By Anthony L. Quinones
I go to the ballet for the same reason people go to watch NASCAR: The pile up in turn number three. For a long time, I’d had the same ballet experience as everybody else. Making fun of guys in tights. Going to see the holiday productions of the Nutcracker and the annual pain of watching Swan Lake.
Then one day, while visiting family in the nation’s capital, I was invited to go to the ballet for real. Where men wore tuxedos and women donned evening gowns. It was like attending the Oscars. Senators and congressmen were there. There were Africans in robes and ambassadors from several countries. It was the Saturday evening production of Don Quixote at the Kennedy Center, starring the most famous dancer in the world, Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The lights went down and the curtain started to open. I was nervous. People couldn’t stay in their seats.
Then the announcer came over the sound system. Due to having performed for underprivileged children of Washington D.C. earlier in the day, he said, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland will not perform tonight’s ballet. Instead, they will be replaced by their understudies — a Mr. Bujones and a Ms. Van Hamel.
The audience went wild. A man two rows in front of our group stood up and shook his fist. The Japanese ambassador, who was sitting in the presidential box, walked out in protest, with his entourage in tow. The crowd went mad.
Then the music started, the crowd slowly composed itself, and the dancing began. It was nice, but nothing special and the audience knew it.
“Poor technique,” one woman, seated directly behind me, announced very loudly.
Everyone agreed. I continued to watch. I could feel my eyes starting to close. Then, during the village scene, the peasants were jumping and everyone on stage was laughing. Right in front of me, the lead dancer threw the prima ballerina into the air and dropped her on to the stage. Without missing a beat, he picked her up again threw her into the air and dropped her a second time. Now you could see the bone sticking out of her ankle as she lay on the floor.
The lead dancer was panicking; the audience was in shock. The lead dancer grabbed a peasant girl and threw her into the air. She fell as well. By this time the lead ballerina had crawled off the stage with a broken ankle. The peasant girl now lay on the floor too afraid to move. The music kept playing but no one was dancing. Slowly the curtain descended and the music stopped. The announcer once again came over the loud speaker as the lights went up. Due to an accident we will have a short intermission.
It was as if a natural disaster had taken place. People walked around the lobby in a fog. The bar opened and people started drinking and talking. Did you see that? The audience could not control themselves. People were amazed. I, on the other hand, had no idea that this didn’t happen every day. Almost never, I soon found out.
About forty minutes into the intermission, the lights in the lobby started to flicker and everyone returned to their seats. The announcer once again came over the loud speaker. Due to an accident the dancers cannot continue; instead, we will start the entire ballet over with the lead cast — Mr. Baryshnikov and Ms. Kirkland.
Let me tell you, it was a shame that you ever saw anybody else try to dance. I’d never seen real dancers leap into the air and fly before. It was beautiful. The crowd went wild. People started crying. They clapped and rose from their seats whenever Mikhail came on stage. And when it came to the peasant scene, everyone held their breaths. The ballerina was thrown into the air and it was as though she never landed. The audience gave the dancers standing ovations several times. They brought flowers to the stage and people talked about the evening as they walked out.
Several weeks later I read an article in People Magazine, describing the entire evening. But it didn’t quite capture the event. So now I go to the ballet as often as I can, but not for the dancing. Instead, I go for the same reason people go to NASCAR. The crashes in turn number three.
Anthony Quinones lives in Miami Beach with his wife, Shellie. Together they own Aventura Invitations, a stationery company. He is currently working on several screen plays and a children’s book.
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