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DO40 Arts Legacy Interview

Sharon Wendrow

Sharon Wendrow

Interviewed by Leni Anders

What inspired you to become a dancer?
My Mother (Audre Reeves) was a dancer.  She worked with Balanchine on his movies, "On Your Toes," and "I Was an Adventuress," and also on MGM's "Waterloo Bridge."  She and my Dad (John Rich, who was a concert pianist, and then worked at the movie studios as a film editor and writer) secretly wanted me to be a ballet dancer. 

I was taken to see ballet companies whenever they came to Los Angeles, in the late 1940's and 1950's.  I was hooked from the very first performance.  Favorites were Margot Fonteyn and Moira Shearer in Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake (Royal Ballet) and Alexandra Danilova in anything (Ballet Russe.)

Who was the most influential person in your career?
After my parents, my teachers Maria Bekeifi, Paul Petroff, Nana Gollner, David and Tatania Lichine in Los Angeles, and Anatol Vilzak and Leon Danelion of the Ballet Russe School in New York.  Paul Petroff gave of himself as a teacher.  He taught me, and my partner Larry Long (who went on to head the Ruth Paige Foundation and Company in Chicago) how to DANCE.  He also taught us the "no hands fish dive" that he made famous.  Alexandra Danilova called him the world's best partner. I was treated with respect and gained confidence that prepared me for my future as a teacher.  I later realized that it was quite an accolade to be trusted in that way.

What was your most memorable moment in your career?
There were several.  The audition for Radio City Music Hall Corps de Ballet.  I auditioned to keep a friend company, and wound up being the only dancer taken.  The audition was quite difficult, with very fast jump combinations, sixteen fouetté turns right and left, and lots of fast chainé and pique turns across the floor. 

At that time most ballet companies were going out of business. The Music Hall had as many dancers as they needed, so I felt honored. I performed on stage for the very first time, at age 12, for Paul Petroff.  He and Nana Gollner rented the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles and we did an evening of dance to a sold out crowd.  Neither had performed since they left Ballet Theatre and opened their own school. I was given a solo in the William Tell Suite, a very fast, very complicated piece.  I received a standing ovation, and never wanted to leave the stage again!

Sharon Wendrow

Also, while studying with David Lichine, he produced a performance at the Santa Monica Bowl.  We did Les Sylphides and The New World Symphony, which he choreographed on us.  We were excited to perform his fabulous Graduation Ball, which had been a staple of Ballet Theatre.  I was chosen, at age 14, to do the " fouetté competition," a difficult piece, that not everyone is able to do. 

I was ecstatic, thrilled and relieved that it came off to the satisfaction of all concerned. To perform a ballet for the original choreographer, to have him work with you, is beyond words.  We also had the opportunity to work with Victor Moreno of Ballet Russe and Barbara Lloyd of Ballet Theatre who danced with us. Thrilling !!!

Performing in, and choreographing a dinner theater production of "Sweet Charity." This was the first time I sang, acted and danced in a Broadway style show.  I loved it, and have been dancing and teaching, jazz, tap and musical theater ever since.                

What was the most frightening moment you experienced?
Being saved, liter-ally, catapulted off the stage, by stage manager Peter Blaustein,  a split second before Sadie the camel was going to crash down on my head, during the Nativity Scene in the Radio City Christmas Show.  Sadie was afraid of lights, and they didn't raise the spot in time for her - she reared up, right behind me.

           

Tell me your experience with the next generation of dancers, and what your Legacy to them will be.
As a teacher, I try to instill the values I grew up with....the love of dance, not just technique, the discipline needed, and the history of dance.  So many students never learn what and who came before them, and don't appreciate the innovations, the experimenting and all the work that was done to bring dance to the high level it has attained.            

I had my own school for 20 years, and now teach for the Hannah Kroner School of Dance in Albertson Long Island.  My great joy is teaching older adults, who love to dance.  Some are ex-dancers and some novices, but all couldn't live without dance classes as many times a week as they can.  Dance on.

 

Norma Doggett-Bezwick

Norma Doggett-Bezwick

Interviewed by Leni Anders

What inspired you to become a dancer?
The early movie musicals with Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell, and later Ginger Rogers.   I was probably about five.  I'd go home, and try to imitate their move-ments.  I jitter-bugged in high school.  The faster you were, the better - I was fast!  Through a classmate, I started ballet, and performing club dates with a group, and loved it.    

Harvey Korman and I were in the same drama class, and performed in The Purple Mask.  That experience clinched wanting to be on stage for me, as long as I could be dancing as well.  It didn't matter where or how.

Who was the most influential person in your career?  
Olive Bernard, my first choreographer at the Chez Paree in Chicago.  Olive was an accomplished ballet dancer.  She would go to NYC, study with Martha Graham, see the Broadway shows, and come back to Chicago with ideas for her production numbers at the Chez.  Most of the dancers in the line were tall, and I was 5'2", but I was a quick study, and Olive featured me in many numbers. Olive's work was well received, and it developed my self confidence.

The line's choreography changed with each new star such as Tony Martin, Sophie Tucker, Jane Froman, Carmen Miranda, Larry Storch, Danny Thomas, Lena Horne, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  It was a wonderful opportunity to study ballet, modern and Pilates during the day, and perform three shows a night.  We had an orchestra, dance floor and stage to work with. I loved it.  

My instructors certainly influenced me:  Joe & Clara Pilates, Jerome Andrews, Bea Stronstorff, Edna Macrea, Hanya Holm among others. I got along very well with all of my other choreographers, and appreciated them: Jack Cole, Catherine Littlefield, Jerome Robbins, Helen Tamiris, Michael Kidd and Charles Weidman. 

What was your most memorable dance experience?   
Dancing in opera.  The New York City Opera played Chicago.  This was an interim period for me between doing stock, and going to NYC.  l auditioned for, and got to dance the Page in Love For Three Oranges.  It required that I open the opera strutting around that big, beautiful, huge stage all by myself.  It was an exhilarating, and fantastic experience.  I also danced in Aida, La Traviata and Turandot, and adored it.

Do you have a most frightening moment in your career?

Yes.  During my bus and truck tour starring Geneviève, I performed a solo song, crossing the stage while the crew changed scenery behind the curtain. 

The song was a period piece, and my dress was diaphanous, with a very tall cone shaped headpiece.  I traversed the stage from one side of the proscenium to the other, between the curtain on my right side, and the stage edge on my left. I started my number facing front (not a bad idea when singing) when someone backstage turned on a wind machine. It did a job on me and my headpiece, too! I made it across, but it added some spice to my song.  

What experience or Legacy would you like to pass on to the next generation?  
Never stop learning.  Love your craft.  Get as much, and as many techniques under your belt as you can.  Try to develop all of your talents.  It will enhance your life, and career. Remember the Triple Threats.  I took a business course, and drama in high school.  The shorthand and typing came in very handy when I became an Admin Secretary at Mobil Oil Corp. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. Do the best you can, and never lose hope, courage and fortitude. And most important of all, never, never stop dancing!

What do you think of the stage of dance on Broadway and Theater dance in general today?
We have some great shows now, but I would like to see it slightly more affordable.  I'm still enamored with vaudeville, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, Frank Loesser and Rodgers & Hammerstein -- The Golden Age.  So much is in the music, the rhythm for dancers. Every age seems to bring a different style - classical, modern, Charleston, jazz, hip-hop.  I wonder what will come next?  All are valid relating to the era in which they're discovered and developed.

I'm sure our beloved musical theatre entertainment will always survive, bloom and improve.  It's the healthiest escape I can think of.  I love to see our dancers working, and we have a very fine union to help us along the way.  I'm sure the choreographic talent is always there, and change itself will bring new talent to the fore.

 

 


 

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