Ballet theater sets the stage for this pianist’s Drag Persona
I didn’t quit work completely and enjoyed working with Kenneth MacMillan. In 1985, Kenneth returned to the “Romeo and Juliet” stage. In Los Angeles, there was a rehearsal on stage that Friends of ABT was able to attend. The dancers had neither their hair nor makeup, and there was no orchestra; it was going to be me in the pit to follow the driver. Well, the conductor missed the rehearsal, so I had to play the whole thing under the stage, and I couldn’t even see the dancers. But I did. No one said “. I remember going to my car thinking: it’s always going to be like this.
By that time, I had already found the Pyramid Club, so I was building an audience there. I ended up writing a musical, a parody of “Valley of the Dolls” in the ballet world called “Ballet of the Dolls”. Kenneth came to see him. I was backstage playing the piano, but I made an appearance. When I saw Kenneth at work a few days later he said, “I enjoyed the show very much, but John, the person the audience wants to see on stage is you. No one had ever told me that, and this is the great Sir Kenneth MacMillan. It was such a beautiful validation.
How does it feel then to take center stage at ABT now?
It’s very strange because I’ve always been backstage there. And I always knew that was part of the deal. There was a pianist at ABT named Barbara Bilach. She really wanted to be more respected. She’s been pretty scathing about it and it has rubbed people the wrong way. But she was loved. Anyway, I could still make her laugh because there is a part of the Lypsinka show where she says: “Barbara please!”
In what other ways has ballet bled in your life as Lypsinka and vice versa?
I never thought of myself as a real dancer. I say a little jokingly that I learned dance by osmosis. I studied Makarova’s port de bras. There was a reviewer who said that Lypsinka played with the precision of a Balanchine dancer. I don’t know if this is true, but if you work in the ballet world, there is a discipline.
There are other pianists at ABT with ambitions, should I say. I might just be the flashiest. But you know, there’s a group of hard-working musicians behind the scenes. Their names may never appear in the papers, but they are out there, they have ambition and motivation, and they deserve to be recognized.