needed.

I unpacked a costume  that I'd made for a ballet I did a long time ago, and in my studio, with paper on the floor, did some poses.

Thousands  of brochures were mailed out; tours were booked; performances were given.   In fact, more than once I was called the "Maria Callas of Dance."

I performed the Vivaldi at Town Hall in NYC, and at Lincoln center -- here's the photo of me in "Autumn."

What did the guys mean when they asked does she cut the mustard? It meant is she able to handle a difficult job, meet the necessary requirements, and expectations?
Do I cut the mustard as a wife, mother, ex-dancer-writer that I am nowadays?   Well, mustard's a good spice to use on various things you eat -- even so, with or without mustard I handle what's on my plate.


Peggy Bechko said...

Excellent post, Em, and beautiful photos.

Anonymous said...

Bravo-bravo! Great blog with good insight and details to how this famous dance performance came about. Love the pictures-the grace and beauty of each movement is breathtaking and memorable. Thanks for sharing. kam

Poet_Carl_Watts said...

Very nicely written. personal and very real :-) And of course, Beautiful :-)

Unknown said...

Lovely post Em! Ballet always seems to me to be so delicate and strong. Who would have imagined though dancers punching other dancers and broken arms…fascinating. I’m sure John totally believed that you ‘cut the mustard’ or he never would have asked the question. I suspect it was his modest way of saying. ‘Look at my wife, isn’t she wonderful!"