A Dancer's Dilemma / by Vincent Guy

An excerpt from Kalliopi's memoirs

As I walked onto the empty stage of the Champs Elysées Theater in Paris in avenue Montaigne, my intention was to work on some difficult steps and try to make them my own. We were the Grand Ballet of the Marquis de Cuevas, performing our Paris winter season with the full length version of Sleeping Beauty. Suddenly our director Raymundo de Larraín appeared: “Kalliopi, I’d like you to start working on the leading role in Sleeping Beauty, Aurora. Begin on the solo variations and when you feel ready let me know! I’ll tell you then who your male partner will be”. And so it was. 

I worked in between performances and rehearsals day after day watching the great ballerinas performing the role. This new task was very difficult for me, because a big company's schedule is incredibly busy; to find time to prepare those solos was extremely demanding. Still, I was so happy with the idea that it didn't affect me!  After some time I felt ready and asked Raymundo to come and see me in the solos. He said they looked fine, so I asked him whom I would be dancing with? “Rudi Nureyev” he said. “You must be kidding me!” I said. “No no, I’m not kidding at all. I talked to Rudi and he agreed that you should have an opportunity to do leading parts. So that will be in a matinee, some time when you both feel you are ready!” 

It was such a pleasant surprise to me; at the same time I immediately felt the weight of a difficult task on my agenda: having to be in command of the role and dancing with Rudi! I was almost sure that Rudi was going to be a great help and teacher to me for my debut in the leading role! 

But then a few days later I had a call from Peter Van Dyk, a brilliant German dancer, one of the leading stars of the Ballet of the Paris Opera. At the same time he was ballet director and star dancer at the Hamburg Opera. He invited me to a snack lunch at the Café de l'Opera where he talked to me about Rainer Kochermann. Rainer was perhaps the greatest German classical dancer (according to Mr George Balanchine, Rainer and Vaslav Nijinsky were the only two Danseurs Nobles he had met in his life). Rainer was married to Maria Friss. They were partners, very popular and famous, especially in Germany. Maria Friss had been found dead on the stage of the Hamburg opera house. The investigators couldn't find out if she had been thrown or simply fallen from high above onto that stage; her body was in such a state that it was difficult to say if it was suicide, accident or murder. Maria was beautiful as a woman and as a dancer in all the photos I've seen of her. After Peter Van Dyk told me all this dramatic story of Maria Friss over our lunch, he said: 

“We desperately need a ballerina for Rainer Kochermann for our next ballet season. Mr Balanchine is coming from New York to put on some of his ballets like Apollo Musagete, Orfeo, Raimondaand The Four Temperaments, plus he will do all the mise-en-scene for Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin - and of course you and Rainer would be dancing most of the leading roles! I need your answer as soon as possible, and if you accept, you must go to Hamburg immediately.”

I thanked him for choosing me and promised to answer him as soon as I could. What a dilemma! In the following days I had to think really hard to make the difficult decision: to dance a matinee with Rudolf Nureyev or to go as guest to Hamburg and be coached by one of the world’s greatest choreographers, George Balanchine! My intuition told me "Go to Hamburg!". And that turned out to be one of the highlights of my dancing career.