Everyone told him not to do it, not to swim out so far, not to go near the rocks submerged in the Mediterranean. Lapitsky was a strong swimmer, a ballet dancer enjoying the off-season, a true athlete. He ignored their well-meaning advice, swam too far, was thrown up by a wave, crashed onto the rocks, went under, and did not resurface. Though his companions searched for him all night, they did not find him.
Sixty years later, while co-authoring a book on the Ballet Russe, I found myself on the Côte d’Azur, after several weeks of research in Monte Carlo and Paris. My co-author Georgia had flown off to Russia with her husband, and my family had joined me in the South of France.
I retraced the Riviera steps of the subject of our biography, the ballet star Roman Jasinski. There was the house he rented in Saint-Aygulf, the beach in Nice, and the town of Sainte-Maxime, from which he rode his bike to Saint-Tropez.
But where were the traces of the doomed dancer Eugene Lapitsky?
Georgia and I had seen dozens of ballet programs in Paris and Monte Carlo that listed him, and plenty of grainy photos that showed a young dark-headed dancer. But in August of 1931, his program listings stop. Eugene Lapitsky simply disappears from the world of dance.
He was not the subject of our tale. Yet his story haunted me, and although I was on the Riviera with my family, they had joined me to relax, not to spend time in dusty and remote archives. The mystery remained.
Recently I spent a month on the Côte d’Azur, this time in an immersion language school. I was in class all day long every day, with no time available to search for the missing Lapitsky. I would sometimes think of him while sitting on my balcony, staring out to sea after a long day studying French.
Occasionally these days I come across a photo of him deep in the archives of Tulsa Ballet, and I wonder: Did anyone miss him in those days and weeks after his tragic accident? Was his family in Russia notified? Did anyone in the Ballet Russe know how to find his family? Was there even a family left in Russia to mourn him? Was he ever buried? Was he ever even found? The mystery of Eugene Lapitsky remains, and it breaks my heart.