Printer Friendly

Lincoln in his own center.

When a great man dies what he has done is usually all too apparent. The obituaries and the tributes roll out as unexpected as funeral flowers, sincerity all but lost in a gush of praise, well-thumbed panegyrics, and eulogies all too apt yet all too familiar. Even in the microcosm of New York City and its environs, the pattern was becoming common . . . Stravinsky and Balanchine, the bouquets ready to be tossed on the funeral pyre. The right words, if naturally unwilling, were ready on the tongue, and like Auden sending off Yeats, everyone knew where they stood and what they were doing. But Lincoln--Lincoln Kirstein--I wonder. is the usual pattern sufficient, the dusty record of achievement, the honors acquired, the failures absorbed, the lies transmogrified?

For one thing, did anyone know him? For another, does anyone really know what he did, what he contributed? Not in money--though I suspect there was quite a lot of that for someone who was only a poor millionaire--but in ideas, in whims, in notions. He was a Till Eulenspiegel of a fellow, an elusive clown posing at being as serious as he really was. And he changed, day to day, pill to pill, drink to drink, person to person, idea to idea. He was the great champion of the American art scene; so much led back to him. His fingerprints were everywhere but often too smudged for certain identification.

I suppose in my way I loved Lincoln Kirstein. Of course, I didn't know him. He did me a great favor once, which made my career. No more of that. We shouted at each other; we cut one another fairly studiously. Every so often he would send Me a letter or once in a while a book--say a copy of his novel, Flesh Is Heir ceremoniously inscribed on Valentine's Day. In his drinking days he would occasionally telephone. My first season in New York City ended with a huge row with Lincoln, partly because I refused to follow the company to Saratoga just before I intended to return to Europe for the summer. I was asleep in bed when I was awakened by a call from a desperately manic Lincoln. He shouted down the phone, "I thank you. George thanks you. America thanks you." He hung up. Such behavior was a part of Lincoln that the obituaries omit.

What else they omit is his achievement, It was fantastic. He was almost totally without personal ambition-something it is very difficult to comprehend or appreciate. His ambitions were always rather larger than himself or for other people. He didn't ever want to be a puppet master, as did, I suspect, Diaghilev (the guy with whom one obviously first unavailingly compares him). In an immediate appreciation of Kirstein, I wrote the morning of his death something like he dreamed dreams for other people and made them happen."

But he was also an activist--always thinking ahead, moving ahead, in almost any direction at any time; and while he had almost no ambition he had a fierce territorial concept of his turf. I remember when he once perceived that someone was subtly trying to steal the New York City Ballet--and at another time the School of American Ballet--from under him. He acted like Catherine the Great quelling a palace revolution. He seemed to like intrigue. Psychologically, he was a case study, although it was difficult to know which case.

He always amazed me, and he often scared me. When he was in his darker mood he was capable of making the most terrible public scenes. Once--years ago--he shouted at me to get out of his theater. (I had written something considered for the moment unforgivable. Not knowing how to reply, I said, thinly but bravely, "If you're not careful, I'll set Joe Papp on you." He looked at me, completely, but understandably, hewildered and moved away. He never spoke very much to me again-only occasionally in what I thought to be code,

He could have been anything-a poet, an art historian, God help us, a critic! I like to think of him in World War II in his assigned role as a driver for General George S. Patton, Jr. How strange that must have been--Pfc. Lincoln Kirstein, protege of Nelson Rockefeller, sponsor of George Balanchine, driving around some general who wore pearl-handled revolvers and didn't quite look like George C. Scott. it's an image I adore.

Lincoln was one of the great figures in twentieth-century art, And few will know it. You wouldn't be reading this if it weren't for Kirstein. It's possible that you wouldn't even be quite what you are. On the night he died, I looked around the New York State Theater-the auditorium, with its enlarged ledges and Philip Johnson's golden Aleatraz promenade, with Lincoln's gigantic marble Nadelman dolls--and I thought, Fancy, this is only the tip of a magic iceberg. Yes, he was fantastic. We will never see his like again, perhaps never quite need to.

His death did not come as a shock to me. I had watched him disappear like the slowly dissolving Cheshire Cat. At the theater his seats in the First Ring were one row in front across from mine when I wrote for The New York Times. After I changed papers in 1977, I remained on that side of the house--two rows back at first because Row B belonged to Walter Terry, then in 1982 when Walter died, I woved forward, and it was from that seat that I eventually watched Lincoln disappear.

In the early years he attended every NYCB performance. Then he started to miss weekends and then to attend fewer performances. Eventually he began to stay for only the first ballet on the program. Finally he came only to premieres. He did attend the 1993 Balanchine Celebration, of course, but you know I'm not quite sure when I last saw him. I do know that he wasn't there at the opening of the 1995-96 winter season. He had disappeared. I didn't even ask where he had gone. I didn't want to be told. On the night of his death, January 5, City Ballet danced its already announced program, opening, as luck would have it, with Serenade, and Lincoln's seat remained empty ... right until the last ballet when someone insensitively took it. But by then, I guess, it didn't matter. It was just a seat.

Senior editor Clive Barnes, the dance and theater critic of the New York Post, has contributed to Dance Magazine for thirty-eight years.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Dance Magazine, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Attitudes; New York City Ballet cofounder Lincoln Kirstein
Author:Barnes, Clive
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Previous Article:Dance Chicago '95.
Next Article:Audiences.

Related Articles
Lincoln Kirstein, 1907-1996.
Lincoln Kirstein.
Studying ballet in New York City.
East side story.
The Nutcracker ballet curls up with a book.
Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters