On Monday evening, four 20th century New York City Ballet stars joined Wendy Whelan in conversation for an event titled Balanchine's Ballerinas hosted by National Dance Institute, the dance education organization that former NYCB dancer Jacques d'Amboise founded in 1976. D'Amboise introduced the four ballerinas taking the stage as dancers who "graced Balanchine and were graced by him." Hearing the ensuing conversation between Wendy Whelan and Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin and Merrill Ashley proved just that; the sense of inspiration that George Balanchine gleaned from his muses, and the deep appreciation he had for each individual's unique traits.
"Jerry, throughout his life, wanted a world where races, cultures and people came together without conflict and hate and anger, but lovingly, to make a community." These words were spoken earlier this week by Jacques d'Amboise at an event titled Upper West Side Story: A Celebration of Jerome Robbins, hosted by National Dance Institute, which d'Amboise founded in 1976 to provide free arts education to children in New York City and beyond. D'Amboise then reiterated his point by quietly singing the famous refrain from West Side Story, which Robbins choreographed and directed for both screen and stage: "There's a place for us."
Former New York City Ballet dancer Kurt Froman is best known for training celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence for dance roles on film. Yet Froman's Instagram has become our newest obsession for a whole other reason. Over the past few months, Froman has been posting rarely-seen clips of old NYCB rehearsal and performance videos. These videos feature Balanchine dancers from the early days, such as Suzanne Farrell, Arthur Mitchell, Karin von Aroldingen, Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Amboise as well as recently retired stars like Damian Woetzel, Darci Kistler, Peter Boal, Wendy Whelan and Lourdes Lopez. The videos are majority of works by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins (often in honor of his centennial this year), mixed in with a few television features on Balanchine.
If, like us, you're prone to geeking out over ballet history, you might want to set aside the rest of your afternoon (ahem, week) to dive in. We've posted some of our favorites below.
Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Amboise in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream, early 1960s.
On Monday night, the National Dance Institute—the arts education organization founded by former New York City Ballet star Jacques d'Amboise—presented Balanchine's Guys, a lively discussion with d'Amboise and two other NYCB greats: Arthur Mitchell and Edward Villella. Many of their former NYCB colleagues, including Patricia McBride and Suki Schorer, were in the audience, and while the evening was sold out, NDI live-streamed part of the conversation. We know many of you weren't able to catch it, so we've included the video from NDI's Facebook page below. (There's a bit of a sound delay, but it's well worth the watch!)
All three shared priceless anecdotes of working with Balanchine. While NDI wasn't able to stream the whole discussion and performance, here are a few highlights from after the camera stopped rolling:
"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?)
"The Bell Telephone Hour" TV program broadcasted performances of world-class music, opera and ballet to millions of Americans throughout the 1960s. Many of the dance world's biggest stars frequently appeared on the program. In a 1961 Shakespeare special, New York City Ballet principals Violette Verdy and Jacques d'Amboise danced the title characters in Romeo and Juliet by choreographer Donald Saddler.
Although this version lacks some of the emotional intensity of other renditions, watching these legendary dancers perform together is a treat. Their duet is accompanied by Shakespeare's "Sonnet No. 18," bringing to mind contemporary choreographic endeavors involving spoken word in place of music. Verdy dances with an openness and grace that contrasts d'Amboise's more stoic, commanding presence. At 3:00, he sweeps Verdy off her feet and above his head in one fantastic fell swoop. Their duet is followed by an acrobatic fight scene and a stunt-filled sword fight in which both Mercutio and Tybalt are killed. When Romeo disappears after the fight, Verdy shows us Juliet's despair in a dramatic pantomime ending. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq may have been known for her long-limbed dancing and versatile grace, but it turns out that her renown didn't end there. In 1967 the former New York City Ballet star published The Ballet Cook Book, a mix of ballet history, food stories and the pièce de résistance: recipes collected from over 90 famous NYCB dancers and choreographers including George Balanchine (her then husband), Jacques d'Amboise, Melissa Hayden and Allegra Kent.
Why bring this up now? This year marks the 50th anniversary of her book's publication, and in celebration, food scholar Meryl Rosofsky is curating a program exploring the context of the book. Held on November 5 and 6 at the Guggenheim Museum, the program will include live performance excerpts with roles originated by Ballet Cook Book contributors including Balanchine's The Four Temperaments, Bugaku, Stars and Stripes and Western Symphony as well as a panel conversation with d'Amboise and Kent (both of whom were at the original book signing) and current NYCB principals Jared Angle and Adrian Danchig-Waring, both talented cooks.That certainly seems like plenty of excitement to us, but attendees can also stop into the Guggneheim's Wright Restaurant to taste select dishes from The Ballet Cook Book including Le Clercq's Chicken Vermouth, Balanchine's Slow Beet Borschok, Hayden's Potato Latkes and Kent's Walnut Apple Cake.
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine's Jewels, and companies around the world are paying homage. While last summer's Lincoln Center Festival collaboration with New York City Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet was all glamour and excitement, Pacific Northwest Ballet is taking a reverential look back in advance of its opening performances next week.
In 2014, PNB artistic director Peter Boal invited four stars of Balanchine's original 1967 cast—Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, Edward Villella and Jacques d'Amboise—to coach the company in their signature roles. And, thank heavens, they captured it all on film. This 20-minute promotional documentary offers priceless footage of them in rehearsals, interviews and lecture demonstrations, offering fascinating insights into Balanchine's creative process and original intentions.
"The whole thing was—I like jewels," the choreographer George Balanchine told an interviewer in the spring of 1967, when asked about his newest creation for New York City Ballet, a triptych called—what else?—Jewels. He had his photograph taken while gazing appreciatively at Van Cleef & Arpels designs, or surrounded by ballerinas wearing bejeweled headpieces and gem-toned costumes by Karinska. Balanchine had an instinct for promotion; the ballet was a huge success and is still regularly performed by NYCB and other companies around the world. At the Lincoln Center Festival this summer (July 20–23), 50 years after the first performance, three companies—the Paris Opéra Ballet, NYCB and the Bolshoi Ballet—will join together to perform it in a single night. The French will dance "Emeralds." On different nights, the Russians and the Americans will alternate in "Rubies" and "Diamonds."
This seems appropriate, as each of Jewels' sections alludes to a different style of ballet: French, American, Russian. Ballet was born in France. More importantly, France is where Romantic ballet, with its feather-light technique and delicate, wafting arms, was refined. (Think La Sylphide and Giselle.) The next chapter of its development took place in Russia, where ballet acquired its grandeur, thanks to the imagination of Marius Petipa and the splendor of the Imperial Theatres. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, this world disappeared. Balanchine, along with many others, left the country, bringing his ideas about ballet to Europe and later to America, or, more precisely, to New York City.
Summer is here! Whether you're hanging out under a beach umbrella or passing the time between rehearsals, it'll be more fun with a book in hand. Check out these ballet page-turners—all written by dancers themselves.
By Sophie Flack
This novel follows devoted Manhattan Ballet Company corps member Hannah Ward as she navigates company life. For the most part, things are going smooth, until she meets a college-student musician, Jacob. When sparks fly, Hannah’s life gets shaken up a bit. Although fictional, the novel lends tons of insight to the life of a professional dancer—its author, Sophie Flack, danced with the New York City Ballet for nine years!
By Jacques d’Amboise
As Balanchine’s protégé, d’Amboise certainly has a compelling story. He begins by recounting his childhood in Washington Heights and training that the School of American Ballet. We hear about his experiences dancing with Balanchine’s famous muses, as well as the life and death of Balanchine himself.
By Daria Klimentova
This autobiography by English National Ballet’s Daria Klimentova offers an easy-to-read look into the life of the Czech born ballerina. Klimentova begins her story by talking about her upbringing under Soviet rule, and continues right on up to her legendary partnership with Vadim Muntagirov.