Plugged In: D’lightful, D’licious

July 6, 2011


I Was a Dancer, A Memoir

By Jacques d’Amboise

Knopf, 2011. 448 pages. Illustrated.

Hardcover, $35.

This book is bursting with energy. Jacques d’Amboise’s rollicking spirit rolls off every page as he recounts how he morphed from a rough street kid to an Apollo of the stage. He forms a close relationship with Balanchine, becoming perhaps the male counterpart to Farrell’s muse. He travels to many countries, first as a fledgling dancer, then as a star (though he never talks like a “star”), and finally as the mastermind (and master nurturer) behind the National Dance Institute. He brings us into each situation with ease and self-effacing modesty—and humor. There are parts where I laughed out loud.

D’Amboise gives insights that can be surprising. He says that Lincoln Kirstein’s infatuation with dancer Lew Christensen was a motivating force for starting a company, that Balanchine was not as even-tempered as he appeared to be and played out little revenge scenarios, and that administrator Betty Cage kept Balanchine and Kirstein in balance. These keen observations are expressed simply, with no drum roll.

One of d’Amboise’s charms is his generosity. Dance artists like Matt Mattox (whom he admired on the set of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), Melissa Hayden (his most frequent partner), and the almost-forgotten Jack Cole come in for vigorous tributes. D’Amboise’s deep appreciation extends to many others too—not least his wife Carolyn George and four children (including Christopher and Charlotte).

The secret to d’Amboise’s riveting prose is short sentences (hear that, all you would-be writers out there?). His staccato rhythm creates momentum. Another is the sheer vividness of his memory. The description of his mother sleeping noisily is spectacular—worthy of Dickens, Salinger, or Allende. And his juicy descriptions of food can whet your appetite, whether he’s talking about tomatoes provençales in France or a strange pineapple drink in Hawaii.

I Was a Dancer
is a luscious treat. A quick and easy read, it’s the best new ballet book in years. —Wendy Perron


Paris Opera Ballet 3 DVD Box Set

Le Parc/Signes/Proust ou les intermittence du coeur

Bel Air Classiques,


Sumptuous dancing, extravagant costumes, and forbidden love. Isn’t that what we crave to see from Paris Opera Ballet? This three-ballet set is a chance to swoon over POB étoiles—and watch them swoon over each other. It’s also a chance to catch a glimpse of choreographers we rarely see stateside.

Le Parc
, made for the company by Angelin Preljocaj in 1994, is the most coherently provocative of the three. It mixes whimsy with something sinister in an evocation of attraction and romance. The setting goes from a hint of Versailles to stark, square trees. The women’s skirts billow when they walk and billow more when they faint, one at a time. Later the women, now in elaborate underwear, hide behind big columns as the men crawl in like dogs. The camera zooms in on their brazen caresses. Very Liaisons Dangereuses.

Laurent Hilaire as a dashing 18th-century suitor is in love with Isabelle Guérin, who is intriguingly ambivalent. There’s a refrain for four men wearing leather aprons and dark goggles who seem quite sinister. They are not present at the seduction games of the upper crust. But it is these four who liberate Guérin from her apathy. After they lift and tumble her aloft in a tantalizing dream of surrender, she is then ready for love and Mozart. This time her kiss with Hilaire turns into a prolonged whirl of him spinning her around, her body outstretched like a flag (as in cover image at left).

In Carolyn Carlson’s Signes (1998), each backdrop is a huge painting with saturated color rather than a set design. The choreography alternates between massive, Nikolais-esque scenes and cute skits. The highpoint is the L’Esprit du blue scene, with a duet for the powerful Marie-Agnès Gillot, who, hair loose, falls for Kader Belarbi. In his arms she practically floats, both physically and dramatically. He brings her from a single caress to sustained ecstasy.

A collage of classical music accompanies Roland Petit’s epic Proust ou les intermittences du coeur. Innocent young girls practice making out. An older man gets agitated by a beautiful young man who does perfect à la seconde turns. Each character gets a taste of depravity. Near nudity is useful in both narrative and abstract scenes. This is a meandering story (no doubt some viewers are more familiar with Proust than I am) that was made in 1974 for the Ballet de Marseilles.

Warning: you might get tired of the sheer beauty of the dancers. Not a single odd-shaped face or body in sight. Each one could be a matinee idol. Whether this is because these videos were directed for TV or because of the regular casting of POB, I do not know. —W. P.




deBallet social network

Stay in touch with your fellow ballet dancers on the deBallet social network. The names of company members from around the world have already been uploaded to the site; each dancer can then “claim” his or her page to respond to fans and reconnect with colleagues, plus post photos, videos, and links on a Facebook-like wall. Each profile also lists the dancer’s training and any previous companies, with the option of linking to a personal blog. Pre-professional dancers and audience members can also join the site and fan their favorite dancers and companies.

While New York City Ballet’s Ashley Bouder, Miami City Ballet’s Jennifer Kronenberg, and The Kirov’s Yevgenia Obratzsova are all regular users, the most enthusiastic deBallet member is San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova. Her husband, Edward King, along with James Andrews and designer Tom Lucas, are behind the site, which launched last year. “We are trying to provide a platform for dancers to communicate with each other and with their fans,” explains King. “Ballet can be hard to get into, as it’s rarely on TV and inaccessible for many due to the high cost of tickets and travel to see live performances. We think the top dancers should be as well known as the top football players.” He also wants to make deBallet a central location for ballet social media. “We felt that there was a large community of dancers and ballet fans with websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts, but that it was too dispersed. By bringing all the online activity together, we thought that we could help ballet reach a wider audience.” Explore the site at—you can even join through your Facebook profile. —Kina Poon

iPhone apps

Dance Writer app

Wish your friends “Toi toi toi” before a big performance, or send a “Happy Birthday” message that’s performed, not just typed, with the Dance Writer app. Nederlands Dans Theater’s Valentina Scaglia, arresting in all white against a black background, spells out the sequence of letters with her gorgeously sculpted movements, choreographed by her fellow NDT dancer (and husband) Lukás Timulak. The Netherlands-based design studio Typotheque created the app. Typotheque founder and designer Peter Bilak has previously collaborated with Timulak on pieces for Göteborg Ballet and NDT II.

Once you purchase the app for $2.99, you can compose a message and send a link to it. Like an e-card, all the recipient needs is an internet connection to view your personalized message. There is no limit to the number of messages you can send. The Dance Writer app is available for the iPhone and iPad. —K. P.