Helping Jacques d’Amboise Get Rid of His Guilt

December 1, 2008

He started the evening by saying he wanted to “come clean” about how he treated Jerry Robbins. He refused to rehearse with him so often that finally, in an elevator, Robbins gave him a hock on the head. He described how much he hated rehearsals for Afternoon of a Faun when it was first done on New York City Ballet because Jerry would keep switching the casting and not say whether Jacques or Francisco Mancion would do the lead with Tanaquil LeClercq. He hated the ballet so much that when he was in the dressing room, he’d turn down the speaker so he wouldn’t have to hear the Debussy music. But finally, when he was touring, he loved dancing it. Then he showed a beautiful grainy film of him and LeClercq dancing it in 1955 (shot in Canada). It was completely otherworldly, like they were falling in love underwater or on the moon. When it was over, Jacques dissolved in tears, telling us how Tanny got polio and was in a wheelchair for the next 47 years.


This was the beginning of “Dancing for Jerry: Memories of Jerome Robbins” at Symphony Space last night. It was a night I will remember. Jacques told his stories, and so did his children Charlotte and Christopher d’Amboise—stories that were wonderful, hilarious, or appalling. Jacques imitated Jerry’s thuddy laugh, and later imitated Mr. B’s sniff. (Jacques: “Mr. B, I don’t understand why Jerry is still with us. He could be doing Broadway shows and making lots more money.” Mr. B sniffs: “He wants to learn what makes Balanchine Balanchine!”) And when Jacques started to dance to show us a few moves from Robbins early ballets like The Guest and Age of Anxiety, it was lovely to see those little relics of his great dancing.


We saw two films taken of past Kennedy Center honors. One was of Christopher as the rumba sailor in Fancy Free, when Robbins was honored. Another was Charlotte flying high in the Peter Pan section of Jerome Robbins Broadway, as a tribute to Mary Martin. This segment was pure joy (with an added chuckle when catching a glimpse of Barbara Bush, seated near Mary Martin, with a very glum young son at her side—the future and soon-to-be past president).


The delightful evening included Russ Tamblyn, Terrence Mann, Jerome Korman at the piano, Isaiah Sheffer singing Yiddish songs, and a few children for a touch of innocence. Christopher choreographed a sweet duet for two of them that seemed to recycle the choreography of Faun.

Talking about Dances at a Gathering, d’Amboise touched the earth, looked at the sky, pointed to his head and then circled his hand out to the air in tribute to the ineffability of Robbins imagination.