Before the competition began, Amanda McKerrow said, she had worried about what her state of mind would be like, worried that panic would crowd out all the well-practiced steps, the subtle expression of emotion, the correct maneuvering of muscle and sinew. "I thought, 'Oh my God, what if it doesn't work? And then I thought, 'It will work because it has to work.' I couldn't let that fear consume me."
And now that it is over, McKerrow is trying to understand the way others see her victory. "People keep saying to me, 'You don't realize the scope of this,' and I guess I don't," the 17-year-old ballerina said yesterday of the brouhaha that has greeted the gold medal she won at the Moscow International Ballet Competition. "I'm flabergasted."
She is back home in Rockville now, although her travel clock is still keeping Moscow time, and she thinks she'll let it stay there for awhile. Saturday night, she stepped off the plane and into a celebrityhood that included a ride home in a silver limousine and a confetti-strewn welcome from friends and colleagues at the Washington Ballet. Her neighbors had festooned the trees on her street with red ribbons and her house had been decorated with yellow crepe paper and signs welcoming her home. There were telegrams waiting for her there from Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.) and the White House and the telephone-answering machine has recorded hundreds of messages from friends and stangers alike, including the one from an Army officer who said he was proud of her "as an American."
"I don't know what's going to happen," McKerrow said. "I hope life doesn't change too drastically, I don't feel like a celebrity." The future is something of a wondrously bright uncertainty to her at this point, and she is cautious enough to say that the 700 rubles (about $850) she won with her gold medal will come in handy. She hasn't been with the company long enough to collect unemployment while it is on leave before beginning performances again this fall. "I hope there will be some sort of dancing to do this summer," she says. "Simon [Dow, her partner] and I were worried about getting a little bored after all the excitement of Moscow."
McKerrow is just beginning to sort through the impressions collected over 2 1/2 weeks and three rounds of competition. Vivid in her mind is the imposing grandeur of the Bolshoi Theatre itself with its high ceiling and sculpted columns, the high leaded windows and the red curtains and hangings, and some of the quick moments of intense emotion that took place there: the woman stagehand who came up to her with tears in her eyes after her performance of the pas de deux from "Les Sylphides"; the Russian judge who came backstage after her first-round performance in the segment from "Sleeping Beauty" to embrace her, a rare thing for a judge to do in any circumstance; the mobs of Russians who practically prevented her and Dow from getting to their bus, so intent were they on getting their autographs; the exquisite tension after each round was completed and how she waited as the judges announced the winners by number and the breathlessness as she waited to see if her number, 21, would be called; the sweet relief when it was.
Plans for the short-term future seem assured, at least for the time being. She wants to get her driver's license this summer and she will dance with the Washington Ballet next year. "I owe everything to Mary Day,"she said of the company's artistic director, who was also McKerrow's coach for the competition. "I couldn't have done it without her."
"She came through with great poise, she was extremely calm," Day says of her protege's performance in the competiton. "Her gift of artistry appeared outstanding on the Bolshoi stage." It was that facet of McKerrow's talent, Day said, "that drew the audience to her. In competition, you usually see the more flamboyant things, the tour de force, the leaps and the jumps that display great technique. But everyone at a competition has great technique. We didn't go for that at all. We went for the artistry. It's an inborn thing, a sense of charisma, that is beyond technique."
By the time it was over, McKerrow and Dow had become favorites of a large part of the audience. As they took their bows at the awards ceremonies, they were urged to their feet four times by the applause from their partisans. "Everybody really seemed to love the ballet," McKerrow said. "It hardly cost anything to go." Some of the more fervent fans, she said, would come backstage and press small gifts on them, postcards and pins and, on the last night, flowers.
Still there were panicky moments. Simon Dow became ill between the first and second rounds but mercifully recovered in time. And at the dress rehearsal for the third-round performance of the Bluebird pas de deux from "Sleeping Beauty" there was the contretemps with Algis Zhuraitis, the conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra, who insisted for a time that they change their choreography to the Russian version and conducted the orchestra to a tempo much slower than the way they wanted to dance it. She worried until the performance itself began and the orchestra played to the tempo they had indicated.
She loved the city of Moscow itself, the walk through Red Square on her way to the theater, the cleanliness of the city, the reception she received, but, no, she wasn't disappointed when Mary Day decided not to accept the invitation for McKerrow and Dow to stay on three days more as guests of the Soviets in order to give three more public performances with the other winners. I'm glad we didn't stay," she said. "It was time to go. Everything was sort of an anticlimax after winning."