This week's edition to our Olympia Extracts is a classic romantic fiction, It All Began in Warsaw by Gerard J Womack.
It was one of those rare, beautiful and peaceful mornings. I had been awake for only a few moments, not fully awake, just sufficient to allow myself to cherish those private moments before I would have to prepare for a new day. My bedroom was full of bright sunlight and in the comfort of its warm rays I was quietly reflecting on last night’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
This dramatic fairy story of a Princess who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer and who only in her dying moments finds the love of her prince is, in a sense, the story of my life. As the ballet proceeds we are all spirited to a land of fantasy, to the sumptuous Court scenes; lavish with glitter, Fabergé at his most creative could not have inspired more beauty; then on to the unforgettable lakeside, to the contrasting scenes of eerie beauty, all captivated by some of Tchaikovsky’s most evocative, enchanting and haunting musical scores. For a ballerina, the dual role of Odette/Odile provides almost the ultimate challenge of dance and drama. Formidable arrays of techniques and of dramatic ability are required in order to portray the vulnerable femininity of Odette as well as the diamond-hard seductiveness of Odile.
After years of dancing Swan Lake, it still surprises me how demanding is the part of Odette/Odile. To me the century-old choreography of Petipa has always been a challenge, it has never been easy and last night was no exception; the difference now is that I find it much more exhausting. Perhaps I should expect this for at over thirty I am becoming more and more conscious of the fact that although my spirit is still willing my body is weakening; this should not surprise me, for few ballerinas still dance full programs at my age. To me stopping dancing would be unthinkable, the thought of retirement fortunately rarely enters my mind, if it did I think I would go mad. Of course, experience helps me and certainly it came to my rescue last night; it allowed me to conserve some of my energy for the more demanding routines. I have now trained myself to retain sufficient reserves to cope with the sudden explosion of energetic movement, a feature of recent choreographies. My own dearest wish is that I will continue to dance forever. That is impossible, I know. However, perhaps if I pay heed to my body and move to less energetic parts, with fewer aerial movements, then my wish to continue dancing may be at least partially granted.
All dancers are fully aware that only their best is acceptable and that they are only as good as their last performance. They must always remember that what might seem a routine performance to them is a unique experience for each member of the audience. For me, I have no doubt that my own love of ballet is still as strong as ever and I continue to feel comfortable with my dancing. I constantly try to bring individuality and freshness to each performance and if the reception I received from the audience, last night, is anything to go by, I think I achieved just that. Americans may not be quite as vocal as Muscovites in their demands, but they are equally knowledgeable and their expectations are just as high.
Resting in my bed I felt warm and glowingly comfortable. Perhaps a little too warm and this made me threw back the thin sheet, thus allowing the sun’s direct rays to caress my body. Through the dressing table mirror I caught a glimpse of myself. I could see no signs of the exhaustion that I had felt the previous night. My body looked as it did twenty years ago: its muscles were firm and I had not put on weight; continuous dancing and a careful diet no doubt had been responsible for that. To a minor extent the cosmetics of Eternal Youth, so popular in the US, may have helped, but I don’t think so; after all, I have spent most of my time in Moscow where such products were unavailable.
Like all good things my contemplative mood had to come to an end and this morning was no exception. It was the sudden ringing of the hall telephone that brought me to my senses. Its staccato sound was something I had come to dread, since it usually signaled that I could rest no longer and that it was time to get out of bed. Dancers cannot follow a normal routine life. Constant time shifting is necessary and sleep does not always take its natural course. To help me reduce the risk of oversleeping I had placed the telephone outside my bedroom, thus making it necessary for me to get out of bed to answer it. In this way I avoid the awful dread of falling back to sleep, so easy when the body is tired. A glance at the bedroom clock showed it was now mid-morning and in a few hours’ time I would have to be back in the theatre for tonight’s performance.
When I am dancing, mid-morning is the time I normally get up and the telephone call was very much on cue. Thinking it was my ‘wake-up call’ I reached for my negligee and moved towards the door. Often, I would just lift the receiver and replace it, without listening to the lifeless computer-generated message. Today for no particular reason I lingered a little and to my surprise I could hear Gabriel’s voice. Maybe it was because I was still a little sleepy or maybe it was the telephone, for he sounded as if he was speaking Chinese, I could not understand a thing he was saying. Telephone conversations in English still cause me some difficulties; today it was impossible. Realizing my predicament, Gabriel spoke in German; even then he was barely comprehensible. I could tell, however, that he was very excited. Patiently he explained and slowly it began to sink in and I began to understand the significance of what he was saying.
‘Colonel Kennedy has just been on the ’phone and he said things are happening in the DDR, especially in Berlin. Watch the Cable TV news!’
He had no more details. ‘Switch on the TV and you will see,’ he repeated and with that he rang off.
Still in a daze, that curious mixture of alertness and sleepiness tinged with a little fear I switched on the TV and waited patiently for the picture to appear. My frustration was partially relieved by the instantaneous sound and this gave me more than an inkling of what the news was all about. Then as the TV screen slowly illuminated, through a cascade of rainbow colors, I could see the newscaster was about to pass continuity over to the Outside Broadcasting Unit in Berlin. I had missed the introduction and it was still unclear to me as to what was actually happening; certainly, it was about East Germany and about Berlin. That was hardly surprising considering the recent happenings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, particularly at the American Embassy in Prague.
As the news continued I began to understand why Gabriel had been so excited, even to the point of being unintelligible. Yes, the unbelievable was really taking place: Die Mauer was actually being dismantled, under the very eyes of the Eastern Border Guards. Yes, I could see live pictures of students and young people hacking away with their bare hands at the graffiti-adorned concrete Wall. They were dismantling the very symbol that had for more than a quarter of a century separated East and West. Incredibly I could see the Wall was slowly being removed and perhaps even more incredibly, I could see the Border Guards were just looking on, with passive disinterest. Since the 60s the Wall had been an awesome emblem. It was specially designed to vividly demonstrate the combined unwillingness of the East and West to trust each other. Now it seemed it was suddenly to disappear, almost as dramatically as when it first appeared, thirty years ago.
Communism had arrived in eastern Germany as a consequence of the Second World War and their people had been made to pay a very high price for the wrongs of its wartime leaders. We had come to think that the right of free passage within our German Heimat would never take place again.
I tried hard to concentrate on what was happening, on what I was seeing and hearing, gradually becoming overawed with the drama of this late Berlin autumn night. The rapidly unfolding events were forcing my brain to race ahead, to thoughts of what it would all mean. These thoughts preoccupied me so much that I scarcely heard the accompanying commentary, and then the voice of the reporter brought me suddenly to my senses as if a cannon had been fired!
Had I really heard him say that?
‘…it can now only be a matter of a few days, perhaps weeks at the most, before the Communist Dictators of the Soviet Union will eventually follow suit and similarly relinquish power.’
I now started to concentrate on the commentary. Yes, I had heard correctly and it made me shudder all over. Suddenly it began to dawn on me that the actions in which I had been involved for so many years had positively assisted in bringing about this momentous event. I started to sweat and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up sharply. Adrenaline rushed through my veins; had I actually caused all this to happen?
It is now a long time since the KGB had first asked me to help them, saying that I would be helping Mother Russia lead the world into harmony and prosperity and in so doing, make the earth a more peaceful place for all, both East and West. More than twenty years have passed since that memorable visit to Warsaw and later to Salzburg and during that time I have often wondered if I had really helped the cause of peace. For, surely, I have the right to have some self-doubts. After all, the ensuing events had partly been responsible for me moving to Moscow, leaving my life, friends and family in the DDR and now it had made me seek political asylum in the USA, a land so different from my own that I had often thought I would never settle there.
If I had been partly responsible for the demise of Communist States of Eastern Europe and the USSR, then certainly it had also cost me dearly.
I still continue to love my German Heimat and it was not really my choice all those years ago to leave Germany for Russia and now I am exiled in the US, it is almost unbearable. The West holds very few attractions for me; really only Gabriel. It was Gabriel who was inadvertently responsible for my present state and strangely, in return for that almost unthinkable trauma, I then had to go and fall in love with him. Well, I suppose, that’s only partly true. I think I first fell secretly in love with him when we met deep in the forests of Poland, on only our second meeting.
For me it was my first love and it was just as strong as any young love can be and like all young love, I knew deep down it did not have a chance, or so I thought. Time passed and I expected my infatuation with him would wither and die. It did not and further, I did not want it to. Secretly I continued to cherish that meeting in the forest and his memory. Then, two years later when we met by chance in Austria, I could not have been more astonished or more delighted. It was then that I began to realize how very much I was in love with him and how I was eager to share my life with him, if that was at all possible.
It was very much later that I moved to the West and then it was far from being voluntarily! Throughout the time I have been in the US, homesickness has never left me. If anything, it is now even more acute than it was when I first left Schönebeck several decades ago, when I was then only a little girl. In those distant days, homesickness seemed to abate a little. Now it was very different and each day only makes the pain become a little worse, a little more unbearable.
No doubt the events that are now taking place in Berlin will herald another change to my life and perhaps soon there will be some real hope that my homesickness may be permanently relieved; maybe soon, possibly very soon.
I wondered, what did all this really mean? Might I now be allowed back to Schönebeck and possibly even to Moscow, or was I thinking too far ahead? These thoughts deluged into my mind with such force that tears started to flood down my cheeks; my mind was caught up in a chain reaction, with one thought moving to another, thoughts irrevocably linked together. I needed comfort; I needed Gabriel to hold me, if only Gabriel was here with me, but no, as so often in my life I was alone.
Barely able to see through my tears I turned back to the TV. The camera was now ‘panning-in’ on to a group of students warming themselves by a flickering bonfire. November evenings in Berlin can be very cold and it can chill even the most ardent young. As they talked and laughed, their happy faces glowed in the colorful light of the bouncing sparks and playful flames. They were drinking from what looked like a bottle of vodka as they savored this moment of history. Probably it was the sight of the bottle of vodka that evoked in my memory that fateful night in Poland, now more than 20 years ago. Yes, it all began in Warsaw, on my first foreign tour with the Bolshoi Ballet Company. It was then that I first met Gabriel, only then it was not affection that brought us together. No, it was real resentment!
Whether or not it was fate or just pure chance, I don’t know. All I can say is that it was the events of that night in Warsaw that eventually led us simultaneously to become involved in acts of espionage, some would say treachery. Certainly, they were acts that neither of us wanted to do. As history will eventually recall, we were asked, like so many before us, to help our Motherlands and we responded positively, albeit reluctantly. But unlike in wartime where it is duty done and glory gained, in the Cold War there is no glory.