Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pressed Against the Pane

After Jack’s younger sisters began taking classes with the world-renowned ballerina Bronislava Najinska, Jack told his parents that he would meet his sisters after class to escort them home, for safety’s sake. He failed to mention that he arrived to meet them early enough to take class himself.

Madame Najinska perceived his potential as a dancer almost immediately. His lyricism came natuarally, and he was stronger than the other boys due to his father forcing him to labor on the oil rigs.

His secret life continued for several years until age seventeen when Madame Najinska recommended him for the touring company, Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. Faced with the opportunity of dancing all over the world, Jack could not say no. Imagining his father’s reaction, he realized that he could not share his plans with his family. He merely told his mother that he would be leaving, not to worry, and that he would be in touch. Despite her begging him to stay, he packed his trunk and boarded the train to Kansas City.

As the tour began, he quickly scaled the hierarchy of the company. He smiled to see himself featured on playbills and his name printed in bold letters in the program notes. It was on this first tour that he changed his name from Jack Duffer to Jacques Dupre. Jacques Dupre seemed a worthy name for a world class danseur partnering the likes of Alexandra Danilova.

But it was also during this first tour that entertaining became his second love. Mary Drake entered the stage early in the tour. She had been a student of Madame Najinska’s satellite school in Kansas City, and having shared a dance mentor, they immediately felt a connection. To Jack, Mary sparkled on stage and her intellect and humor sparkled off stage.

When the company returned to Kansas City in 1955, Jack decided that it was time to wed Mary and to be honest with his family. Jack and Mary were headlining that night in Blue Danube. Jack called his family a week prior and invited them to come meet his new wife. His mother was delighted to hear from him but confused as to why they had to meet them at a theater. Jack insisted that they go there, though he lacked the courage to tell them why.

Jack wanted to believe that once his father saw what a smash hit he was, what a name he had made for himself, and that he was as hard-working and successful as his father, Harlon would be proud. Finally, he and Mary could be a part of the family.

Jack never knew if they stayed for the show to see him or not. His mother came around to the stage door during intermission to hug him, meet Mary and apologize. “You know he can’t handle this, Jackie.” She said.

“No I didn’t,” he thought.

She fussed with the sequins on his bodice and tried to smile at him, but she couldn’t look him in the face. “Be in touch, dear,” she said as she turned to go.

“Aren’t you going to stay to see our big number? We’re starring together!” Jack asked in disbelief.

“I’m sorry Jackie, it’s just too much…it’s just too much…” her voiced trailed off as she quickly walked away.