I reviewed the February 1 New York City Ballet performance of Union Jack and noted the problem with the pony that made a brief appearance at the end of the Costermonger pas de deux; shortly after the pony departed before the stage was to be filled with Royal Navy sailors, the curtain unexpectedly dropped with the following explanation: “Ladies and gentlemen, please let us take a minute to clean up our act” as the audience roared with laughter.
Ian Parker of The New Yorker provides the inside scoop (ha ha). For over 30 years since the premier of Union Jack in 1976, the same donkey named Giorgio performed in every performance. However, Giorgio’s last performance was in 2012 and he died in May 2013. Ian’s article recounts the arduous task of auditioning a new donkey for the piece for the current season. One donkey named Diego made a nice entrance in rehearsal, but would not leave the stage as his two-minute appearance stretched to fifteen minutes. He finally exited walking backward.
Artistic Director Peter Martins: “I mean, I had to fire the [damned] donkey. We couldn’t take a chance. Because there’s a whole dance happening” —he snapped his fingers—“right afterward, the whole stage filled with dancers, and you couldn’t have a donkey standing there in the middle of it.” Trivia from the article: who was the boy that led the donkey on stage in the 1976 premier? Answer: Martin’s then nine-year old son Nilas, later a Principal Dancer with the company.
Martins thought about eliminating the donkey from the performance, but knew that Balanchine wanted a donkey and what Mr. B wants, Mr. B gets. However, no donkeys were available, so two ponies were called in after Diego’s debacle. Spanky got the part after an impressive audition. However, in his debut, Spanky suffered an extreme case of stage fright and lightened his load on stage.
Thanks to Joachim Skor for pointing me to the article.