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Hard Times at the Ballet

To open the Houston Ballet's production of the fourth act of the 19th-century classic La Bayadere, 24 women dressed in pink tights and white tutus descend a darkened ramp to a black and empty stage. With each delicious, slow phrase of the spun-sugar music, a dancer enters from the top of the ramp and makes a slow, deliberate arabesque, rising on one toe, arching her other leg back and up, and offering an exquisite, controlled profile. On and on they come, each dancer advancing solemnly, with downcast eyes, until they fill the stage, a dazzling human bouquet.

The choreography, created in 1877 by the great French choreographer Marius Petipa, is perfectly suited to display the talented corps of the Houston Ballet. It's also perfectly suited to display the talents of the company's leading dancers, in particular Janie Parker, the company's prima ballerina for the last dozen years and a dancer known for her flexible, expressive body and her passionate acting. Other Houston Ballet dancers may turn better. Some may leap higher. Some may even display a crisper, harder technique. But no other dancer in the Houston Ballet can match Parker's emotional vibrancy. None of them has exactly her star quality.

The March 18 performance was only the second time Parker had performed La Bayadere with her frequent partner, Li Cunxin, and the Houston audience had little with which to compare it. Close observers might have noticed that Cunxin's leaps were not as dynamic as usual, and they certainly would have noticed his missed landing and a catch he flubbed. It's not likely that anyone would have noticed much amiss with Parker, who displayed a languishing vulnerability that caught exactly the pain inherent in the ballet's story. In any case, the applause was enthusiastic and sustained, and a curtain call was required.

When Parker emerged from the stage door of the Wortham Theater Center, she had peeled off her stage eyelashes, scrubbed off her makeup and let down her long, light-brown hair. Lipstickless, she wore blue jeans, a white turtleneck with padded shoulders and white leather sneakers. Lines of concern were cut into the fresh Southern face that only 45 minutes ago had radiated a serene, regal smile to generous applause. She was not happy.

Poopy! she said of her performance, poop.
"I was 'over' all evening," she said, meaning the line of her balance was off. "I hate it when I turn in a crappy performance."

Such self-deprecation is typical of Parker. Even after wonderful performances, she has been known to tell starry-eyed fans in the green room how terrible she was. This night, though, was different. It wasn't just that the usually injury-free Parker felt hobbled by a rehearsal accident. Nor was it something as simple as a bad mood. The real problem, and a problem that had distressed the whole company, was that her mentor, Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson, was missing, out on a medical leave of absence that had been forced on him by the Houston Ballet's executive board.

Just as Parker, with her picture on nearly every poster and program, is without a doubt the most visible and important dancer in the Houston Ballet, Stevenson is the force that has made her performances possible. In many ways, the two of them are the Houston Ballet. The Ballet, granted, has other dancers of notable skill and talent, and Stevenson is not the only choreographer and teacher to have made a mark on the company. But to imagine the Ballet without one or, even worse, both of them would be to many people inconceivable, like trying two decades ago to imagine the New York City Ballet without George Balanchine and Suzanne Farrell.

Parker's virtuosity, her beauty, her acting and her durability have been a mainstay of the Houston Ballet. Name an important story-book or romantic ballet performed by the Ballet over the last decade, and Parker has danced the major role. And in May, when the company debuts a lavish new production of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Manon, Parker will dance the lead.

Important as Parker has been, the foundation of her success and that of the company lies with Ben Steven-son, the British choreographer and artistic director who took Houston's main dance company from a regional nonentity to one of the top four or five ballets in the nation. He has built a solid repertoire of classics that he often sets himself. He has added new works in other styles, both by himself and resident and guest choreographers. So skilled has the company as a whole become, that when Houston Ballet premiered Company B, Paul Taylor's jazzy new work set to the songs of the Andrews Sisters, critics implied that the Houston dancers performed the work better than did Taylor's. And last spring, when the Boston Globe's dance critic compared the top regional companies, she wrote that if she had to be stranded on a desert island with just one of the works she had recently seen, it would be Houston Ballet's production of Gloria, a dark statement about the carnage of World War I.

 

Nearly every phase of the Houston Ballet's artistic success can be attributed to Steven-son. His story-book ballets are the bread and butter of the repertoire. His international connections produce new choreography. His eye for talent and his talent for teaching have enabled him to bring along both soloists and the corps.

Which is exactly why Parker was concerned, and why that concern had gone so far as to affect her dancing. Earlier in the year, Stevenson had told his dancers and the Ballet board that he was thinking of taking a medical leave. He had not given them details, and not given them a time, just suggested that it might happen when his ballets weren't being rehearsed.

But when the leave came, heralded by a surprise announcement in the newspapers, the company was deep into rehearsals for both La Bayadere and The Miraculous Mandarin. On February 23, the executive committee of the Ballet's board had told Stevenson he could no longer operate on his own schedule. Instead, he was to take his leave immediately. The executive committee and the company's recently appointed managing director, Joyce Moffat, also insisted on issuing a press release that underlined the ostensible reasons for the leave: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a weight problem. But neither the release nor the stories published the following day spelled out the most troubling consequence of the board's decision: Stevenson had been told he could not rehearse his dancers.

In an art form so sensitive to visual detail and emotional nuance, this action was the equivalent of saying one of two things. Either Stevenson was so ill that he couldn't rehearse, or the board was trying to signal that it was dissatisfied with him.

It didn't take long for rumors along both lines to form, not only in Houston but throughout the tight-knit ballet community nationwide. Two speculations were that Stevenson had AIDS or that he needed to retreat to a spa to dry out from drugs or drinking. Another interpretation was that the board thought it was time for Stevenson to either quit completely or else (in a softer version) give up his post as artistic director and become simply the Ballet's resident choreographer.

Parker knew that the more extreme medical rumors couldn't be true. But she, like many of the people at the Ballet, was confused over what was actually happening. Despite being on leave, Stevenson made a point of coming to his office. And though he couldn't rehearse his dancers, he showed up in the front row for some performances. It was as if a curious face-off was going on, but over what, and why, was uncertain.

What the dancers did know was that if Stevenson was in town, and coming to his office, there was no reason they shouldn't have access to him. So on March 17, when the executive board of the Ballet met in a special session to reconsider Stevenson's medical condition, the principal dancers showed up uninvited to have their voices heard. The major names of the Houston Ballet were all there. Janie Parker didn't act as the dancers' spokesman -- Li Cunxin took that role -- but her very presence spoke volumes. Stevenson is the man to whom every dancer there owed his or her job; he is the man to whom Parker had dedicated her career. And if he was gone, could the others be far behind?

Dancers are used to putting on a front. It's their job. The Saturday after the board's February 23 announcement of Ben Stevenson's enforced medical leave, their concern was all for Stevenson's health. They were to perform Swan Lake that night, and rehearse for the upcoming program of La Bayadere, The Miraculous Mandarin and the comedic dance Symphony in D. Stevenson's two longtime assistants, Hiller Huhn and Carmen Mathe, would handle the rehearsals. Oscar Escauriaza, the Chilean ballet master, would handle the company lesson in the large rehearsal room at Wortham Theater Center.

After a warm-up and the lesson, Mathe, a slender blond woman who was Stevenson's choreographic inspiration when she was a ballerina, gave notes about Swan Lake. Then the dancers split into smaller groups. Four men practiced catching a ballerina in their arms, rolling her down their legs and catching her on their feet.

Parker and Li Cunxin, meanwhile, went to a smaller rehearsal room to practice La Bayadere. Parker had strapped a practice tutu on over her torn, gray practice tights. Her T-shirt bore a picture of Marilyn Monroe, a character she portrays vividly in a dance, Image, that Ben Stevenson created especially for her.

 

The pianist wasn't available, so the pair watched a video of the Kirov Ballet performing La Bayadere. Listening to the music issuing from the TV, Parker and Cunxin tried a few routines, but the tempo was too fast. Mathe came in and draped her camel jacket over the picture to remove that distraction, then Escauriaza came in, sat on the floor and watched the pair for a few moments. He noted a problem with Parker's left shoulder and worked with her on a series of pirouettes to restore her balance. Parker and Cunxin decided to work on a famous passage in which a prince and his spirit lover dance with a long scarf that symbolizes their tenuous love. They tried dancing with the tape, but it was too fast, so finally Mathe sang and counted the tempo for them. The whole operation had an air of calm, but also an air of befuddled improvisation. It was obvious that something -- or someone -- was missing.

This is not the detailed way in which Janie Parker likes to work. Like other top artists, she has received extraordinary gifts and works extraordinarily hard at enlarging and perfecting them. She doesn't eat red meat, though she has added fish and chicken to her mostly vegetarian diet. She also takes food supplements and vitamins, and she abstains from alcohol, coffee, tea and carbonated beverages. As for smoking, although some ballet dancers indulge, it would seem unthinkable for Parker. Like many of the other dancers, she performs strengthening and flexibility routines daily on machines at the Ballet's conditioning room. She is likely to spend part of Monday, her one day off, on visits to her chiropractor and acupuncturist.

Besides taking care of herself, Parker is a fanatic about taking care of her point shoes. They're custom-made by Freed of London, and she fusses with them constantly. Several years ago, when the shoes were not coming in to her liking, she made it a point to visit her shoemaker in London. Like most dancers, she prefers to sew the ribbons with which they are tied. She also reinforces the toes, meticulously sewing a piece of cord around the edge of the toe to provide a more stable platform. She will break in a pair in rehearsals, and will typically use it only once in a major ballet such as Swan Lake.

Hers is an ordered life, and as such, a life easily shaken by the confusion surrounding the status of her mentor and friend, Ben Stevenson. Stevenson is, in many ways, the man who made her who -- and what -- she is. He spirited her away from the genius who dominated American ballet during this century, and used his own genius to develop her fluid, romantic style.

He also has made good use of Parker's "banana legs," a term that alludes to Parker's hyperextension, the ability of her joints to move backwards. Dancers call her a Gumby, and they envy her flexibility. It makes Parker's legs as expressive and flexible as other dancers' arms. Anna Kisselgoff, dance critic for The New York Times, called Parker the Marlene Dietrich of ballet because of her long tapering legs, round insteps and beautifully arched feet.

Other performers might have coasted on such physical gifts, but not Parker. Since she was a young girl, Janie Parker has spent little time at home. Growing up in Atlanta, she took piano lessons from her school- teacher mother. Her architect father adored opera. She loved reading fairy tales and drawing. She started dance lessons at a day- care center, and because she glowed when she danced, her teachers encouraged her. At 13 she left home for instruction at the new North Carolina School of the Arts, which offered an intense dance program directed by a former principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater. Compressing her junior and senior years into one, she graduated early and headed to the School of American Ballet in New York to study with the man most associated with the emergence of America as a nation with serious ballet, George Balanchine.

A Russian emigre who had trained in the Imperial Theater school in St. Petersburg, Balanchine created some of the great works of modern dance. During the 1920s, he worked with the Russian choreographer Serge Diaghilev and such composers as Stravinsky and Ravel. In 1933, he teamed with the American ballet patron Lincoln Kir-stein and began to transform a Euro-pean art form to suit his vision of the dy-namic, athletic abilities of American dancers. A tremendously fluent and inventive choreographer, Balanchine declared that the purpose of ballet was the idolization of women. Throughout his long life -- he lived to age 79 -- he either married or had affairs with a succession of ballerinas for whom he created wonderful dances.

 

By the time she was 18, Janie Parker was on the way to becoming one of those Balanchine ballerinas. Dancing in Balan-chine's second dance company in Geneva, Switzerland, she found that while her flexibility sometimes created problems with strength, she was ideally suited to the Balanchine style, which is quicker, more expansive and more open than the classical line that Ben Stevenson teaches.

Although Parker was not dancing at Balanchine's New York City Ballet, Balanchine clearly had plans for, and perhaps on, her. When he came to Geneva, he spent time with her in class, gave her gifts and his ultimate compliment: he cooked for her, a skill for which he was renowned. Balanchine loved veal and morels, Parker recalls, but when he found out that she had been a vegetarian since high school, he made her an elaborate dinner of soup, pasta and dessert. It was an intense scene for a teenager. She was thankful, she recalls, that the Geneva company's director, Pat Neary, was along as chaperone.

Despite having the attentions of the most important man in American ballet, and good notices and parts in Geneva, Parker felt insecure. She wasn't dancing in New York. She thought that she was weak technically and that she wasn't physically strong enough for ballet's demands. And she was bothered by Balanchine's reduction of the dancer to a figure instead of a person. Balanchine had a penchant for almost abstract ballet; he wanted his dancers to tone down the emotions in their faces and express all the meaning of the dance through their bodies. He saw drama in the steps, not the story.

`"My body was a Balanchine body," Parker says, "but my insides were hooked on romantic-tragic, story-book ballets. And then along comes Ben."

Balanchine had hired Stevenson to set Cinderella on his Geneva company, and to dance the title role on the opening night Stevenson selected the 18-year-old Parker, who had never before performed a full-length ballet. She was both exhilarated and terrified. Stevenson recalls that she was "very, very insecure. She always felt she was not good enough. You always had to push her, and she would be in tears and didn't think she could do it."

But she did, and even she began to notice a daily improvement in her rehearsals. In 1976, when Parker heard that the Houston Ballet had hired Stevenson as artistic director, she phoned to ask him for a job. Parker and Stevenson have been to-gether ever since. Stevenson's move did not pass without notice in New York. For years afterwards, the Houston Ballet had a difficult time getting permission to do a work by George Balanchine.

If a choreographer can make a dancer, then a dancer also helps make a choreographer.

He works to the strengths of his material, and Stevenson worked to the strengths of Janie Parker. Stevenson compares working with Parker to working with the late Margot Fonteyn. Parker, as did Fonteyn, always gives the feeling that she's working with him and not against him, Stevenson says, and again like Fonteyn, she holds nothing back in rehearsal. Many dancers will wait for the performance to give their all, but Parker does it in the studio. The result, says Stevenson, is that he can get a true sense of what a piece will look like from the very beginning. This access to emotion is a special quality of Parker's that is difficult to describe, but when you see her dance, it's hard to miss it. It's a transformation, an outpouring of soul. Stevenson calls it "the actress thing."

Not everybody understands it. Stevenson recalls explaining to a member of the Ballet board once that Parker's most wonderful quality is her vulnerability.

"And he said, 'That's a weakness,' " Stevenson recalls. " 'If you are vulnerable and the head of a big corporation, people would think you weren't any good.' I said, 'Well, it's different, because you have to care about the person when they come on the stage.' If the person comes on without a fault, you don't have any feeling about that person. Vulnerability is very important -- Juliet, Cinderella -- it's their vulnerability that you care about, not how strong they are."

In her early years with the company, Parker's soft, lyrical, pearl-like quality contrasted with the hard-edged, diamond quality of Suzanne Longley, another of Steven-son's favorite ballerinas. Longley had a compact body with quick hard turns and strong jumps. While she was there, Parker could leave to her the more athletic performances. But after Longley retired, Parker went on to expand beyond her lyrical qualities and stretch into a more complete dancer, both of classical and contemporary pieces.

 

Her February performances of Swan Lake, for instance, gave her the chance to show both the pearl and the diamond sides of her personality. Perhaps because of its beautiful Tchaikovsky score, its choreography by Petipa and its corps of swans in white tutus dancing in a moonlit glade, Balanchine said all ballets should be called Swan Lake.

At the center of the romantic plot is perhaps the greatest dual role a ballerina can dance, that of the white swan, Odette, and the black swan, Odile. As the white swan, a princess who has been transformed by a sinister magician, Parker is all vulnerability and pearly radiance. No one in the Houston Ballet can match her at projecting these emotions.

But what is surprising is how well she dances the black swan. During the ball at which the prince must choose a bride, the magician appears with a mysterious woman in a black tutu, headdress and veil. In one of the most formidable solos in all of ballet, she seduces the prince with a mesmerizing, icy, seductive display, all the while taking instructions from her master. Lauren Anderson, a young principal dancer with the Ballet and the person whom Parker calls her best friend in the company, is struck with admiration at Parker's transformation from the white to black swan. "She was literally two different people," says Anderson, "so much so that some of my friends thought maybe it was Janie [as the white swan] and somebody else [as the black]."

The solo includes one passage in the original choreography that has set ballerinas to chain-smoking in the wings before performances. The black swan is required to make 32 fouettes, a whip turn on point that requires perfect stability and control and which is extremely tiring and painful. Typically, Parker says she has difficulty performing the turns, but in the opening and final performances of the ballet's run, she executed them flawlessly, all the while emitting a glittering, seductive smile that reached to the back row of the Brown Auditorium.

But it didn't have to go all the way to the back to reach Ben Stevenson. Though the ballet opened one day after he was told to take his leave, Stevenson was in the front section of the audience, watching Parker's transformations and wondering, perhaps, about his own.

A few weeks after his involuntary medical leave was announced, I visited Stevenson at the Galveston Bay house in La Porte where he lives, a 30-minute commute from the West Gray headquarters of the Ballet. Some of the surrounding homes and trailers are trashy, but Stevenson's cluttered little yellow cottage is nestled under trees, an oasis from the pressures of urban life. The house has long been a scene for weekend parties that Stevenson throws for his dancers and a haven for international students who have no other place to live. Like Balanchine, Stevenson loves to cook. He has been known to hold Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for dancers, especially those who have no family in Houston and can't afford to go home for holidays.

He entered his living room dressed in black trousers, a blue-and-white striped shirt and leather slippers. Teapots collected on his many trips to China adorned a bookcase. He looked heavier than he had ever been. If Stevenson held any bitterness about the board's action, he kept it to himself. Instead he focused on the rumors about his health that he wanted to dispel.

Stevenson made it clear that the AIDS rumor was false. What was not false was that Stevenson was suffering from depression. "I've been suffering from this for a long time," he said. "The doctor said he thought I had something called sleep apnea. It's where you sleep and you stop breathing and you wake up. So last week I went for the test. You have to stay overnight, and they spend three hours wiring you up with electrodes. They said I woke 78 times. So the results were positive and that's what I have. I might have to have a surgical procedure.

"The doctor has been saying it was sleep apnea for years, but I've been very stubborn, and now to find that's what it is, is a relief in itself."

Since his condition is treatable on an outpatient basis, Stevenson said, his main desire was to get back to work at the Ballet.

We visited for an hour or so, talking about the strengths of his prima ballerina and his hopes for the young ones such as Martha Butler, who is the pride of the Hou-ston Ballet Academy, a student there since she was eight.

 

We also talked about the pressure of being an artistic director. Artistic directors in the ballet have a life-and-death power over careers. In Off Balance, The Real World of Ballet, a 1982 study of the ballet world, author Suzanne Gordon detailed some of the arbitrary abuses of power that choreographers and ballet directors have practiced. She tells how, upon being named director of the American Ballet Theater, Mikhail Baryshnikov immediately fired a principal dancer who had been with the ABT for six years just because he didn't like his body. Another dancer was fired for being too old. Dancers, Gordon points out, have very little voice in what happens to them. They are like children in a fairy tale, and the powerful figures can make or break their dreams and their careers.

Stevenson is just that sort of figure. If you ask its principal dancers, he is the Houston Ballet. Stevenson is the hub of the wheel, the ringmaster, the sorcerer, the creator, taskmaster, friend, father and uncle figure, the funny, emotional, childlike genius of the place. "This is the pressure of being an artistic director," said Stevenson, "the hiring and firing is very, very difficult. Dancers are very special people. And so often you think someone is so talented and you really like him or her and you think, 'What a beautiful girl,' or, 'What a handsome boy I've got,' and they could be really good. But somehow they can't get their act together or they don't really work, or you think they might be smoking too much marijuana and you warn them and you try to be very strict with them and you can't really win them over. And someone else is quite tough and gets in there and does it, and you don't feel as strongly about them as this poor person you've fired. It's like kicking one of your children out of the house."

Such pressures have evidently fed Stevenson's depression, along with the death two years ago of David Gilmore, a trusted assistant who had been with the Ballet even before Stevenson came. Gilmore had taken care of Stevenson, making sure he caught his airplanes, checking to see he paid his bills. All of it in order to free Stevenson to practice his art.

Stevenson's eyes moisten when talking of Gilmore. Some observers have remarked that Stevenson is like a large child, a not uncommon description of an artist. He needs someone to love, he needs someone to hate, he needs someone to watch over him. Janie Parker has filled the first role; David Gilmore filled the last. He has no assistant now, at least none that can help manage his private life along with his professional one, and perhaps that, too, has contributed to this tumultuous spring. Stevenson doesn't want to think about paying bills.

"All I think about," he says "is the steps I'm going to do the next day."

Not too long after that talk, Stevenson was back at the Houston Ballet setting steps. Shortly after the dancers made their visit to a board meeting, the board announced the end of Stevenson's leave. Whether the show of support by the dancers had anything to do with the rescission of the leave is uncertain. Indeed, according to board president Samuel R. Dodson III, the whole medical leave issue became a "tempest in a teapot," in large part, he admits, be-cause the board forced the issue into the press. Dodson says the incident was nothing more than the result of miscommunication between Stevenson and the board's executive committee.

No one will say for publication just what happened, but the scenario appears to have been this: Feeling morbidly stressed, but not fully understanding the nature of his illness, Stevenson asked for a medical leave to check into a treatment center such as the Betty Ford Center. But he added he only wanted to go when he thought the timing was right. The executive committee, alarmed by the reputation of the Betty Ford Center as a "drying out" spot, and thinking that drugs or alcohol might be the problem, panicked. Not fully understanding Stevenson's medical condition, the committee forced the leave on him. That nudge sent Stevenson to his doctor, where he was diagnosed with sleep apnea, the condition he had stubbornly resisted considering. Once that diagnosis was made, the board called an anxious meeting -- the one attended by the dancers -- in which Stevenson's medical condition was clarified. The following day the board announced Stevenson would be allowed to return to work.

Dodson says Stevenson's position with the Ballet was never jeopardized, and that his situation in Houston is as secure as it's ever been. Suspicious minds, however, may wonder. During the last 17 years, Stevenson has teamed with the Ballet's board to make the Houston Ballet one of the nation's top companies. Indeed, with an annual budget of $11 million, and a 44-week-long contract for dancers that is the longest in the nation, it's the envy of many cash-strapped ballets. But while the artistic success of the company is owed to Stevenson, the financial success has to be credited to the board. Ticket sales produce only 53 percent of the company's annual budget. The rest must be raised from outside sources. The company currently suffers a deficit of $375,000, about $150,000 of which was incurred when Nutcracker ticket sales took a beating at Christmas from the Disney/ TUTS production of Beauty and the Beast. (The Nutcracker, though loathed by many dancers as a pom-pous monstrosity, is responsible for up to 50 percent of some ballet companies' annual incomes.) Possibly the deficit could be retired with the income from the ballet's $18.7 million endowment, one of the largest in the country. But keeping the deficit conspicuous enables management to bring pressure on costs throughout the company.

 

Board members have not always confined themselves to financial matters. Over the years, some board members have wanted Houston Ballet to devote itself to works by Balanchine, whose disciples dominate American ballet and control companies in Fort Worth, Atlanta and Miami. Others have wanted the ballet to limit itself to the money-making, story-book ballets at which Stevenson excels, and to avoid emotionally wrenching original works such as The Mirac-ulous Mandarin. When the Wortham Theater Center was built in 1985, some board members expressed concern that Stevenson wasn't the man to lead the Ballet into the expanded programs the new facility would make possible.

Stevenson, who has loyal supporters on the board, has weathered these doubts, although sometimes with displays of bad temper that have been difficult to endure. One ballet insider compares Stevenson's temper tantrums to an infant holding his breath until his face turns blue.

Last August the board appointed Joyce Moffat managing director of the ballet. She is a chain-smoking, no-nonsense manager with many years of experience managing dance companies, most recently the San Francisco Ballet. (The San Francisco Ballet's deficit was reported last spring at $3.2 million.) She is a supporter of touring, something Stevenson and the dancers have craved. But according to some, Moffat has a secondary duty, that of keeping Stevenson in line. And the budget might be one way to do it.

In the story-book world of classical ballet, it is
usually easy to distinguish good from evil, and while good sometimes wins, it almost always suffers. Whether Stevenson's sudden departure and return was indeed a tempest in a teapot, or just a glimpse of the future, is uncertain. But what is certain is that for a brief time, the Houston ballet world got a sense of what life would be like without Ben Stevenson. And the dancers, at least, didn't like it.

And while Stevenson is celebrating his return, Janie Parker is preparing for her life after ballet. At 39, she is old for a dancer, and while her performance does not yet appear affected by her age, there's no doubt that her time at the Ballet is limited. If Stevenson had left, it might well have given her the excuse to do likewise. She admits that she yearns for a marriage and children, and she compares working in the ballet to "putting your life on hold."

She was married to principal dancer Dorio Perez for four years, and when that didn't work out the split caused some hard feelings in the intimate family of dancers. Now she goes with former Houston Ballet dancer Steven Rowe. Rowe is an Australian who is pursuing a career as an actor and entertainer in Texas and New York. They live in Janie's cozy bungalow in the Heights with two big yellow dogs and two cats, one a white Persian that Stevenson gave her.

Parker calculates that she only spends about three or four hours a day awake at her home. When her mother flies in for a visit, she spends a lot of time helping her organize her papers and updating the scrapbooks she keeps of her daughter's enduring career.

Unlike many prima ballerinas, Parker doesn't play the role of temperamental diva. She is, unaffectedly, a down-home Georgia girl, a child of the '60s. The night after her "poopy" performance she went out to dinner to talk for a while about the past and her hopes for the future. This time after a performance is about the only free time she has for an interview. She still wants to do some new projects. She has watched Garbo in the movie version of Camille, a project that Ben hopes to convert into a ballet for her. It would be a perfect romantic vehicle.

 


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