In the early 1950s, according to Barry Katz’s Weston Arabesque, an “unimposing cottage” at 10 Ridge Road in Weston became, “in a quiet way, the center of the ballet world.” It was home to George Balanchine, perhaps the greatest choreographer of the 20th century.
In 1946 Balanchine had purchased 7 acres of land there, for $8,500. After he married ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq — she was his 4th or 5th wife, depending on how you count — “they began the arduous task of taming the wildly overgrown property,” Katz writes.
“Later that same year they put up a house. It was a modest, one story pre-fab – all they could afford at the time – but it suited their needs exactly. Weston proved to be the ideal retreat from the pressures of the city, and the couple spent as much time there as they could.”
They gardened together, and Balanchine built a tool shed with his own hands. “He was an avid and ambitious gourmet cook, and even enjoyed doing laundry,” Katz says.
“Part of his time in Weston was devoted to reading scores…. And he created new ballets in his head while breathing the fragrant country air.”
In 1956, on a New York City Ballet tour of Europe, Le Clercq contracted polio. She spent the last 45 years of her life in a wheelchair.
Balanchine added a ramp to their Weston house. He did not work for a year after her diagnosis, caring for her himself.
In 1969 the couple divorced. Balanchine had fallen in love with a new ballerina, Suzanne Farrell. But, Katz says, he “always remained deeply concerned for her welfare and stayed in close touch. In fact, he remained close with all his ex-wives.”
That intriguing bit of Balanchiniana is relevant now — 40 years later — because tickets go on sale this week for a new play, Nikolai and the Others. Commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater — with previews beginning April 4 — it takes place in 1948.
And the setting is Westport.
In Richard Nelson’s play at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, a close-knit group of Russian emigres — including Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, his wife Vera, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, and composer Nikolai Nabokov — eat, drink and talk.
Playwright Nelson imagines the relationships between Balanchine and Stravinsky — and their friends, lovers, wives, ex-wives, partners, supporters and dancers — while the duo collaborates on their historic ballet Orpheus.
The play also examines American art and institutions as the Cold War began, and the State Department’s subtle role in that era’s cultural scene.
While Balanchine spent many years in this area, I’m not sure about Stravinsky, Koussevitsky, or “Nikolai and the others.”
But I remember that Deathtrap — the longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway — was set in Westport.
Here’s wishing that same luck — удача — to Nikolai and the Others.