Ballerina Laura Young Looks Back At 6 Decades Of Dance In Boston

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"Boston Ballerina," by Laura Young. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
"Boston Ballerina," by Laura Young. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Laura Young was 6 years old when she started taking ballet lessons in North Quincy.

As a high-energy kid, her mother thought it might give her a good outlet. What her mother didn't realize is that it would lead to a great career — eventually as a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet.

Young came of age in the 1960s and '70s — formative years for American dance. Ballet used to belong to the Russians and Europeans, until companies began to open in San Francisco, Dayton and New York. However, there wasn't a ballet company in Boston at the time so Young and other dancers had to go elsewhere to follow their dreams.

In her new book "Boston Ballerina," Young tells her story, and how the now-revered Boston Ballet grew out of the scrappy New England Civic Ballet. She joined WBUR's All Things Considered to discuss.

Interview Highlights:

On the beginnings of her ballet career:

Laura Young with Fernando Bujones in "Esmeralda" in 1988. (Courtesy Bernie Gardella)
Laura Young with Fernando Bujones in "Esmeralda" in 1988. (Courtesy Bernie Gardella)

"We coined a term for it: 'Guerrilla Ballet,' because we did all sorts of performances in and around New England. One year we did a 'Peter and the Wolf' tour, doing 8 a.m. assemblies in schools which meant that we were in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. We had to drive an hour and a half with the tree hanging out of the back of the station wagon in March -- and get there in time to do a performance at 8 a.m."

On how the Boston Ballet formed:

"1963-'64 the Ford Foundation bestowed a grant on seven different companies — and it was seed money to get us started and we grew from there.

"First paycheck came to us — we were ecstatic. It was $115. We thought, 'Holy mackerel. We're in the money!' We took those checks, cashed them and brought the money back to the studio. We had to prove that the company paid us according to union rules, but we knew the company wouldn't exist and we wouldn't get the next season on if we all kept the money."

On her greatest moment with the Boston Ballet: 

"It was the night before my birthday, we arrived at the theater at half hour, which meant there was no time to eat, put your makeup on or get into costume. ... According to union, you're supposed to have two hours off between travel and performance so you could actually get ready. The dancers decided, 'Well, we didn't get it so we're putting in for overtime.'

"As we were finishing the second act, there was a very short period of time where the waiter would cross in front of us with five mugs and we each had to pick up a mug and clink and clink and drink and throw it. Rudolf [Nureyev] ... took his mug, tried to knock my mug off the tray. I caught it with the other hand, clinked with him and said, 'What was that for?' He started, as we were dancing, to curse the bluest streak I had ever heard in my life about every single dancer in the company. You can talk [on stage] without moving your lips. He was angry ... because anything that we put in for overtime came out of his gate.

"It was the custom when they enjoyed the performance to light candles. As we were taking our bows, you could see the candles being lit from person to person throughout the entire audience. And someone behind me said, 'That's quite the birthday cake, La.' "

Laura Young and Rudolf Nureyev rehearsing in Atlanta in 1982. (Courtesy Bill Young)
Laura Young and Rudolf Nureyev rehearsing in Atlanta in 1982. (Courtesy Bill Young)

On the great Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev:

"His surrogate name was Randolf Neverov, because he danced every single performance."

On costumes that routinely weigh 20 lbs.:

"They used absolutely real brocades in every layer ... that's why I'm so short."

On what it's like to dance:

"It's exhausting emotionally as well as physically. There are many times when you come off stage and you're completely, emotionally drained. But that's what you were aiming for: to give it all. And hopefully the audience can respond and feel what you've been trying to project."

Donn Edwards and Laura Young in "Giselle" in 1984. (Courtesy Bernie Gardella)
Donn Edwards and Laura Young in "Giselle" in 1984. (Courtesy Bernie Gardella)

This segment aired on December 19, 2017.


Lisa Mullins Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.



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