Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ballet-1872 (1)

The ballet seems at last to have found a home in New York, and to have become one of the permanent institutions of the great city, witness the triumphs of the Black Crook, of Humpty Dumpty, and the spectacular plays of the Grand Opera House. It must be confessed that it is well done here. The Black Crook carries off the palm. Its ballets are the best arranged and the best executed, and its dancers are as good looking and attractive as ballet girls ever are.

There are several hundred girls and women in New York who earn their living by dancing in the ballets of the various theatres. The Black Crook alone employs about one hundred. Those who have seen these damsels in their glory, in the full glare of the foot and calcium lights, amidst the most gorgeous surroundings, and under the influence of delicious music, may have come to the conclusion that such a life must be very pleasant. They little know the experience of a ballet girl. "It's a hard life," said one of them, not long since, "and very little fun in it, if you're decent."

The ballet girl always appears on the bills as a miss, but some of them are married, and have to support helpless or worthless husbands. They are of all nationalities. The Premieres are generally French or Italian, at least on the bills. These are usually excellent dancers, and are fond of their art. They are well paid, and as a rule save their money. Midlle. Bonafanti received $150 per week from the managers of Niblo's Theatre. Midlle. Morlacchi also receives large sums. She is a sensible woman, and has invested her earnings in a pretty home in New England, where she spends her summers. Not more than one or two in the same establishment receive such high pay, however. The salaries, as a rule, are small. The Secondas at Niblo's, the home of the Black Crook, receive from $50 to $100 per week. There are twelve coryphées who earn from $25 to $30 per week. Then follow the first, second, and third lines of the ballet, with wages ranging from $5 to $30 per week. The girls who march in the processions of female soldiers receive about $8 per week. The costumes, armor, etc., are furnished by the theatre, but there are many articles of dress which the girls are obliged to furnish at their own expense.

The ballet girl rises about eight o'clock in the morning, and is off to rehearsal by nine. A duller, more dreary sight than a rehearsal of a ballet by daylight, and in plain dress, cannot be imagined. The theatre is dark and gloomy, the stage not much lighter, and everything is in confusion. There is a smell of escaping gas in all parts of the building. Scattered about the stage are a number of girls and women in half skirts, with fleshings on their legs, and some of them with woolen hose drawn over the fleshings to keep them warm. They are terribly jaded and hollow eyed, and they seem incapable of being interested in anything. A very different set from the smiling, graceful hours of the evening before. At a given signal the music begins, and the girls commence a series of capers which seem utterly ridiculous. It is downright hard work for the girls, however; and those who are not engaged in leaping, or pirouetting, or wriggling, are leaning against the scenery and panting with fatigue. The leader of the ballet storms and swears at them, and is made frantic by every little mistake. The rehearsal occupies several hours. If there is a matinee that day, it is kept up until it is time for the girls to dress for that performance. Between the close of the matinee, and the opening of the evening performance, there is not much time for the tired girls to rest.

To be continued: Ballet-1872 (2)

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