Mr. Chatterbox - SARASOTA MAGAZINE July 2010
This Month: Summer reading with
a local twist
Author: Robert Plunket
hard part about open-heart surgery is not the surgery, you're unconscious and don't feel a thing. It's the recovery, which
drags on forever and is extremely uncomfortable. TV gets old real quick; you need something that really holds your interest.
That's how I rediscovered books-including several by local authors.
I'll say one thing for reading
books by people you know. You see them in a whole different light. Take Robert de Warren, for instance. He ran the ballet
for 13 years and there were always articles in the paper about him, so I knew he grew up in Argentina and later worked for
the Shah of Iran, directing the national dance company. I always suspected he had an interesting story or two up his sleeve,
but now after I've read his autobiography, Destiny's Waltz-well, there's a teenage visit to a whorehouse, a suicide
attempt, a confrontation with the Iranian secret police. It's got everything.
Robert was raised
on the family estancia in Argentina and later with relatives in Uruguay. It was a very exotic upbringing. If you've seen Evita,
that's the time period he's talking about.
So you have this wonderful beginning, with Argentina
in the 1940s vividly coming to life. Then, as he discovers that dance is his passion, he moves to London and joins the London
Royal Ballet. He becomes one of their principal dancers, and meets many of the celebrities of the day. The London sequences
reminded me a lot of that wonderful ballet movie The Red Shoes. Not in plot-well, maybe a little in plot-but
in its wonderful period atmosphere of Britain in the austere years after World War II. And it wasn't all fun. There were backstage
politics to contend with. He still doesn't know exactly who put the ground glass in his ballet shoe. He didn't notice it until
he was onstage, dancing away, and looked down to see trailing blood all over the floor.
of arthritis brought his dancing career to a close, so he took up choreography and running ballet companies. I found his adventures,
particularly at La Scala, to be very interesting, but just when you want something new, he moves to Iran. It's a great second
act. He travels the country studying ethnic dances, gets in very odd predicaments with the secret police, and is adoring of
but very psychologically astute about his royal patroness, the Empress Farah. His descriptions of life in the Shah's court
are fascinating. How is he going to top that, you wonder. Then just as the Shah's regime topples, he takes up with Rudolf
Nureyev was probably the dancer of the century, the one who revolutionized the art form,
the way Tiger Woods revolutionized golf. Robert and his wife, Jacqueline, became quite close to Rudi. He used to come over
for dinner, then stick around to watch TV. He kept wanting them all to live together. Yes, my eyebrows went up, too-but what
he was after was a family, and the De Warrens saw him through many crises and good times alike. They also saw his final illness-AIDS-take
its grim toll on the great artist.