As the century moves toward its grand finale, it becomes increasingly rare to meet a person who lived through the colorful days of dance in the early 1900s. Most of our accounts come secondhand.
One such living repository of a broad variety of arts is Catherine Hutter. She is sometimes in Salt Lake City to visit her granddaughter, Vickie Hutter, a former member of Ballet West who is now on the staff of the Repertory Dance Theatre.Catherine Hutter makes her home in a retirement complex in Hamden, Conn., an arrangement that suits her independent nature well. "My mother always said I have no nesting instinct," she laughed, and during a peripatetic life she's never owned a house except for a summer cabin at Lake Luzerne in the Adirondacks, where her family liked to gather for holidays.
It's not every day that you run across a person whose godmother was Artur Schnabel's wife, who danced in Pavlova's ballet company and twirled to "Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise" in a nightclub act with Edwin Denby (later to become a prominent dance critic). Especially when that person is an octogenarian of such effervescence as Hutter.
Hutter showed programs from the seasons she danced with Pavlova's company - six weeks each in 1927 and 1928 at London's Covent Garden, and in Paris in the spring of 1930, when the company was struck by injury and Pavlova sent for Hutter in Hamburg.
Though technical demands were not so great early in the century and a dancer's personality was considered more important then than now, Hutter is convinced that Pavlova would have been great in any era. "She had a fine technique, which she maintained right up to the end, and such radiance, she positively glowed," said Hutter. "She even glowed in the elevator!
"The nearest I have seen to her charisma is Gelsey Kirkland, who had some of the same delicacy, but she ruined herself. Pavlova was the most moral and upright person, she always crossed herself before she went on stage.
"When she danced the mad scene in `Giselle,' she all but went mad. Fokine created the famous `Dying Swan' for her, which is nothing but pas de bourees and sinking down, but we company members used to stay around to watch her do it. She was magical, very strong, and she made us strong. She was self-centered, but she was good to us dancers, and people adored her."
Hutter was born in Berlin to an Austrian father and an English mother - a concert pianist who once appeared with Adelina Patti at Royal Albert Hall in London. "I have a copy of their program of Nov. 22, 1899, with my mother as the assisting artist, not the accompanist," she explained.
"The pianist Artur Schnabel was my father's closest friend, and his wife Theresa Behr, a singer and teacher, was my godmother. Later on, my father was instrumental in bringing Schnabel to America."
When clouds of World War II gathered over Germany, the Hutters immigrated to America. Her mother and father divorced, however, and she and her mother went back to Europe after the war. "I spent the season 1922-23 dancing with the Breslau State Opera ballet," said Hutter. "When I was about 20, the impresario Sol Hurok arranged for me and my mother to have tea with Pavlova. She turned to me and asked, `What do you want to do?' and I answered, `I want to dance.' She later told me that really impressed her. `If you had said I want to be a dancer, I would have paid no attention to you,' she said.
"At any rate, she suggested I study at the school of her partner, Laurent Novikoff, and it was there that I became serious about dancing, and got good enough to move on into Pavlova's company - an overwhelming experience, since there were so few professional companies in those days. I also took classes in Paris with Trefilova and Egarova, some wonderful Russian emigres."
Hutter said she was not strong on toe, and would sometimes fake with a little demi-pointe if in the back row. But it was more important to be graceful than technically strong. "People used to say, `Oh, isn't Kitty light,' and that was what mattered," she said. "I remember Pruzina, who kept Novikoff's classes when he was on tour, saying, `Make a long neck!'
Hutter recalled the excitement of the Diaghilev seasons in London, where his Ballets Russes danced every year. "We queued up for tickets, there was never anything to match him," she said.
"His shows drew upon the greatest dancers of Russia and the world, the greatest choreographers (Fokine, Nijinsky, Massine, Nijinska, Balanchine), the greatest composers (Stravinsky, Ravel, Prokofiev, Glazounov, Debussy, Satie, Milhaud). Artists and designers like Bakst, Benois, Picasso, Rouault and Cocteau all added to the most heady programs. Actually, everything was overdone - overripe, overproduced and overcostumed. We would call it kitsch today, but in its time it was the utmost in class and style."
In 1928 Hutter married a chemist and moved to Berlin, where she studied and taught for a time in the school of Victor Gsovsky. Among her fellow pupils were Kira Nijinsky (daughter of Vaslav) and Eva Brigitta Harwig, who took the stage name Vera Zorina. "When I became pregnant, someone told Vera, `Kitty's going to have a baby!' and she ran out into the hall calling the kitty," Hutter laughed.
In Berlin also, her studies with modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman and with her pupil Gret Palucca gave her insight into character dance and projecting personality. "Personality is badly neglected in today's ballet," she said, singling out Nureyev for most nearly approximating the old style.
In Berlin she danced in operetta also, and she and a girlfriend worked up a cabaret act. "We were never asked back, because we didn't understand you had to mix with the gentlemen afterward - nothing naughty, just be pleasant and have dinner," she said. "My friend was incensed when a gentleman tipped her 10 marks for having dinner with him!"
When Hitler came to power in the early '30s, the couple realized they must leave Germany, since her husband was Jewish, and she half Jewish. "In 1932, when I was eight months pregnant with my son Donald, I crossed the channel to England on the German liner Bremen," she recalled. "People said, what if your child were born on board, then he would be a German citizen. Luckily, he was born in London."
Later that year she and her husband rendezvoused in Vienna, where Nazism was already threatening. "Wherever I went, trouble broke out," she laughed.
"My husband suggested we try Spain, and we ended up on Majorca, where I met and danced with Edwin Denby, and taught in the Ecole Nationale in Palma for a year. But I got typhoid fever, and it was back to Vienna, since by now the Spanish Civil War was threatening.
"My husband had tuberculosis, and was in a sanitorium near Vienna for 21/2 years. But the day Donald ran in waving a flag and yelling, `Heil Hitler,' I knew it was time to move.
"In 1938 I came to America. I had lost my passport as a naturalized U.S. citizen, but my father helped us. He had a career in publishing and was a director of McCall's magazine."
The three-month pass Francis Hutter secured for his daughter has stretched into more than 50 years in America. Here she resumed use of her maiden name, after divorce. And here Hutter transferred her artistic talents to writing. She has six novels to her credit, notably "A Time to Dance," published by Milton House in 1976. She's also translated some 30 German books (both novels and non-fiction) into English for such prestigious publishers as Simon & Schuster, Crowell, Harcourt Brace, Scribner, Viking, Popular Library and Dell.
Especially satisfying has been her translation of Goethe's "Werther," which has been popular with colleges and still yields royalties. Recently the BBC in London had a reading of her translation.
She buried her son last spring, but life is still good. "I've had a wonderful time," she said, with a lively twinkle in her eye.