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On October 9, New York City Ballet principal Charles Askegard will dance his last performance with the company. During his career, Askegard made many ballerinas happy with his impeccable partnering. His impressive stature, long lines, and clean technique made him an asset to the company. The program was designed to be emblematic of Askegard’s career there and will include some of his favorite roles: Balanchine’s elegant Diamonds pas de deux, the black-and-white Episodes, and the upbeat Western Symphony. Also on the program is Robbins’ In Memory of… “When I first joined the company Jerry picked me right away and put me in that ballet. I’ve done it ever since,” says Askegard. In the farewell performance, he will partner some of the great artists of this generation: Maria Kowroski, Wendy Whelan, Sara Mearns, and Teresa Reichlen.
Askegard began training with Loyce Houlton at Minnesota Dance Theatre at age 5. His later teachers included Maggie Black, David Howard, Wilhelm Burmann, and Stanley Williams and Andrei Kramarevsky at the School of American Ballet. After dancing with American Ballet Theatre for 10 years, Askegard joined NYCB as a soloist in 1997 and was promoted to principal in 1998. Among the many things he says he will miss are “the people, the performances, and dancing these great ballets that only NYCB does,” says Askegard.
In the last year, he has formed a dance partnership with former ABT principal Michele Wiles. “I will continue dancing for a little bit—not on the same schedule as NYCB, which is so physically demanding,” he says. “You know when it’s time.” —Joseph Carman
Roland Petit (1924–2011)
He commissioned works from the likes of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Brassai, Yves Saint Laurent, David Hockney, and Pink Floyd. He created more than 100 ballets performed thousands of times worldwide. Roland Petit, choreographer of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and Carmen, who co-founded Les Ballets des Champs-Elysées in 1945 and directed the Ballet National de Marseille from 1972 to 1998, died in his Geneva home on July 10.
“Choreography is like making love,” he once commented to the French daily Le Figaro. “It requires reciprocity.”
For Petit, life was an all-consuming, enflamed love story: A love story with his wife and muse, Zizi Jeanmaire, for whom he created countless roles, from classical ballet to her signature music-hall piece, Mon Truc en Plumes. A love story with his dancers, from whom he “settled only for total devotion,” commented former New York City Ballet principal and one of his earliest dancers, Violette Verdy. “Distraction outraged him.”
Passionate and demanding, he pushed his dancers to their physical limits. For Verdy, his charm was irresistible. “He knew how to make women sexy, flirtatious, womanly onstage,” she adds. Every movement told a story.
Petit was an insatiable creator who slipped on his first pair of ballet shoes at the Paris Opéra Ballet School at 9. Yet he knew his destiny would be choreography. In 1945, he transformed the life savings of his father, a restaurant owner, into his first Parisian success with The Poet, featuring Verdy. A year later, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort was staged to international acclaim.
He is survived by Jeanmaire and their daughter. “I want to die first,” he declared to Paris Match in 2002. “Without Zizi, the lights go down. —Karyn Bauer
From top: Askegard with Maria Kowroski in Diamonds. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB, © Balanchine Trust.