From Chapter 11 - "A Dancing Fool, or, In and Out of the Chorus Line"

   Paint Your Wagon   I'd thought that Agnes de Mille's dancers would be stuck-up and I'd feel inferior to their classical elegance, but they were just as nervous as I. Martha's rehearsals were quiet and charged, like a chess match. Agnes de Mille's were chatty and playful, like a quilting bee. Assistant, Dania Krupska, taught us moves, de Mille all over the place, changing steps, fixing formations, making cracks that were never at anyone's expense.  Soon a Can-Can took shape.
    De Mille played at being fierce.  "Bob Morrow! if you do one more pirouette, I'll break both your legs!"  The second day she announced, "Pick a partner. We're going to waltz!" I stood rooted until Mavis Ray, de Mille's dance captain, said, "Can you waltz?"
    "I'll show you," yanked my arm around her waist, pressed against me and forced me to follow.  In two minutes we were whirling around the room.
    After Wagon opened in Philadelphia, Alan Lerner called a meeting. "The show needs work.  We can do it quickly or we can do it creatively.  We want to do it creatively and creatively takes time, so we'll stay out of town four more weeks."  Nobody groaned.
    Scenes were cut.  One actor played a fire-bug, a storied menace in the Old West where towns burned to the ground. One day the fire-bug scene was cut and so was the actor. Two weeks later de Mille told me I'd understudy featured dancer, James Mitchell, and to watch his numbers. After the NYC opening, there was a line at the box office and for the first time since leaving the Army, as long as Wagon ran, I'd earn a salary.  [I'm in the middle of the photo above, the arms of my smiling partner, Ilona Murai, around my head..]

Milton Berle Show

I was one of four men dancing "Minute Waltz."  The combination started to the right: glissade jetè, glissade essemblè, sous-sous, double tour, sous-sous double tour, immediately repeated to the left.  To my horror, my double tours had vanished!  I crashed clumsily to the floor, scrambled to my feet, crashed again.  Since I'd done effortless doubles the previous week,  Edie Barstow, the choreographer,  pooh-poohed it, saying, "Don't worry, they'll come back."
    An hour later, Milton Berle watching, I crashed again..He got a puzzled look. On the second particularly horrible crash, he broke into a broad grin, turned to Barstow and said, "He falls down! That's funny!" 
   Milton Berle, king of prat falls, didn't dream I wasn't falling down on purpose. .

Arabian Nights, Jones Beach Marine Theater

    Liane Plane, ex-Ballet Theatre, was lean and strong with beautiful line. The pas de deux featured lifts and flying catches originated by Rod Alexander with his wife, Bambi Lynn.  As understudies, Liane and I had worked well together despite constant bickering. No, we were fighting. When I signed in on Thursday, the stage manager grabbed me. "Kitty Lee's out!  Liane's waiting for you on stage." 
    The big lift came in the middle of the pas de deux.  With maybe fifty feet between us, she did pique arabesque facing away, turned back, ran toward me, leaped from fifteen feet, half-turned in the air, I stepped forward and slipped my right shoulder under her rear, she landed and perched in attitude.  Then she dug her right pointe shoe into my stomach, I grabbed her thigh and ankle, she stood, swung her leg back into arabesque, slid off my chest to the floor and dashed away.  We practiced the catch half a dozen times.  "You'll be great!"
    At 120 feet wide and 80 feet deep, the Marine Theater stage was four times the size of Broadway's Ziegfeld. Spotlights powerful enough to light up German bombers in the London blitz, converged from towers high above the audience.  Liane, fifty feet away, did her pique arabesque, turned, raced toward me and launched herself from thirty feet – much too far!  I lunged forward as she half turned in the air, suspended twenty feet away, empty space between her and the floor, hurled myself forward to be suddenly crouching on the stage with Liane on my shoulder. Applause from the distant audience.
    "The damn lights blinded me," she said afterward, "I took off way too soon and should have landed on my ass.  I don't know how you caught me but from now on, no arguments. What you say goes." 

Annie Get Your Gun

    One of the best moves in Annie Get Your Gun, was the Wild Horse's flying entrance, a stag leap that reversed in the air like a karate kick, although in 1959, few knew about karate.  I attended one rehearsal of my understudy, a promising lad named Edward Villella, who gave the role a polished classical look instead of the slashing rawness I thought it should have.  Nevertheless, I resolved that if I could help it, Villella would not show his stuff to the world in this production.
    Brooks Atkinson, NY Times drama critic, was lukewarm. About me, he said, "Stuart Hodes, as the Wild Horse (it says in the program) invokes the gods ferociously."
    "Ferociously," was fine, but what did "(it says in the program)" mean?  And who was "invoking gods?"  I was a wild horse, like it said in the program.

This is Chapter 11. Click links for other Chapters:

Go to:   HOME                                               Chapter 6 - Critics Say
            Chapter 1 - Dance Lessons            Chapter 7 - TKO'd in {Paris and London
            Chapter 2 - Making Dances            Chapter 8 - The Grand Tour
            Chapter 3 - On Stage!                     Chapter 9  - Asia
            Chapter 4 - Martha                           Chapter 10 - Dance Master
            Chapter 5 - Her  Little Crackers     Chapter 12 - Post-Martha Syndrome