Some Men Are Still Stopping at the Barre

Some time ago, after watching my granddaughter's first dance recital, I noted that there evidently were only two or three boys in the entire show. It seemed an unpromising omen for the future of ballet.

Then, a few weeks ago, Newsweek examined the problem in an article called "Where Are All the Men?" It noted that "the notion of a man dancing ballet still embarrasses people," and pointed out that the international celebrity of such male stars as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov has had "almost no ripple effect."

"Dance critics and balletomanes are looking for a few good men right now," it said, "but they're not having much luck." It reported that Robert Lindgren, executive vice president of the prestigious New York School of American Ballet, recently looked throughout the country for promising young men, but returned discouraged: "Oh, I saw lots of boys sticking an arm out so the girl can pirouette, but not boys with bodies, or intellect, or real physical abilities."

At the invitation of Janet Roston, artistic director, I recently attended "The Company," a recital by the Beverly Hills High School Advanced Dance Theatre Group, in the Beverly Hills High School Auditorium. Roston had read my comment on the scarcity of boys in my granddaughter's recital, and invited us both to be her guests. I wound up also taking my wife and my granddaughter's mother and throwing in a good Italian dinner at Anna's before the show. One expects Beverly Hills High School to be somewhat different, situated as it is between Beverly Hills and Century City, and it is. There is a parking structure "for students only." There were a great many students in the audience--the girls tall, chic, self-assured and sophisticated, at least on the surface; the boys rather more self-conscious, but properly attentive and tentatively macho.

The big surprise, though, as Roston had promised, was the boys in the company. There were eight of them, including four, Roston told me, who were on the high school football team: Niles Kirchner, John D. Johnson III, Damon Greene and Roy Campanella III (how's that for a name!). They had bodies and, as it turned out, real physical abilities. I assume they had intellect.

The four football players and Brian Biggs danced in the first number, "Silk Souvenir," an evocation of some lines from Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." The boys wore tuxedos, dancing the tango with flappers. They were big and graceful and nothing about them was sissy. The audience loved them.

Later, Campanella starred in a more primitive number he had choreographed, "Music Manifesto of the Voodoo Child." In this one, like the other boys, he bared his muscular chest, leaving no doubt of his masculine mystique.

Roston told me that Johnson was the team's quarterback and Campanella a wide receiver. She said they believed dancing improved their grace, rhythm and sense of teamwork. Their routines were far more intricate than the single-wing formation.

It was hard to tell how the parents in the audience reacted, but the students showed their appreciation with whistles, whoops, catcalls, shrieks and hand clapping. The boys especially seemed to inspire this exuberant reaction.

The boys did the usual male things: They lifted girls by the waist, caught them in midair, twirled them and sat them on their knees. There was no Baryshnikov pointy-toe dancing, but that will come. Let them ripen.

The important thing is that no one laughed at them, or teased them, or seemed to think their presence in the company was anything but natural and good.

Could this be a breakthrough? Rostov said only one or two of the boys have thought of going into professional dancing, but if athletes like Campanella and his colleagues can go out for dance, what boy can't?

Other numbers were noteworthy for their choreography, music and spirited dancing. "Amandla Ngawethu,"("Power to the People"), choreography by Sonia Slutsky, dramatized the struggles of South Africans against apartheid.

In the grand finale, "Stream of Unconsciousness," the boys did a flashy flamenco.

My granddaughter, her mother and my wife all seemed to like the show. I did too, but I was almost as fascinated by the audience. As Fitzgerald said of the rich, Beverly Hills High School is different.

We also came home with enormous doggie bags from Anna's.

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