A First-Timer’s Field Guide to the Ballet

Let’s give a warm welcome to fall, which along with introducing you to your new fall wardrobe could also introduce you to the ballet, as the new season for the American Ballet Theater commences this week. If you lean more towards action movies and indie bands, getting decked out to make a pilgrimage to the uncharted wilds of the Upper West Side could feel a bit out of character. As daunting as trading in Converse All-Stars for conservative kitten heels seems, the ABT is something all New Yorkers should branch out and try. It’s recognized as one of the great dance companies in the world. A living national treasure since its founding in 1940, ABT annually tours the United States performing for more than 600,000 people, and it’s the only major cultural institution to do so. The ABT has also made more than 15 international tours to 42 countries, and this October the company returns home to Manhattan. Twenty-one-year-old Daniil Simkin, an award-winning veteran of the stage since the age of six, offers up his advice to a ABT virgin — or those with a serious aversion to men in tights.

So what do I have to dig out of my closet to wear to the ballet? Is it an excuse to get all dressed up? One wears definitely something elegant. I prefer dark colors. Depending on personality, something extravagant or flashy should work, too. A general outline would be: as long as you would wear it to a nice dinner, it should work. For everyday wear, I really like the clothes at G-Star. For something more extravagant , my go-to store is Emporio Armani.

Recommendations: Bergdorf Goodman (Midtown East) – The perfect afternoon destination for ladies who lunch. ● Blue&Cream (East Village) – This venue is the perfect place to really show off your style. Access Perk: 50% off a Lamptons Hoody. ● Intermix (Upper East Side) – Access Perk: Receive a $50 discount with any purchase of $300 or more at this one-stop shopping mecca for city fashionistas.

Where should one go to have a few drinks before the show? If the weather is nice, definitely go the Rooftop Terrace at the Empire Hotel right in front of the Lincoln Center.

Recommendations:Whiskey Park (Upper West Side) – Access Perk: 30% off your bill at this place for posh sips. ● Cleopatra’s Needle (Upper West Side) – Nothing to text home about, but if you’re up here, you might as well get in here. Cozy jazz scene that will make you seem cultured, even if it’s just your dress. ● P.J. Clarke’s at Lincoln Square (Upper West Side) – When you’re dolled up, step into the newest branch of this uptown classic. Enjoy your ballet with a side of burger.

I’m totally new to ABT; what would you recommend to newbies like me? For first-time ballet watchers, I would recommend the pirate tale of Le Corsaire. It is an easy to follow story about a pirate who falls in love with a beautiful slave girl. The production has strong pirates, gunshots, beautiful women in gorgeous costumes, and great scenery. If you prefer something less Hollywood-esque, go for our all-Balanchine evening.

What has been your favorite part? I also really like Le Corsaire because I like to perform the role of Lankendem — the bad guy who tries to kill his friend and steal the girl. I am able to have more fun on stage when I play the bad guy. I also really enjoyed dancing the lead role in George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, which I did for the first time in May.

What are some helpful tips that can keep me from looking like a fool? Before the curtain goes up, there are three bells, normally sounded by the ushers. By the time the bell rings for the third time, you should move towards your seats. Normally the evening starts with a short overture by the orchestra before the actual dancing begins.

It seems like the evening is pretty long; what if I need a drink? Usually the evening is divided into two to three parts with an intermission of 20 minutes in between. Snacks and drinks are available during the intermissions and before the shows at various spots outside the seating areas.

How long are we talking here? Generally speaking, an evening last from two to three hours.

So, while I’m having cocktails in a nice outfit before the show, what are you doing? There is a long and complicated routine before every performance. You have to be in hair, make-up, and costume for the show. But most importantly, the dancer must be properly warmed up. If you are not, the probability of suffering from an injury is heightened. There is a half-hour call where all stagehands and dancers need to report to the stage to make sure everyone is where they need to be. That is also when the audience starts to be seated. We all warm up and feel out the stage starting at that time and prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally to take the stage for that evening.

What’s the atmosphere like backstage? Backstage I have to say it is not as glorious and imposing as the front of the house. There are costumes in costume racks everywhere, various headpieces for different costumes, props, and sometimes even animals. And there are usually so many people everywhere running around, on and off stage at any point.

After the ballet, where should I go to complete the evening? There quite a few restaurants around the area which also might offer special after-performance dinner. There is a list of them in the program which you will receive while entering the audience area. Personally I can recommend Fiorello’s next to Lincoln Center.

Recommendations:Dovetail (Upper West Side) – Stealth door, only slightly formal, totally modern. ● Compass (Upper West Side) – Access Perk: Enjoy half-price wine on Sunday evenings at this innovative downtown-style New American with an uptown zip code. ● Jean Georges (Upper West Side) – Access Perk: “Half-Glass” Wine Special means you pay half the cost of a normal glass and get a generous half-sized glass of wine.

What are some of your favorite places to eat, whether or not you are in ballet attire? Shake Shack on Columbus. As you might have noticed, I don’t go out much while we are performing at the MET. But I have to say, the best food in the very end is my mother’s. She cooks Russian specialties with a western touch, which is quite unique. There is still no place that comes even close to how she cooks.

What is the best and hardest part of being a part of the ABT? The best part of what I do is doing what I love and being even appreciated for that. The hardest part for me is getting up in the morning.

What do you hope first-timers will find out when they come to see you at the a performance? People will be hopefully love what they see so that the first performance will not be the last.

Industry Insiders: Elaine Kaufman, Legendary

New York legend Elaine Kaufman of Elaine’s gets inside a writer’s mind, grabs lunch with the New Yorker boys, and throws a bash for a Swedish dance troupe.

Point of Origin: I’m a New Yorker, born and bred. I was a frisky kid, you know? I was always game, always interested, you know, curious. Curiosity, that was it. I didn’t like school. I thought it was dumb. Of course, I had a lot of cousins and all that stuff who were teachers and I had older brothers and sisters who were always involved in the literary world. My parents worked and used to drop me off at the library, so I was always brought up around a lot of books, and it fit in, because it was a part my particular character. I couldn’t ask for better education. Books. I understood what they were talking about, and I was compassionate. It was more fun at the library than school. It was intelligence — this person talked about this subject; the other person talked about that, and I put people together who were interested in the same things. Even as a child, I was gregarious, so it was a fit.

Occupations: It’s not as if I wasn’t like this all my life. I just worked, every day. This kind of work seemed to suit me better than other people’s educations. Restaurants. I knew some people: Elizabeth McKee, one of the great agents. I got lucky in meeting Ted Purdy, her husband, a record editor and wonderful man, famous in his day, who knew so much about publishing, and he sat and talked. He became a major player in the literary world, and informed me about a lot. I knew how to put people together; and eventually, Elaine’s was born. I opened the new place in 1963. How does that happen? It opens. They came here and talked, listened to James Jones and George Plimpton and that fed that. Truman Capote came in with the woman writer he’d known since he was a child, Harper Lee. He knew all of the southern writers, and their minds. Bruce Jay Friedman was here the other day and he was waiting for somebody, but in the meantime a couple of young writers were here, and I introduced him to them.It’s almost impossible to drop the name of a major player in the art, film, and literary world who hasn’t been here — and one of your waiters is a playwright.

Any non-industry projects in the works? Well, we do a lot of fundraisers here. And, I’m a big art collector, and have been for a long, long time … and so I follow that field, too. I mean, the art in my apartment is endless with paintings. [At Elaine’s, she’s surrounded by some of her favorites.] Here is this Samuel Johnson poster that Jack Richardson had done for me, here (on the wall over Table One). Yeah, and Sven Lukin, Jack Youngerman, all those kind of guys; they were all on to new things. Julian Schnabel was the new boy in that area, innovative. Emile de Antonio was an innovator in finding the art, and he was in here all the time. Jamie Wyeth was here a lot before he moved out of New York.

Favorite Hangouts: Every day, I do Lunch at PJ Clarke’s. A bunch of us meet over there. We all knew Danny (the late maitre d’), the guys from the New Yorker, all of us. The food’s okay, but we still go there for Danny.

Industry Icons: [She smiles as icons do.]

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? Jim Brady, Jolly Gibson, Stewart Woods, a piece of work. The Clarkes — Mary Higgins and her daughter, Carol — we all go out once in awhile. They don’t mind to come to the parties, and it’s more fun here than at the [annual] Oscar bash. We have a great time with the sports figures: we just did a birthday party for Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez and Lou Pinella, and George [Steinbrenner] comes in with friends. There are some dear, sweet guys.

What are you doing tonight? We have the whole Swedish dance troupe coming in tonight, so adorable, so cute!