California Fiesta 1956
In mid summer of 1956 I was asked to appear in an important event in San Diego called The California Fiesta . The official title was “Fiesta del Pacifico” an enactment of “The California Story”. The festivities depicted the early days of the Gold Rush and related topics. I was engaged for the two week run of a three part show which included my interpretion of the notorious Spanish dancer of that period, Lola Montez. She was an Irish girl who was known more for her exploits as a courtesan. This required a dance of the Tarantella which Montez was famous for performing. The entire project was to be presented in the large Balboa Stadium. Meredith Wilson, a well-known popular conductor-musician who also was an admirer of my work led the full orchestra for the show.
All of the action was done in pantomime narrated by voices over a loud-speaker. I entered the premises riding in a horse drawn carriage and dismounted to the platform and began the dance. I too mimed the little story and later I was complimented on my “acting” A costume appropriate for the Tarantella was provided and a tambourine. I actually consulted a teacher of mine at the time the well known dance artist, Carmelita Maracci, about the form of the dance and she graciously gave me some excellent pointers. The other part of the contract involved a short piece of Mexican dance and a flamenco number I did with guitar accompanied by Jaime Grifo, an fine guitarist with whom I had worked before.
In that same period I performed with him at the Coronado Hotel nearby for a convention of eleven governors from various states. I performed two flamenco dances, Seguiriyas and Farruca which was received extremely well. A strong comment about my work on the television news mentioned that “Inesita danced with a fire seldom seen in this country”. It was gratifying.
During rehearsal for the Fiesta I was photographed dancing on a platform in the stadium and this footage was used as publicity to promote the show. Since it was done without my knowledge and later seen on television, we notified the unions, AFTRA and the Screen Actors Guild. The management was required to pay me a fee of $200.
The engagement was an adventure. A large amount of newspaper coverage came out and I received praise for my dancing.
The following two years was a significant breakthrough for my career. A contract to do a full concert including my “Themes from Goya” was offered at UCLA. This was presented by the Fine Arts Committee at Schoenberg Hall on the Westwood campus. It was sold out and featured 15 dances accompanied by guitar and piano with an assistant portraying Francisco Goya in a mimed scene. This program in June of 1957 was followed by a repeat performance at Royce Hall in essentially the same format. During this week I flew to Ogden, Utah to do a concert with a pianist, Bertha Gerson who was a wonderful accompanist and another guitarist, Enrique Heredia of the well-known gypsy family, with whom I had been friendly throughout the early 1950’s. There was an earlier appearance in Phoenix. Arizona, with Jaime Grifo, the guitarist and another fine pianist arranged by a different concert management.
The Pryor-Menz Tour
After a year and a half on the East Coast, I was booked for a five week tour of the mid-western United States. This consisted of 23 concerts in Colleges and Universities in Texas, Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Illinois and others. It was a valuable experience. The contract called for either one accompanist or two. Our choice was a pianist and guitarist to present a more rounded program. The price of course was higher with three instead of two!
It was a tiring effort, constant travel and performance, but with exciting moments along the way. Without fail, the audiences responded with enthusiasm and the press gave me unanimous praise. The guitarist, Felipe Lanza, was also a flamenco dancer but in this role a very capable flamenco player. Edwin Herbst, a Polish pianist with an excellent musical background was a fine accompanist who spoke Spanish well and did an admirable job of the piano dances. The program was well-balanced with several flamenco dances and a variety of Spanish styles to display my range. My energy was high and I was fortunately able to endure the heat of summer and the rigors of travel.
As is sometimes the case, there were conflicts relating to the driving chores and the strain of personal relationships among the four of us.
As it happened, my husband and I were undecided whether to return to New York or go on to Los Angeles from the last concert stop. The decision was made to return home. (I had been away for two and a half years) Many personal matters needed attention, but above all the determination to take advantage of enhanced performance credits took precedence.
The management of the concert series was more than pleased with the reception to my work and that was gratifying.
Armed with good press notices and the valuable exposure to East Coast audiences, I was in a position to take advantage of my new status. Engagements were forthcoming and at the end of 1955 a tremendous concert was presented by The Ethnic Dance Society in which I performed my one woman program at the Wilshire Ebell Theater. The concert was unbelievably long. So much new material from my repertoire needed to be showcased. I got away with it. It is difficult to understand why I was able to do 19 dances and even encore one of them! It was wonderfully reviewed in the Los Angeles Press.
Following this concert a contract was offered by the Turnabout Theater in Los Angeles. I was one of several acts and I utilized three of my dances to good effect. It also had a special prestige because of the excellence of the Yale Puppeteers and some of the actors who were associated with the Turnabout in the past such as Lotte Goslar and other prominent artists of the Legitimate Theater. I shared equal billing with Odetta, the wonderful African-American folk singer.