Down by the Brazos
Ramsey commands feeling and subtle emphasis in his music. It was a real treat to see him in the quiet and intimacy the Basement provides.
October 20, 1978
“One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three,” the count resounded backstage.
Undoubtedly recognizing me from the lost look on my face, a man said, pointing to the auditorium seats, “See those guys out there? That’s where you’re supposed to be.”
“One-two-three, one-two-three,” the count continued.
Dancers filled the stage. They stretched, kicked, and pointed their toes to the cadence. I made may way across stage right, trying to pick a safe course through the thinly clad bodies.
When I reached my cohorts, two were in a trancelike state of attention watching the dancers’ every movement, and the other was asleep.
“One-two-three, one-two-three,” I caught myself nodding to the count.
With every passing minute, I found it harder to believe I had agreed to the assignment — to do a story on the Houston Ballet’s performance in Rudder Auditorium Wednesday night.
“But Boss,” I pleaded, “I don’t know the first thing about ballet.”
“That’s okay,” he said, “we don’t want you to review the performance. We want you to be in it.”
Waaaaaait a minute. Be in the performance? Onstage? In tights no less? Me? No way. Not this Aggie.
So there I was. The ballet troupe was in afternoon rehearsal and I waited with three unsuspecting souls to find out exactly what a “super” is supposed to do.
After rehearsal, the ballet master explained our function. It turned out the “super” — short for supernumerary — is ballet lingo for extra. We were, he said, to be palace guards, and would have to do nothing more than stand still during the prologue and Act II, except for an exit during the prologue. Simple. I felt a lump in my throat. We were led backstage to try on costumes. There was no turning back.
A young man with a limp showed us to the men’s dressing room. He said he was recovering from knee surgery to correct an injury received dancing two months ago.
Nobody told me it would be dangerous.
He pointed to some brown tights on a table.
Experiencing life is wearing a pair of ballet tights. The label in mine read men’s size C. After putting them on, I figure I’m a D or an E.
Nonetheless, I was experiencing something not everyone has the opportunity to experience. I was actually backstage in the dressing room of a professional ballet company. Standing there in my tights, I tried to suppress feeling self-conscious and began to look around.
There were 15 or 20 dancers putting on makeup and costumes. But the atmosphere was not one of somber professionalism. It was more like the locker room from what I remember of high school track.
Jokes and insults from the company’s younger members flew around the room, and one fellow had a small radio-controlled Indy-style toy car that ran up and down the hall.
A voice over the intercom called, “Ten minutes to place for the prologue of the Sleeping Beauty.”
One dancer quipped, “And now, the National Anthem.”
There was limited laughter.
In place at the back of the stage, I waited for the overture that was to signal the beginning of the ballet and began to mentally prepare for my part. The view was good. I could see all the dancers’ backs. I wouldn’t miss a step. I tapped a ballerina on the shoulder and asked her to demonstrate the proper stance of a guard. She laughed.
The stage was very dark. Dancers jumped and glided, doing last-minute warm-ups. They looked nervous. My hands began to sweat.
“Ready everybody, this is it,” the intercom voice said.
My heart pounded. The music began and the curtain rose.
The first five minutes were a delight. I stood proud and still, imagining myself a guard at Buckingham Palace. The next five minutes weren’t bad, but weren’t as delightful. I quit thinking about the Buckingham guard and started thinking about my feet.
Along with the too-small tights, I’d been issued a pair of too-small shoes which began to cut off circulation to my toes. After what seemed to be an hour, the guards exited. Relief.
Act III was more of the same, only that time my feet succeeded in going completely numb.
The experience, however, was well worth the pain. With my new qualifications, who knows? I might even turn pro. My only regrets are that I didn’t get to stand farther downstage and that I didn’t get to see the ballet from out front. It must have been beautiful.