by OBT Historian Linda Besant

(This is an excerpt from Béjart’s <span style=”font-style: italic;”>Firebird</span>, performed by the National Ballet of China for its 50th anniversary in 2009)

I was twenty-five and all by myself in Budapest when I saw my first ballet performance. I had worked as a music teacher in the Beaverton schools for four years after college, pinching every penny, living on Ramen noodles and sharing an old house in Tigard with four other young people (rent and utilities–$32 a month), saving for a fifteen-month grand adventure. In June of 1972, I set out solo around the world, with my bicycle, $3,000 in traveler’s checks, and a Pan Am air mileage plane ticket.

By January, having sold my bike in Switzerland when it got too snowy to keep riding, I was in Hungary. I stayed in the old castle above the Danube that had been pressed into service as a hostel, with hundreds of Hungarians who were living there, waiting years for apartments of their own, their possessions in boxes under the beds. We communicated in sentences patched together with whatever English, German and French we had in common. Gradually, they led me to understand that the thing to do in Budapest if you could scrape together the money was go to the rush ticket box office in the afternoon and wait in line for the ticket drawing. Who knew what unsold seat in a theater somewhere in town might be yours for what, to me, was about 35 cents?

So I found myself one afternoon in a line quite like the morning lines for bread. When my turn came, my luck landed me a back-row-of-the-highest-tier ticket to see Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century perform an iconic double bill: Stravinsky’s <span style=”font-style: italic;”>Firebird</span> and <span style=”font-style: italic;”>The Rite of Spring</span>. What a wild introduction to ballet!

Here’s an excerpt from Béjart’s 1959 Rite of Spring, filmed in 1970.

Tell me: What was your first Firebird?

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