Fresh from waking up from a very long denial that the City where I live doesn’t have a City Ballet, I live in Los Angeles, I embarked for a quest to find the best next thing and end up discovering a treasure aka C.A.B. The City of Angels Ballet. I’m driving down Fairfax, going south, towards what Angelinos, friendly call LACMA The Los Angeles City Museum of Art on my way to meet the Balanchine’s trained, founder and artistic director of C.A.B. Mr. Mario Nugara
I’m going to be late, and I hate to be late. Pulling hurriedly inside LACMA’s parking structure, I manage to find a spot relatively quickly, and with a little bit of luck find my way up a ramp of stairs leading to the main plaza and discover, to my surprise, that the museum grounds are packed with people, happy, outgoing, well dressed, people.” Am I still in LA”?
Talk about the CATHARTIC EFFECT OF ART! just the proximity to it does the trick….
ART IS ENERGY IN (FULL) FRUITION… in its pure state, unbounded, the innocence that springs from it is love, and one of love’s side effects it’s happiness…. that must be it, that’s what it is….
I’m meeting Mario near the museum Box Office…. we are going to take a walk together through the many museum galleries, to talk about him and C.A.B. In spite of the uplifting commotion of people in the main plaza blocking my view of the box office, I’m able to spot Mr. Nugara, in contrast to everybody else around, he sits alone, near a Spartan iron table which makes him stand out even more with his silver hair, his gracefully crossed legs, the way only a dancer can. He is dressed modestly and he is reading a book I rush towards the Spartan iron table with two empty chairs next to it, putting down my camera, tape recorder and note book on one chair and while still trying to sit down in to the other I manage to say ”sorry I’m late” jolting him back to reality. Smiling, looking at is watch, he says ” it’s only five minutes after two, you must be Andrea” “Pleasure to meet you Mario” I replied… should we start? I click on the recorder…
Q: Where were you born? Mario, introduce yourself …
A: I am from the East Cost I was born in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, my grand parents, from my fader side, where from Italy that’s how I got my last name and I hope my blood too my father works out 6 days a week and it’s 86 and shows no sign of slowing down.
Q: Which part of Italy is he from?
A: From Sicily…
Q: How wonderful I was born there too. Have you been there?
A: Yes! I went to visit, not so distant cousins a while ago’, six years ago’ more or less It was incredible, They still live in the same house where my grandfather was born, not to far from Agrigento. Sicily was spectacular, I did not know what to expect when I went there, what I found was warmth hearted people, and the most beautiful Greek ruins, while there we visited the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento, what a spectacular site. Those so well preserved Greek Temples still standing, and the food was incredible. Sicily is like a time warp. It was all very striking. I want to share something with you that I just experienced and made me realize something… I was in New York City teaching, just last month, till then, every time I would go back to New York I felt like I was home, but then at the end of July, just few weeks ago, I was done teaching and I went back to Italy on a holiday, but this time I felt something new, like I went back home for the very first time. I understood where I come from, were home is. It truly was a very overwhelming experience.
Q: Thank you for sharing that with us, how incredible. At what age did you realized that you were attracted to art?
A: I was really fortunate, my parents were very art oriented people and we were very lucky to live in Pittsburgh which had and has a great art scene a wonderful theatre and a beautiful museum, you know, it was all built by the richest families in the country the Frick The Carnegie the Heinz the Hunt the Westinghouse, and many more Every spring the city of Pittsburgh would host the 3 Rives Art Festival and my parents would always take us there.
Q: If you could be more specific what was the thing that really sparked your love for Ballet? When did you realized that you were attracted to Classical Ballet?
A: My first memory of being attracted to ballet. uhmm, it is funny that you ask me that, it is still a memory that baffles me. We had children encyclopedia and my favorite volume was volume B because had Ballet in it. I use to look at it in awe trying to practice all the positions on my own but it was not until I was 8 years old that I started to take ballet lessons. I was allowed to attend a little dance studio near where we lived. it is an incredible coincidence that today I am speaking with you about this, just last week… a couple of days ago’ I was contacted trough FaceBook by my best friend, at that dance school, her name is Terry Thompson. We also use to got to grammar school together a Catholic school ran by wonderful nuns. And it was also at that school that I was encouraged to dance. The nuns were very supportive and among them sister Marie Laura was the one that really insisted for me and Terry to dance.
Q: I agree! they are wonderful. When they are truth full to their essence, to their vocations, to their call, nuns are a treasure of virtues, one of my favorite people in the all world is a nun, the art critic Sister Wendy Becket. Mario how important is to have the right body to dance for a classic trained ballet dancer? Is it an harsh reality of Ballet.
A: I was blessed to be born with a body for ballet. You know you have to! It is not whether the person is good or bad, in ballet you have to have the right body, it is your instrument! You have to have the right rotation of the heap socket, you have to be flexible and that mans that the ligaments and the tendons and the muscles have to be lean strong and stretchable, you have to have a specific foot. Obviously it doesn’t matter which nationality or ethnicity you are, but there are requirements.
He poses for a moment he is hesitant… he looks at me and adds..This said… I’m going to state that everybody should try to dance! Dance is purifying is liberating it is empowering It may be a problem to become a professional ballet dancer if not equipped with the right body, but to dance it’s an awesome experience, which should not be missed by anyone
Q: You are a teacher now, what role did teachers play in your career, and now, what role do you wish to play in your students’ careers?
A: A teacher has to be first and foremost honest, and compassionate and of course has to inspire excellence That’s who I hope my student see in me when I teach them Ballet. It is because of the honesty of my first teacher Trudy Scott that I end up dancing at The Balanchine’s School in NYC [aka] The School Of American Ballet. She was very honest, one day she put me aside and she told me, straight forward, ” I cant take you as far as you need to go” and she called a wonderful teacher in Pittsburgh to ask him to take me and she told me to transfer to his school as soon as possible. I remember that drove myself to the school were he thought, I was 16 by then, it was The Point Park College Ballet School, which was an affiliate to the Pittsburgh Ballet. It was set up like a European dance school a smaller school that feeds a bigger one in this case the Pittsburgh Ballet. When I got there I could not see him the school was completely full that year, they would not except me. I was faced ether to wait and try next year or come up with a plan, fast. I decided to crash it, to snack in classes at the school. There’s a moments in life when you have to take destiny in your own hands. Although I was not able to take lessons from the teacher that Trudy had suggested. Thinking about it now a blessing in disguise. I manage to snack in to Edward Caton’s classes. He turned out to be probably the most compassionate teacher I ever met and one of the best at that school. We developed immediately a superb teacher mentor relationship and he did not mind that I was sneaking in to his class. At the school we also had a very famous teacher Leonide Massine that would come once a week to teach, he had played the role of the “The Shoe Maker” in the ballet movie “The Read Shoes”
Q: For how long where you at Point Park College Ballet School?
A: Not to long, probably a little over a year, because with the help from a fellow student, she was also a teacher at the school, I would soon be able to dance at the New York City Ballet School. She suggested I moved to NYC and to audition with the Balachine School and she wanted to help me doing that. She had a friend in Manhattan, a wonderful Italian woman, she lived in a beautiful brown stone in the Upper West Side her name was Susan Giannetta
Q: Don’ t you love Italians? they are always ready to help!
A: I do! I really do. She took me in and took care of me, she would show me around and all of this just to help me. I get very nostalgic when I think of her.
Mario becomes very emotional and tries not to show it…
Q: What year was that and how did you manage to be admitted to one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world?
A: It was 1974, I was 18. I had set up an audition at the School of American Ballet the official school of the New York City Ballet, “The Balanchine’s School” That’s how it was known back then, when the seminal choreographer George Balanchine was alive. I have to be honest with you I had a plan B just in case; It was a very hard school to get in, and I knew that.
Q: Isn’t The School of American Ballet close to where you lived ? What happened at the audition?
A: Yes, it was walking distance from Susan’s brownstone….. to the Lincoln Center, where the school is. Antonia Tumkovsky gave the audition, and the funny thing is that I didn’t even had to dance! She just checked my body, she made me point my foot and raised one of my legs up in the air and made me walk around the room on one leg while she was holding the other one… and guess what? I got a full scholarship and soon after I moved downtown to the West Village.
Q: How long did you lived there? How great was New York City back then?
A: Truthfully soon after I moved to the Village I realized that it was not so convenient to get to the school, I mean I used to walk to it from Susan’s place. I did end up moving up town again to share a beautiful apartment on the Upper West Side with a friend at the school, Robby, we become inseparable. We would do everything together. They were very special times and truly New York City was a special place, the school was buzzing with talent and great dancers with Iconic last names.
Q: That’s what I wanted to talk about! Two stars come to mind when you say “Rudolph”. The one that may be the most adored actor in movies history, Italian actor: Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla aka Rudolph Valentino, born and raised in Italy, the original Latin Lover. Same term, used as an iconographic word, when referred to “Valentino” in his movie. His sudden passing on august 23rd in New York City at age 31 caused mass hysteria. By the time his death was announced on August 24th riots broke out in. The City and dozen of women, and I’m sure some man too, all around the US, took their lives, propelling him in to Icon status, The first American Pop Icon was born. And of course the “other” Rudolph born on a Trans-Siberian train in the former Soviet Union. The one that certantly is the most famous and adored dancer of all times; Yes! Dame Margot Fontayn “boy toy”, Rudolph Nureyev. Before he defected from The Soviet Union, despaite KGB efforts to stop him, to wow the West with his acrobatic yet elegant way of dancing. Male dancers were practcly unknown… I was preparing for this interview and this particular question, and I was roaming around the infinite footage of Nureyev and Fontain on Youtube when I came across this comment, left only few weeks prior to my interview, by young soldier back then.( by DivoBelCanto )
‘I was but a boy/man in the American Air Force on leave in London. Was a budding young tenor and wanted to hear opera at Covent Garden. Alas, no tickets for the opera but there was Swan Lake with Margot and Rudolf in 1966. Got a special ticket in my uniform and sat next to Princess Margaret in a performance of Swan Lake – it changed my life and developed an extraordinary respect for this art form.’
It is a testament to what Art in this case Ballet and glorious dancers, been her vehicle, can provoke in who is willing to change. I know you danced with him, Rudolph Nureyev, how was that experience ?
A: it was great, you also have to understand that I would see him and Baryshnikov very often at the Balanchine’s School. We would all dance there, BUT to dance with him on Broadway was definitely another experience. He was very nice to me but you know he was a perfectionist and when you thrive for perfection you can abset a lot of people…. people think you are difficult, I’ll tell you a story one night, we were all ready to go on stage, we were performing “La Sylphide” and it was already curtain call 8 o clock but that night, he felt he was not ready, he need it to warm up at the barr a little longer; he was on stage until 8:30 and from the other side of the curtains you could hear the people getting restless…but he didn’t care he need it to warm up a little longer.He did manage to get ready and we were able to go on stage…. very late that same night.
END OF PART 1