Ballet Stars

Remembering Karin von Aroldingen, Balanchine Muse and Legacy Keeper

Karin von Aroldingen and Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Prodigal Son." Photo by Costas, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

"My whole mission in life is to keep Balanchine's work alive," says former New York City Ballet dancer Karin von Aroldingen in Frances Mason's I Remember Balanchine, a collection of interviews by George Balanchine's friends and colleagues. Her words feel especially potent now—and never more true. On Friday, January 5, news came to light that the German-born dancer, teacher, NYCB ballet master and longtime stager for the Balanchine Trust had died at age 76.


Born in East Germany in 1941, von Aroldingen joined Frankfurt Ballet as a first soloist before George Balanchine invited her to join NYCB in 1962. Trained in the Russian method, she had to adjust her technique to fit NYCB's fast, streamlined style. "It took me years to unwind myself, to be good," she says in Mason's book. She eventually rose to principal dancer in 1972. Her dancing was strong, assertive and passionate. During her 22-year career at NYCB, Balanchine created 20 roles for her, including Kammermusik No. 2, Union Jack, Vienna Waltzes, Who Cares?, Robert Schumann's Davidsbündlertanze and her most well-known, Stravinsky Violin Concerto. (Who hasn't marveled at her elastic backbends in the 1972 "Dance in America" broadcast above?)



In his autobiography, former NYCB star Jacques d'Amboise writes that von Aroldingen, who was married to Morton Gerwitz and—unlike most ballerinas at the time—had a child, enjoyed a special relationship with Balanchine, becoming his closest companion towards the end of his life: "If Balanchine ever had a best friend it was Karin von Aroldingen…Her relationship with Balanchine was the rarest among his multitude of muses—a principal dancer, happily married, and a mother, she was his arm-in-arm confidante." Indeed, upon his death he bequeathed a large share of his estate to her, including shared royalties to 37 of his ballets.

After her retirement in 1984, von Aroldingen became a founding trustee for the Balanchine Trust, staging his ballets all over the world. "I am of the first Balanchine generation, the first after his death," she told the East Hampton Star in 1997. "It is an enormous, important responsibility." She later rejoined NYCB's artistic staff as a ballet master from 2004–2016.



The news of her death last week came at an especially fraught time for NYCB; last Monday, artistic director Peter Martins announced his immediate retirement in the wake of a sexual harassment investigation. Over the weekend, company dancers mourned publicly on social media, thanking von Aroldingen for her generosity, wisdom and zeal for life.


"Karin was someone I would give my all for in rehearsal, even on the hardest of days," says NYCB principal Lauren Lovette in an email. "She taught me how to be a respected woman in the studio and onstage. She noticed everythingevery hand, facial expression, emotion, posture, tilt of the head and toe. She loved dancing so much that she often had a hard time letting you actually do the dancing. I will always remember her as a fiery lover of life and an honest, supportive friend."

Ballet Stars
Fabrice Calmels as Othello in Lar Lubovitch's Othello. Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Larisa Elizondo.

After nearly 19 years, Joffrey Ballet dancer Fabrice Calmels announced Monday that he'll take his final bow with the company after a performance of Nutcracker on December 29. Born in France, Calmels trained at the Paris Opéra Ballet School before moving to the United States to study at the Rock School, Boston Ballet School and School of American Ballet. In addition to the long list of roles he's danced at the Joffrey, Calmels has worked as a model, and in 2014 won the Guinness World Record as the world's tallest ballet dancer.

We caught up with Calmels to hear about why he's leaving, and what his future after the Joffrey will hold.

Keep reading... Show less
Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy

When you're looking for a ballet program to take you to the next level, there are a lot of factors to consider. While it's tempting to look for the biggest name that will accept you, the savvy dancer knows that successful training has more to do with the attention and opportunities you'll get.

We put together a few of the most important things for dancers to look for in a summer or year-round training program, with the help of the experts at Colorado Ballet Academy:

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos

Josephine Lee of the California-based ThePointeShop gives pointe shoe fitting tips for what she calls "octopus feet"; feet that slide down and fit into whatever shoes they're in.

Keep reading... Show less
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy US Prix de Ballet

The US Prix de Ballet is taking an unconventional approach to the ballet competition—by putting the competitors' health first. After a successful first year in 2018, the Prix is returning to San Diego, CA this February with an even more comprehensive lineup of wellness workshops and master classes, in addition, of course, to the high-level competition.

Though the talent is top-notch, the environment is friendly, says HARID Conservatory faculty member Victoria Schneider, who serves on US Prix de Ballet's elite panel of judges. "The wellbeing of the dancer is the main focus," says Schneider, who awarded three scholarships to HARID at last year's competition.

US Prix de Ballet was born after its founders traveled to the Japan Grand Prix International Ballet Competition in 2016. "The company ran every aspect of the competition with professionalism, dignity, honor and precision," says founder Neisha Hernandez. "We knew we wanted this level of experience for America."

Keep reading... Show less