By Dan Valentine
MY SISTER / MY BROTHER – Part 1
One magical, fairy-tale of an evening, back in 1998, my baby sister Valerie—she is eight-years younger than myself—was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
And I was there!
She is one of the few ballerinas and/or Americans ever to be so honored.
Funny, just a few short years before in Manhattan, after my sister had performed onstage with the great Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev—yes, that one!—my mom had doused out a cigarette in the Queen’s half-empty cocktail. At a reception for members of the Dutch community in town (Walter Cronkite was there), my mom, looking around for an ashtray and not finding one nearby, spotted a half-filled drink and plopped her cig in it. A moment later, the Queen came back, after a brief newspaper interview, to finish her toddy, only to find a, well, you-know-what in it.
But back to little sister’s knighthood.
Earlier that morning, I had attended a ballet class with my sister. Ballerinas and their male counterparts take class every day of the week to brush up on their technique and such. They stretch, move to the Barre, and do sequences in the center of the floor for an hour or so. This is followed by grueling hours of rehearsals for upcoming and/or present performances. So, anyway, I was standing by the wayside watching a Russian ballerina from the Bolshoi twirl around and around and around. We made eye contact and she fainted, dead away. In my dreams, I caught her in my arms. In reality, she slumped to the floor. I like to think it was caused by my George Clooney good looks, but it was probably caused by exhaustion.
That day, for a short time, I was the talk of the company.
Her lifemate, Roeland Kerbosch, an award-winning Dutch film director, had informed me a short time beforehand what was to take place that evening. I remember smoking—of course! as they say in the Netherlands—by the stage door of the Muziektheater in Amsterdam when my sister showed to suit up. She told me that she was worried about that night’s performance. Can’t remember why. All I was thinking was: Val, this is going to be one of, if not thee greatest night of your life.
Later that evening, Valerie—I call her Val, sometimes Vali—was dancing onstage when suddenly everyone but herself stopped in their tracks. The conductor put down his baton. The music stopped. The performance came to a halt. My sister, in the middle of a pas de deux or whatever, looked around perplexed. What the heck is going on?
After a moment, the Mayor of Amsterdam walked on stage and bestowed upon her the Order of the Dutch Lion—the highest honor a non-military person can receive in the Netherlands—in recognition for her 25 years of “significant contribution to the art of dance.”
He read from a scroll: “Admired for her energy and dedication to her work, Valerie Valentine’s beautiful sense of line, strong technique and expressive, magical stage presence have inspired not only choreographers, but photographers and filmmakers as well . . .”
Needless to say, there was a party afterward. Cocktails, hors d’œuvres, a band, dancing, etc. I was very happy for my sister, ecstatically so. But I left the celebration shortly after it began.
I can’t remember feeling sadder.
Sitting at an outside cafe, just a few a blocks away, was my artist brother Jimmy, uninvited (and rightly so; he was literally crazy as hell), doing his best to drink himself to death, an endeavor he would shortly accomplish.
He died four years later, age 48, in Torremolinos, Malaga, Spain . . . on Valentine’s Day.