At dawn's early light yesterday, a media blitz burst upon Amanda McKerrow just minutes after the 17-year-old Rockville, Md., ballerina received the remarkable news of her first-prize gold model in the prestigious fourth Moscow Internatonal Ballet Competition.
It was a few minutes after 3 o'clock in the morning and Russia's northern summer sky was already spilling soft light on the gilded Bolshoi when the magical name came, awakening the exhausted McKerrow from the restless sleep in a hotel nearby.
"We've hit the jackpot -- it's the gold!" shouted mentor and coach Mary Day over the phone. And from that moment, the world changed, likely forever, for McKerrow, who says she will pursue her art "to perfection" -- whatever it takes.
The news from Day, founder and director of the Washington Ballet Company, immediately began a string of calls to McKerrow from newspapers, wire services and radio and television people demanding to know her reaction and her plans following her tie for first place in the women's junior division. She was even asked what size her foot is.
McKerrow has given several television interviews, and direct-line radio interviews to the United States and pose repeatedly for photographs. The scramble reached a classic moment this morning when she sat down to breakfast at her hotel only to find a TV crew lumbering in for a close-up as she ate. "I'm not used to the publicity," she said with awe in her soft voice. "They were taping us eating! I can't eat when people do that! It makes me feel very uncomfortable."
Before the media onslaught, McKerrow, the only one of 13 Americans in the competition who made it to the finals, shared the triumph with her partner, Simon Dow, who had struggled back from a career-threatening operation for a ruptured disc last year to accompany her to Moscow. His lifts, leaps and carries with her through three competitive rounds brought him the "best partner" award even though he was not officially competing. When she called him with the news, he rushed to her room in the Rossiya Hotel and there, with Day, the trio, which had started with little more than hope against the mighty Soviets and pulled out a gold, leaped and jumped and hugged with delight.
"I just did not expect it," said Dow yesterday after a rehearsal for the gala Bolshoi winners' concert last night. "I was jumping up and down . . . thrilled to death. I just did not expect it."
Amanda's Parents, Alan and Constance McKerrow, who have shepherded their iron-willed daughter through 10 years of training and came here in support, did not join the celebration. "We just wanted them to enjoy that kind of moment together. The three of them who had worked so hard for it, they should be together," Mrs. McKerrow said. "As long as we're in phone touch with her, that's enough. I've never wanted to be a professional mother to Amanda.
In Washington, friends and relatives reacted jubilantly. "We've been getting calls for forever here, everyone wants to interview Amanda," said Cindy Bandle, the Washington Ballet publicist. "Everyone can't beleive it."
"We all feel high as a kite, as they say," said McKerrow's brother, Stephen, 32, of Baltimore. "It was just sheer chaos immediately."
Apparantly, McKerrow is going to have to get used to all the attention. Hers is a Cinderella story, heightened by the fact that she comes from a ballet company that has struggled since the 1940s when Mary Day founded it. It still formally has no permanent home in Washington.
In addition, McKerrow's triumph has the unmistakable resonance of the U.S. hockey team's startling upset in the 1980 winter Olympics.
And, according to Day and Mrs. McKerrow, a rise in ballet's popularity among Americans in recent years has contributed to the interest in McKerrow's accomplishment.
"I don't think even a year ago this would have happened," Mrs. McKerrow said. "If it was sports, of course, Americans would have paid attention. But now I'm surprised and pleased it could be such a big thing. I'm so grateful Amanda's coming up at this time and when there is such interest in dance."
Dow, a dark-haired, handsome Australian, said that for McKerrow "to win gold in Moscow at age 17 has unbelievable impact" on her future, likely to bring attractive offers from other companies, guest-appearance requests and wide public recognition.
His own success here is a stirring turn of fortune. Drawn to the Washington Ballet in autumn 1979 because it was a small company and features the innovative choreography of Choo San Goh, he ruptured a lumbar disc during a performance of "The Nutcracker" near the close of that season's grueling holiday schedule. Recovery from an operation took months.
"It seemed insurmountable at the time. After six months off, I was stiff and sore. I had been in training since the age of 10 and there I was in adult beginner classes and I couldn't do what they could do." But now, he is certain, the future "definitely means good things" for him at age 25 and in mid-career.
So does Mary Day, adding that "the door is wide open" for McKerrow, who began ballet lessons at the age of 6 and has been a member of the Washington Ballet for the past year. Both dancers are under contract to the ballet for the coming season, and Day said she will work with McKerrow to expand her classical repertoire. aMcKerrow has concentrated on the modern, for which she seems to have an instinctive flair. At last night's winners' performance, she and Dow danced Schonberg's "Pelleas and Melisande" with a fluid intensity that made the "Sleeping Beauty" duet of Natalia Arkhipova, Soviet co-holder of the gold medal, seem pale and bleakly formal for all its technical correctness.
McKerrow indicated she will feel her way cautiously in her new world. She lives with her parents and is intent mostly on taking a break from dancing to get a driver's license and perhaps have her wisdom teeth removed. She said she is happy at the Washington Ballet. "It's home."
"She is young, not really ready to leave home," said Day. "But, obviously, she won't stay with us indefinitely."
For now, there is the excitement of victory and the unique bond of the winners that knows no nationality. McKerrow gave a unitard to Soviet senior gold medalist Alla Khaniashvili today as a present and received in return a pair of Soviet-made toe shoes.
They were a perfect fit for McKerrow's feet -- size 3D.
McKerrow's travel plans home remained uncertain today because she unexpectedly has received an invititation to stay in Moscow two more days to perform at a theater in the Kremlin.
"Obviously it means she can write her own ticket," Alton Miller, executive director of the Washington Ballet, said in Washington. "To my knowledge, she's America's first gold medalist. She's won the highest award given in her category of professional ballet and she had already been asked by Abt [American Ballet Theatre] to join their company next season. That was before the gold. She declined and has signed with Washington Ballet for one more season. It's very clear that she can, and should, choose the ballet company of her choice. I would compare it to a really fine athlete being able to entertain an invitation from anywhere he damn well pleases.
"It sounds almost corny. A couple of the dancers told me there's absolutely no jealousy, partly because Amanda's so sweet. It's kind of a vicarious enjoyment they're getting. It gives the younger dancers hope . . .
"Life will go on as usual for Amanda and Simon. The three certainties for all dancers are death, taxes and daily classes."