I’ve been reading this book, which was given to me by the publicist for purposes of review. It’s by Alex Ewing, about his mother, Lucia Chase, who basically founded what is now American Ballet Theater.
I’m about halfway through it now (I tend to read non-fiction a lot more slowly than fiction) and it’s very informative and very entertaining in places. I thought this following passage was particularly amusing. It’s 1950 and ABT (then called Ballet Theatre) is embarking on its first European tour when, unexpectedly, the Korean War breaks out, making a mess of, amongst other things, international travel:
“…Although the Air Force had officially agreed to provide the transatlantic travel, suddenly all government planes were diverted to the Pacific. The company took off instead on a commercial flight to Brussels, then proceeded on to Frankfurt where army buses transported them to Wiesbaden for their first performances. When it came time a few days later to fly behind the Iron Curtain to Berlin, an outpost city occupied by the four Allied powers, the approach into Tempelhof Airport had to be made through ‘the corridor,’ a narrow strip between Russian gun emplacements. The Russian government, in order to prevent spying on the surrounding sector that it controlled, required all arriving flights to come in at frighteningly low altitude, and the dancers were told to don heavy parachutes for the flight into Berlin.
“As recounted by Charles Payne, then editor and publisher of the Ballet Theatre Annual, the company was flown ‘in a transport plane equipped with bucket seats suspended from the inner walls, with parachute tracks leading to the escape hatches.’ Understandably, everything was much less formal than a standard commercial flight. The pilot even invited the dancers to visit the cockpit a few at a time, and at one point Nora Kaye emerged from up front, greenish-white in the face, to scream back at the others, ‘Do you know who’s flying this plane? Alicia Alonso! Do something about it!'”
Can you imagine?!
The great Alicia Alonso is turning 90 this year and ABT will honor her during the Met season, on June 3rd. ABT turns 70 this year. Image of Alonso above taken from here.