Jacob's Pillow, Mass., July 5, Staff
Melissa Hayden, the Toronto girl who soon will become the first Canadian to dance overseas as a ballerina, wound up her North American affairs here this weekend and prepared to leave for London, the Ballet Theatre and a future.
The lithe and feathery young woman danced four performances each of the Pas de Deux from Swan Lake and Don Quixote for enthusiastic audiences at the opening of the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. This was her last appearance on this continent prior to flying to Britain Friday for a summer-long European tour.
Miss Hayden, who was born Mildred Herman in Toronto 26 years ago, has moved closer to the top of the ballet world in her four years with George Balanchine's New York City Ballet than any other Canadian. But her decision to leave the company which made her famous for the older but less prominent Ballet Theatre was prompted by a desire to push even further toward the summit of excellence in her art.
"I want to dance classical ballerina roles," she said, as she applied makeup for her Swan Lake part. "And I can't do that with the New York company."
She has made her reputation as one of the 10 finest dancers outside the Iron Curtain by dancing Balanchine's modern works, and she admittedly loves modern ballet. But the classical ballerina has always been her ideal, and now at last, she is becoming just that by rejoining the company with which she started in the U.S. eight years ago.
The large and varied repertoire of the Ballet Theatre company will let Miss Hayden fill for the first time the ballerina roles in such works as Swan Lake, Los Sylphides, Aurora's Wedding, and the Classic Pas de Deux—the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and the Black Swan. But she will continue her modern work in Combat (formerly Duel) which she will take with her theme and variations, Agnes De Mille's Fall River Legend, and Gala Performance.
Miss Hayden says she has never danced Swan Lake with a company in more than a decade in ballet and she felt it was just about time she did. She still dreams of dancing all four acts (most companies, including Ballet Theatre, do only one) with Sadler's Wells, and, indeed, she came close to joining the great British company last winter. "It didn't hit me right at the time," she said of the suggestion that she go to Sadler's Wells on a long leave from New York. So she put British ballet farther into the future.
However, Miss Hayden will dance in Sadler's Wells' home, the Covent Garden, with Ballet Theatre and later will go to the Edinburgh Festival and several German cities. When the tour of Europe is over and the company returns to North America, Miss Hayden will be the second ballerina, ranking behind only Alicia Alonso, prima ballerina, in the company's list of dancers. While overseas, she will attain ballerina status for the first time and will stand unique among Canadians in this way: while several others have toured as "principal dancers," none has been accorded ballerina status in Europe —a fine distinction but an important one.
The career which brought the young Torontonian to this position began shortly after she left Central High School of Commerce. She has no idea how she decided to study dance, but in the early 40s she found herself in Boris Volkoff's ballet school at Bloor and Yonge Sts. She has just kept going.
New York claimed her first in 1943, when she danced in the chorus of Radio City Music Hall for five months. She went home after that, but returned in 1945 and joined Ballet Theatre. Three formative years were spent with that company, most of the time in the corps de ballet, and she left only when the group suspended operations. Dance parts in two musical comedies followed, and then she was summoned by Miss Alonso to join the Ballet Alicia Alonso, for a Caribbean Tour that eventually lasted 51 weeks.
In 1949, Balanchine asked her to join his New York City Ballet and a year later, under his inspired direction, she was one of the leading young dancers in New York. Her efforts were greeted enthusiastically by the dance critics, and in role after role she was enormously successful. In the last two seasons, many network TV performances have followed and a special plum was the dancing part in Charles Chaplin's Limelight.
Toronto hasn't seen Miss Hayden dance since her appearance with Volkoff in April of 1950. but it's almost certain she will be home this season. Ballet Theatre expects to play the Royal Alex and in addition, Miss Hayden is considering a separate guest appearance. When Torontonians do see her, they undoubtedly will notice a profound difference. As one Canadian balletomane remarked: "In 1950. she danced with the strength and vitality of a young animal. Now she has achieved a beautifully soft lyricism. I like her better the new way."
For Miss Hayden, the future undoubtedly holds many more great moments, moments for which she is preparing well. She expects, anyway, that she still has a great deal of time to dance. While discussing an aging ballerina. she showed no sympathy: "The older you get, the better you dance—I can hardly wait until I'm 50."
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