hugs and the occasional stalker
Isabella Boylston, a principal ballerina replica belts hermes
with American Ballet Theatre, eats a lot of pasta. Her pasta love has even inspired a New York restaurant to create a noodle dish in her honor. But the ultimate pasta tribute came from one of Boylston’s fans, who was waiting at the Metropolitan Opera House stage door after a performance one night to present her with a silver necklace, strung with a sterling farfalle.”I opened it and just started laughing, because I thought it was so creative,” Boylston said recently by phone from her dressing room, where she was preparing to rehearse the ballet “Harlequinade.” (She’s slated to lead the opening night cast of the ballet during ABT’s run at the Kennedy Center next week.)
“It’s wonderful to see the fans at the stage door, but you can be in a vulnerable position,” she said. “People feel like they know you. And we don’t have the level of security that Beyonc has.”
In one case in which a ballerina faced a death threat, her fans came to the rescue. “You will die while dancing ‘Giselle’ in New York in the next few weeks,” read a note to famed ballerina Natalia Makarova in 1976, according to the ballerina’s longtime assistant, Dina Makarova (no relation).
More often, public admiration has its rewards, and some of them are magnificent. One longtime fan in Paris presented Ferri with an Hermes “Kelly” bag, that totem of prestige and patience, with a famous waiting list. Another in Milan gave her an antique gold brooch. She has received paintings of herself; teddy bears dressed to match her costumes; and acres of flowers, particularly on big nights, such as her last “Romeo and Juliet” with ABT, when she temporarily retired in 2007, and when she returned to the stage a few years later at Teatro Alla Scala.
They’re “a live gift,” Ferri said. They don’t last forever,” she said. Both De Sola and fellow SFB principal Dores Andr receive creative flower gifts from one fan in particular, a man who attends nearly every performance each season and sends the ballerinas flowers to match their costumes.
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After Maria Calegari retired from New York City Ballet in 1994, she missed the flowers most of all. One fan used to leave her pink peonies at the stage door, anonymously, every spring. “Thatsmell,” Calegari said, wistfully. He sent it with a note, penned in lavender ink:”Your matinee of Symphony in Three Movements and Symphony in C were unforgettable.”
Gorey, Calegari said, “was a huge fan and basically lived in the first ring of the State Theater” (now the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York). Gorey, whose book “The Lavender Leotard” was a tribute to the company, also left Calegari a posthumous gift, an iron pendant he’d crafted, etched with little creatures like the lizard.
“This guy comes up to me at the stage door, looking like he’s straight out of a film noir, full trench coat, cap, scarf, all dressed in black,” said San Francisco Ballet principal Joseph Walsh. The man gushed praise in a thick Russian accent, and then pulled a couple of vodka bottles out of his coat and pressed them on Walsh. Night after night, he would show up with more vodka. Walsh doesn’t drink vodka. But what are you going to do? Another fan once gave him bootleg DVDs of Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“He said, ‘You should study these,’ ” Walsh said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to take that as a gift, but maybe it’s not?'”
In the end, that’s what stays with the dancers: gratitude for those who have been with them in darkness, for those to whom the theater is a place of worship, who take the art seriously and who wait patiently, late into the night, simply for the chance to make their bond known.
One night, former ABT principal Susan Jaffe and her dance partner Jose Manuel Carreno left the theater to find a table in the walkway set with chocolate cake and punch, while a crowd of fans in paper hats sang “Happy Birthday.” (The dancers’ birthdays fall in the same month.) Admirers also have given Jaffe paintings, letters and, once, a mink coat.