December 13, 1997 in Features

The Role Of Pasha A Tough Nut To Crack

Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Revi
 

“Strip to your undies,” the nice middle-aged woman ordered.

“Gee,” I said, dropping my dress trousers, “nobody’s said that to me since - when? - the last time I had a thorough medical checkup.”

However, this experience wasn’t nearly so painful. I was merely dropping my drawers for my “Nutcracker” debut before an audience of 2,000.

Wait. Perhaps I should rephrase that.

I was not actually on stage at the time, which means I never, in any way, violated the county’s exotic dancing ordinance. I was still in the costume room, which means that this nice woman was one of the show’s dressers. She was helping me into my Pasha outfit, which made me look exactly like a 16th-century Arabian sheik, the kind with wire-rimmed glasses.

The role of Pasha requires no dancing. The Pasha is the guy who sits on a cushion and admires the Arabian dancer as she writhes and slithers her way through Tchaikovsky’s Arabian Dance. The Pasha need have no talent whatsoever, beyond the ability to walk and to sit, although as you will soon see, it also requires the ability to stand up, which was my downfall.

Because this part is so simple, the Spokane Symphony and the Alberta Ballet decided to line up “celebrity” Pashas for each night of the performance. In Spokane, “celebrity” is more or less an ironic term, in this case meaning mayorelect John Talbott, councilwoman Roberta Greene, news anchor Mark Wright and sports mogul Bobby Brett. The symphony people were still short a Pasha for the Saturday night show, having tried and failed to get Ryan Leaf or Mike Price.

So I agreed to do it, my main qualification being: I was close at hand.

In fact, I was standing right there in the wings of the Spokane Opera House on opening night (or, as I prefer to think of it, “John Talbott Night”) so I was able to pick up a few performance tips from hizzoner.

Talbott set a high standard for all subsequent Pashas. He hit all of his cues and he made the most of his big dramatic moment, which comes when the dancer pretends to push him away. He’s supposed to make it look like she is giving him a good solid shove, but he made it look like she knocked him right back onto the pillow. Do you know how hard it is to simulate that move? Of course, maybe she really did knock him on his can, but the point is, it was dramatically convincing.

When the Arabian dancer came offstage she said, “That guy’s slick. He’s the best one yet.”

How could I follow that?

Fortunately, there were several other Pashas still to go before my performance.

As it turned out, Mark Wright, TV news guy, made me feel much better. Wright later confessed on-air that he missed two cues, which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that Pasha only has two cues.

So it was mathematically impossible for me to be the worst Pasha. I could only tie, which I proceeded to do.

My problem did not come from missing cues. In fact, I was so intent on hitting my cues that I failed to accomplish the actor’s larger duty - to become the Pasha.

Appearance was my first problem. The costume was sumptuous, with its fake belly, full beard and headdress. But how many Pashas do you know who wear glasses? Especially bifocals? I looked like Woody Allen in a Sinbad the Sailor outfit.

I offered to take my glasses off, but the director was worried that I would knock over the scenery, or march straight off into the orchestra pit, or sideswipe the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Beyond that, this outfit was so enormous and billowy, the entire Alberta Ballet could have fit into my pants, not that they would have wanted to. The point is, I couldn’t move naturally. When I was supposed to get up from my pillow and walk toward the dancer, I discovered to my horror that I was, more or less, stuck.

Imagine trying to get up from a bean-bag chair while wearing a fourman pup tent - that’s what it felt like. One pant-leg was caught beneath another pant-leg, my neck beads were hung up on my bracelet, my curly-toed shoes were hooked into my sleeve-ends. I finally managed to get up after a series of rolling and crawling maneuvers, but the magic was gone from my performance. I was no longer Pasha. I was a guy rolling off a bean-bag chair. After that, I just tried to hit my cues.

The entire experience gave me a great deal of respect for the real “Nutcracker” performers, who work week after week, year after year, to gain the strength and precision to control every moment, every step, every gesture.

I am speaking, of course, of John Talbott.

, DataTimes MEMO: To leave a message on Jim Kersner’s voice-mail, call 459-5493. Or send e-mail to jimk@spokesman.com, or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

To leave a message on Jim Kersner’s voice-mail, call 459-5493. Or send e-mail to jimk@spokesman.com, or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review


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