We tend to gloss over the negative aspects of colleagues who are no longer with us, and are usually discreet about their shortcomings when they are still alive. It is left to the gutter press to dig up unsavoury titbits. However ballet dancer Massimo Murru bucked the trend and gave a very frank opinion of choreographer Roland Petit in a radio interview last week.
Roland Petit was a great stronzo!
Translate that as “piece of shit” or “asshole” according to your mood.
Murru, one of Sylvie Guillem's favourite partners, was being interviewed on Italy's RadioDanza when he was asked about those he felt indebted to for helping further his career:
Elisabetta Terrabust, Carla Fracci, Roland Petit, even if it was… er, difficult. It was not something you expect from a classical dancer, it was appalling. Roland Petit was a great stronzo… if you'll excuse the expression… to whom I owe a great deal; for better or for worse.
The interviewer, evidently surprised at his frankness, tried to smooth things over. Maybe Petit sometimes hurt someone for a good reason?
Or bad! I can say that Roland Petit was a great choreographer but on a human level he was harsh.
Murru's not the only dancer to speak frankly (and probably take the flak for it). Carla Fracci had balletomanes clucking their disapproval when she dared mention that Rudolf Nureyev often went cruising in a famous public park in Milan after a performance, even if she concluded by saying that, even so, he was always at the barre on time the next morning. Everyone knew, but no one – and certainly not the world's most famous Giselle – spoke about it to journalists.
While knowing such things hardly changes our view of watching a Petit ballet, they can help illuminate the creative mind and process. Petit and Nureyev didn't spend all their time gazing at prints of Taglioni and listening to Tchaikovsky just as Fracci isn't made of tulle and satin, as she famously proved when she publicly attacked the mayor of Rome. The general public were amazed; her colleagues were not.
Murru has his secrets too, but he just might be the type who will let them out before others do it for him.
* Petit composed many works for Massimo Murru including Chéri with Carla Fracci, Bolero, Le Lac des Cygnes et ses malefices (Swan Lake and its Evil Spells), and the solo Les Feuilles mortes.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
I think there’s a big difference between what Murru said and what Fracci said. Murru (I gather, please correct me if I’m wrong) was addressing how Petit treated dancers in the studio. That is professional, and to me, perfectly fair.
What Nureyev did on his own time was nobody’s business–unless he DIDN’T turn up at the barre on time or his performances suffered because of it. Since Fracci explicitly said he did arrive in class promptly, then it truly was none of her business to comment on it.
Two different situations.
Dancers should be treated with respect in the classroom or rehearsal hall. They are sensitive human beings and not chattel of the Czars. It is shocking to read how destructive and humiliating some choreographers, coaches, and ballet teachers can be, e. g. Jerome Robbins.
Bill, I imagine that you’ve read Greg Lawrence’s “Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins”? The summing up of his character and style in The New Yorker’s review was:
His working methods, to start with, were punishing to his dancers. Because he could never make up his mind, he double- and triple-cast roles, so that the dancers never knew if they were actually going to go on. Then he made them learn multiple versions of the dance—again, he couldn’t decide—so that if indeed they got onstage they barely knew what to do. Then there was the personal cruelty. He screamed at dancers, insulted their work, insulted their bodies.
According to Lawrence’s interviewees, Robbins was “evil” (Arthur Laurents), a “shit” (Eddie Albert), a sadist (Stephen Sondheim). “I’ve never worked with someone so unpleasant” (Eric Bentley). “You became like a victim of domestic violence” (Sara Corrin, an office assistant).
Once, in a Broadway rehearsal, Robbins was backing up, downstage, to get a better view of the dance, and coming perilously close to the edge of the orchestra pit. Everyone saw what was happening, but no one said a word. “Off he went,” the dancer James Mitchell told Lawrence.”He could have killed himself. I think he fell into the bass drums. Nobody went to his rescue, not for quite a while.”
Jim, I haven’t read that book. I did read the little book “The Cage” which reinforced what I had heard first-hand from NYCB dancers who described the torture of being cast in a piece and having to learn multiple versions and being told right before curtain which parts of versions they would be dancing. God help you if you forgot what you were told. People actually prayed to not be cast in a piece. RIP, Mr. Robbins. Thanks for the reference. Dare I read it?! LOL.