Deleted from chapter 8 -- Growing Up Princess Alla
Near her apartment on Dekabrisktov Street 54 were the towering Cathedral of St. Isaac, the Kirov* Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and the aristocratic Yusupov Palace. Alla’s imagination could take wing walking anywhere in her neighborhood.
Down the street from Alla’s house, an old babushka named Rosalia walked slowly and deliberately each work day to the Kirov Theater of Opera and Ballet. Hunched over with her shopping bag in tow, it was obvious even to five-year-old Alla that she was not one of the ballerinas. Alla skipped up to her and greeted her. “How lucky you are to work in the Kirov. It’s a magical place.” Rosalia offered a smile to Alla. It was a rare friendly exchange on the streets.
Rosalia was not really an old lady, but the blue tattoo on her arm from the death camp explained her posture. Rosalia, an administrative assistant at the Kirov, was very grateful to Alla’s parents for their dental care and she recognized irrepressible Alla by the tilt of her curly head. Alla and Rosalia continued meeting and exchanging greetings. Rosalia wanted to repay Naum and Bella’s kindnesses and an idea popped into her head after meeting lively Alla. On that day Rosalia offered Alla more than a warm smile and a pinch on the cheek.
“Alla, would you like to see the ballet?”
Alla couldn’t believe it--what luck! She could not only enter the great theater that presided over the street like a queen, she could watch the ballet. Who wouldn’t want to see ballet? Like in a fairy tale, Rosalia from Odessa became fairy godmother and dispensed her magic.
“Alla, I will take you to the ballet each month with me. Would you like that?”
A magical door opened for Alla. Each year she saw the entire Kirov State ballet program thanks to Rosalia. Rosalia made her feel special and privileged. With each ballet, Alla could more easily picture herself pirouetting across the stage. The big swans in Swan Lake beckoned Alla to the stage. They were elegant and Alla’s heart beat to the music and her head was dizzy with their grace and beauty.
“Mama, I want ballet lessons,” Alla announced.
The Bolshevik Revolution had ravaged much of old Russia, but not its ballet tradition. Alla’s ballet school was in the stolid, old Russian tradition. She entered the first day and saw a ramrod straight figure that predated the Bolshevik Revolution. She looked like she could have been alive under Catherine the Great! Madame wielded a stick to keep count and remind the students of proper form for their pliés. Five year old Alla in leotard and tights at the barre could see herself as a swan. She would one day glide across the Kirov. And, with exceptionally hard work, Alla did become one of the four small swans in a performance of Swan Lake. The performance was at a Palace of Culture, though, not on the famed Kirov stage.
Unfortunately, the fairy tale was crumbling with every strike of the baton. As she continued her lessons, she returned home with red welts on her leg. Alla was having difficulty with the extension développé a la seconde, holding and sustaining her leg above shoulder level. She told her parents, “I don’t like the punishment for not having the right form. Madame beats us on the leg with her stick.”
“No way you’ll go back! If this is the way they treat children, you’re not going back. Such is the system and you’re not going to be part of it!” Her mother was firm about the right way to handle children.
Alla continued to revel in the performances as a devoted audience member. Her favorite was another Russian Jew, Mikhail Baryshnikov, the danseur noble, who first appeared in front of Alla in 1966 when she was nine. She followed his career at the Kirov as principal dancer in the Kirov State Ballet and watched what would be his final performance at the Kirov Theater before he disappeared from Russian ballet history in 1974 when he defected in Toronto.
*Since 1988 the Kirov reverted to the name, Mariinsky Theatre, the name it bore before 1937.