Schulenberg’s Page: Dancing in the Dark

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December, 1976:  I had returned from Palm Beach where DENNIS WAYNE’S DANCERS dance company had performed at a “Gala Premiere” at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse. I’d volunteered to be the photographer for the company and was somewhat disappointed by the whole thing! I guess I had a different idea of what the goal of the company might be – aside from being recognized for the excellence of the performances which were very much appreciated by the audience.

For me, the disappointment was the lack of attendees who might have been influencers, the current catchphrase for those prominent people who influence the current culture!

The night of our company’s “gala premiere” in Palm Beach all the influencers were at an elegant party given by Estée Lauder, an extremely important influencer! We had an audience made up largely of people from West Palm Beach which I’d been given to understand was a much less influential group!

(I was thinking that although the attendees enthusiastically probably enjoyed the performance more than a chic crowd coming only to be seen, we might have had a similarly appreciative audience had we appeared somewhere in New Jersey!)

I was dreaming of the creative influence that Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes had on the general culture. No small achievement!

Diaghilev’s only request from the artists he commissioned was the request, “amaze me!”

And amaze him they did — along with the cultural world at large!

Léon Bakst influenced the visual world of fashion and decoration with his costume and set designs for the ballet, Scherazade.

The vibrant colors and exotic draperies had a startling influence in home decoration throughout the 1920s, long after the ballet had been conceived — and designed.

These are a few of the Bakst-inspired fabric designs from The Atelier Martine, the interior design branch of the fashion designer Paul Poiret …

… whose clothing designs were also reminiscent of Bakst’s exotic ballet costume designs.

Of course, there’s nothing in our world today that could even remotely compare to what life and culture were like before and just after the First World War! Even today, after 40+ years since our Palm Beach experience it’s difficult to say where influences and influencers come from.

Apparently nowadays Instagram has made stars of people who’ve previously been completely unknown!

But I guess I was simply hoping for something more far-reaching.

And something that would give me more of a chance to do more than simply take photographs!

I visited Paul Bartel the day after Christmas and told him about my Florida trip.

He totally understood the situation of finding something worthwhile in a career as he was unsuccessfully trying to get a feature film deal together. He had directed Private Parts in 1972 which was produced by Gene Corman, the brother of Roger Corman, who was the legendary producer/distributor of low budget movies. Then in 1975 Paul directed Deathrace 2000 for Roger Corman, which can be considered Corman’s most successful movie.

Now he was trying to make a film that meant something more to him. He had a lot of quirky ideas that years later would come together with the help of the gifted writer named Dick Blackburn when he and Paul would write and Paul would direct and star in Eating Raoul.

I should add that Raoul finally got me back into the movie business because I got to design the whole movie. Even the titles!

Paul and I took the subway down to the Village to see Joanne Beretta in a play at the Circle in the Square Theater.

The play was called The Club and it had an all-female cast. But they were playing men in a 19th-century men’s club!

The production was directed by Tommy Tune and the press representative was an old friend of mine, David Roggensack, who’d reminded me that the show had won an Off Broadway Obie Award!

You might think of it somehow being a feminist play; because of the men in the story who were portrayed by women on stage, most of the dialogue — and especially the fetishized descriptions of the “men’s” passions — made male obsessions seem quite odd!

I don’t begin to know why but it was extremely effective!

Actresses playing men in a scene from the Circle In The Square (Downtown) production of the musical “The Club.” Photograph by Martha Swope; Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. 1976.

Another interesting detail was that except for director Tommy Tune, David Roggensack and stage manager Gene Taylor, all of the backstage workers were also women! Even the author, Eve Merriam!

After the show we invited Joanne to join us for dinner but she said she was just going home to bed! She lived less than a ten-minute walk away!

We ended up at Ristorante Rocco on Thompson Street in the Village.

We had a lot to talk about. The play invited conversations!

Diane Duncan met Sharon Lamoreaux and me for lunch and we showed her some of the new designs we were making for Sak’s Fifth Avenue. These were fancy hair bows made with an elaborate ribbon that I’d found at Tinsel Trading.

They were inspired by portraits by Goya.

The next day running around but I wasn’t spending much time with Dennis Wayne’s DANCERS. A short time after, Joanne Woodward gave a last payment and dropped out.

Pre-New Years I was invited for drinks at Fred Edwards’ apartment where Ron West was acting as co-host/bartender.

The next day was quiet. The city was gearing up for New Year’s Eve.

I always had a quiet celebration because people go crazy on New Year’s Eve as if it’s the only night they can celebrate (and in many cases it probably is)!

One of the benefits of being a freelancer was that I could go crazy any night I wanted to!

But I had an interesting coffee date.

I’d accidentally left a sketchbook on a subway and it was found by a woman.

Her name was Mary Osborne and she’d phoned me having seen my number in the sketchbook. We met in a coffee shop and spent most of the afternoon sharing stories of what good and bad things we’d experienced during the year that was about to end.

Somehow, it was like we were old friends even though we had just met.

What we did have was a mutual friend who could be wonderful one day and miserable the next. We agreed that although it wasn’t easy it was worth experiencing that mutual friend: Manhattan!

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