"We toast to ballet," said Roland Petit, lifting his glass of wine.
"No, to you, Roland Petit," corrected celebrated ballerina Natalia Makarova.
"Ah, to you," insisted Petit, "to the ballet!"
Makarova would not raise her glass.
"To all of you!" was Petit's final, amended toast, at which Makarova smiled and clinked glasses.
The mood was festive at the French Embassy following the Washington debut of Roland Petit's Ballet National de Marseille. Ambassador Bernard Vernier-Palliez and his wife, Denise, hosted a supper after the premiere of the full-length ballet, "Notre Dame de Paris." There were guests from the Kennedy Center, the Cafritz Foundation and the Metropolitan Opera Association, and there were Marseille's dancers. A formidable group. But the stars were Petit and Makarova.
"Roland--no!" said Makarova, when Petit lit a cigarette. "I don't smoke."
". . . and he doesn't dance!" someone called from across the table.
Richard Cragun, who had just danced the title role of Quasimodo, added about cigarettes, "the hardest time is after two glasses of alcohol." Clearly so. Ten minutes later, Dominique Khalfouni, star of the evening's ballet, and Makarova were both puffing away on either side of the ambassador.
Makarova jumped to her feet when the dancers arrived, showering them with kisses and embraces. The dancers were clearly a breed apart from the other guests, with their pointy shoes, narrow ties and short skirts. The Washington guests looked on with a mixture of curiosity and admiration. Makarova was above it all, glittering in a long, red gown.
Petit and his company are in Washington for a two-week engagement at the Kennedy Center. This is the first stop of their North American tour. The Kennedy Center appearance is supported by a grant from the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.
Makarova will dance with the Ballet National de Marseille in New York and Montreal. After her Tony Award for "On Your Toes," she's anxious to perform in other musicals. "Is for fun in musicals. I have opportunity to talk, not just my body. Besides," she said with a laugh, "I'm basically funny!"
When asked about rumored intentions to sue the Kennedy Center for damages incurred when a piece of pipe fell and fractured her shoulder in "On Your Toes," she shrugged and replied: "Is my lawyers. Is business of lawyers."
Conversation flew across tables in French, English and combinations of the two. Wine corks popped frequently. Everyone, dancers included, devoured foie gras with vegetables, strawberry souffle', salad and "oeufs a la neige."
"When the food isn't good at the French Embassy," said one guest, "that'll be the day."
All agreed that the ballet was spectacular. "We had seen it in Paris in 1965, when Petit himself was dancing," said Ambassador Vernier-Palliez, "but this was just as good. Absolutely marvelous."