Passing dance history on to the next generation is a bit like handing down the family jewels, says Wendy Whelan, seen here teaching. Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Whelan.
When I was a young dancer in Louisville, Kentucky, my ballet teacher used to speak a lot about Merrill Ashley. She brought neoclassical technique to exquisite new heights under Balanchine, and as a technician, she famously paved the way for today's balletic whiz kids. (Later, when I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to have her as a teacher.) Today, as I travel around the country giving master classes, I often find myself bringing up the names of quintessential American ballerinas, dancers like Merrill. But now, if I mention her name, I can't help but notice my students' eyes widening as they look to each other wondering who exactly this famous ballerina named Merrill is.
Bronislava Nijinska, at 80, staging her Les Noces. Photo by Serge Lido, Courtesy DM Archives
In the August 1963 issue of Dance Magazine, we caught up with Bronislava Nijinska, then 72. After leaving the Mariinsky in 1911 to follow her younger brother, Vaslav Nijinsky, to Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, Nijinska carved out a stellar performing career for herself. While Nijinsky often worked out his now-legendary dances, including his Afternoon of a Faun, on her, Nijinska ultimately proved to be the more prolific choreographer—and an equally gifted one, at that. When we spoke to her, she was as energetic as ever, getting up to demonstrate bits of choreography when she felt her words fell short. She told us, "You listen to music through your ears—yes? I listen to music through my eyes. I want my ballets to be music through the eyes, so if you would close your ears you could still hear the music—you could see the music. A paradox! But a paradox close to the center of my idea of ballet."