Feature: Ballet / Ballet - General

DDN Interviews Eva Maze
By jaime
On Fri Apr 14, 2017 03:29 AM
Bumped by linh (3) on 2017-05-22 04:08:04

The memoir With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario is a walk through time with Eva Maze. This very influential woman tells her story of ultimately fulfilling her “dream of sharing the beauty of dance and culture” (127) with the world. Particularly charming at its conclusion, the book also includes many beautiful old photos, presented in scrapbook fashion. Dance.net recently had the opportunity to interview Ms. Maze about her unique perspective on the dance and entertainment industry, and much more!

Enter here to win a copy of the book!  

Firstly, thank you very much, Eva, for this opportunity to interview you about your beautiful memoir and for sharing your thoughts with dance.net!

1. Would you please talk a bit about the term Impresario?   

An impresario – also known as a theatrical producer, artist manager, tour manager, booking agent… – comes from the 16th century Italian word “impresa” (enterprise). The term, originally applied to an entrepreneur who was responsible for bringing operatic performances to the stage in Italy, now refers to a person who organizes and (usually) backs entertainment events financially for the public, and represents artists and performing arts companies on tour through a particular region or country of the world. These events can include dance or music concerts, operas or dramatic plays, vocal performances by ensembles or individual artists, and even museum exhibits, conferences or lectures.

2. How do you feel about impresarios in today’s day and age, and are there any notable impresarios of our current day?

I retired long ago in 1992 and am no longer familiar with the top current impresarios and producers. I know of composer/ conductor Quincy Jones of television, record producing and film fame; composer/ theater director, Andrew Lloyd Weber, famous for his musicals, Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Cats, and a number of past impresarios who personally managed individual artists, such as Brian Epstein, who launched the Beatles, and Lawrence Welk, known for his television shows that introduced many “Champagne Music” stars. These are but a few … I do know, however, that the industry has changed a lot and become more specialized, and that what was once known as the general term of ‘impresario’ has evolved into narrower identifications, such as those of ‘talent manager’, ‘producer’, ‘booking agent’, ‘personal agent’ etc., and that ‘agents’ are often attorneys negotiating on their clients’ behalf (as far back as I can remember, I always dealt with the artists and companies directly and personally, and I didn’t have a legal background). Also, there is now much more emphasis on the pop culture, which never really appealed to me, though I did have a brief brush with country music in Germany with another American promoter. I was a producer/ impresario by choice of the “classical” performing art forms, more in keeping with the European tradition, and for me, this covered a variety of genres. These included dance (ballet, contemporary, folk, and musicals), theater (classical, modern and contemporary), music (symphony orchestras and soloists), as well as mime groups, vocal ensembles and cabaret singers. I modeled myself after impresario - producer Sol Hurok (whom I never met personally), who was very diversified. He represented and personally managed more artists and companies than I did over his career (mostly in the United States), and they were predominantly in the classical vein. I probably would have made much more money had I gone into pop music, but because of my European background, I related far more to the classical performing arts tradition.

3. Did you come across any barriers, being a female impresario during a time when this was (perhaps still is!) a very male-dominated field?

I entered the career of impresario in the 1950s at a time when almost no women were working in a field that was then dominated by men. My idol was Sol Hurok, who was older and already famous as an impresario, especially in the United States, where he worked primarily. By the time I started my business (inspired by him), and established my company in Germany under Eva Maze Presents/ International Artists Productions, he had successfully represented hundreds of artists and companies individually (as business manager) or on tour. I represented artists and companies for specific seasons and periods of time in Europe, especially in Germany, and also took them on tour in other countries around the world. I always felt that being a woman was more of an asset than a hindrance (perhaps because I was a bit of a novelty then), and because I was known as a hard worker with good artistic taste, who was not afraid to take risks, I was always treated with respect by colleagues, the press – which gave me a lot of positive feedback throughout my 40 years in the business – and the public.

4. Unable to continue your ballet training in your youth and fulfill your desire to become a prima ballerina, you still found a way to be intimately connected to that world. It seems nowadays, we have a fair number of older accomplished ballerinas - What are your thoughts about this? Do you see ageism as an issue today?  

Well, because of the laws of nature, there is a finite number of years that one can actually dance on stage, especially with ballet (modern and contemporary dancing can last much longer – as with Martha Graham who danced well into her seventies, and even Margot Fonteyn whose last performance was at the age of 66 as the Queen in Sleeping Beauty (coincidentally my last role on stage with the Frankfurt Ballet!) Alicia Alonso, who is virtually blind, was still dancing on stage in Cuba until recently! Actors, of course, can perform for as long as they wish, and as long as their minds remain sharp! I do think, however, there is a time to change course when one is no longer able to complete the intricate steps required by ballet, maintain the balance on pointe that is so necessary, and becomes too much of an imposition on a partner. I suppose you first transition into roles that are less demanding physically, and then over to those that are more emotive than physical – and when the time comes (you have to be honest with yourself and listen to good advice from friends!), you change from performing regularly on stage to a related field of the profession that, in my mind anyway, can be just as rewarding. It’s a gradual process that for some is perhaps more difficult to do than for others. I personally believe that dancing on stage is not the end-all of one’s existence, and that if you have a passion for dance (or the performing arts in general), there are so many other aspects of this wonderful art form with which to engage: master teaching, choreography, artistic direction, production etc…

So while ageism is a bit of a hindrance, there are many ways around it…

5. Do you think it’s important for a patron of the arts to be involved with the performance side of the stage themselves, or is that not really a requirement? How did your experience as a performer influence your work as an impresario?

It depends what you mean by “patron of the arts”. There are those people who support the arts as patrons through donations and contributions, but are not involved with the production of a show. Then there are those who actually provide financial backing as producers. For the former, I don’t think it’s necessary for them to be involved with the performance side of the stage. You basically just love theater, have had some experience with it growing up, or have developed affinity for it. Regardless, if you have a passion for the performing arts as an outsider, you will most likely contribute to the arts of your choice if you are inclined to do so.

However, for those people who provide financial backing as producers, what we are actually talking about is creative control, so it’s different because it’s a business, and production involves issues such as risk-taking, profit and loss, etc., which I had to assume myself as an entrepreneur. Because I had had some experience as a performer for a very short time, I think I developed a sensitivity for the needs of the artists themselves. But those needs also had to be balanced by the financial demands of a successful tour, and running a business. These included negotiating solid contracts with specific numbers of performances to specific venues, in specific countries for specific seasons and lengths of time. For my company, International Artists Productions, and its theatrical subsidiary, Theater auf Tournee (Theater on Tour), it was a question of ticket sales, press visibility, number of performances, prop rentals and movement, lighting technicians, transportation of the artists to different theater venues etc., but once the contract was signed, both the artists/ companies and I respected the terms, and I hardly ever had any problems. A few complaints regarding an arduous tight performance schedule perhaps, especially for dancers, but generally everyone adhered to the terms of our agreements.

Regarding creative control over the companies or artists themselves, by the time I was representing them, they were either already famous or well-established, or I had a strong feeling they would be well-known so, other than discussing selected programs for specific nights, I didn’t interfere with the artistic side of their work, unless something cataclysmic happened that prevented them from performing (as in, an artist’s sudden accident or illness, or instruments or props that were left behind somewhere...).

6. When you decided to form your own company, Eva Maze Presents/ International Artists Productions, you stated, "It would reflect my own vision of the world of dance, music, and theater, and oversee a variety of theatrical productions dear to my heart.” Could you speak more specifically about this for those who have yet to read your book?

Though it was my love for ballet that initially motivated me to begin a career as an impresario with the classical Ballet Concert Series tour through India in 1953, I soon realized I was attracted to a host of performing arts genres, mostly in the classical vein, and began to branch out into other types of dance and theatrical programs once my husband was assigned by Pan Am to Frankfurt/ Main, West Germany, where we settled for 8 years. Still recovering from World War II, the country – known for its cultural sophistication prior to the war – was beginning to rebuild its arts programs, and proved to be a very fertile ground for me to set up a company, with a vision to bring a variety of top foreign performing arts companies and artists to its audiences. These were drawn from emerging or established modern and contemporary dance groups (The First Chamber Dance Quartet), to musicals (West Side Story), to experimental theater (The Living Theatre/ Playboy of the Western World), to gospel (Black Nativity/ Trumpets of the Lord), to 2 tours with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (where we had an astounding 80 curtain calls one evening in Hamburg!), and to tours with a variety of Flamenco dance companies and soloists (Luisillo/ Antonio Gades/ and guitarist Carlos Montoya). The desire in Germany to see high quality foreign productions was as strong then as it is now, and the productions I introduced in Germany (where I worked primarily), and elsewhere in Europe, were well-received by both the audiences and the press. The key for me was to offer quality, diversity, uniqueness, and variety. And steeped in the European cultural tradition, which I knew well, the West Germans – and Europeans in general – were very receptive to those concepts.

This soon led to an invitation by the City of Munich and German Olympic Committee to produce an international program for the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, which became the International Folklore Festival, a folk dance festival of 14 companies with 720 dancers, singers and musicians from 12 nations from around the world, including Mexico, Poland, Martinique, Senegal, Japan, Morocco, and Italy – a project that was 4 years in the making. At the same time, I arranged for exchange tours of two world-class orchestras, The NHK Symphony (to honor the 1972 Sapporo winter games in Munich), and the Munich Philharmonic (to honor the 1972 Munich summer games in Japan). At that time, the summer and winter Olympics were still held in the same year. In addition, I decided introduce Japanese Kabuki to Germany for the first time, and as with a first presentation of gospel there a few years earlier, the shows were a huge success. And there were other tours with experimental theater…

Around 1973, after a 5-year Pan Am assignment in Tokyo and Hong Kong, my husband was reassigned to Germany – this time to West Berlin. Professionally speaking, this would become my most prolific time. I expanded International Artists Productions to include a traveling German theatrical production company called “Theater on Wheels” (Theater auf Tournée), whose mission was to acquire the rights to and produce well-known international plays and musicals, which would then be performed in German in cities and towns throughout West Germany. The performing arts have always enjoyed healthy subsidies by local and regional municipalities there, and there were thousands of theaters scattered throughout the country at that time. I expanded my staff and hired an assistant, a young actor (now theater producer himself) by the name of Manfred Greve, to run the program and travel with the actors. The plays and musicals produced under “Theater auf Tournée” featured Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman, Simon and Bacharach’s Promises Promises, Giraudoux’s The Mad Woman of Chaillot, Frisch’s The Arsonists, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Hellman’s The Little Foxes, Sternheim’s The Trousers, and The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, which was also televised nationally. These were but a few.

Simultaneously, and for the next 20 years (40 seasons), I personally handled the international side of my touring companies and events. These included the Jose Limon Dance Company, the Finnish National Ballet, Ballet Rambert, Ballet Theatre Joseph Russillo, the Ballet Folklórico de México, Miyagi Minoru’s Okinawa Dance Troupe, Lars Lubovitch Dance Company, Willy Boskovsky and the Vienna Strauss Orchestra, the Italian cabaret singer, Milva, the Swiss pantomime group, Mummmenschanz, the Swingle Singers, and 3 satirical fringe comedies by Britain’s National Theatre Company (Scarlatti’s Birthday Party, Scarlatti’s Wedding, and Her Majesty’s Pleasure).

7. It’s quite astounding that you were the one to bring Western Classical Ballet to India! Although not without a somewhat rocky start! What motivated you to continue along your career path, despite some initial setbacks?

I was not the first person to bring classical ballet to India. That was legendary impresario, Serge Diaghilev, who introduced ballet to the country with Anna Pavlova in the early 1920s. I was, however, the second person to do so 30 years later in the 1950s, when I embarked on my first rather extensive (and exhausting) tour, The Ballet Concert Series, to New Delhi, Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta with three well-known ballet dancers, Marina Svetlova, prima ballerina of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and Anton Dolin and John Gilpin of the London Festival Ballet. Yes, the tour was plagued by a few rather big problems: a right finger of the only musician, Theodor Haig – the pianist on tour with the dancers – had become infected, so that he was unable to play with both hands, and we had to engage a second pianist to play with his right hand while Haig played with his left – and a grand piano that had not made it to the concert hall in New Delhi, and was trucked in on a wooden cart pulled by bullocks from India’s presidential palace.

While I initially questioned whether this profession was for me, I took a break, gave birth to my second child in the U.S., and when my husband was assigned to Frankfurt/ Main, Germany with Pan Am, began to realize that I liked this new career of choice, in fact was fascinated by it. I was intrigued by the entire process, and since this first tour, though frustrating, did prove to be successful with the Indian public and the press, I became bitten by the bug, received some validation, and ended up thinking I could be good at it. I actually developed a passion for it, starting with ballet and dance (folk, contemporary etc.) and eventually branching out into theater, music, and cabaret, among other performing arts genres. I figured that if I could handle such a complicated tour in such a complex land, I could probably conquer any obstacle that lay ahead (and I had a feeling there would be many...). I also knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but, with my husband’s encouragement, certainly wasn’t afraid of trying.

8. You mention throughout your book that you almost always traveled with each company you managed for at least one night’s performance. Why was this so important to you?

Yes, whether it was with the programs that fell under the auspices of International Artists Productions, or our German theatrical touring company, Theater auf Tournee (Theater on Tour), I or my assistant, Manfred Greve, always made a point of traveling with the artists or company for one or two days, including the evening performances. For several reasons... First, I wanted to introduce myself to the theater directors to make sure that everything would run smoothly. Costumes and props needed to arrive on time, lighting technicians (assigned by the theaters themselves) needed to be ready, rehearsal halls needed to be set up – among a host of other issues. As someone familiar with European culture and languages, I also wanted to be there for the artists themselves, especially if they had any cultural questions or other personal problems. For many of them, this was their first experience in a new European country, city or town, and it was important to me that they be at ease and comfortable. We traveled mostly by bus, sometimes by train or plane, and our tight touring schedules – with one to five performances per venue – could often be taxing.

9. In your memoir, you seem to show that each of your major life events aligned to point you in the direction of your career path as an impresario, most especially meeting your husband and the subsequent opportunities for travel this afforded. You say, "For those of us gypsies, who move from place to place, living in different countries around the world for lengthy periods of time, change can be both a blessing and a curse.” Did you always enjoy that globetrotting lifestyle? How did you handle the demands of so much traveling throughout your career?

Looking back over my 94+ years, I personally believe we are each destined to follow a certain path, guided by an energy that propels us forward on our own personal and professional journey, and that the choices we make in our life help shape that path. You create your own situations to allow for that path to emerge, and if you are an inquisitive and creative person interested in the world at large – as I was as a teen in 1939 – your journey somehow takes off on its own. I was fascinated by languages and foreign cultures, and had a yearning to see the world. This came naturally to me, so in that way, it was a blessing. Had I not pestered my parents as a teenager to leave Romania for the United States to see the 1939 World’s Fair in New York (which led my parents to move there six months before the Nazis marched into Romania), we probably would have been among the thousands of Jewish Romanian families who died in the Holocaust. In the same way, had I not, by chance, put myself in a situation to be introduced to my future husband, Oscar, at a war relief dance in 1941, I would have never had this amazing experience of living in all these countries around the world - which led to my career as an impresario.

The curse becomes that of a nomadic existence of moving from place to place and culture to culture, and having to pick up and leave once you have grown accustomed to a new country. Also, having grown up in Romania into my adolescent years, I identified far more with the European culture than the American one, and, though it was rather easy for me to adopt a globetrotting lifestyle, deep down inside, there were times when I would wonder who I really was and where I really belonged. So globetrotting and living at length in different countries abroad can come at a personal cost, especially when you start to question your identity, and begin to feel as if you belong both everywhere and nowhere – like a citizen of the world without a specific country, straddling different cultures simultaneously. Despite these feelings, I am, however, very grateful for the education I did receive (as was my family, including my children), the languages I was able to learn (about 8), and the experiences I had among this myriad of cultures. Wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world, even if there were times when my husband and I had to live on separate continents (but thankfully were able to travel back and forth easily courtesy of Pan Am).

10. You’ve lived through some incredible moments in our collective world history, particularly in Europe, and I wondered what impact did being in Germany during the construction of the Berlin wall have on you? On your views about your personal and professional life?

The Berlin Wall went up rather quickly in the summer of 1961, seven years after my husband was assigned to Pan Am’s Flight Operations at the Frankfurt/Main airport (we arrived there in 1954). For more than 10 years, we lived in a divided country (as a result of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945): West Germany, which remained democratic, and was still recovering from World War II with the help of the Marshall Plan, and East Germany, which fell under Soviet control. The city of Berlin – an island in the middle of East Germany – was parceled out into 4 sections, three of which were under Western control (US, French and British), and one under the East German / Soviet regimes. The Berlin Wall was erected to keep its population from fleeing across an area filled with mines, barbed wire, and silos. Killing those who tried to flee became a fairly regular occurrence. The difference between both countries couldn’t have been starker: freedom of expression in the West, an autocratic dictatorship filled with fear in the East. This extended to all types of arts, including the performing arts, though ballet was one of the few genres to maintain quality, privilege, and respect. Modern dance and independent ideas didn’t fare as well…

Living in Germany as a non-practicing Jewish family, of course, had its moments. But we rarely spoke about them: Nazi sentiment still lurked in the shadows and would take years to fade (the Germans are still very conscious of this horrific period of history and have tried hard to make amends for their past, though it has reared its ugly head periodically). As I established myself in this country (I related well to their sense of order and responsibility), I didn’t dwell on it much, and the people I interacted with – mostly professionals connected with the performing arts world – were not supporters of fascism, and never had been.

What did happen to me, however, in the early 1960s, after representing a few lesser-known artists, was the only professional flop of my career: a tour through West Germany (with a French partner) of the musical, West Side Story, which I brought over from Broadway. The timing of this tour couldn’t have been more inauspicious: the Berlin Wall was going up at exactly the same time, we were working with a very weak contract, and people were unwilling or unable to attend. Theaters were only partially filled in each of Germany’s important cities (Hamburg, Frankfurt, Berlin etc.) and a number of performances were cancelled. What did save me, however, were very positive reviews in the press. They perceived me as a gutsy woman, and, after evaluating our mistakes (we lost a ton of money!), I vowed never to repeat them, became super careful about contracts and agreements, sharpened my understanding about European cultural tastes, learned how to minimize my risks, and went on to many new successful projects.

11. You also seemed to attract many influential and historical people wherever you were! Do you attribute this to your personality or…?

Well, as you go through life, I believe that you create your own environment and circumstances (geographically and socially speaking), or they are created for you, and through them, you will inevitably meet people of note. Also, with one’s work and social networking – and each progressive experience – people with similar interests naturally gravitate toward one another. I never specifically set out to meet ‘influential’ or ‘historical’ people, though I later did seek out persons of influence to financially support my first project, such as the Indian Oberoi family, of hotel fame, who ended up backing my Ballet Concert Series through India. This may have been the only time that I actually went looking for financial support for one of my ventures.

I also think timing is important and the tour through India was historically significant. It occurred a few years after the horrific Partition wars between India and Pakistan, and there was a hunger for western culture there in the early 1950s. Finding financial backing (from the Oberois) at that time proved to be less of a challenge than I expected. After this first ballet venture, though, I would either go on to finance all of my ventures myself or with a partner (as in the case of West Side Story, when I lost my shirt!), or people of influence came to me to request my production services – in which case a contractual agreement was negotiated with specific advances and financial terms.

In those days, living conditions could also determine whom you met and befriended. A case in point was our second Pan Am assignment in New Delhi, where, in the early 1950s, the local laws dictated that foreigners reside in certain areas of the city called the “Civil Lines” or the “Shahar”, and the only housing available to them was a few residential hotels. Ours was called Hotel Cecil (now a Jesuit high school), but then a hotel frequented by diplomats, state department officials, journalists, royalty, business people and the like. So, of course, you would meet some very interesting people, and interact with personalities, such as President Rajendra Prasad of India and the Nepalese royal family, who would often visit the hotel facilities and its tennis club and polo fields, or live nearby. One of my most endearing memories there was my husband, Oscar, and I teaching members of the royal family of Nepal how to dance a Brazilian samba.

As you embark on a career path, you, of course, also pay your dues. Success – along with its social and financial benefits – comes gradually and with a lot of effort. In London, I still thought of myself as a working ballet dancer and never dreamed of ever becoming an impresario. It was through contacts that I made in New York with my ballet teacher, Ludmilla Schollar – and my love for ballet – that I ventured into a completely new field. In New Delhi, I also first spent time studying Indian dance (ballet classes were not available there), and that led to a stint of writing radio scripts for All India Radio, and a long friendship with one of India’s recently-deceased top author-journalists, Khushwant Singh.

Frankfurt, Germany, then opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. It was there that I established my own business under Eva Maze Presents/ International Artists Productions, and I became an impresario of a variety of performing arts. Once we came back from the Far East to live in Berlin, I added on a theatrical touring company component, Theater on Wheels that produced plays in German and performed at thousands of subsidized theaters in cities and towns across the country. After 40 mostly successful years in the business, I finally retired in 1992, having produced and toured close to 120 wonderful companies and artists – some famous, others not so much.

As you become established in your field, become known in the media for quality productions, and develop a good reputation for trustworthiness, fairness, vision and success among performing arts companies and artists, they begin to seek you out, and you naturally begin to attract people of influence who want to work with you. I think being one of very few women in a male dominated field at that time actually helped as well, as was perhaps my determined personality and ability to communicate across a diversity of cultures.

12. I love when you describe how you began to feel comfortable taking Ballet classes no matter which city your travels took you: "I had become accustomed to ballet studios...and come to realize that all studios, regardless of their locations, convey a similar sense of familiarity. It seems to kick in automatically as soon as you enter the room and begin to dance, whether it’s your first time there or not.” It’s often said that dance is a universal language. In your extensive travels and experience with so many different countries and cultures, have you found this to be true or not?

Absolutely true: the body is an expression of the soul, and movement is its universal language, whether it’s communicated through ballet, modern or contemporary dance, folk dance, jazz, pop, tap or break dancing. Dance transcends all cultures and their histories, celebrates the human condition, elevates both body and spirit, bridges polarization and alienation, and touches the very core of one’s being all around the world. Whether it was with Broadway’s West Side Story, Spain’s Antonio Gades Ballet Nacional Español, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Munich’s 1972 Olympic Folklore Festival, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Mexico’s Ballet Folklórico Mexicano, or the Swiss pantomime group, Mummenschanz, it was a privilege to have been part of that much needed and desired discussion.

13. Is there anything else you wish to share with our dance.net audience?  

Perhaps that, in anything you decide to pursue in your life professionally – especially in the performing arts arena where the emotional dynamic looms large – you remain committed, focused, and passionate about your career of choice. Dance and theater are difficult, and very competitive, so it’s crucial to have a healthy dose of self-confidence and belief in oneself. Talent finds its way, but it’s also important to remain flexible toward other options in case things don’t work out as planned (the extent of career paths in the performing arts, including dance and theater, is vast and rich). My deepest desire was to become a ballerina, but through a series of circumstances, I was guided instead into a professional field that became equally as fulfilling for me. There will always be disappointments, but, as the Sinatra song goes, “you just pick yourself up and get back in the race”, so best not to dwell on them. Know that they are temporary and all part of the game, and that, when one door closes, another will open up.

I also believe it’s crucial to develop positive instincts and self-guiding radar: They will help place you in beneficial circumstances along your career path, and help you navigate through some of the more negative obstacles. A sense of gratitude can also go a long way – whether it’s for the validation you receive from others, especially those you respect, or spiritually from the universe at large. And along the way, accepting the rich cultural diversity this country (and world) has to offer remains paramount. The beauty of the arts is how much they affect us personally on a daily basis, how much they are interwoven among cultures, and how much they impact and influence us across generations and time.

And finally, speak your voice when necessary, and never give up... We’re all part of this rich cultural world tapestry, and Karma works in wonderful and mysterious ways...


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