Finally the time has come for me to write about my school's lecture last Thursday. Our guest speaker was Steven Caras, former NYCB dancer and photographer. He shared with us a brief history of his life story as well as his current projects.
He described his coming into the ballet world as a "Billy Elliot" beginning. Coming from a very strict and traditional Greek family in New Jersey, his training began with some Agnes de Mille choreography in a high school play. Inspired by this new experience (as well as a DANCE magazine cover with a Joffrey male dancer jumping in front of the White House), he began taking ballet classes at the age of fifteen.
His first audition was for the Joffrey School of Ballet. He was in an advanced class along with professional company members AND Ruddie and Margot!!! Of course after only four months of training, he was not accepted into the advanced level. This however did not stop him from auditioning for the beginning level, which he was accepted into. This resulted in a full scholarship, private lessons, and his father ignoring him for a long time. He admitted to having much emotional abuse.
Next he joined the School of American Ballet for three years, and upon his third was invited to join the NYCB as a corps de ballet member. Called the "Greek Boy" by Balanchine, Caras enjoyed a vast repertoire including his favorite, Donizetti Variations. After a few years, his father finally watched one of his shows.
At the age of 27, he bought a used camera to use as a "diversion, something else to think about."
Steven Caras' photography career began when 'Mr. B' asked for his film in which he chose several photographs that he "needed." He was soon hired by TIME, the New York Times, and Newsweek to commission his art. His work has also appeared in many books.
After his retirement from NYCB, Edward Villella invited Caras to be the ballet master for the newly-formed Miami City Ballet. Although this was a fear and challenge to him, he took a risk, and joined Villella as a master and photographer. Also in Palm Beach County, he worked with Ballet Florida as the artistic liaison and became MCB's fundraiser.
Currently Steven Caras still fund-raises for MCB, teaches at the Dreyfus School of the Arts, and the Kravis Center in Palm Beach County. He also is a Development Director for the Palm Beach Dramaworks.
Steven Caras was chosen to have a PBS documentary made about him. They chose him, out of hundreds of other dancers, because of his struggle to overcome a big social-barrier from a normal teenage boy to a professional dancer and photographer. Against all odds, he succeeded in his career and teaching himself photography without any previous training. After viewing this documentary, Caras wants people to embrace the art form of dance and to see the reality of dance (not just the finished product).
Emmy-Award-Winning Deborah Novak and John Witek will be directing the documentary named Steven Caras: See Them Dance. Filming will begin in May and continue throughout the summer. Caras feels he is "honored by being singled out as one of the many [other famous dancers]."
Students had the chance to ask him questions -- about anything.
Are there any of your photographs that you feel is most significant to you?
Steven Caras: Suzanne Farrell in the wings. She was my favorite... looking at her face from the side. My world was backstage... I couldn't stop looking at her, and all of the company... the pictures I like are more of the behind-the-scenes ones.
What was it like working with Jerome Robbins?
Steven Caras: He was really hard because there's only one thing worse than working with him, and that was not working with him - let me put it that way-- because he loved me when I joined because I was the new meat in the freezer... It was heaven. A lot of the stuff he did on us back then was forgettable. He was so insecure with himself that he took it out on all of us... It was often times very humiliating [for us]... But we loved being in his ballets, but the awkward compared to Balanchine's - I have to tell you- Balanchine's ballets felt like custom-clothing.
When you were growing up - rehearsing and training - who were your biggest role models?
Steven Caras: When I was at the Joffrey School, I used to see Edward Villella and Jacques D'Amboise on the Ed Sullivan Show, and they were so divine as performers and masculine. And I thought they can do it, it can't be wrong for me. And then when I went to the School of American Ballet, Jacques and Suzanne actually taught us, and they were really young then... A teacher I loved very much in New York, David Howard, was a great teacher. he taught me more about how to relax certain muscles. Balanchine was a finishing school. If you want to know what a very difficult class was like he would do just, the piano would just do [Caras makes an introductory note and motions many jetes in one beat]... And then we'd get into the center. He'd do this - plie, entre-six to grand plie - for the men, first step. So we were all in his class, at least an hour before doing a whole class. But he was finishing school, and again when I talked about time and how essential it is to learn everything - he used to say do this in the mirror at home, do this because it's not this. Do this, and pick up the laundry when you're home [Caras motions elegantly picking up laundry]. And he was right... I have to say it was Balanchine at the end of the day. No one at the school, Stanley Williams didn't pay any attention to me unless Mr. Balanchine walked into the room and [he motions his teacher paying attention to him finally, and stops as Balanchine leaves]... I started too late, I wasn't of interest to him [Williams].
Did you take class with Danilova?
Steven Caras: Danilova, yes. Madame Danilova, the famous ballerina...She was like this in arabasque - total drag: the scarf, the earrings, the pearls, the skirt, the yellow, yellow, pink, green, the little ballet slippers that were curled up this way. And she came up to me once and said [in Russian accent], 'When is your birthday?' And I said, 'October 25th.' And she said, 'You're a scorpio; we are bitches.' I was sixteen, so I went home to my parents and said, 'Mom and Dad, Danilova said we're bitches because we're scorpios.' Yeah, she said worse too, she was tough.
For me, the most memorable part of this lecture was the fact that during the 60's and 70's it was extremely hard for a boy to become a male dancer in a country where male dancers were discriminated. This lecture also ignited my own desire of becoming a ballet dancer and photographer. I particularly enjoyed viewing some of Mr. Caras' vast photography archive. We saw photos of NYCB, MCB, and other companies. We saw dancers such as Makarova, Baryshnikov, Nureyev, and Kirkland just to name a few. The most intriguing photograph to me was "Mr. Balanchine's Last Bow" in which Mr. Caras captured Mr. B's last bow as well as dancers hidden behind the curtain also applauding Mr. B. I feel that this picture showed how beautiful dance's art form is, and how everyone is one big family.
Interested in reading more? Check out Steven Caras' website: http://www.stevencaras.com/index.shtml
"If the day is going slowly for you, that means you're young. It doesn't go slowly for me, ever, I love every minute of my life." - Steven Caras