[This is my Grandmother Fanny Farber left and me on the right.]
I was born in Virginia, but my grandmother had been born in Kiev. She was gifted with a coloratura soprano voice and after studying at the Gymnasium ‘attended by the Czar’s physician’s daughter’ had departed Kiev to continue voice studies in Germany. The year was 1911, and she was seventeen years old. While in Germany, her family wrote to her not to return to Russia because of anti-semitism. Although it would be more than a third of a century before my birth, I believe my story begins here. My grandmother would tell me of the opera singers strolling in the piazza in front of the opera house in Kiev; how she used to watch them.
I hold degrees from Harvard and Oxford Universities. But I began life wanting to dance and that desire has led me to perform, to direct and to study with some people whose contribution to dance (either in providing a direct link with the past or through the originality of their choreography) is worth talking about. These people include Vincenzo Celli (pure Cechetti) , Jose Limon, Merce Cunningham, Madame Nordi (pure Fokine) at The Place in London and Anna Northcote when Dance Centre existed in Covent Garden. One chilly November morning, as I passed the brussel sprouts on the way to a ballet class, a cockney voice rang out , ‘Are your lips cold, love?’ I had moved to England in 1972 and remember buying two dozen orchids for one pound from the wholesale flower market in Covent Garden. The heady smells of vegetables and flowers, the sight of figures huddled around little braziers for warmth, the sudden, rushing memory of my ageing grandmother showing me how to project my voice and displaying her by then tremulous soprano, confused my purpose for being there.
When my grandmother left her studies in Germany, she ended up in a place in Virginia called Petersburg. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, she discovered there a gathering of white Russians. When I was a young girl, grandmother took me to meet a charming old lady named Madame Troubetzkoy. She and grandmother had belonged to a little music circle . My grandmother had sung locally in church choirs. Mrs. Troubetzkoy’s brother had been friendly with Rachmaninoff at either St. Petersburg or Moscow Conservatory of Music. When he was already quite ill, Rachmaninoff came to Petersburg to visit Mrs. Troubetzkoy and played for the music circle. I asked grandmother how he was. She replied that he kept spitting blood into his handkerchief.