Seven Little Girls

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Chapter Three

Angie picked me up the next morning with Hetty. This was the third year Hetty would work out with CDC. The director, Verne Kaplan, was a devotee of Merce Cunningham and Hetty’s New York ballet fit in. Hetty was always thrilled to dance and so the couple weeks she spent with CDC, working with the first-year dancers, was never wasted.

“Do you think Verne will accept me doing a piece on you rather than the company?” I asked Angie.

“You can’t do a piece on me without the company, Uncle Nick. I mean the part on Hetty doesn’t mention Inner City?”

“Uncle Nick doesn’t get it,” said Hetty, ” but he really tries, and you don’t get that out of most reporters. He doesn’t do what we do. You should see him when he writes. God, he’s a bear. He like gathers up everything, goes and locks himself in and you’re taking your life in your hands to interrupt him. He writes. He does it like we dance, but alone, that’s like his creative experience. I’ve tried to explain ensemble art to him over and over. That part of our art is our reaction to someone else, even their screw-ups. It’s like he’s got it all down intellectually, but he doesn’t understand it. Most of the piece on me, at least the draft he showed me is about Inner City. He equates the company to Aunt Tori and Aunt Gwen, and in his mind, we’re kind of on stage alone doing our thing. Like he writes alone, after they do their thing.”

“Got it,” said Angie. “Aunt Jo’s the same way. She’s done two stories on us and the ensemble thing escapes her. It’s like artists can’t be artists except alone. With us the real art might be a little improvisation to cover someone else, or answer their improv. Of course, my impression of Uncle Nick is that would just piss him off.”

“Hold it a second,” I said. “I always did well in ‘works and plays well with others’ on my report card.”

Hetty laughed. “Works and plays well with others like Attila the Hun did. I heard you the day we left on the phone with Rick Verdugo. ‘Just because we paid for you to learn ten languages doesn’t mean you can’t write English.’ And I don’t know what you said in French, but I’ll bet anything it wasn’t a pat on the back. Look at it this way, Uncle Nick, what Rick did happens to us all the time on stage, and how we react is a part of our art. It makes every performance unique, every time out on the stage a whole new painting. We can’t stop, go back and do it again, like you do. Rick will rewrite and the perfect choreography will make the magazine. With us, perfect is like, maybe once or twice a season. It’s like you publish Rick’s goof and then recast the magazine to make it fit. That takes a team, an ensemble, and that can be a perfect.

“There he goes Angie,” continued Hetty. “He won’t say a word all the way to the hall and he’ll grump if we interrupt him.”

“Won’t.”

“Will too. Figure it out and get back to us.”

Hetty had spent the last couple years trying to explain this to me, and she was dead on, I didn’t get it. Art, to me, was pretty solitary, pretty much a completely individual expression. It took Hetty about a year to warm up to me. Once she did I became a surrogate father, and one who understood her better than her own. Dancing helped. We danced out a couple broken love affairs together. But never could get together on the ensemble thing. I had it figured out in a way, but didn’t really. I had the same problem with farmers, with Kat. Their art was something akin to a partnership with nature. Every year was a different color and you had to scramble to make that art.

Hetty was right in that intellectually, I got it, but emotionally? I got it with Kat, with Tori, but I didn’t get it with dancers. Kat was in total control, the Annandale vintages were her art. Tori was directing her research, but dancers reacting to each other? The art is not action, but rather interaction? You were perfect, but you weren’t because you didn’t react to another dancer who wasn’t? I just couldn’t pin that down and make it work for me.

“Okay, I said, “try this: ‘So I came back to be at home and to report the things which I should tell everyone.’ What does it mean?”

“I’m back to report,” said Angie. “French, right? Between three years in high school and dance, which is a bunch of French and Italian, not to mention Russian, you pick it up. So?”

“It’s French syntax and pretty close to what Rick wrote. According to the two of you, instead of telling him to write English, I should have made it fit into an American news magazine?”

Hetty chuckled. “That’s what we do, Uncle Nick. In fact, if you understood dance better you’d know we’ve both coped with worse. I’ve been five feet in the air waiting to be caught by someone who wasn’t where he was supposed to be, and had to make that look planned and graceful. That isn’t any easier, in fact it’s damn hard to do without hurting yourself.”

“Actually,” continued Angie, “that’s probably the most common way we do get hurt. And then, sometimes, it’s so much better it gets incorporated into the choreography.”

“All that stuff I love is a mistake?”

“Just some of it,” said Hetty. “Dances are never finished, only performances. How you can move to music is infinite, and sometimes the mistakes work better than the plans.”

“So, I should just publish a sentence with French syntax?”

“No,” said Hetty, “But you should consider it. Maybe not that bad, but like, oh hell, ‘I should tell you this, now I’m back.’ The Russians would say ’that back I am,” but you get the gist, spice, the difference that comes from two or more artists working together on the same thing. That’s part of ensemble art, the ensemble improves the individual and the piece.”

“The Italians might go with: ‘Now I’m back I need to tell you,’ not you to tell, but you catch the idea,” said Angie. “Like Rick’s screw up opened a door. Who’s Rick by the way?”

“You met him last year,” said Hetty. “The one with the bedroom eyes and the soft Latin accent. His wife’s Candace, the blond who went to high school here? Ring a bell?”

“Got him, and he’s like what?”

“Foreign affairs editor,” I said.

Now it was Angie’s turn to chuckle, “Sounds like he covers European brothels. More serious, huh. In any case, we work that way, and it’s art.”

“I’ll buy it is, in fact through Hetty I’ve bought the assertion for a while. I just don’t feel it and I can’t do it.”

“Bullshit,” said Hetty, “You do it weekly. Talk to Harold. You’re damn good at it Uncle Nick, but you forget the ensemble. Both you and Aunt Jo, you write the magazine. In what we do there are choreographers who do the same thing. And every issue you mesh them together. And I’ve heard you do it. Harold says you were hard to do it to, and it was often easier to fit it around you, which he did, but Aunt Tori gets it and he worked through her a lot to get you to do it.

“You get the vision, Uncle Nick, like Balanchine or Cunningham, but you always see it as you. It isn’t. It’s your writers and researchers as their own artists. You cover their screw-ups, incorporate it, that’s where the magazine comes from. Read more Margot Fontaine, she took forever to get it. She did it, you do it, you just don’t know you do.”

“Harold always finds a way, doesn’t he?”

“I don’t understand.”

“To teach me something I didn’t see.”

I arranged with Verne Kaplan to roam around while the company worked. After Angie, Confidential had sponsored two other dancers and he was grateful to us. I saw a couple people who didn’t look like stagehands and followed them up into the catwalks over the stage.

I followed along behind them, keeping out of sight, trying not to impose on the scene. When I caught full sight of the two of them, it gave me an answer, of sorts. One was a young man I recognized.

I watched the rehearsal and stood where I wouldn’t be seen as they walked past.

“Brian,” I said as they passed me. “What’s going on?”

Brian Ericson was Hetty’s cousin, last I heard a San Francisco beginning stockbroker. He turned around with a shocked expression on his face.

“Jesus, I well... I didn’t think we’d get caught.”

“What are you doing Brian?”

“Well... watching Angie.”

“Have you considered telling her, I mean before the police show up and arrest you?”

“Angie and I had an argument, and well, I...”

“And well, I think you’d better get your head on straight before you spend some time explaining to a policeman why you’re stalking a ballet company.”

“Angie and I were dating, then we had an argument and she said she didn’t want to see me anymore. We’ve been dating, well, off and on since high school. But she said I didn’t understand her, and her dancing. I guess I’m trying to understand.”

“Would be nice if you didn’t scare the hell out of the company trying to understand. And frankly, if you don’t get it, chances are you won’t acquire it. Still, you know Little World? The bar on California?

“I know where it is.”

“Be there in an hour.”

“But...”

“But your ass. Your aunt will be there, and if you’re not I’ll send her out to get you.”

He left and I arranged for Joey, Vern, and Angie to meet at the bar. My mistake was that I did it and when Tori found out, she joined the party with Kat and Hetty just came along with Angie.

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