Cirque: Pt 2

As rehearsed, I felt a tap on my left shoulder about 20 seconds into the second piece of the second act of the show, the Dance of the Four Little Swans.  Or, as it is simply referred to among dancers, Cygnets.  It was the mime, Vladimir, trying to coax me off the podium to join him and his partner downstage.  With feigned irritation I waved him off and indicated I was presently occupied conducting a symphony orchestra.  The audience must have enjoyed the moment because momentarily the sound of laughter obscured the music of the orchestra.

Trio of aerial acrobatsThe Dance of the Four Little Swans was a piece that I knew quite well, having performed it literally hundreds of times in the context of the complete ballet with dancers.  It’s a charming piece that showcases the fleet footwork and coordination of four ladies dancing in close proximity to each other; always connected to one another with crossed arms.   Except for the final two chords of the piece, the texture of the orchestration is rather transparent, and the orchestra can easily play it with little input from a conductor.

About ten seconds later I felt a more persistent tap on my shoulder.  Momentarily stopping conducting I turned away from the orchestra to let Vladimir emphatically know that I was preoccupied.  He persisted as he invited the audience to persuade me to come downstage and join him the in the next act.  The reverberation of applause throughout the hall accompanied my brief walk from the podium downstage where his wife and performance partner was waiting.  Walking downstage I remembered that I was supposed make sure my tuxedo jacket was unbuttoned, which I did just as I reached the two of them.

Normally the duration of Cygnets is only about two minutes and forty seconds.  In order to fill the time necessary for the magic act, the orchestra was to play the piece up to the penultimate bar and repeat back to the beginning three times.  They both told me that I would be back on the podium in time to bring the brass in for the final two fortissimo chords which ended the piece.  As I stopped at the predetermined place downstage, I couldn’t help but concentrate on where the orchestra was in the repetition scheme.

Vladimir produced a large rope, which he displayed with great flare to the audience.  He gave me one end, and we both mightily pulled on it as if we were in a tug-of-war.  The audience laughed.  Elena then glided over to us and stood just to my right.  She was dressed in an elegant navy blue gown trimmed with silver lamé. I was struck by the ease and poise with which she moved over the stage:  as graceful as one of the four little Swans herself.  With Vladimir on one side and me on the other, he began to tie the rope around her waist.  He passed an end to me indicating where I was to loop the rope and then return it to him.  After several loops around her tiny mid-section the rope was intertwined through her arms, which were akimbo with her hands tied behind her back.  With a dramatic tug on the knotted rope Vladimir demonstrated to the audience that Elena was indeed securely bound.  Standing inches from her, it certainly appeared to me that there was no escape from the binding, which I communicated to the audience with a nod of my head.

I heard the orchestra reach the second to last bar of the piece and begin it over again: the bassoons repeating the jaunty f-sharp to c-sharp eighth-note introduction. There were doing just fine, but I was beginning to wonder if I was going to make it back to the orchestra in time.

 A black circular curtain was puddled on the stage directly in front of where I stood.   As Elena broadly smiled toward the audience, Vladimir gently coaxed me into standing in the center of the black cloth.  Evidently, I wasn’t quite in the correct position as he silently signaled I should scoot downstage a few more inches.   By our very nature conductors are notorious control freaks.  But, I gamely tried to project a sense of dignified acquiescence in a situation where I definitely was no longer in control:  I thought that I was about to be made to magically disappear, and the orchestra would be able to continue just fine without me. 

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