American Ballet Theatre starts its Spring Met season next week and a nightly ritual will commence. The stage exit door at the Lincoln Center underground parking lot is a busy spot after ABT performances as fans wait, seeking autographs, photos, and a chance to congratulate their favorite performer on a job well done. Unlike major sports where lavishly compensated stars are separated from their admirers, patient ballet followers have the opportunity to interact with their favorite dancers.
I’ve witnessed the scene on two occasions as dancers started their journey home after a busy day of rehearsals and performance: Polina Semionova and Roberto Bolle after Sylvia in 2013 and Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes after Romeo and Juliet in 2016. Both times, dozens of fans congregated in the dimly lit parking lot, buzzing about the performance in anticipation of meeting the dancers of the evening. Interesting that I recognized more than a few faces from the two occasions as this may be a routine part of the performance for some fans.
The post-performance process I viewed likely plays out after every performance. Dancers that performed that evening file out of the stage door periodically, many greeted by friends, family, and fans. The main attraction is the principal dancers and there is substantial buzz when one appears. The dancer is quickly surrounded by admirers requesting photos, autographs, or to simply say a few words–an additional connection with the dancer after a great performance. When the chaos subsides, the other principal follows.
Some younger girls shrieked at the opportunity to have their photos taken with Roberto and Marcelo and I’m sure the photos quickly made their way to Facebook and Instagram. Not all were young. I remember chatting with a Yale genetics professor, waiting to have his photo taken with his favorite, Roberto. Almost all of the fans got their autographs or photos-except with Marcelo, who had to rush off. Memorable was Roberto; after patiently satisfying all of the demands of his fans, he waved goodbye and slowly walked away into the Manhattan evening.
Chasing Reggie Jackson
Watching the post-performance fan experience brought me back to my hero-worship days. As a kid in Kansas in the 1970s, I was a big Kansas City Royals baseball fan. My parents took me to Kansas City to see them play the Oakland Athletics (A’s) in 1975. We stayed at the same hotel as the A’s and I took full opportunity to collect autographs, although I hated the A’s as they were the chief rival of the Royals. The A’s had a star-studded lineup consisting of Reggie Jackson, Billy Williams, Bert Campaneris, Ken Holtzman, Mike Norris. The players were generally friendly, and I was able to get the latter four to sign.
Reggie Jackson was another story.
Although I disliked the A’s and was not a fan of Reggie’s, I had to get his autograph. Having led the A’s to three World Series titles with tremendous swagger, he was The Man.
It was apparent from the start, getting his autograph would be a challenge. Autograph authenticator PSA acknowledges that Reggie “…may not have been consistent about obliging fans in person…” No kidding. I remember when he made an appearance in the hotel lobby; from my memory over 40 years ago, he was about 8 feet tall filled with great assuance and confidence, surrounded by 3 foot tall kids, reaching skyward to get an autograph. Nothing doing. He was preoccupied, looking over the small kids on his way to something more important.
Undaunted, I hung around the hotel lobby, waiting for Reggie. He came back to dine in the hotel restaurant. Several kids tried to interrupt his dinner for an autograph request to no avail. I wasn’t the brightest kid, but I did know that distracting Reggie Jackson from his steak dinner would not be successful. Patiently, I waited outside the restaurant. After a long period, the other kids cleared out. I waited, and waited, and waited. Then my opportunity-Reggie was finished eating dinner. He got up and stood in line to pay his bill. Seeing him standing there doing nothing, I pounced. I raced to Reggie, with paper and pen ready. “Mr. Jackson, may I please have an autograph?” There was an awkward pause. He did not want to sign. But he couldn’t walk away. He was standing in line. Doing nothing. How could he refuse to sign? After a few awkward moments, he reluctantly took my pen and signed the paper I shoved in front of him. Before handing it back to me, he said to a colleague, “I really should get a stamp for this.” I didn’t care. I got an autograph. From The Man.
I give Reggie credit. Although he didn’t want to sign, he did give me a good signature rather than an indecipherable scribble. I had the signature looked at and graded by an authentication company. The grade of the signature came out at a more than respectable 8 out of 10.
How times change. Reggie left Oakland in 1975 and joined the Yankees in 1977. He led the Yankees to two World Series titles, becoming Mr. October with three home runs against the Dodgers in the memorable 1977 game six. In the 1970s, Reggie and Baryshnikov became iconic symbols of the great city of New York.
My life has also taken a turn. I am no longer a Kansan but a New Yorker. And a Reggie Jackson fan.