The Spirit of the Dance / by Vincent Guy

An excerpt from Kalliopi's memoirs

Performing for a few days with a revue in Buenos Aires, I was fourteen years old. There I saw posters announcing that the American Ballet Theater was in town. Immediately next morning I went to the theatre where they were performing, entered the stage door and looked for someone to give me information. No one was around, but everything was wide open. I searched for a few minutes - still nobody. So I decided to look inside the open dressing rooms. They were full of wigs, hats, shoes and the dancers’ beautiful costumes in every colour; the tables were covered with theatrical make up. I almost tried a costume on, but didn’t quite dare. I sat down on a chair, looked at myself in the mirror and made a wish: to be dancing with them later in my life! 

Suddenly an elegant gentleman appeared behind me. I scrambled to my feet, a bit scared. “Who are you? And what are you doing here?” he asked. “My name is Kalliopi Venieri. I came to ask for an audition in the company; do you know whom I can ask?”  He then said, “Let me introduce myself: my name is Antony Tudor.” as he offered his hand to greet me, “I am the ballet master of the company. Glad to meet you, young lady!”

I blurted out “Are you the world-famous choreographer, Antony Tudor, who created ballets like Lilac Garden, Pillars of Fire, Gala Performance, Romeo and Juliet and all those beautiful choreographies I’ve seen in dance books and magazines?”  “That’s me all right! By the way, I am giving a warm-up class for the company at 4.00 pm. Come and join it and I’ll tell you if you are accepted to be with us in the future!” I made him a small curtsey as a thank you, and he walked out, disappearing in the corridors of the theatre, as if he had been sent by the spirit of dance, and had kept his appointment with me.

My eyes opened wide as I waited for the class to start, and in came some of the greatest international dance stars, like Rosella Hightower, Erik Bruhn, Lupe Serrano, Nora Kay, Ruth Ann Cosset, John Kritsa, Michael Land, Scott Douglas (who was later my partner in Amsterdam with the Dutch National Ballet) and more wonderful dancers I didn’t know.  Mr Antony Tudor started the lesson. During the whole class he paid me no attention at all; at a certain moment he passed me and gave me a brief glance, that’s all. To my astonishment, when the class was over he addressed me: “You are engaged; please go to the company secretary and give your name, address and telephone and we will contact you as soon as I’ve spoken about you to Mrs Lucia Chase, the owner of the company.”

Back home to Rio de Janeiro from Buenos Aires, and still beginning my professional activities with the local company, all my thoughts were on the American Ballet Theater. Mr Leonide Massine was still showing a vivid interest in me. He asked again if I would be interested to join his ballet company in Europe.  I told him seriously that I had applied for the American Ballet Theater. “Mr. Tudor has auditioned me and accepted me; so I’m expecting my contract any time to join them in New York”. Mr Massine never asked me again!   

Meanwhile, my family was beginning to worry. I was so young, used to being with a large family; I shouldn’t go off alone in the world. Perhaps they were right, but I insisted and said through my tears “ It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to be a dancer.”