The Orchestra for American Ballet Theatre
If you ask members of ballet audiences if they like to have live orchestral music going on while the dancers do all those breathtaking turns and lifting of beautiful partners, the answer is always an enthusiastic "Oh yes!" This is true whether the speaker is a sparkly-eyed three-year-old being introduced to the art, a poised damsel of twelve, a gentleman connoisseur, or a greying grandmother who has loved the dance ever since she was a little girl in some Nutcracker production herself.
Yet as Dennis Cleveland, concertmaster of American Ballet Theatre, put it, "our goal is to enhance the dance. We want people to notice the music but not get preoccupied." 1 Because theater pits are built purposely to hide all the bowing and blowing of instruments so the audience is not distracted from the action onstage, most ballet-goers are also insulated from much contact with the musicians of large companies like American Ballet Theatre (ABT).
One day after a matinee, however, the author caught up with the attractive ABT violist Joan Kalisch. What was a zoology major from Vassar College, who also had earned an MBA at Fordham University, doing in the pit at the Metropolitan Opera House?
Like many of the musicians there, she was, if anything, overqualified for playing theater music. Originally a violin student of Boris Koutzen, she was awarded a full scholarship at Yale University, where she earned a Master of Music degree. After a year of living in Europe, mostly playing contemporary works and chamber music in Rome, she came to New York in 1965.