Thursday, June 23, 2005

Nicholas Polajenko:

My first dancing appearance was in Ottowa Canada, back in 1946-47, dancing with
Svetlana Beriosova. Ballets were Les Sylphides and the Nutracker. The company was with
a local dance school.

During the time I was studing ballet with Ludmila Shollar and Anatole Vilzak in New York
City, I performed with Mariane Horosko in Carnagie Hall with the Symphonie Pops orchestra.
I don't remember what the ballet was, the year was 1947-48. (Valse Triste was the title of the ballet we danced, just remembered on 12/26/05)

I appeared in two Broadway Shows. "Music in my Heart" (you can find the list of dancers
and cast if you go to Polajenko on Google and look for the Broadway show). The other show was
"Annie Get Your Gun" with Ethel Merman in the starring role, both shows were in the year
1947-48. I stayed with "Annie Get Your Gun" for about 8 months before going to Europe in the December of 1948 to join the Metropolitan Ballet in London, England.

My reason for going to London was to join Svetlana Beriosova (we danced in Ottowa, Canada
as students) now we were to dance in a professional ballet company. My going there was arranged by Svetlana's father who was at that time the ballet master for the company.
In other words, he got me my first job in Europe.

After arriving to London by way of Paris (I stopped over in Paris before going on to London)
I was met by Svetlana's father and taken over to a Hotel, (I really don't remember where I stayed while I was in London).

The company I joined was called the Metropolitan Ballet and I stayed with them for about one
month. The reason I left the company was because I found out they were going to fold.
Lot's of luck. I travel all the way from New York by boat in the middle of winter, go to Paris, freezing cold, go on to London to find out that after one month the company is closing.

I don't remember all the details but I left, having at least danced with Svetlana for about one month. That was back in January-February of 1949. ( I never did dance with Svetlana again
and only saw her about 20 years later dancing in Geneva, Switzerland, where I had been dancing as principal dancer with the Ballet de Grand Theatre de Geneve).

So I was out of a job for a while, in Paris, freezing cold and taking ballet class with Madame
Nora . She spoke Russian, French and English which helped me a lot because my French was non existant and my Russian was a bit rusty.

Taking classes every day and exploring Paris was something. I guess I must have seen quite a bit while I was waiting to get a job in a ballet company. Eating and seeing the sights of Paris was really quite an eyefull. I got lost walking the Paris streets. I'll never forget. I left the Hotel I was staying in, walked down the street, made a few turns, saw some shops and decided to head back to the Hotel after about an hour. Well, I was lost and it didn't help not knowing the language.
I finally did find my way back...but what an experience! Coming from New York City where all the blocks go North-South & West-East you can imagine going to a city where the streets go every and each way and no two street look the same!

When I was in London it was the same thing but I didn't get lost because I was with someone all the time who knew the city. In Paris I was alone and yet to make friends so that they could introduce me to all the places to go without being lost.

Eventually that come about when I joined Ballet des Champs Elysee in March of 1949.

Joining the company was an experience unto itself. Here I am, all by myself, not really knowing too many dancers, feeling a bit "New", taking my first class with the company, etc.

The following recollections are not all in sequence;
Joining the company and going into rehearsels, learning new ballets, meeting new dancers, and still not being fluent in French is a bit overwhelming. There was a couple of Americans in the company. Helen Constantine and I, and that's it, as far as I can remember. Helen was married, not to a dancer but a singer also an American. They both had a daughter, not a dancer.

Being with the company for about one year, from 1949-1950 I had the chance to travel a great deal. Performing in France, Germany, Brazil, Egypt, Edinburgh(Scotland) and in London.
During our London season, we had the pleasure of seeing a very famous dancer who was going to see our performance sitting in the theatre box, stage right. Who should it be but no other than...Vaslav Nijinsky! (If you don't know who this famous dancer is, you can find him on the internet). Well, we all were quite surprised and a bit nervous for the performance after being told he is in the theatre. No, Nijinsky did not come back stage after the performance. Too bad, it would have been a fantastic experience to have met him. (Several years later I met a man by the name of Chapawelenko, George may have been his first name, who actually met and had his photo taken with Nijinsky. I beleive I have a copy of the photo).

As far as I can remember our first trip with the ballet company was to go from Paris to Berlin, Germany. Well that was an experience to say the least. My first trip on the train to Berlin, no reservations to sit down, it was a "first come first grab your seat if you are lucky". It was a long trip and I think it was overnight. I remember the train to be very crowded and I with other dancers had to sleep in the corridor of the train. Freezing cold, no heat. I really can't remember at what time of the year this was. We arrived to Berlin(I have photos of Berlin that I took while there)a bit tired. We performed in various cities in Germany but don't remember which ones.

Any how, while in Berlin we went over to the Russian sector of Berlin, this is before the "Wall"
went up, just for sightseeing. By the way, Berlin was still in ruins 4 years after the Second World War. All of a sudden we hear a rumbling noise in the street, turning around we saw several tanks coming our way. Very impressive I must say, especially when you see a woman sitting in the turret of the tank! They passed us by and we went along our sightseeing way.

We were lucky to have someone taking us by car for all this seeing-bit, and taking photos. On the way back to the Hotel I had to take a piss so bad that when we arrived, I just made it to the restroom, I couldn't go for a few seconds if you know what I mean.

We had a small tour in Germany with the ballet company. We stayed in Army barracks somewhere, can't remember the town. This was due to the fact there were no Hotels available at that particular place where we performed.

I remember staying at a hotel where when I got to my room, I looked at the bed and said,
"that's one big blanket", not realizing that is was an eiderdown. This was my first experience sleeping with an eideredown. That's all there was on the bed, no sheets or blanket but was it warm!

The next trip I remember was when we all went to Rio de Jeinero, Brazil by BOAT! That trip took 10-11 days, we had a lot of fun, nice sailing, no waves to speak of. On that trip we still had to keep in shape. That is, we took "barre" on one of the decks everyday keeping ourselves limber with stretching excercises etc...all things to keep in shape for our up coming ballet season in Brazil.

Upon our arrival, if I remember correctly, we had opnly 2-3 days to prepare for the opening night of our season. To say that we had "sea legs", Yes we had "sea legs", but that soon disappeared. We had a wonderful season in Rio. Then we went to a city called Belle Horizonti
(not sure of the spelling) and then Sao Paulo.

Oh yes. While we were in Rio some of the dancers, including myself, were invited to go somewhere slightly outside of Rio and up in some hills to see, somewhat of a "Voodoo" sing-song, chant by local people. At that time I had a slight cold (it was summer ) so I was spared the smell of the house (Hut is more likely) and of the people who were dancing, singing, smoking.
Looking at some of the dancers, they were turning green, they looked at me, as if to say,"can't you smell the smell?" No, I had a cold. Never forget this one fat woman smoking a big fat cigar, singing or shouting(not Opera) with a big bull whip in her hand!
We didn't stay very long at this party. Our Brazilian friends took us back, we thanked them and said...oh, I'm not sure what we said.

During our Rio ballet season, I just remembered an incident that almost happened while I was dancing with Irene Skorik.
This ballet was called "Thirteen Dances" and I had to dance a solo in one of the dances and then had to waite a while before dancing with Irene in another.

Well the night before I had a Brazilian dish in a restaurant called Fejioda. Its a dish with pork, beans, sauce etc...(I have the recipe) I enjoyed it. However, the following day was the performance and that is when it hit me. Right after my solo dance, my stomach said that I
really have to go to the bathroom. I didn't have time really. But then I said, the hell with
that. If I don't go NOW I'll do it on stage during the Pas de Deux, If I go NOW I'll probably miss my entrance with Irene. What to do? I ran up a flight of stairs to the bathroom, mind you I have to take off my tights and jock strap, did my business, put on my jock strap and tights, ran down to the stage just in time to walk on and dance with Irene. Whew!! I'll never forget that!

Needless to say that I didn't have that dish before any other performances.

Our season went well in Rio. We then went on to Bell Horizonto and Sao Paulo.
Can't remember what transpired there but I'm sure it was fine. The audiences were great in the three cities we performed. (I have to add here that all what I write, and can remember from memory, to all the places we performed, travelled to, eating in different countries, staying at the best and lousiest hotels, getting sick etc...I went theought it all. Every once and a while I'll throw something in, while writing, that I will remember....and it may or not be relevent to the situation. A lot of this is off the top of my head).

After the season in Brazil we went back to France by BOAT. Thi s time it took us 15 days.
Going to Brazil was 10 days, going back 15! Slow boat to France I must have said at that time.

The trip was fun, but was it hot! You have to understand that the cabins alloted to us dancers by the ballet management was dished out by rank, in the ballet company. That is to say, Principal Dancers, Soloists, Corps de Ballet. I was a Soloist with the company, but that did not matter as far as the boat cabins were concerned. The Principals were given the best first, the rest....?

The weather at the time of year going back to France was very HOT and the BOAT was NOT
all FIRST Class and nothing was AIR Conditioned. The year is 1949, and the boat was not a cruise ship going to the Paradise islands. Anyhow, it was great fun.

When we arrived back to France, the rest of the season, up until about March of 1950, we continued touring around Europe performing in Italy, Great Britain, Ediburgh Festival, Egypt,
Algeria, Belgium. During which time I took a lot of photos and 8mm film of all the countries I visited and performed. There are some funny and not so funny moments during that period of touring. I'll try to remember but there is no sequence to the events. For instance....

The time I was in Cairo, Egypt. We decided to go see the pyramids during our season with the ballet on our day off. There were about 8-10 of us. When we arrived there were all these guides trying to entice us to go with them on horse or camel to see the pyramids. Well, one look at a camel to ride around put us off, so we took the horse option instead. In our group we had an English dancer who knew how to ride and most of us really didn't have a clue which end was up on a horse. Anyhow, we all got on our respective horses with our guides holding on to the raines
and started to proceed on our tour.

Since our guides were with us and pestering us for money before we finished our tour, we tried to get rid of them and were successful. Somehow we thought our horses knew the way around
without our guides. And so they did, until my run-away horse decided to go into a full gallop around the Sahara desert with me holding on with both hands on the saddle.

When the horse finally stopped galloping all over the desert, the only object I saw in the sand were the pyramids. The dance company members were no where to be seen, except for a man dressed like one the men in the film, Arabian Knights, yelling! He was yelling at the top of his voice. Since I was the only one there I figured I better be on my way. When I told my horse to go, he didn't. Must have frozen with this Arab yelling at me and the horse.

No matter what I tried to do, the horse didn't budge. And the guy is coming towards me still yelling. I finally understood what he was saying. "Why you ride horse so fast, not good. I tell my boss but if you give me money, I won't say anything." Can you believe it. A shake down in the middle of the Sahara desert. No, I didn't give him any money. The best part of this whole scenario was how he appeared, like right out of the sand and yelling at me and the horse. He had no horse or other transportation that I could see at that moment. So help me, he must have materialised out of sand.

In the meanwhile my horse just stood there, me not knowing what to do, the guy still pestering me for money when all of a sudden I see my friends coming over the dunes. Saved! We all go back to where we started and back to the Hotel. What a day out to see the Pyramids of Giza!

The ballet company "Ballet des Champs Elysees" of which I was a member was very well received by the Cairo public during our season. Then we went on to Alexandria, north of Cairo for our second stop in Egypt. The only thing I can remember, that jumps into my mind is a pit-stop on our way to the city. (Maybe something will come to mind?)

There are many memories, photos I have during my stay with the company for the year that I was with them. But at this moment I can't recall.

I left Ballet des Champs Elysees about March or April of 1950 because I heard the company was going to Australia (which I really did not want to go) and that the company was in financial trouble.

So, leaving them I was out of a job in Paris with hardly any money in my pocket. We never really got paid while I was with the company. Oh yes, we received some money but it was a strange set-up. When I joined in the beginning, I got paid every month but then as we went on tour somehow we all started to get "defrement", a defered payment on our salary. Perhaps the principals were paid full salary but I wasn't. So here I am, in Paris, no job and no money. Somehow luck came my way by way of my ballet teacher, Madame Nora.

Many dancers took class with Madame Nora. She was very well liked. She gave class at the Salle Waker Studios in Place Clichy district of Paris. (At this moment in time, I can't remember the name of the street but will find it when I look at a map.) Madame Nora spoke several languages, French, Russian, English and Italian if my memory serves me right. She was married to a Hungarian film director, film producer or filmscreen writer, I never did find out exactly what he did.

Salle Waker Studios was actually a 3-4 story building, selling and repairing pianos, and having various studios for pianos and dance. Madame Nora's studio was on the top floor. And on the third floor was Madame Olga Preobrajenska!. Yes, the famous dancer and teacher,(1871 - 1962 Mariinsky Ballet) who at that time must have been in her 70's. And yes, I did take class with her too. For those who may not have heard of her, you can find all the information on the WEB. Many well known dancers studied with her, one comes to mind is Vladimir Dokoukovsky. I met him in Paris, at the Salle Waker and in class with Preobrajenska teaching. He eventually came to the states and taught ballet at Ballet Arts, Carnigie Hall Studios, New York for about 30 years before opening his own school in New York.

To get back to Madame Nora when she helped me out. She told me that I could continue taking my daily ballet classes with her under the condition that I was to pay her back when I was working again. I agreed. She also helped me financially from day to day living expenses before I was to join "Ballet Roland Petit" in Paris. "Thank you Madame Nora wherever you are"!Through her connections I was able to join the ballet company.

While I was living in Paris, before joining the company, a funny thing happened when I was awoken, at 7:00AM in my hotel room, by the pounding on my door. "Yes, hello, who is it" I said in French. "Police, open the door please" came the reply. Well, you can imagine how I felt. Scared out off my tights (pants, underwear what have you).

Well it all came down to an inspection of my Identity Card, which was my American passport. You see, when checking into a hotel in France you always give your passportor Identy Card to the person at the desk. The desk then, at the end of the day or just before a certain tme in the evening, notifies the police who is staying at the hotel. That is standard procedure. Well it just so happened that I was staying in a hotel that catered to all sort of clients in the RED light district of Paris!! And since I was staying in the hotel alone, a foreigner (though I did speak French by that time) with hardly any bagage, I guess the police wanted to make sure who is who and what is what is going on in the hotel room. This is not the show "A Funny Thing Happened On TheWay To The Forum".

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